Wednesday, March 19, 2008

South By Southwest Re- cap (Squaregirl Marion's Version) Part One

Nearly everyone who attends South By Southwest these days has a story to write about it, and a forum with which to publish it. Since nobody writes them they used to, it might as well be all of us!

We knew our weekend was officially over as we waited for our friends by their car so that we could flee the street party that the police had arrived at moments prior. Our friends, as it turns out, were preoccupied with watching the hardcore types whose party (we assume) it was clean various paper debris, and jousting aftermath from the street. We in fact arrived at said party based on a text that someone in our group received alerting her to the fact that there was a party going on, and people were jousting. Squaregirl Kristen already had the address from a alert.

This was Sunday night. Truth be told we could have left Austin several hours earlier than we actually did, and been completely fine. However, I saw one of best shows of my entire trip on Sunday so I guess things worked out for the best.

Austin's Finally Punk were a pleasant almost total surprise. I'll admit that I was intrigued by them while glancing over the line-up they played as part of the day before because of the band name. I got to the venue (Beerland) a bit later than I was hoping to. I fell completely in love with whatever band I was watching when I arrived. About three songs in I found out they were Finally Punk. I guess after three days of seeing mostly straightforward indie rock bands with varying degrees of mostly (and mostly totally enjoyable) professionalism I was still kind of hoping for something a bit more unexpected. What I walked into on Sunday afternoon was girls jumping around, trading instruments/lead vocal duties, and clearly having a tremendous amount of fun. A good number of the songs collapsed into one of my favorite post punk traditions of bursts of saxophone over noisy racket made by guitar, bass, and drums. Most of the songs clocked in at around one minute. The vocals were half sung/half spoken slyly, or simply shouted. They covered Nirvana's "Negative Creep," (the first cover that I heard from Bleach in less than a week for those keeping score) also adding a little bit of "Enter Sandman" to the beginning. It's worth noting that there is apparently a Finally Punk/Mika Miko side project called Teenage Moms based here in Los Angeles. It's also worth noting that I sadly still haven't seen Mika Miko (at least not to my direct knowledge.)

Speaking of bands that play at the Smell a lot though. The Mae Shi played immediately after Finally Punk at Beerland on Sunday. Their theatrical, thrashsy punk antics in their anthems are always welcome with me.

The band that followed the Mae Shi, Montreal's CPC Gangbangs are probably a band that I should give another chance to when I am less exhausted. From what I saw last week though, they just weren't all that memorable. I do remember that they were loud, and they definitely played songs that you could pull off some serious head banging to.

Synth punk/dance duo Best Fwends closed the evening on an almost performance art type note. The two boys shouted mostly indecipherable lyrics over programmed beats and guitar noise, they crashed into the audience at random intervals leaving me currently in possession of my most punk rock bruise (and possibly scar!) to date. I'm still not entirely sure what exactly transpired during their twenty minute set. I am sure that it was amazing. One Best Fwend has a side project called Total Abuse who are playing L.A. in July at (you guessed it) the Smell. I'll keep you posted with more info on that show when I have it. I generally tend to shy away from (avoid) hardcore, but this one seems worth checking out...

Oh yeah, and this sign was in the girl's bathroom at Beerland:

(credit to Squaregirl Kristen for taking the picture, and for noticing the sign in the first place!)

My Saturday was much more low key. I spent most of the day in one place, Waterloo Park for the small scale (and free) festival show Mess With Texas 2. I spent most of my time there sitting on the ground and listening to comedians. As it turns out, I still have a bit of my schoolgirl crush on former Singled Out host Chris Hardwick who is now part of the comedy duo Hard N Phirm. Go figure.

Kimya Dawson performed as a sort of interlude to the comedy. This makes perfect sense as most of her stream of consciousness stories in song form are often as hilarious as anything a comedian can come up with, AND she can usually pull of heartbreaking within the same song. She debuted a few songs from an upcoming children's album that she will be releasing through K Records in the fall.

My first full band set of the day came from Atlas Sound which is essentially the solo side project from Deerhunter's Bradford Cox. Though he did have a full band on stage with him for this particular performance. I was completely taken with the hypnotic melodies achieved by layered guitars, and what appeared to be quite a few distortion pedals. This show was also one in a series of week moments that made me consider shirking all of my responsibilities for awhile, relearn how to play the guitar, and learn for the first time how to effectively fuck around with distortion pedals. Sigh, if only...

While we waited for Black Mountain to take the stage, we were treated to a little bit from a band whose identity was undetermined. The crowd around us that seemed to be waiting for Black Mountain thought it was terrible. I thought it was kind of interesting. Arty noise with mostly shouted lyrics that the lead singer (in drag and almost clown like costume make-up) moved through with break neck speed except when there was a need for a dramatic pause or an elongating of a phrase for effect. I'd love to hear the story of why their set was shut down after only about two songs. Was it Neon Neon running way behind schedule? It didn't sound the way I would imagine Neon Neon to sound, but maybe that was part of the fun?

Once Black Mountain did take the stage, I made it through about one song then deciced to journey over to a different stage to see what No Age were up to. Black Mountain are clearly a technically proficient, very good band, but I can only take that 70s hard rock throwback vibe when I'm in just the right mood. Even then it's generally best for me in small doses.

Besides, my lack of seeing No Age was starting to get just downright sad. I know that a lot has been said about No Age's minimalist approach to their songs, and much has been made about the fact that they are a duo. I have to say that the sound they produced (though still quite minimalist) was bigger than I was expecting drums, and guitars (and yes quite a few pedals) to be able to produce. That responsibilty shirking thing just sounds more and more appealing with every word that I type...

What was also impressive about No Age was how humble they came across. I guess I kind of imagined that since they have a lot of the hipper than you could ever hope to be kids declaring them the greatest thing since sliced bread that they might assume that attitude themselves, blasting through song after song with maybe one tossed aside, "Uh we're No Age..." Instead they gushed about various artists they were sharing the stage with. Then they declared that the current show was the best of their South By Southwest so far. Then they decided that the previous night's show on a bridge had been better, but that this one was still really good. It was made very clear how cool they thought it was that they were at South By Southwest at all. Thoroughly endearing.

Not quite as endearing as Matt and Kim. In all fairness though, I don't think that a kitten insisting on giving you money for no apparent reason while telling you how awesome you look could come across as endearingly as Matt and Kim. They play their simple, noisy, synth pop party anthems with so much pure, genuine excitement that it's impossible not to get caught up in it, and go right along with them. I would actually be concerned for my overall health if I left one of their shows feeling anything short of giddy. Matt also provided some of the most "re-affirm your faith in/ affection for mankind" type stage banter I've ever heard. NOFX were playing another stage just after them, and Matt invited us all to go watch NOFX and pretend to be 16 again. Watching Matt & Kim feels way better than pretending to be 16, and way way way better than actually being 16.

Here is a video from the very show that I am writing about that will hopefully give you a hint of how charming they are:

After what felt like me actually floating away from the Matt and Kim set, it was time for The Breeders. You know, I'm slightly ashamed to admit it, but I never got quite as into the Breeders during my misspent youth as I really should have. Therefore I'm not sure that I'm the best person to objectively review their show. It sounded to me like they were in top form so I would file the reunion under success. I did go through a brief phase of putting "Cannonball" on every mix cd that I made sometime in early 2005 so hearing that one in a live setting was pretty cool.

After dinner which provided the much needed use of a chair for about an hour (much more necessary than the food itself at that point) it was time to wander of to find the next activity. After trying (and failing) my luck at a few venues that were already filled to capacity, I decided to take a risk and check out a band that a friend recommended called The Answering Machine. All of their songs were catchy, tight, and quite enjoyable. If not, perhaps, a bit too well studied. They happen to fall into a very familiar category of bands that make angular pop songs similar to Bloc Party with less aggression, and also maybe a bit of the Strokes in their more poppy moments. None of this is bad per se. As I mentioned, the songs were quite enjoyable, and they were clearly having fun with them. This is obviously the kind of music the Answering Machine likes, so it seems natural that it's the kind of music they would make. I suppose I was just hoping for something a bit less to be expected to make me forget the veering on painful level of exhaustion that was settling into my body at that point.

To be continued...

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