Monday, March 22nd, 2010
SxSW 2010 Night Three
Man Man, Memory Tapes, The Drums and more at SxSW
Frank YangSo where were we? Oh, yes, a somewhat artificial break between the afternoon and the evening. Immediately after leaving the Johnny Flynn hotel gig on Friday evening, I headed out towards the east side of downtown to the Mess With Texas grounds (which the day before had been the Eastbound & Found grounds) for what, of all the unofficial day parties running alongside/against SxSW, had become one of the largest and most must-see.
The three main stage closing acts for day one of the mini-fest included two very familiar faces and one that I hadn’t seen or heard before, but wouldn’t be forgetting. It was an interesting thing to be walking along 6th St and hear quietly at first, but increasingly loudly, the voice of one Billy Bragg exhorting the crowds to call their representatives and urge them to support the impending health care bill and resist giving in to cynicism. Not quite the usual, “hey Austin how ya doing!” you usually hear at these sorts of things, but it was exciting to hear the crowds responding positively to his message. I’d obviously heard him play (and preach) in Canada on numerous occasions, but to witness it in Texas – even in liberal Austin – was pretty cool. The portion of his set I caught was pretty standard Billy but tracks like “NPWA” and “I Keep Faith” tied in pretty well with his message of the evening and set closer “A New England” will always be welcome, anytime, anywhere.
I had said I felt lucky to have seen Frightened Rabbit play a somewhat stripped down set on Wednesday afternoon, and I do/did, but I was just as happy that they had sorted out their equipment issues in time for their next-to-closing set at Mess With Texas, because the rocking Rabbit is also pretty great. Fully plugged in and ready to give the crowd what for, Frightened Rabbit played a similar set to the one at the Paste party, split fairly evenly between the new The Winter Of Mixed Drinks and the older Midnight Organ Fight, all delivered with a fervor that it seemed Scott Hutchison was so pleased to have his electric guitar working again that he was going to strangle it in gratitude. Hearing Frightened Rabbit writ large, my reservations about the extroverted nature of Mixed Drinks is decidedly lessened, and I’m glad I was able to see them again in Austin so I don’t feel any regrets about missing their May 4 show in Toronto at the Opera House.
I am at a loss for how to describe Philadelphia’s Man Man. I’d never seen them before Friday night, and now that I think about it, those I know who are fans have never been able to describe them either beyond, “they’re fun to photograph”. Which they certainly are. The five-piece (or was it six?) are like a circus sideshow making their own soundtrack to wacky-ass antics AND shenanigans, all lurching rhythms, gutteral vocals and insane musicianship on keys and percussion and instruments that may or may not be proper instruments. It’s really something you have to see, and while I don’t know that I’d ever listen to their recorded works, the live spectacle is something to behold. I hadn’t really understood how they were large enough to headline something as large as MWTX (not major festival large but still reasonably large) but they did indeed pack the parking lot with people clearly in the know and stoked to be seeing them again. It was… something to behold.
By rights, that should have been the end of the night since chances of seeing anything top their show were slim to none, but it was still early. En route back to downtown, I got a text saying I needed to be at the Music Gym for Turbo Fruits and I was just across the street and with nothing better to do. So I went. I’d never had an interest in seeing said Nashville trio before, assuming they’d be all snotty and raggedy punk and while they certainly weren’t especially tight or polite, they were more melodic and enjoyable than expected. And points for moving their mics into the crowd with the second song to be closer to their people, though I did feel bad for the drummer stuck way back on the stage.
After a failed attempt to see Gemma Ray and instead catching part of a solo set from the guy from Cutting Crew – the part with “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight” so not a total loss – I was surprised to see no lineup for Klub Krucial, where a couple acts I thought would be much hotter draws were playing. New Jersey’s Real Estate impressed with a set of jangly pop that was simultaneously peppy and laid back and certainly put them on my list of bands to check out further.
I didn’t need to put Memory Tapes on any such list since I’d been enjoying his Seek Magic mini-album for a few months now. Where the surprise came with them is how entertaining they were live. While much of the beats and arrangements were pre-recorded backing tracks, Dayve Hawk augmented them with a live drummer and his guitar playing had some serious big rock attitude to it. Whereas the recorded works have a hazy, daydreamy feel to them, live they were much more aggressive and dancey. And there was dancing. It may have even involved me. Maybe.
The final stop of the night was Latitude 30 for The Drums, whom besides hearing people talk about them, I hadn’t actually heard before. And if they weren’t playing en route to my hotel with room still available in the venue – at least when I got there, such was not the case around 10 minutes later – that’d have remained the case. In addition to the buzz, I was curious how and why an American band – they hail from New York – was closing out one of the nights at the SxSW British Music Embassy. Until they actually took the stage, at which point it became clear that Americans they may be, but their musical hearts lay squarely in the UK. The quartet, whose singer Jonathan Pierce has clearly spent many hours in front of the mirror practicing his arch and preening frontman poses, struck the right balance of dancey beats and jangly hooks to win the hearts of Anglophiles everywhere, or at least in the room. I wasn’t as swoony as some of those bearing witness, but I could definitely see the appeal – it held my attention for almost their entire set which, considering how wiped I was, was no mean feat.