Day Three of SXSW unfortunately saw a major split in our coverage, as one of us stayed steady, and the other saw decidedly less.
We doubled-teamed South-by-Southwest this year – continue for Ted Chase’s SXSW 2009 Day Three recap, or click here to go straight to Austin’s own Robin Sinhababu
What is it with Day Three of these industry fests? On Day Three of CMJ 2008 (QRO Day Three recap), managed to miss all but one band, thanks to everything from hangovers to public transportation snafus – and the same happened on Day Three of SXSW 2009. While more was caught than just one band, including two seriously good shows, so much was missed due to a massive hangover and difficulty with Austin’s bus system, as well as in comparison to the more-than-24-hours of music on Days One (QRO SXSW 2009 Day One recap) and Two (QRO SXSW 2009 Day Two recap), that have to start with what wasn’t seen:
– Australian BBQ @ Brush Square Park, East Tent, 12:00 PM – 7:00 PM, & New Zealand Party @ Brush Square Park, West Tent, 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM. Antipodean ANZAC throw down!
– Battle of the Bands @ The Compound, 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM. For judges GZA, No Age (QRO live review), & Brooklyn Vegan.
– The Felice Brothers (QRO spotlight on) @ Dirty Dog Bar, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM. Unable to make up for it at night (see below).
– M. Ward (QRO album review), Gomez, Cursive (QRO live review), Crystal Antlers (QRO photos), & Bear Hands (QRO spotlight on) @ La Zona Rosa, 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM. Village Voice was throwing a strong afternoon party on Day Three.
– Illinois (QRO spotlight on), The Morning Benders (QRO live review), The Postelles (QRO photos), Kenan Bell, Trainwreck Riders, Eulogies, & Let’s Wrestle @ The Legendary Hank Sinatra’s, 12:00 PM – 5:30 PM. But so was PR company/label +1…
– M. Ward, PJ Harvey & John Parish, Peter Bjorn and John, & Andrew Bird (QRO album review) @ ME Soundstage, 1:30 PM – 9:30 PM. Completely missed KEXP’s studio sessions at SXSW – could there ever be another chance at getting that close to artists like M. Ward, PJ Harvey, Andrew Bird, or any of PB&J, let alone all in one place?!?
– …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (QRO live review), Ra Ra Riot (QRO spotlight on), Cut Off Your Hands, Gentleman Reg (QRO album review), The Thermals (QRO photos), & Cuff the Duke @ Radio Room Patio, 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM. But there was nothing that was more missed during the day than Canvas Media/The Onion’s A.V. Club party – and that’s not even mentioning the acts indoors at Radio Room, like Young Galaxy (QRO live review).
– Peter Bjorn & John @ FADER Fort, 7:45 PM – 8:30 PM. Here’s another…
– The Rosebuds & Thao Nguyen & The Get Down Stay Down (QRO spotlight on) @ Momo’s, 9:00 PM – 11:00 PM
– DJ Shadow, Metallica (QRO photos), & Silversun Pickups @ Stubb’s, 9:00 PM – 2:00 AM. There was a MASSIVE crowd to see the worst kept secret at SXSW, Metallica playing Stubb’s after the ‘Guitar Hero Metallica Madness Competition’. Not surprising that the metal-heads were out in force, but isn’t Metallica kind of the antithesis of South by Southwest (as someone in line for Best Wurst said to me)? The kind of band that not just plays arenas but sues its fans, and only plays SXSW when sponsored by a video game?
– Eksi Ekso (QRO album review) @ Wave, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM. SXSW is a great chance to catch small, new bands whose recorded music you’ve found and loved, but might be a long while before they play where you live.
Day Three wasn’t a complete loss, not at all: though there were some early swings-and-misses, it ended with two balls hit out of the park:
Ground Control Touring Showcase @ Habana Bar Backyard
The Felice Brothers, 10:20PM
Though they hail from New York’s Catskills, the Americana roots-revival of The Felice Brothers (QRO live review) is well suited to Texas – too well suited, as there was an overflow crowd at Habana Bar Backyard. Had run into James Felice (QRO interview) a couple of times on 6th Street, and that was going to have to be it, at least until next month’s release of Yonder Is the Clock, their follow-up to last year’s breakthrough self-titled LP (QRO review).
Take Root Records/Rock River Music/Noisepop Showcase @ Mohawk
Radio 4, 10:45 PM
Click image for full gallery
A band I’d seen at relatively random times a while ago, opening for acts I was there for, had always liked them, but never focused too strongly. They were playing mostly new stuff, “We gotta try out…”, and it was pretty strong, despite the unfamiliarity. Dressed all in black (with the singer/keyboardist looking like a thirties-ish Paul Simon), their alt-punk was similarly a little old, a bit of a throwback, but not an unwanted one.
The Soft Pack, 11:05 PM
Click image for full gallery
A much-talked about band these days, that’s mostly due to them changing their name from The Muslims, and after seeing them, opinion hasn’t changed that that’s the most interesting thing about The Soft Pack. Their garage-pop is catchy, if not quite what I expected, and not really something to write home about.
The Billions Corporation Showcase @ Antone’s
St. Vincent, 12:10 AM
Click image for full gallery
After missing the saintly Annie Clark (QRO interview) on Day One (QRO SXSW Day One recap), had to catch her at her only other SXSW appearance, midnight, to the west at Antone’s. While it took her & the band a little while to get going (technical difficulties with the keyboard set-up – soundman looked exasperated), and starting with the new “The Stranger” wasn’t the best kick-off, but things took off with “Jesus Saves, I Spend” from 2007’s breakthrough solo LP debut, Marry Me (QRO review).
And from there, the entire St. Vincent ensemble (QRO photos), including Daniel Hart of/is Physics of Meaning (QRO album review), stayed strong on new as well as old. The new “Save Me” was special, while “Actor Out of Work” was not only fun, but also a chance for Clark to shred. Meanwhile, Clark still managed to throw in some of her trademark live (QRO live review) humor during Marry Me’s title track, joking in an extended break in the middle of the song between lines “We’ll do like Mary & Joseph did” and “Without the kid…”
St. Vincent ended on two more new numbers, a growing choral harmony jam of ‘oohs’ & ‘aahs’, and the rocking – and a bit blues-funky – “Marrow”. No, it wasn’t enough Clark, but certainly made one look forward to May’s new Actor.
Blackberry Showcase @ Cedar Street Courtyard
Dinosaur Jr., 1:00 AM
Click image for full gallery
When the reunion of the original three-man line-up of seminal eighties punk rock act Dinosaur Jr., singer/guitarist J. Mascis, singer/bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph, happened a few years ago, it was just because their early records were being re-released, and that was all they played at their shows, disappointing many fans who’d first fallen in love with Dinosaur Jr. in the post-Barlow era (after he’d been fired by Mascis and wrote the kiss-off “The Freed Big” in Sebadoh – QRO live review), and it stood in the shadow of the other eighties Massachusetts alt-reunion, of The Pixies. But while The Pixies stayed on tour a bit too long and never released any new material, Dinosaur Jr. came out with Beyond (QRO review) in 2007, a record that drew from the band’s entire history and stood up strong. Yet word was that it was still just a one-off re-collaboration – until the news broke that the three alt-rock icons were staying together, and signed to Jagjaguwar for a new album, Farm.
So this appearance at SXSW, the only for the line-up, was maybe more must-see than anything else in Austin. Cedar Street Courtyard was certainly packed like it was a must-see – fans were lined up right to the edge of the stage, despite the clear indication of exactly how loud things were going to be: behind where Mascis was going to stand were a bank of amplifiers. When, after the band had taken the stage, someone asked for earplugs, Barlow could only laugh, “It’s too late for that now…” (his second laugh-line that night: the first came when he asked the soundman to turn down Mascis’ vocals in his monitor, which brought knowing laughs from those who know their history of Dinosaurs).
After kicking things off with “In a Jar” from 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me, Dinosaur Jr. hit up “Been There All the Time” and Barlow’s “Back To Your Heart”, both “from our old new album.” That was Barlow again: Mascis may be the primary singer/songwriter, or ‘the band’ as one fan said to some girl inexplicably didn’t know who ‘J’ was (“Don’t let Lou hear” I had to interject…) but Barlow is certainly the funnier one, and really seemed to have a heightened presence at the Courtyard. It might have had to do with just being more comfortable with fans being up that close, or that he had more of an opportunity – while he had ample time when his amp blew out to tell the crowd that, “The amp that never blows out, blew out”, Mascis literally had to switch guitars in the middle of a song when he broke a string. But perhaps it also predicts a slightly more prominent role for Barlow coming up.
(oh, and don’t worry, Murph got some love too: one guy right up front seemed to spend the whole time videoing Murph with his, yes, Blackberry – occasionally doubling-up on the video berries, one in each hand, to catch Barlow or Mascis as well:)
Both Beyond tracks fit right into the set list, which was unfortunately relatively short (2:00 AM curfew hitting again…), right alongside early material like “In a Jar” before or “Little Fury Things” afterwards, or even the post-Barlow “Feel the Pain”. Somewhat surprisingly, Dinosaur Jr. didn’t play a single track off their most successful record (and the last with Murph), 1993’s Where You Been – no “Start Choppin’” or “Out There”. But the crowd got something way better, when Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on) came on stage to sing “The Wagon”. There was nothing BSS-related going on at SXSW (BSS multi-instrumentalist Charles Spearin had just been in New York for his Happiness Project – QRO photos), so it came as a real surprise (could be forgiven for just thinking, ‘That roadie looks a lot like Kevin Drew’, until he grabbed the mike…). Broken Social Scene had opened up for Dinosaur Jr. at Central Park Summerstage (QRO venue review) in New York during the early days of the reunion tour (that was when BSS producer Dave Newfeld got beaten up by the NYPD for trying to buy weed in Washington Square Park – and won a settlement for it from New York’s Finest!), but Drew was still star-struck, “I used to sing that song in my bedroom when I was fifteen…”
No new songs were on offer, but that was probably a good thing, considering the short set and the crowd of super-fans (who ranged from those just past the twenty-one-year-old minimum to well, well older…). Instead, the band ended with three classics from the early days, “Freak Scene” from 1988’s Bug, “Forget the Swan” from their should-have-been-self-titled 1985 debut Dinosaur (the band had to add the ‘Jr.’ in threat of lawsuit from a Jefferson Airplane offshoot of the same name), and You’re Living’s “Sludgefest”. It was all very loud, very good, and made me forget about all the troubles I’d had on Day Three.
– Though trouble wasn’t far away, as it is completely impossible to get a cab downtown after 2:00 AM! That’s when the bars let out, and public transportation had ended hours earlier, so there was a million drunk Texans, as well as drunk SXSWers, trying to hail the few cabs out there. I managed to get one, but he was doing it ‘off the book’, so didn’t start his meter, so his available light never turned off, so every one of those drunk Texans were trying to hail the cab I was already in. Stopped waiting for a light, two guys were so angry & wasted that they started cursing out the cabbie, and even kicking his car – the driver had to get out and warn them off; would have been a fight had the drunks (slightly) less drunk girlfriends not pulled them back from their asshole behavior…
Touch and Go/Quarterstick Showcase @ Flamingo Cantina
San Francisco’s Mi Ami were a fast drummer playing rock and Latin beats, a chill, Rickenbacker-wielding bassist, and a guitarist who does high-pitched, spazzed-out vocals. All my qualms with the band were with him. Because he was usually either playing really loud or not at all, and the rhythm section was just swinging along and not building up to anything, the sudden onsets of enormous guitar didn’t make much sense. And the vocals were the worst kind: high-energy but ineffectual.
The last couple songs worked better, as the guitarist modulated a bit with some note riffs. They could use better dynamics across the board. But even when the guitar was monotonous, the band’s onslaught was great. Watching some guys have a noise freak-out to a fast salsa beat is plenty entertaining.
WFMU/Aquarius Records Showcase @ Spiro’s Amphitheater
Brooklyn’s Obits are a garage-y band of veterans. The guitarists are Rick Froberg, who fronted San Diego’s Drive Like Jehu, and Sohrab Habibion of Washington’s Edsel. They maintain some 90s-style interplay, but the rhythm section has more of a classic rock feel. Drummer Scott Gursky is an adherent of the floor-tom-is-better-than-high-hat school, and although Rickenbacker bassist Greg Simpson plays some good fills, he mostly rolls along with Gursky in a restrained manner.
At first, the band seemed to have two big problems: they didn’t swing, and the songs weren’t that great. The drums in particular were flat, and even when both guitars were chugging, the band wasn’t propulsive. There were some good parts, mostly during the more adventurous guitar playing. But when they played their last song, “Milk Cow Blues,” everything came together. Froberg and Habibion played these badass, swinging, cascading minor chord riffs, and Gursky stepped up with an up-tempo, bluesy, snare-heavy beat that gave the band the fuel they’d been missing before. I guess the Obits just have one problem – they need good songs. Or covers, as the case may be.