Monday, March 26th, 2012
The Roots, Bob Mould, Blitzen Trapper and more at SXSW
Frank YangIf you were to ask me what I thought MOG did – and for the life of me I can’t imagine why you would – the best I could offer is that they excel at getting my exhausted ass out of bed early on the Saturday of SXSW to go line up at The Mohawk so I can stand around for hours on end. They did it last year with a bill of Smith Westerns, Wild Flag, Okkervil River and TV On The Radio (I didn’t stick around for Big Boi but most everyone else did) and this year, the promised headlining double-bill of Bob Mould playing Copper Blue and The Roots was too much to resist.
The lineup was great but that also meant the line up would be long, meaning that despite getting what was by my standards an early jump on the day, I didn’t get into The Mohawk until lead-off hitter Gary Clark, Jr. was already a little ways into his set. I wasn’t specifically familiar with Clark, but you didn’t need to read his Wikipedia page to know what he was about – the man was a modern/classic guitar hero in the Hendrix vein, blending blues, rock, soul and psychedelia into a lean, impressive package. Impressive not just for his chops, which were formidable, but because the man could also write a song, sing with feeling and inject his music with a genuine sense of urgency and excitement without being showy – no mean feat for a guitar slinger. I’ve always thought the best thing about Hendrix was not his guitar playing, but his ability to write a song; Clark gets that.
On average, my appreciation for The War On Drugs lasts for about 30 minutes; that’s why their in-store at Soundscapes last August was the perfect set for me to enjoy their spacey guitar jams and not get bored. Their set here was about 45 minutes and almost on cue, at about the half-hour mark the hypnotic effect of their really loud chill-out started to wear off. Until that point, it was quite a nice soundtrack for a sunny afternoon of standing around but still feeling like you’re going somewhere. But after that… well, email started getting checked.
Even so, they were an inspired one-two punch with Portland’s Blitzen Trapper, whose music shares a sense of quintessential American-ness, but theirs is a more wide-eyed and rambling take on it. It’s as though The War On Drugs take the highway while Blitzen Trapper opt to roam the woods. It’d been a while since I’d seen them live – way back when their buds in Fleet Foxes were just of opener status – but their recipe of big, Band-esque jams and extended guitar solos hasn’t changed too much. I have to say that while their albums tend to ramble a bit more than I’d like and haven’t managed to really get any staying power in my ears, they remain a good time live.
All of that was preamble, however, to what for me was the day’s main draw – Bob Mould playing Copper Blue. I’ve no doubt that most in attendance didn’t appreciate the significance of either the record or the fact that they were about to see it played live – even twenty years on from its release, not nearly enough recognize its rightful status as one of the best American rock albums of the ’90s – but those of us who did were, as the kids say, stoked. It was rightly billed as Bob and not a reunited Sugar, but Dave Barbe and Malcolm Travis had more than capable substitutes in Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster. Being a bit pinched for time, they wasted no time in getting set up and tearing into “The Act We Act” and if anyone ever wanted a picture of me losing my shit, that’d have been a good place to get it. Not that anyone would have expected it to, but age hasn’t slowed down or quieted Mould at all, with the recital running non-stop and even faster than the original recordings. Mould seemed to be having a good time of it, offering a few smiles when he wasn’t bellowing into the mic or unleashing hell via his old Stratocaster. A few glances around confirmed that most people weren’t really getting it, but for every handful of quizzical or bored faces, there was one in a state of ecstasy so that was good enough. It was a bit of a shame that they had to skip “Slick” due to time – hardly my favourite song but still part of the album – but having “Helpless”, “Changes” and “Hoover Dam” blasted in my face was as good as I’d hoped.
But you know what? As great as that was, it wasn’t the highlight. Even if Bob had brought out Greg Norton and Grant Hart to play all of Candy Apple Grey, it’d have probably taken a back seat to The Roots. I have to say that I’ve never seen The Roots live, or listened to a Roots record, or even watched the Jimmy Fallon show. I don’t even follow Questlove on Twitter. You would be hard-pressed to find someone less familiar with The Roots than me, but even with all that their 90-minute show was one of the best things I’d seen in forever, and I’d just seen Bruce Springsteen less than 48 hours prior. Of course, in a sense that makes it easier – I can’t comment on what they played (though the cover quotes of Guns’N’Roses, George Thorogood and Led Zeppelin were obviously identifiable) but can describe the whole experience as an explosion of music where we were invited to dance in the fallout. It was a hip-hop show, a rock show, a soul revue all at once and a exhibition of amazing musicianship and showmanship throughout. Perhaps the most amazing thing was that as incredible as it was to be witnessing all this from up close, the band looked like they were the ones having the best time – you cannot fake the kind of joy that they were radiating. The performance went pretty much non-stop for about an hour fifteen before the rest of the band took a breather and Questlove and F. Knuckles invited DJ Jazzy Jeff – yeah, that Jazzy Jeff – onstage for a 3-man drum-off, before everyone returned for the big finish. The Roots. Holy shit. If the festival ended right there, I’d have been just fine with it
But of course it didn’t; one more night to go.
Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields talks to Kelly Hogan for The Chicago Reader (Hogan covers The Magnetic Fields amongst others on her new record I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, out June 5, details at Exclaim) and to LA Weekly. The Magnetic Fields are at The Sound Academy on March 30.
Stream: M. Ward / A Wasteland Companion
East Village Boys sends Michael Stipe to interview Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas while The Los Angeles Times, Dallas Voice, and San Diego City Beat don’t need to celebrity proxies. Perfume Genius is at The Drake on April 8.
DIY has details on The Flaming Lips’ contribution to this year’s Record Store Day exclusives – The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends celebrity collaboration album. Look for it (and probably not find it as it’s sold right out) on April 21.
Also coming out for Record Store Day are the first three Uncle Tupelo albums for the first time on vinyl since they were originally pressed back in the early ’90s (I assume – maybe they went straight to CD?). Until now, you could get Anodyne and the Anthology on wax, but not No Depression, Still Feel Gone or March 16-20, 1992 and also the literally-titled The Seven Inch Singles box set of four 7″ singles.. So this is good. Details at Exclaim.
Lower Dens are streaming a new track from their forthcoming Nootropics, out May 1.
Stream: Lower Dens – “Propogation”
MP3: Deer Tick – “Miss K”