Saturday, March 17th, 2007
SxSW XXI III
And so after some two months plus of planning, the (first) big day finally arrived – Hot Freaks was here. I was equally excited and nervous about it for obvious reasons, but now that it’s half in the bag, I can say quite honestly that I’m really pleased with how it went off. Let’s recap.
Small Sins (Toronto, ON) @ The Mohawk Patio – Small Sins had the rather unenviable task of kicking things off bright and early to an audience made up mainly of people working the show. But they didn’t phone it in and as the set wore on, their audience grew. Their sound has changed quite a bit since I first listened to their debut album from which they took their name (not technically self-titled since they were called The Ladies & Gentlemen at the time), as the low-key bedroom pop gems have dressed themselves up in rock’n’roll clothes. They wear them well.
Catfish Haven (Chicago, IL) @ The Mohawk Patio – These guys have likewise undergone a transformation since I saw them last, mainly in the addition of more members to the cast. While I think the core remains a trio, their soul power was augmented by an electric lead guitarist and a pair of backing singers. Together, they quite plainly rocked the house large and blew out any remaining cobwebs of sleep that may have remained. Game on.
Briertone (Atlanta, GA) @ Club DeVille – These guys were a total unknown quantity but sounded like a mash-up between SoCal emo-punk and old-school Bakersfield country. If that sounds like something you’d like, then check them out. If not, then don’t. I didn’t care for it and was more preoccupied with how much they looked exactly like they sounded.
Thunderbirds Are Now! (Detroit, MI) @ The Mohawk Patio – Every time someone talks to me about Thunderbirds Are Now!, they say how great their live show is. And their live show is great. Absurdly high energy though I have to say the songs themselves didn’t make much of an impression. But fun to watch.
MySpace: Thunderbirds Are Now!
Sea Wolf (Los Angeles, CA) @ The Mohawk – Before their set, Matt from You Ain’t No Picasso bet me a nickel that I’d like this band. I didn’t bet him that I wouldn’t, but afterwards I gave him the nickel. They played some great-sounding pop that evidenced an equal appreciation for plain-spun roots music and shimmery 80s UK pop. Definitely intending to hear more from this outfit, who I think are the first “wolf” band I actually like. About time.
Apostle Of Hustle (Toronto, ON) @ The Mohawk Patio – Everyone’s been talking about how good the new Apostle Of Hustle is and how amazing the live show is. I wasn’t a big fan beforehand and remain unconverted. The new stuff does sound more appealing – more song-y and less jammy – and Andrew Whiteman is a charismatic frontman, but still no road to Damascus moment for me with them.
MySpace: Apostle Of Hustle
De Novo Dahl (Nashville, TN) @ The Mohawk – De Novo Dahl were getting the most pre-show buzz around the Mohawk on account of the brightly-coloured nudie suits they had pulled from the band wardrobe for the day. But as it turns out, the outfits were misleading because they delivered a set of straightforward, scrappy pop – not a cosmic country twang to be found. Still alright but somehow a bit disappointing in that.
MySpace: De Novo Dahl
Imperial Teen (San Francisco, CA) @ The Mohawk Patio – When I saw Imperial Teen on the lineup, my first reaction was, “they’re still around?” Well yes they are and though they’re definitely not teens, they’re still a deft hand at breezy Cali-pop with great vocal arrangements. The old-timers in the audience were thrilled to see them and they looked thrilled to be back.
MySpace: Imperial Teen
Midnight Movies (Los Angeles, CA) @ The Mohawk – One of the sets I was most looking forward to in the day and I wasn’t disappointed. Gena Olivier and her band previewed songs from their forthcoming album Lion The Girl but the delivery was considerably more muscular and psychedelic than on record. The combined vocals of Olivier and drummer Sandra Vu sounded terrific and it was nice to see them swap places midway through the set and have Olivier take her former place behind the kit for a while. Gotta keep those singing drummer fans mollified.
Shearwater (Austin, TX) @ The Mohawk Patio – “Sometimes we’re a quiet band, sometimes we’re a loud band” – so said Jonathan Meiburg in introducing Shearwater to the audience. Not even a day after their dazzling show at the Central Presbyterian Church, they did it again with a show completely different in vibe – the plastic tent above the stage at the Mohawk didn’t have quite the same acoustic properties as the church – but somehow just as impressive. I’d just like to say that I’m so proud to have been involved in putting this performance on.
I’m also really excited about day two, going down today. And if you hadn’t puzzled out the mystery headliner yet, let’s just say their name rhymes with Mollyphonic Flea. Now onto the evening portion of the day.
Nellie McKay (New York, NY) @ Exodus – I’d almost forgotten how much I hate this venue. I was here two years ago and it was awful, with a sizable capacity but also with sightlines that suck for about 90% of the audience. So as such, I didn’t stick around long for Ms McKay’s set which was quite late in starting anyways. But while I couldn’t see anything, she did sound great and as loopy as ever. Even a short visit to Nellie-land is a trip.
Buffalo Tom (Boston, MA) @ The Parish – This was a band I never thought I’d see live, what with their extended hiatus beginning before my concert-going days began. But they were huge for me in high school so I was pretty stoked that Bill Janovitz has elected to take a break from real estate to return to rock. They weren’t tight by any means – Bill seemed to be having some trouble navigating his pedals cleanly – but the sheer enthusiasm more than made up for it. The set list was composed mainly of old favourites but there were a smattering of new tracks taken from their new record, due out in July. They’re lucky the BT ongwriting formula isn’t terribly complex so the new stuff sounded pretty good or at least just like Buffalo Tom. But hearing “Velvet Roof”? And “Soda Jerk”? Ace. So ace.
MySpace: Buffalo Tom
It was at this point that I elected to bail on my original club-hopping game plan and stay at the New West showcase because I would have a golden opportunity to shoot Steve Earle from about four feet away. This is not the sort of thing you turn down to go see anonymous indie-pop elsewhere. I stayed put.
The Drams (Denton, TX) @ The Parish – I saw the Drams open up for Drive-By Truckers last Fall so I knew that the time wait for Steve would be ably filled by their brand of ripping roots rock. It’s the sort of thing that always goes down well at these things.
MySpace: The Drams
Steve Earle (Schertz, TX) @ The Parish – If you didn’t know, I’m a huge Steve Earle fan so getting this chance to see him live again, and in a solo acoustic format, was pretty exciting. His set was bookended by a couple of new songs from his forthcoming debut for New West, but consisted mainly of old favourites rejigged and rearranged to fit the format of the evening. the heart of the set was dedicated to his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt and towards the end he also brought his wife, Alison Moorer, to play “Comin’ Around”. I have to admit, I had been hoping before the show that the extra mic set up was for Emmylou Harris, who was also in Austin for SxSW and who originally recorded that song with Steve. Alas, not to be but Alison Moorer is a pretty good substitute and did help make Earle’s performance an exceptional thing to behold. Yet another highlight in what’s turning out to be a pretty terrific SxSW for me.
MySpace: Steve Earle
Bon Savants (Boston, MA) @ Buffalo Billiards – I had intended to finish the night on that high note, but as it happens I was right across the street from where Bon Savants, who were on my original schedule, there was no lineup and they were slated to start at that very minute. So I went for it. I couldn’t stop humming “Between The Moon And The Ocean” for days after just one listen from the SxSW torrent so I was interested to see if the rest of their material measured up. While I found them to have some good to great ideas, but the overall quality of what I was hearing in their mod-pop was inconsistent though promising. Of course, expecting them to follow up a Steve Earle performance is pretty unfair – I will revisit their stuff at a later date when the bar in my head isn’t set quite so high.
One more day. Man oh man. I miss my cat.