Thursday, March 17th, 2011
SxSW 2011 Day One
Mark Eitzel, The Jezabels, Ringo Deathstarr and more at SxSW
Frank YangInformation is king when it comes to SxSW and scheduling, and inevitably there’s a lot of bad info floating around. This I was reminded of on the very first morning of the 2011 edition of the festival when I headed down 6th St to try and start things off with English atmospheric-pop outfit Still Corners at Peckerheads, only to discover that the show I was looking for was either happening in 12 hours (the old AM vs PM gag), in 48 hours (according to some unofficial guides) or not at all (my own gut feeling). But what was certain is that it wasn’t happening now. So for plan B – and you always need a plan B – was to about face and head to the west end of downtown for Austin’s own Ringo Deathstarr.
The trio had been getting some attention for their clever name and debut album Colour Trip, which makes no secret of their love of My Bloody Valentine. And while the record is loud, fuzzy and fun enough to make up for its general lack of originality, their live show wasn’t able to get over that hump. Granted, no one is at the top of their game at noon on a Wednesday, but you didn’t get the sense they were off, necessarily – the general lack of presence and charisma was probably a consistent thing. But still they were loud, the tunes were alright and bassist/guitarist Alex Gehring does a pretty decent Belinda Butcher impersonation so it’s okay. And there’s nothing quite like watching ear-bleeding shoegaze at lunchtime in the back of an empty restaurant to remind you that yes, it’s SxSW time again.
I then headed clear across downtown to Lustre Pearl for another Austin trio, though one that’s pretty much a Sx tradition for me and a guaranteed good show – Ume. They were one of the great fest discoveries back in 2009 and I always make it a point, now, to catch one of their shows. Though this show was similar in structure and selection as ones past – the band have a new record in the can but weren’t showing off too much of it yet – it was different in one key point with new drummer Rachel Fuhrer behind the kit, replacing Jeff Barrera. She proved more than up to the job, though, teaming with bassist Eric Larson to lay down the foundation for Lauren Larson’s guitar and vocal pyrotechnics. Seeing her play never gets old, though I will say that I am anxious for the new album – the Sunshower EP was and is great, but they’ve gotten about all the mileage out of it that they can.
After a stop-in for some free food and drink at the Canadian Blast BBQ – hey now, we all know why we’re here – I headed to Red 7 to see Lower Dens, only to find I’d beaten them to the venue… by a day or so. The band’s van had broken down somewhere around Tennessee and thus their Wednesday shows were scotched. But, as already said, that’s why you have backups. And mine was just across the I-35 at the French Legation museum for the already once-missed Still Corners. They would not evade me.
Except that they would. The Legation is a wonderfully laid back outside venue, all hills and lawns for lounging and lolling. The fact that there was no security at the door, nor at the beer tent – just buckets of beer for the taking by anyone which I’m sure, even in the land of the free, is all kinds of illegal – should have been my first hint that this was not going to be a tightly-run ship. The second hint was when Alessi’s Ark, who’d been scheduled for 2:20PM, got on stage at almost 4PM. How you fall 90 minutes behind just a couple hours into the day is a mystery to me, but the Legation had managed to do it. And while Alessi’s languid solo acoustic folk was nice enough and well-matched to the pastoral setting, the cumulative agitation of the day was really distracting me and I can’t say I paid a whole lot of attention.
Deciding that waiting around for Still Corners to finally come on in a couple hours would be a waste of the day, it was back down across the highway to The Mohawk where Australia’s Jezabels were already underway. I’d missed a few of their Toronto appearances, including last week during Canadian Musicfest, but was glad we’d finally found a way to meet up as their nicely dramatic rock – clearly intended for larger stages than the inside of the Mohawk – began redeeming the day. They had a balance of attack and atmosphere that was certainly pleasing to these ears and delivered with a level of polish that showed this was a band who’d been honing their craft for some time.
Abandoned schedules did work to my favour by the afternoon’s end, though, as the party at Red-Eyed Fly had fallen behind sufficiently that I was able to get in to see Mark Eitzel play. He was at the festival in both a solo capacity and as frontman for American Music Club and though this was the former, his set drew heavily on material from the latter, particularly their excellent reunion record Love Songs For Patriots, but the configuration of Eitzel and a keyboardist gave it a very different cabaret-like feel. It was actually very fitting that he was performing as people were clearing out of the back room following the Dodos’ set as it was as though he was a sideshow performer desperately trying to get their attention. Those who kept walking definitely missed out, though, as Eitzel was in fine sardonic form and huge voice, his lyrics taking on a free form poetry feel in the setting. “Patriot’s Heart”, “Windows On The World” and “The Decibels And The Little Pills” all felt as though you were hearing them for the first time and following a reading of “I Left My Heart I San Francisco”, he bounded off stage and strode out of the club, simply done with it all. Mark Eitzel had left the building.