Thursday, March 18th, 2010
SxSW 2010 Day One
Miles Kurosky, Frightened Rabbit, Basia Bulat and more at SxSW
Frank YangWith every passing year as the middle of March approaches, I feel more and more like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. Clearly the sensible thing to do would be to buy a boat and sail around the world (or at least a ferry ticket to the islands) rather than throw myself yet again into the annual maelstrom of 6th St. And yet here I was, in Austin for the sixth straight year to do SxSW. Or have SxSW done to me, as the case may be.
Things began Wednesday at noon with a familiar face, Toronto’s own Basia Bulat kicking off two days of epic lineups for Paste‘s parties at the Galaxy Room. Typically, early shows are sparsely attended affairs as people struggle to haul their asses out of bed, never mind deal with registrations and whatnot, but for Bulat’s show at least they were out in force, ready to have their spirits lifted. Though playing with a much smaller band than she normally does – just herself, brother Bobby on percussion and Alison Stewart on viola and vocals – her songs sounded almost as full as ever and the perfect thing to start of the afternoon/day/festival.
I only had to dash around the corner to Emo’s Annex for the next to-see on my schedule, but my apparent inability to tell time mean that when I got there, A Sunny Day In Glasgow were already halfway through their short set. Even so, I was still able to tell that their live experience was much more immediate and conventionally pop than their records – that might be a turn off for some, but for me, who finds their albums just a little too obtuse and twisty, it meant they were a most tasty bit of dream-pop. I’m still debating whether to see them or Serena-Maneesh in Toronto on April 2, but I now definitely want to see more of A Sunny Day In Glasgow. Your move, Serena.
Heading up Red River, it became clear that the Broken Bells “secret” show, which was just announced that morning, was no longer any kind of secret and any thoughts of getting in were quickly put aside. Continuing on past the massive line, I got to the Mohawk where Austinist’s annual party was going down. I had thought I had some time before Sweden’s First Aid Kit were supposed to start, so I watched Vancouver’s Yukon Blonde do their classic rocking thing for a bit before heading inside to see… Anni Rossi. I double-checked my schedule and indeed had First Aid Kit written down, but looking at the show posters they weren’t listed at all. They’re coming to Toronto in June so no big deal, but still perplexing. Not only can I not tell time, I am apparently making stuff up now.
Thankfully playing when and where I thought they were was The Depreciation Guild, who were just beginning to regale Peckerhead’s with their electronically enhanced dreampop when I got there. I had wholly enjoyed their set opening up for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart in February 2009 but perhaps just wasn’t fully in the mood for that in mid-afternoon or maybe I missed the big 8-bit-esque projections that were so cool that time (big sunny windows onto 6th St don’t create the same vibe). Or maybe I just needed lunch. Either way, before long, it was back out onto 6th.
After recharging with some street meat, it was time to catch one of my must-see acts for the festival, former Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky, whose long-promised solo debut The Desert Of Shallow Effects finally arrived last week. And just as the record was worth the wait, so too was Kurosky’s return to live performance. Fronting a band almost as large as his last one – five core members with percussionist and trumpet added when necessary – they brought his post-Beulah works to life in front of a goodly-sized audience that clearly had been anticipating this day for a long time. After shaking some early jitters, Kurosky was in good spirits and obviously just as pleased to be back, cracking jokes about his former band Pavement and even introducing the first of two songs from his past life as “Summer Landslide Babe”. Hearing the opening track from Yoko again was no joke, though, and would easily be the high point of the day, maybe even the week. Running out of time, they reached way back to finish off with “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand”, capping a short but fantastic set that not only served to remind that Beulah were one of the great pop bands of the last decade, but to notify that their chief songwriter was back and still had plenty more to offer. Win-win.
With the daytime portion of the, uh, day widing down, it was back to the Paste party for Rokkervil – the Roky Erikson/Okkervil River collaboration but seeing as how they were still soundchecking drums 20 minutes past their start time, I ducked to the other stage to see Frightened Rabbit… who also turned out to be running behind. But their problems would prove to be more than just getting their gear soundchecked – some of their equipment was not even working so when they finally got started, it was in a more stripped-down configuration than they’d intended, most notably with frontman Scott Hutchison sticking to acoustic guitar for the set. This actually proved to be a blessing, of sorts, as their new record The Winter Of Mixed Drinks takes their sound into heavier, more electric territory than their beloved Midnight Organ Fight and it was nice to hear the new material delivered with a little less bombast. I’ve not doubt that they can make the big presentation work, as they surely will when they play Toronto’s Opera House on May 4, but I liked seeing/hearing it done small(er).
Then it was time to forage up some dinner before things got official.