SXSW 2012 Friday Recap

<img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/sxsw2012d4.jpg" alt="SXSW 2012 Friday Recap : Live" /><br /> <i>SPIN</i> & oldies-but-goodies ruled Friday of South-by-Southwest. ...
SXSW 2012 Friday Recap
SXSW 2012 Friday Recap

Even as we await the Mayan Apocalypse, South-by-Southwest goes on.  The 2012 edition of the music industry festival in Austin was an expanded one, taking in both previously unofficial parties such as FADER Fort, as well as growing to an extra day in Tuesday.  Though Syria burned and the interminable Republican Presidential Primary contest went on, it all became background noise to the sweet sounds of SXSW, March 13th to 18th:

 

Daytime on Friday was a long-time SXSW favorite for Ted Chase – SPIN Magazine’s party at Stubb’s.  Exhaustion limited activity in the evening, before a few oldies-but-goodies…

 

[note: Friday’s entry includes writing by Ted Chase and Robin Sinhababu and photo galleries from QRO’s Chris Becker and Terri Wise]

 

 

Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie party @ The Dogwood – Chris Becker

backwords

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Before heading to the SPIN Magazine party at Stubb’s (see below – all the Stubb’s photos but Escort are his), QRO’s Chris Becker caught backwords & Field Report.

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Pandora Discovery Den @ Antone’s – Chris Becker

Field Report

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SPIN Magazine party @ Stubb’s – Ted Chase

Escort, 1:30 PM

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SPIN Magazine throws a party at Stubb’s during the day on Friday at SXSW, and QRO has been there in 2011 (QRO recap) & 2010 (QRO recap).  Admittedly, 2012 didn’t have quite as good a line-up as previous years – could anything be better than TV On the Radio (QRO photos from SPIN SXSW 2011 party)?  Or maybe QRO is just becoming a snob like a Obama…

There were like a million people on stage for Escort.  The dance-funk orchestra was good for what they were, but were reminiscent of The Phenomenal Handclap Band (QRO album review), who are anything but phenomenal.

More importantly, got some of the Stubb’s BBQ while it was free – the no-price wasn’t announced, and neither was the changeover back to charging, providing at first a happy short line of people for the BBQ, then an unhappy long line…

 

Chairlift, 2:20 PM

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Chairlift burst through on the back of single “Bruises” – then one-third of the band, Aaron Pfenning, left for his own solo project Rewards (QRO photos), and the indie-pop (now) duo changed styles with Something (QRO review), yet retained their popularity.  Somewhere between lilting beauty and ‘tronica, they can still miss the mark – can’t quite explain their sustained popularity.

 

The Big Pink, 3:10 PM

The Big Pink had been playing for a song or two before it only slowly dawned on me that anybody was playing.  They were decent, and likely would have been better had I known their songs, but they were hardly gripping.

 

Best Coast, 4:00 PM

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Not all bands are suited for a hot Friday afternoon, outdoors at a BBQ joint, but Best Coast is.  Their sun-bleached style fit the baking climate, especially if you’d been at Stubb’s awhile, consuming brisket & beer (though one had to manage your free beer tabs on your wristband to last the day – but free vodka drinks helped with that, and they ran out of the free beer by the end anyway…).  Frontwoman Bethany Cosentino was wearing a big, black, floppy hat, despite being the shade, but at least it didn’t block the mob of photographers in the photo pit…

 

Santigold, 5:00 PM

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Most SXSW showcases are an odd mix, and headliner Santigold coming after indie of Best Coast, The Big Pink, and Chairlift was one (Escort would fit as an opener), though there was hip-hop rhymes being thrown down at Stubb’s indoor stage all day this year – which made sense, stage set-up-wise, though it meant you didn’t catch an act like Young the Giant on a small stage like previously (QRO photos at SPIN SXSW 2011 party).  And who doesn’t have fun at a Santigold show?  The leading lady even invited some fans to join her and her dancers on stage, “But make sure you give these girls some space, ‘cause they will fuck you up – no kidding…”

Santigold is at that spot between hip-hop, world, and more that M.I.A. (QRO photos) only wishes she could be…

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Filter Magazine party @ Bar 96 – Ted Chase

The New Cassettes, 6:10 PM

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Ran down Red River from one magazine’s party to another’s, to catch the last bit of The New Cassettes.  I had seen them last year (QRO recap) at MTV’s party on the Red River Garage that overlooks Stubb’s – they had played on the stage next to the main one (though both stages were of the same size) while headliners Matt & Kim (QRO photos) were setting up, yet the crowd only stood in front of the non-active Matt & Kim stage for New Cassettes’ whole set.  But that didn’t wear on The New Cassettes then, who started from the second that prior band The Kids of 88 (QRO photos) stopped, taking advantage of every minute they had then.

After that, I definitely wanted to catch The New Cassettes at this SXSW, but only caught the active end of their Bar 96 set.  Their new album comes out April 3rd.

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Hard Rock Hotels party @ Cedar Door – Terri Wise

Quilt

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QRO’s Terri Wise made it to Hard Rock Hotels’ party at Cedar Door for Quilt & free goodies (including free A to Z Pinot Gris), then to the 2nd Street Showdown for Seapony (plus unwittingly crashing a Sleepy Vikings interview with VICE – instead of acting annoyed, they bought her lunch…).

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Austin Music Hall/Sonora Records party @ 1500 E 2nd St. – Terri Wise

Seapony

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Small Stone showcase @ Headhunters patio – Robin Sinhababu

Dwellers, 7:00 PM

Dwellers

Every year, some of the best sets I see at SXSW are played on the cramped, staircase-shadowed, pseudo-patio of Headhunters.  Dwellers was right up there, rocking the trio format with no shortage of interesting things going on.

Joey Toscano’s Lucite guitar deserves some credit for that. He’s a trebly, bendy, vibrato-oriented player who throws a little feedback into his leads and riffs.  Zach Hatsis drummed all over the kit in a good, loose-limbed, flailing style.  Of the three, Dave Jones on bass played it coolest, with a non-busy counterpoint to Toscano and Hatsis, using a nice, big tone that made him assertive despite his restraint.

With all the dynamic variation, start/stop drumming, and guitar variety, they were real agile in addition to being heavy.

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Dare To Care/Planet Quebec showcase @ Spill Bar

Wintersleep, 8:00 PM

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By now, SXSW 2012 as a whole was catching up with me, and I nodded off at the Convention Center while I was charging my phone.  There wasn’t a whole lot of interest going on – at least, not enough to get me up in my condition, but did head to Spill Bar for Wintersleep .  I took some photos of a band that’s impressed me before (at times that night they were more ‘tronic, at other times, more twang – what happened to fuzzy Canadian indie-rock?…), sat down, and fell asleep (insert pun here).  But you can’t sleep at the bar, as I was told, so left to take the rest of my nap back at the Convention Center.

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Cake Shop showcase @ The Iron Bear – Robin Sinhababu

Moonmen on the Moon, Man, 8:00 PM

Moonmen On the Moon, Man

Moonmen on the Moon, Man were fun, funny, and fun to be with.  I’m tempted to qualify my enjoyment with an ‘It’s not the kind of music I’d normally listen to,’ or maybe even an ‘It’s good for what it is.’  But I shouldn’t; that would be lazy and unethical.  You could read hundreds of music blogs for free, but here you are, paying for high quality music criticism, and I’m not going to betray your trust or your hard-earned dollar.

There’s no question that the band was fun, funny, and fun to be with.  Two of them played unusual “ZOM” guitars.  The drummer seemed to be a ringer; he was lazy at times, but overall a good sport, considering he was likely a hired gun.  “Count off four times,” the male guitarist instructed him before one song.  “How fast?”  “Fast.”  Whether intentional, the combination of lockstep and freewheeling impulses is one piece of the Moonmen on the Moon, Man pie.

Another piece has to be their fine cover of “Under the Boardwalk”.  They seemed to be out of material, and three of them were ready to hang it up, but the bassist remembered at the last minute that they could do “Boardwalk”.  What a great cover!  I was so lulled by their magic that the guitar solo totally surprised me; I’d forgotten all about it.

Maybe the key, though, is that they play so simply.  The bass and guitars are so unadorned and staccato in this band, giving them maximum rhythmic punch and minimal room for error, but they execute.  If they distorted the guitars and fuzzed the bass, they might sound like many other garage rock bands.  As it is, I wouldn’t say they’re especially original, but they’ve definitely got a unique approach.

I totally recommend that you see them if they come to your town.  Bring the kids, or a date.

 

Terri Wise also headed to The Iron Bear for the showcase thrown by NYC’s Cake Shop (QRO venue review), with great new songs from Razika and finally seeing & appreciating Ava Luna live:

Ava Luna

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Razika

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Fearless Records showcase @ Dirty Dog Bar

The Static Jacks, 9:00 PM

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Mustered up enough energy to try to catch The Static Jacks at The Dirty Dog Bar.  I wish I could have borrowed some energy from the young New Jersey band, as they had energy to spare on stage – as well as a guest appearance by Ceci Gomez of Beast Make Bomb, which made me realize how similar the two acts are, like a more female version of Static Jacks (or SJ is a more male version of BMB…).  But Dirty Dog was a bit dive-y, so headed back onto Sixth Street for that staple of SXSW – Best Wurst.

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Merge Records showcase @ Frank – Robin Sinhababu

Eleanor Friedberger, 9:15 PM

Eleanor Friedberger

You may know Eleanor Friedberger from the Fiery Furnaces (QRO photos), or maybe from high school if you grew up in Austin, or maybe from the local diner, if you go to the same diner that she goes to.

She’s very good at singing, but I thought this show – and what I’ve heard from her solo record, Last Summer – didn’t make the most of her talents.  Both have her singing in a more conventional vocal style than the whimsical, mixed-pace delivery you hear on Fiery Furnaces records.  Although her voice itself is somewhat distinctive, I think it’s that Fiery Furnaces delivery that makes her really unique.  Her instrumental backing was uninteresting, too: gentle, fingerpicked acoustic guitar.

The strength of her show was her presence: she’s funny and self-effacing.  There was a wonderful moment when she turned and walked toward the chatty, noisy “VIP” balcony behind her, playing and looking up at them for a few seconds.

Also, it was at this point that I decided to try asking people for photos instead of taking them during performances.  As you can see, I did not get off to an auspicious start: she was standing totally still, three feet in front of me on a well-lit stage, and that was the best of three shots I took. Sorry.

This solo show is too close to conventional singer-songwriter territory for me to enjoy, but if you’re especially fond of her voice and her lyrics – which are still quick-witted, although their delivery has changed – you should see her.  She’s touring frequently.

 

Later that Terri Wise squeezed into the great Merge Records showcase at Frank for newest signee Bob Mould, as well as Imperial Teen:

 

Imperial Teen

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Bob Mould Band

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SXSW showcase @ Beale Street Tavern – Ted Chase & Robin Sinhababu

Grant Hart, 10:00 PM

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Beale Street Tavern had another SXSW staple of mine – meeting up with QRO’s Robin Sinhababu.  We met there for one of our (admittedly rare) musical overlaps, Grant Hart.  Beale Street Tavern was a bit odd – beneath The Parish, it was dedicated to Elvis Presley, with pictures of him on the wall and named after Memphis’ equivalent to Sixth Street; but it had tall boys for three dollars…

As usual, Hart played with just his guitar, no band, which actually fit for the small barely-stage in the corner.  Unfortunately, the stage was right next to not only the route to the bathrooms, but also upstairs bar, and some local girls spent most of his set just to Hart’s right, talking amongst themselves and even calling out for their friends, utterly ignoring the iconic former singer/drummer of Hüsker Dü (QRO spotlight on).  You could tell they annoyed him, but the rest of the place filled up with Hart fans – “You’ve been a great audience.  This group; from here to here,” Hart said, from the wall with Elvis pictures to the bar, but not past it with the chatty Cathys.

Whatever – he asked for requests & jumped at the chance to play Robin’s, “Last Days of Pompeii”.

-Ted Chase

 

Grant Hart took it pretty easy at this show, and I mostly mean that in a good way.  He was a bit sloppy, forgetful, or some combination of both on guitar, but he took the singing, which is really his strength, a little more seriously.  There was no set list, and he eventually started taking requests, including mine for “Last Days of Pompeii”.

Some post-Greek-looking gals and guys were talking and texting during most of the show right by the stage.  I think they were trying to meet some friends there, and clearly the performance of music presented quite an inconvenience.  Hart stared them down a few times to little effect, but his unserious attempts to participate in their conversations were both funny and evidence of a quick wit.

Overall, I would recommend that Grant Hart try to avoid playing Elvis-themed bars in the future.

-Robin Sinhababu

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SXSW showcase @ BD Riley’s – Robin Sinhababu

Flying Eyes

Flying Eyes

Flying Eyes‘ set started off with promise.  First of all, I’d noted the show in my notepad, so clearly I had some reason to be there.  Second, the band seemed pleasant as they were setting up.  Third, the guitarist who looked a lot like that guy in Tenant last year began the show by playing a saw.

Unfortunately, the saw was then left alone, the band became unpleasant, and I began to write negative things in my notepad.

Maybe I shouldn’t say they were being unpleasant; certainly it wasn’t a Fear or even a Two Gallants type of boorishness I detected yesterday (QRO recap).  It’s just that when well-coiffed rock-looking dudes arch their backs as they play garden-variety psych rock and try to sing like Jim Morrison, it’s not pleasant to my ears or eyes.

They had a handful of riffs I liked, but they were seldom sorted into good songs.  I didn’t find any of the playing remarkable.  And this kind of singing has no appeal to me.  Really attractive girls – the primary component of the audience – seemed to think otherwise, so go see them if you’re into that kind of thing.  Or, if you like this kind of music.

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Arts & Crafts Records showcase @ 512 Rooftop – Robin Sinhababu

The Darcys, 11:00 PM

The Darcys

Down the block and upstairs, another band was over-emoting their way through a run-of-the-mill set.  This time it was Toronto’s Darcys.  They recently recorded an album-length cover of Steely Dan’s Aja, which for better and worse is arranged in a Darcys’ style: slightly psychedelic pop-rock with soul-style vocals.

I don’t wish to fault the band for being into what they’re playing, nor for showing it, but since I found their songs bland, the singer’s occasional emo poses made them look seem silly to me.  Busy drumming was unflattering to the less-energetic songs, too.

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Fender/Filter Magazine showcase @ Bar 96 – Ted Chase

Lucero, 11:30 PM

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Headed back down Red River to Filter Magazine’s cluster of venues & shows, back to an at-capacity Bar 96, but got in anyway.  Admittedly, Bar 96 isn’t that large of a place, but you knew that Lucero would draw a crowd in Texas.  Lucero have been the gold standard for what was once called ‘cowpunk’ and now ‘workingman’s punk’, that authentically working class Middle American punk with grit and country – working class Memphis, not ‘new country’ Nashville.

Lucero welcomed the party, “It’s a party – ‘bout time we played some drinkin’ songs!”  The group is not just some country-fied party-rock outfit, and did do a few strong sadder songs, but everyone was supplying them with whiskey – but not H2O, as, “Water?  Never touch the stuff…”

 

Dinosaur Jr., 12:30 AM

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But as great as Lucero was, came to Bar 96 for Dinosaur Jr.  The eighties/nineties alt-reunion might have been started by Mission of Burma (QRO live review), and popularized by Pixies (QRO live review), but it’s been perfected by Dinosaur Jr.  The group has released two albums, Beyond (QRO review) and Farm (QRO review), that are as good as anything the group has done, singer/guitarist J Mascis (QRO solo album review) & singer/bassist Lou Barlow (QRO solo album review) have buried the hatchet, and drummer Murph is as awesome as ever.  It’s to the point where you forget how great they were & are – until you’re waiting for them to come on, see Mascis’ Gandalf-like white mane, and realize just how psyched you are to see Dinosaur Jr.

Yes, they were loud (you needed your earplugs), and yes, there was a mosh pit – but the pit was actually pretty well-working, not over-violent or overtaking the event.  Dinosaur Jr.’s songs are actually a good fit for a good mosh pit, as they rock, but also have slower moments that also slow the pit down – and Dinosaur moshers aren’t mindless moshers.  Barlow did say that big guys should be careful, but told one super-fan, “Don’t worry, you’re not a big guy, just a drunk guy, which is okay.  But big, drunk guys, watch out…”

One sweet surprise was how funny and engaging Barlow is, live.  Mascis is something of the reclusive guitar god, flanked by his amps but an enigma of a personality – it’s Barlow who makes the jokes.  He thanked their manager – the one apparently responsible for the entire Dinosaur reunion – for “selflessly” giving Barlow his whiskey, “But now I’ll have a killer headache in the morning…”  Barlow also joked about the über-show happening at the same time:

Jack White is playing guitar right here right now!  What are you doing watching some old hippie punks?  A living American saint!  Someone is playing the blues right now and you’re here – do you hate America?!?…

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Japan Nite showcase @ Elysium – Robin Sinhababu

ZZZ’s, 12:00 AM

I’ve attended Japan Nite for three straight years because I’m excited about various bands that will play there, so I like Japan Nite in general.  Trouble is, ZZZ’s seemed to me more about Being From Japan than playing interesting rock ‘n’ roll. Their show, especially the banter, seemed to me calculated to get a response from a Western audience, and I suppose it worked, though they could have done the same by playing good rock ‘n’ roll, too.

They weren’t bad, but they seemed disorganized.  What was most appealing to me about them was the combination of pleasant melody with dirty-soundingness, kind of like Torche (QRO live review) at a slower pace.  But it’s only sections of songs, or one instrument in songs, that had this appeal.  Too often, it sounded like they were all playing a different kind of song (e.g. lazy drumming and frenetic bass, or hard-driving drums and noodling guitar).

 

Vampilia, 1:00 AM

It’s tough to say whether Osaka’s Vampilia are better live or on record.  It’s because of their odd lineup: two clothed guitarists, one almost-nude guitarist, bass, a top-hatted singer, piano, a standing drummer, and either Talow the Tornado or Ruins’s Tatsuya Yoshide sitting at the drum kit.

On record, they’ve got even more instruments, and the music constantly runs the risk of veering into annoying, kitschy territory, like Gogol Bordello (QRO live review) at their campiest.  Thing is, it mostly doesn’t, and it’s impressive how the band skirt disaster song after song, integrating all these instruments and theatrics into something you’d actually want to listen to.

Like most bands, their live sound is more blurred, and oddities of arrangement are smoothed over a bit.  So when doom metal gave way to a classical-style piano solo, for example, the effect was much less jarring than it is on record.  The music had more cohesion and narrative live, but that potential train wreck quality I like was gone.  Plus, I could plainly see that the band is loaded with strong players, so it quickly became out of the question that anything shambolic or disastrous would happen.

Not that they’re boring to watch!  The costumes, nudity, and general spectacle, especially that of the singer, made them one of the funnier bands to watch I saw all week.  I recommend seeing them if they come to your town.

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Unfortunately Missed:

-Heartless Bastards (QRO live review), Blitzen Trapper (QRO live review), Ben Kweller (QRO photos), and Fanfarlo (QRO album review) @ Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center, 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM.  Alt-country day stage.

-of Montreal (QRO live review) @ Flamingo Cantina, 4:50 PM – 5:40 PM.  of Montreal played Sunlandic Twins in its entirety to close out Under the Radar‘s three days at Flamingo Cantina.

-Zambri (QRO mp3 review) & Hooray For Earth (QRO spotlight on) @ Music Makers, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM.  Someone finally put these band-in-laws together, back-to-back, on a bill.

-Jack White, White Rabbits (QRO spotlight on), & more @ The Stage On Sixth, 7:30 PM – 1:00 AM.  Pretty much the hardest showcase to get into at SXSW 2012 (other than the ticket-winners-only Springsteen performance on Thursday), went nowhere near this.  Even after dropping the dead weight that was Meg (QRO live review of The White Stripes), Jack White is still more famous than ‘good’ – though he is very famous.  But admit it – you just wanted to get in to see celebrities like Bill Murray and Olivia Wilde (?!?) rock out, though they were probably still in a separate VIP area Third Man Records had set up to keep them from the toiling masses…

(and the best White there was White Rabbits anyway…)

-Bob Mould (QRO live review), Imperial Teen (QRO album review), Crooked Fingers (QRO album review), The Love Language (QRO spotlight on), Eleanor Friedberger (QRO photos), Hospitality (QRO album review), and M. Ward (QRO album review) @ Frank, 7:30 PM – 1:30 AM.  Major indie imprint Merge Records put on a great showcase – so great that there was a line around the block before doors opened.  I later wanted to try to do the Hüsker Doüble, catch Grant Hart (see above) & Bob Mould on the same night, but Dinosaur Jr. actually have reunited (see above) – and where’s Greg Norton?  Thankfully, Terri Wise caught Mr. Mould (see above), and she & Robin Sinhababu hit up the showcase.

-Neon Indian (QRO live review), Lower Dens (QRO photos), White Rabbits, and Caveman (QRO album review) @ Hype Hotel, 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM.  The best line-up at Hype Machine’s Hype Hotel, but QRO had already caught all of those acts recently.

-YACHT (QRO spotlight on), Grimes (QRO album review), and New Build (members of Hot Chip – QRO album review – and LCD Soundsystem – QRO live review) @ Clive Bar, 10:30 PM – 1:30 AM.  Another Filter party happening around the corner from Bar 96 (see above), had to decide between punks & electronics.

-Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (QRO live review) @ Lustre Pearl, 12:00 AM – 1:00 AM.  Another great show happening at the same time at Filter‘s group of showcases/venues.

-The Temper Trap (QRO live review) @ The Parish, 12:00 AM – 1:00 AM.

 

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