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Emily Strong's Daily Dose of Music

Saturday, 19 March 2005

Saturday was a pretty short day for us. We saw three bands.

First, at Copa, we saw Montag, a one-man electro-pop act from Montreal. With the exception of one song, he managed all of the instruments himself, including violin solos. It was very pretty, like Her Space Holiday or Air at their most low-key. Music to take a hot bath to.

After Montag, the wonderful Say Hi To Your Mom got on stage. If the tunes don't make you happy, the cheeky lyrics most certainly will. Plus, they're all so indie-rocker adorable, but not in an annoying scene kid sort of way. And speaking of kids, the kids were all singing along. This is one of my favorite bands, so finally getting to see them live made me very happy.

Tired and cranky, we slummed around downtown 'til Matisyahu's 1 am slot at Buffalo Billiards. At first I wasn't all that impressed. He has a gorgeous voice and is so cute because he's obviously enjoying what he's doing, but reggae is reggae. It occurred to me that if he wasn't a practicing Orthodox Jew, people wouldn't care so much about his music. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. After about three songs, he started beatboxing, and I have never heard anyone do it so well. Not only was he beatboxing, but he was singing while beatboxing. Truly impressive. Then he brought up a friend and they started rapping together. Again, impressive. By the time he got back to the reggae, I was sold. The man is my new hero. And a great way to end the festival.

Friday, 18 March 2005

When your first two days at SXSW are filled with consistently great music, it's hard to have some perspective on a day that had equal amounts of euphoria and disappointment. But these days are inevitable, and it's only fair to give them their share of a report.

Once again, like a broken record, we started off at Emo's. Asobi Seksu started off our day. The intensely beautiful Yuki fronts this New York based shoegazer band, although I hesitate to use that adjective for them. It doesn't seem to fully encompass or explain what they do, although it certainly is the closest I could come to describing their sound. What makes them even more interesting are Yuki's bilingual songwriting tendencies, writing both in English and Japanese. After seeing them live, I can understand the hype.

And of course, what SXSW is complete without the Frames? I've seen them every year at least once for the past four years, and today was no exception. Albeit short, the set was nothing less than orgasmic, and I had an impossible time finding non-superlative ways of describing them, so I just decided to give up and say: "If you haven't seen them yet, where the hell have you been?" For those of you who have been living in a cave or, worse still, Stephenville, TX, I would like to refer you to their website: http://www.theframes.ie
Now go get yourself off.

I finally got sick enough of Emo's to venture to some other day show, but it was to see my Deathray Davies at the Red Eyed Fly, so I wouldn't exactly call myself adventurous. This is another band I see every year at SXSW, but this year they were extra cute because they all dyed their hair black and were wearing black clothes, and the new songs kind of sounded black, too. How very goth-boy of them. At any rate, the highlight of the show was when frontman John Dufilho asked for song requests, and a whole group of us shouted for "Chainsaw!" We all like it because it's just an excuse to watch him pant. Mmm, sexy.

After a few hours' break, we found ourselves in Exodus, for the Crimea. Indie pop with brooding undertones, vocals like Conor Oberst and Leonard Cohen's love child, and lyrics that appeared to reach a level of honesty almost too painful. I loved it. But he kept doing this cheesy salute thing with his guitar that was pretty annoying.

Immediately after they finished, I ran over to the Blender Balcony at the Ritz to see New Zealand's Mint Chicks, whom I had only heard about from friends in Auckland. Based on their description, I thought I would like them, but seeing them live was another story. In the first place, I am not a fan of most punk music. I mean, I can enjoy some Ramones or other classic punk for short periods simply for its historical significance, and I enjoy punk influence in some rock music, but in general, it's a pretty boring genre to me. But on top of all of that, it wasn't even particularly good punk music. The music wasn't interesting or different in any way, nor was it loud and crazy enough to make the crowd freak out. I left halfway through the set, and headed back to Exodus.

I arrived just as Longcut was beginning their set. I had heard one song of theirs before, and it had vocals, so I was confused at first to see a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, but no vocalist. I thought to myself, "Wait…am I thinking of the right band? These guys are instrumental." But then the drummer got up for the next song, stepped up to the microphone, started up some programmed beats, and began singing. About halfway through the song, he went back to the drums and finished up the song. He did this throughout the set, like the Postal Service, and the tunes were pretty, if not memorable. Still, this is a young band, and only the beginning of their career. Much potential.

Finally, Biffy Clyro got on stage, and brought about twenty fans with them from the UK. The show was packed and the band was on, effortlessly switching betweengentle melodies and heavy, distorted rock. The energy was infectious, particularly because I have seldom seen more zealous fans (would YOU pay hundreds of dollars and fly a few thousand miles to see YOUR favorite band play a thirty minute set?). They are planning a Stateside tour in a few months, so keep your eyes peeled. Definitely not a show to miss.

That was it for Friday, actually. I couldn't get in to any of the other shows I wanted to see (The Go! Team!), so I hung out with friends for the rest of the night instead.

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Today we saw far fewer bands than yesterday, and far fewer than normal for SXSW. But I was more concerned with quality than quantity, and quality was as high as yesterday. We only went to Emo's for one show during the day, and that was Montreal's Stars, who completely took me by surprise. I was expecting some soft-spoken, lo-fi blah-dee-blah, but instead got an earful of heartfelt lyrics and powerful guitar-and-keyboard combos. I want to see them a million times.

That was it for day shows. We headed to Buffalo Billards in the evening for Film School, a britrock-inspired band relying heavily on the use of keyboards and pedal effects, whose lead singer wants to be Robert Smith. I liked it, but didn't love it, and knew almost immediately that I wouldn't remember what they sound like. So, for the first half of their set I was feeling quite snooty and music journalisty, but then something happened: I started feeling something akin to guilt, but without the sense of responsibility. It was a reluctance to say anything bad about the band. I realized that the music was so pretty that I can't not like it. Even if I don't remember it, it'll be like waking up from a good dream whose details you can't remember but leaves you with warm fuzzies for the rest of the day.

Next up was The National. What do I say about the National? Yeah, maybe themusic is just good, basic indie rock, BUT: the guy has a low, resonating voice like Nick Cave or Dave Doughman (Swearing at Motorists)-impossible to resist. And those lyrics! I haven't felt so chastised since my dad took a belt to my ass when I was a kid. A+.

Back to the Hideout for the Oktober People. Their name suits them; the music has the rich color, haunting beauty and melancholy of a chilly autumn day. Vocals were intuitive and emotional. But I do think they could work on the lyrics a tiny bit. I mean, I hate Bush as much as the next intelligent, freedom-loving American citizen, but "Impeach" isn't exactly what you'd call subtle. I prefer sermons directed at me to be coated in a bit more metaphor, thank you very much.

Following those ambassadors of autumn came my beloved baby band, Pilotdrift. I have never seen the Hideout so packed before, which means that those of us who have been pimping them for the past year have been doing our jobs. In fact, it had very little to do with us. These guys have earned their own way into the spotlight. Their multi-instrumental, multi-vocal flair for dramatic storytelling is mature beyond their years as a band or as human beings. This is raw talent coming from an unexpected corner of east Texas, and it is going to blow you all away. You absolutely must see this band.

We skipped the 12 am shows in order to talk to Pilotdrift and take a little break, but re-entered the fray around 1:30 am at Maggie Mae's for The Earlies. We only got to see the last couple of songs, but wow, what the hell? Organ? Brass? Southern roots rock coming from the UK? That hasn't happened this effectively since Led Zeppelin, and look at how far they went. I see great things in this band's future.

Tralala, this year is the greatest!

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Wednesday started out at the Emo's day show. We arrived a little late, so I walked in during the second to last song by the Great Lake Swimmers, a Canadian band on their first tour of the States. From what I heard, they sound like the kind of band that would tour well with Magnolia Electric Co. and Okkervil River/Shearwater: low key, beautiful, mostly-acoustic folk-inspired rock. I look forward to hearing and seeing more from them.

From there we went out to the Main Stage to see local instrumental wizards, the Octopus Project. It'd been about two years since I'd last seen them, and I forgot how good they really are. Their art-rock melodies are not unlike the legendary Tortoise, except infused with dance rhythms that would put the Faint to shame. Add to that their eye-popping gracefulness on stage (what could be more aesthetically pleasing than Yvonne Lambert on the theramin, literally shaping sound with her hands?), and one could hardly be unmoved.

Voxtrot was up next on the indoor stage, but I've seen them here in town so many times that we decided to wait at the main stage for the much-talked-of Natural History. To be honest, I was disappointed. Perhaps I'd heard too much hype before seeing them perform, or perhaps I was too distracted by all the friends and acquaintances milling around, but I couldn't pay attention enough to even remember what they sound like. In all fairness, I plan to give them another chance someday not during a huge music festival. Still, the fact remains that they failed to make me remember them.

Back inside, the Castanets has already started playing, but I could tell at once that their meditative, bluegrass-tinged folk rock was ill-suited to the venue. Most of the band was seated, and the lead singer was standing far away enough from the mic that even standing near the front, I had to strain to hear him. The crowd nevertheless was unusually attentive, captivated by the unassuming performers, so I was able to hear enough to know that this is a band worth checking out after the chaos dies down.

Meanwhile, back at the main stage, Zykos had already gotten halfway through their set, but from the little bit I saw I could tell that their songwriting and performing has continued to strengthen, despite the fact that they still have the worst luck with equipment of any band I've ever known.

Our last daytime show at Emo's was Phosphorescent, on the indoor stage. Wow. I hadn't seen them since last year, and even then I wasn't paying full attention, but now I remember why I was so anxious to see them. They're fun; they've got horns and accordions and xylophones; they've got dramatic climaxes and southern accents-what's not to love about Phosphorescent? Everybody should love Phosphorescent.

After a couple hours' break, our evening began at Maggie Mae's with Luke Temple. I know, I know. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for singer/songwriters. But, I swear to you, they really aren't all created equal. Temple, with his salty vibrato and lyrics about robots and hooting owls, deserves a special place among the teeming masses of boys and their guitars. Highlights of his set were the soft and simple "Right With You," and, on the other end of the spectrum, the last couple of songs which utilized two electric guitars and two acoustic guitars, a bass, drums, and extra percussion.

From there we ventured over to the horrible Nuno's to see Scotland's Jupiter and Teardrop. I felt bad at first that they had to play in such a vile and impractical club as Nuno's, but when we got there and I saw that over half the crowd were fellow Scots, I realized that their audience would more than make up for the shabby environment and awkwardly-shaped stage. I can see how this could become Scotland's big band for this year. They are very radio friendly pop with cheerful harmonies and easily digestible melodies. Perhaps a little too easily digestible for my personal tastes, as I found their songs irritatingly predictable, but the vocals did get interesting at times, particularly when the lead singer would sit down at the piano and belt out a ballad.

From Nuno's, I had to speed walk to make it to the Hideout in time for Asleep in the Sea. This young little band from Phoenix, AZ was my must-see band for Wednesday, and my instincts have never been more dead-on than they were tonight. Young, fun-loving, and totally cheeky, these three guys had me literally in tears, laughing. They can't really sing, and their music is as carefree and uninhibited as their personalities, but the result is music that energizes and cheers you up. I definitely can't wait to see more from these guys.

I had hoped to make it into the Parish to see Enon and Magnolia Electric Co., but the line was two blocks long, so the Velvet Spade became our new destination. We were there to see Asobi Seksu on the patio, but quickly realized it was way too cold and crowded to enjoy the show, so we wandered inside to see what was going on in there. Talk about a happy accident. What we stumbled into was Bellingham, WA's Idiot Pilot, a two-man act that fuses the disgusting rap metal genre with the potentially disgusting electronic genre to create something anything but disgusting: powerful vocals, accented by the occasional throat-shredding scream, woven across grandiose melodies and infectious programmed beats. You can always tell when I'm really excited about a band because my writing collapses into a puddle of superlatives. I won't allow myself to do that with these guys, but I will say that such surprises are what makes SXSW worthwhile.

To end the evening, we headed back to the Hideout for Stephanie Dosen. This songstress from Wisconsin is as cute and angelic as she sounds, but don't be fooled - she's no delicate flower. This little girl is the total package: haunting melodies, poignant lyrics, a voice than can bring you to tears, an angelic face, but a delightfully foul sense of humor. She had her audience oscillating between sighs of bliss, captivated silence, and howls of unanticipated laughter.

All in all, we lucked out today. The ratio of scores to strikes was unusually high. This bodes well for the rest of the festival.

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