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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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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