Sunday, March 19th, 2006
SxSW XX IV
Wonder of wonders, I have survived. Day four has come and gone and somehow my feet are still on speaking terms with my cranium, though just barely. A full festival recap will come tomorrow, but for now lets cover what I hit on the last day of the fest. It had been threatening to downpour all week but held off until yesterday, when it came down pretty heavily for the first half of the day. Which, of course, was great news, because the only thing better than club hopping is doing it in mud.
There wasn’t too much club hopping in the cards for me, though, since the Misra day party was pretty successful at keeping me in one place for extended lengths of time. And though I only got three shows in during the evening (barely), all were completely worthwhile. Quality, not quantity. Though quantity is also good.
Shearwater (Austin, TX) @ Red Eyed Fly – Shearwater was my only double-shot for SxSW, fitting since the week staretd with a Shearwater post. For general impressions, refer back to my Thursday post. On this day, they were opening up the Misra party and somehow, the grey, wet skies managed to enhance the mood of their set rather than dampen it. Jonathan Meiburg also offered a brief tutorial on the palo santo tree (it grows leaves for only one month out of the year and spends the rest of the year oozing sap), which is the namesake of their new album.
The Young Knives (Oxford, England) @ Club DeVille – The Young Knives are some funny looking dudes – it needs to be said and I wager that the band would be the first to agree. But their look perfectly suits their music, which is quirky, frantic and breathless. Entertaining but a little exhausting to watch.
Jose Gonzalez (Gothenburg, Sweden) @ Club DeVille – Rather than play the proper outside stage, Gonzalez opted to perform a quiet set in the lounge of the club while the audience sat cross-legged on the floor around him (or stood), attentive and enrapt by his quietly hypnotic fingerpicked guitar and hushed voice. Mesmerizing.
The Great Lake Swimmers (Toronto, ON) @ Red Eyed Fly – I really have to make more of an effort to see these guys play around town. There’s really no excuse not to – I only caught the last song of their set at Red Eyed Fly, but damn if it wasn’t utterlly beautiful and beguiling.
The Mendoza Line (Brooklyn, NY) @ Red Eyed Fly – One of the bands I most wanted to see whilst in Texas, their set started out kind of lethargic, but gradually picked up until it qualified as laid back. I think this was their 4th show of the last couple days so they can be excused for being a little wiped, but just bad timing for me, I suppose. The played an abbreviated set that served to whet the appetite, but not satisfy.
Dr Dog (Philadelphia, PA) @ Red Eyed Fly – I hadn’t really intended on seeing these guys, but the possibility of leaving and not getting back in, thus missing Centro-Matic, was not an appealing one so I stuck around. What The Mendoza Line lacked in energy, Dr Dog made upf or in spades. Their tunes were a little more 70s classic rock/jam band than I generally like, but they had showmanship and presence to spare. These guys play Bonnarro, right? Just guessing.
Centro-Matic (Denton, TX) @ Red Eyed Fly – Though they started 45 minutes later than scheduled (thank you jam bands) and I had to miss a couple other day shows, Centro-Matic were completely worth it. When I saw them last year at Misra’s official evening showcase, they put on a good show but a rather slow-ish one. Yesterday, they were on another level entirely, allowing me to witness one of their legendary live shows. The energy levels and vibe were amazing and there was a real celebratory atmosphere in the air – enough so that they invited a couple of their fans onstage so that one could propose to the other (I think she said yes). The festival could have ended right there and I’d have been satisfied, though between you and me I’m glad it didn’t.
Adam Franklin wtih Sianspheric (London, England) – Taking part in something called the “Shoegaze Hacienda” (which is mixing eras of UK music, by the by), former head Swervedriver Adam Frankling teamed up with Canucks Sianspheric for a set comprised of a fair bit of drawn-out space jamming. The set was plagued with technical issues, so much so that halfway through the Sianspheric players just packed up and left for whatever reason. This didn’t leave Franklin to fend for himself, though – he was joined by the drummer from Th’ Faith Healers for some Swervedriver tunes, no doubt giving heartattacks to some of the more aged UK music fans in attendance.
Decoder Ring (Sydney, Australia) @ Red 7 – These Australians certainly took the prize for most elaborate A/V setup hauled halfway across the world. Decoder Ring were circled on my calendar as a must-see since their gorgeous “Fractions” leapt out of the SxSW bit torrent and took my ears hostage. The main questions were a) could the live performance measure up to such a perfectly constructed studio track, and b) would the rest of their material be as good? The answer to both was an emphatic “yes”. Difficult to classify as either a rock, electronic, dance or whatever band, they split their time between dense, driving and cinematic instrumentals and soaring, anthemic vocal numbers. They got a room full of worn-out hipsters dancing at 8PM – think about that. Irresistable.
Rainer Maria @ Karma Lounge – It’s amazing how refined Rainer Maria has become in recent years. I’m not just talking about the songwriting, though the forthcoming Catastrophe Keeps Us Together certainly stands to be their best album yet, but just overall. They’re tighter, smoother, more dynamic, and Caithlin De Marrais has become a truly formidable singer and frontwoman. But old-school fans who worry that the band might have gotten a little too polished, fear not – based on their truly explosive showcase last night, they’ve still got all the raw energy that was always there. It’s just now ultra-focused and bolstered by confidence. It’s always exciting to see a band finally realize its potential, even if it’s taken a little longer than usual.
Okkervil River (Austin, TX) @ Emo’s Annex – I had said before that there was no way I was standing in line for anything at Sx. Too much else going on, I said. Waste of time to pass up other showcases for possibly/probably no avail. And yet, there I was on Saturday night, hanging out on Red River for almost two hours at the festival’s finale, hoping that the badgeholder line would either lose interest or be struck down by lightning. I was absolutely determined to close out the week with Okkervil River, be it in front of the stage or listening from the street. And really, there wasn’t anything else going last night that I’d rather be doing and the in-line company was entertaining. Thank goodness that after local buzzy band I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness finished up, enough of those inside cleared out in search of hipper pastures that I was able to squeeze just before their set began. Victory! And yes indeed, this was the right way to finish things off. Will Sheff was in fine form playing the maniaclly wide-eyed black sheep prophet, leading his followers both onstage and down in front into the dark forest of his twisted folk stories. Their set was far too short (okay, the same length as everyone else’s but it certainly seemed too short) but superb and the perfect farewell to Austin from Austin’s finest band.
And now I have a plane to catch. Overall festival recap action tomorrow. Thanks for coming along.
np – Maximo Park / A Certain Trigger