Sunday, March 16th, 2008
SxSW XXI IV
Photo by Frank Yang
It would be nice to think that it was possible to end SxSW on a grand note, with a supremely great experience that defines and crystallized the entire experience in one perfect moment. Unfortunately, my experience has been more along the lines of staggering down 6th St through hordes of drunken college kids back in town from wherever they’d fled earlier in the week and being far more interested in finding somewhere soft to collapse than take in one more band, however great they might be. This year… was no different.
But first, there was one more day of Hot Freaks! to
survive celebrate. I didn’t manage to get to the Mohawk/DeVille entertainment complex (what I’m now calling the two clubs) until things were underway but was in position when The Jealous Girlfriends took the DeVille stage. I promised, back in October, that you’d be hearing much more from me about this Brooklyn quartet and thus far haven’t delivered. But with their new, self-titled record set for re-release on May 6, I’ll be soon making good on that. But just not yet. Instead, I’ll say that their show reminded me of the buzz that I got after seeing them play the Drake last Fall and after talking to some others in attendance and seeing the band swarmed for CDs immediately after, I wasn’t the only one. More on the band soon, promise.
Back over at The Mohawk, the schedule had shaken out such that the outside stage was non-stop rock action, featuring the likes of The Whigs and Film School to start the day. I sought refuge from the cacophony at the inside stage and a set of familiar faces – The Acorn, also fleeing the depressing Ontario Winter. They packed the inside of the Mohawk, perhaps evidence of the buzz surrounding the American release of Glory Hope Mountain last week, and didn’t disappoint the curious with a shortish but solid set of highlights from the record, their live show honed to razor sharpness by recent touring though their banter wasn’t quite as sharp – I don’t think there’s ever been a good time to name-check Pol Pot in stage banter, but that’s just me.
Outside, it was then time for the sturm und drang of A Place To Bury Strangers. I’d seen how much sonic carnage they could wreak indoors last December but was curious as to how they’d translate in an open-air stage in daylight, where they couldn’t necessarily use the walls to trap their audience with sound while blinding them with strobes. Short answer? Pretty much the same. Sure, without the light show it wasn’t quite the all-sensory freak out that it might have been but they compensated with, if it’s possible, even more volume and extended graphic guitar abuse. Not for the faint of heart, earplug-less or lovers of Fender Jaguars. Oliver Ackermann punishes those those things like red-headed stepchildren caught with their hands in the cash register AND the cookie jar. At the same time.
Peelander-Z describe themselves as “Japanese Action Comic Punk” and that’s as good an attempt at putting them into words as any. Imagine three to five members dressed in Power Ranger-esque costumes, alternately climbing over every part of the stage and club possible (and the Mohawk is very climbable),stage invading, audience invading, band member recruiting, singalong-leading, crowd surfing, human bowling and playing loud, cartoon metal-ly songs about lord only knows what. The crowd went completely batshit and it was absolutely the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever borne witness too and easily the most outrageously fun thing I saw this past week. It’ll make more sense when I have the photographic evidence ready but for now, check out some videos to get some notion of what I’m talking about. Also fun was watching Islands load in during the show and seeing the, “we have to follow THIS?” looks on their faces.
The last matinee of the day went to Swedish singer Lykke Li over at DeVille. I had no idea who she was when we originally booked her but since then, her name has cropped up again and again so my curiosity was piqued. I found her set of mostly acoustic dance pop interesting if not immediately converting. She definitely has a unique aesthetic but it’s one that deserves closer attention than can be paid at the tail end of a four-day music marathon, particularly in a post-Peelander buzz.
I had originally been disappointed in how little there was I wanted to see on Saturday but it turns out that was a blessing in disguise as I was able to call it a day reasonably early and not feel bad about missing out. Dinner was conveniently had across the street from Stubb’s and I dashed over at the stroke of 8 when I heard the first notes of Duffy’s “Rockferry” ringing out. For someone who’s as all-conquering in the UK as she is right now, there was curiously little buzz around her performances at Sx, at least as far as I heard. I mean Stubb’s was far from empty and the attendees were enthusiastic, but her name seemed far from ubiquitous. Of course, now that I think about it I have no idea who people WERE talking about so my observation is probably pointless. Anyways, she sounded great and had a lot of poise up there (if a lot of the same poses) and the band was tight, and listening to her stuff closely for the first time I could hear Bernard Butler’s influence on her songs and sound – not circa Suede but McAlmont And. She may be a little too much with the soul sound to really enthrall me – my tastes run more towards Motown pop – but she’s definitely got the goods.
Following her on the amphitheater stage was none other than Austin’s finest, Okkervil River and as good a choice to end out SxSW with as any. It was a bit odd seeing them on such a large stage – I’m more used to seeing them falling off of smaller stages – but they didn’t sound a bit out of place and Will Sheff took full advantage of the extra room, running around and basically being turned up to 10. Personnel-wise, the show was a bit different as keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg was absent – presumably with Shearwater commitments – and it also marked guitarist Brian Cassidy’s last with the band for the foreseeable future as he gets ready to become a father (he will be replaced by Wren Charles Bissell on the road) but rather than take on a bittersweet flavour for that fact, the mood was celebratory and I was bouncing up and down on the Stubb’s lawn right along with them.
And while that would have been the perfect note to end the festival on, I felt like catching only two shows that night was wimping out just a little too much. I needed to work that badge just a little bit more so I popped into the Dirty Dog Bar for Georgie James. The duo’s acoustic guitar and keyboard pop sounded pretty good, but not better than the idea of going to bed. I bailed about midway through their set and called it a festival.
Snow on the ground and lack of tortilla-wrapped foodstuffs within arm’s reach notwithstanding, it’s good to be home. A proper wrap-up of the week that was tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that, or whenever I wake up.