Not having any time to plan for this year's festival ahead of time, or
really to do any magazine business over the past two months of working
long hours, we had a nice trip down trying to catch up on listening to
the couple hundred CDs that we have received this year so far. We heard
some good and we heard some bad, and we stopped in Denton, Texas for some
nice relaxation and hanging with family. Upon our arrival in Austin we
were faced with the normal dilemmas of each year - where to eat our first
barbecue, where to find the most attractive women, and where to hear our
first great rock and roll music - as well as where we might be able to
find a floor on which to crash, because we might be sleeping in the back
of the truck.
Wednesday March 14, 2007
We checked in today, got our badges and such, then hung around out of
the rain for a while. We got to see a bit of one of my favorite indie
bands, Say Hi To Your Mom, followed up by a weird performance by
the infamous Robyn Hitchcock involving Joe Boyd, one of
the guys who helped organize the Newport Jazz Festival back in '68 or
'69... I think. While Joe talked about events and read from his book on
the era, Robyn played songs that related to the stories. It was great...
and no one does Bob Dylan better than Robyn.
This year is mostly about business for me, and hopefully I'll get to
see some great music in while shmoozing with the good PR folks. I headed
over to the In Music We Trust showcase to meet up with the good man who
runs the magazine and label. While hanging out I got the see the end of
a set from I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House. This band continues
to grow on me with their slight rockabilly hard rock edge... I wanted
to see more. Fernando took the stage next sans band... just the
man and his acoustic guitar. While I liked his last record, I was hoping
to get a glimpse of a bit more, which I did. The songs are much more powerful
in a stripped-down format, with his gently articulate guitar playing creating
the perfect backdrop for his amazingly wrought lyrics. I have a new appreciation
for his brand of haunting acoustic balladry - dark tales presented in
a starkly beautiful and harrowing way. Without a band behind him the songs
have an honest and delicate tenderness that highlights Fernando's amazing
songwriting and introspective power. When he switched modes to sing in
Spanish, his voice was filled with a sorrow and earnestness that was simply
stunning. I'd take a solo acoustic record anyday. Next up were Austin
locals Grand Champeen. Their new record is great and I was excited
to see how they performed live. For those who haven't heard, this band
purveys the kind of power pop rock that is most likened to early Matthew
Sweet records, with their blazing, infectious fuzz guitar leads and
high energy rhythms. This band improves on the equation by infusing their
songs with a lyrical and vocal harmony sensibility that reminds me of
The Connells or The Feelies. The band is super energetic
and very tight, both defining factors in the pop genre that can easily
make or break the band. Grand Champeen is a very dynamic and articulate
rock band that understand their craft well, especially the interplay of
the two guitarists, and can start and stop on a dime.
Next up was The Theater Fire from Fort Worth, Texas... an
eclectic hillbilly collective that rounds out the alt. country genre
a bit. Their songs run from Texas border song feels to rollicking
Cajun/zydeco tunes. When the band performs best, though, is when
they break out the banjos and mandolins and drop into a slow murder
ballad. With a large assortment of instruments and styles, the band
is filled with interesting textures and precisely honed dynamic
sense. The unfortunate thing about having seven guys on stage with
such varied instrumentation is that it makes them a bit sensitive
to bad sound... tonight when they could hear themselves well, they
sounded great... and then it would occasionally slip into chaos
when instruments would drop out of monitors and such. The Glass
Family had no such problems. Every time I've seen this band
they've grown more dynamic and expressive. Their sound is moving
from the Pink Floyd-ian tint of their last record into more
original territory. The older songs have attained a mature polish
while the newer songs tend to to contain an urgency that is definitely
compelling. The songs are driving and crisp, with just the right
amount of noise and mayhem to make them even more captivating. Eight
people on stage is a lot, but when Brothers And Sisters launch
into their late 60's style big harmony rock it is all worthwhile.
The band is a bit like a country-tinged Partridge Family,
maybe even sharing a musical commonality with San Francisco's It's
A Beautiful Day. This band was recommended to me highly, and
while they do what they do very well, I can't help but wish for
just a bit more. With three vocalists, there is so much room for
dynamic vocal harmonies, but too often the female singers tend to
sing the same lines as lead singer, Brother Will (I think
that is right). The band's musicianship is inspiring, with a fabulous
steel guitar player and a very Allman Brothers-esque lead
guitarist. I love what this band does and can't wait to see how
they develop over the next year or so.
I made one last run across the street to the infamous Elysium to
catch the set by IAMX. IAMX is the new project by former
Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner. Seeing IAMX live is a complete
sight and sound experience... the band plays on an almost completely
darkened stage in front of well-pieced and starkly colored films.
Unlike on their record - that should see US release this summer
- the band attains a darkly gothic EBM tint in the live setting,
offsetting the brilliant synth-pop textures that make the record
so spectacular. Chris is an amazing frontman, moving about the stage
with a presence eerily similar to early Iggy Pop or Peter
Murphy, clad in a black suit and a shiny silver top hat. The
music is energetic, while being very heavy and super sonic, filled
with buzz saw synths and smashing drums. In the live setting it
would be easier to compare IAMX to early Leaether Strip,
rather than synth bands like Depeche Mode. While the record
is supposedly being remixed for American audiences, I hope that
it maintains its lush beauty and its transcendent and epic feel...
instead of getting buried under Nine Inch Nails' grit.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Today we trekked down South Congress to the South By San Jose day
show at Austin's amazing Hotel San Jose. I caught the last bit of
a set by The Glass Family and felt they were having more fun than
they ahd at their showcase the night before, and what seemed better
monitors. The sound was more open and relaxed, a definite plus for
this great band. A short set by the intriguing Zookeeper
followed, with its revolving cast of guest musicians. While I've
been told by lead 'keeper Chris Simpson that the band's line
up has somehwat solidified over the past year, there was still room
for a saxophone player who ahd never been on stage with the band
before to set in for a few songs. The Zookeeper songs are growing
increasingly detailed and vibrant, settling into a sound of their
own. I'll have to catch the official showcase later in the week
to hear more.
While I didn't get a chance to really hear a lot of music Thursday
night - I was instead tied up with drinking with publicists and
generally doing the business of this business of rock journalism
-I did get a chacne to attend most of the Barsuk records showcase.
Rocky Votalato was the first act I saw, and he was as great
live as he is one record. His music is just the right ratio of pop
to substance, with a voice as smooth and listenable as there ever
was. The real band I wanted to see was Jesse Sykes And The Sweet
Hereafter. After hearing their record, and missing their live
show a couple weeks prior in Denver, I was not disappointed. Ms.
Sykes has a charming demeanor on stage, immediately disarming and
humble. The band rumbled through some great cuts off their new record,
sending waves of dark alt. country drifting through the venue. Sykes'
voice is amazing and complex, and her songs are so incredibly expressive.
I'll definiitely be trying to see her live soon again. Aqueduct
was next on the list, and they were much better than I had expected.
I've not heard their new record, but their last record was far more
synthy and subdued than the live show that I was witness to. The
band rocked the Austin night, cojolling the entire audience into
moving and dancing. They were great. Wrapping up the Barsuk showcase
was Menomena, whose newest record is an amazing piece of
indie glory, and well worth a listen.
Friday, March 16, 2007
I got the chance to meet up with some old friends today, as well
as catch a great day show that started with a cool performance by
Margot & The Nuclear So And So's. I really like what
this band has going most of the time, but I think for having 7 or
8 people on stage, there could have been a lot more going on...
I mean, if you've got two drummers, have one doing alternate rhythms,
not just hitting a snare. Next up were aging Canadian indie rockers
Sloan. I like Sloan, but haven't heard much off the last
couple of records. What this band does is rock, and it rocks very
well. I cannot think of a band that does a better job of twin guitar
pure rock mayhem. Rock. I wanted to stick around for Midnight
Movies, but the time had come to get moving and prepare for
the night's madness with some food first.
I attended the New West Records showcase on Friday, hoping to see
some old music that I loved as well as hear some new music from
older artists that I loved. Opening the showcase was the infamous
Buffalo Tom. This band rocks just as hard as they did 15
years ago, but tempers the sound with a more melodic and mature
songwriting presence. Promises of a new record in June were bandied
about in between songs of a blistering set of new and old material
culminating in a blistering version of the classic "Sodajerk".
The band remains one of the msot powerful 3-piece rock outifts in
modern music, perfectly loose (as they always were) with songs as
charged and emotionally strong as ever. The secret to The Buffalo
Tom has always been gritty guitars and a super solid rhythm section
underscoring brilliant lyrics. Nothing has changed for these guys,
they've still got the magic. I can't wait for the new record. Next
up were The Drams. Having never heard this band, I wasn't
sure what to expect... what I got was a slight touch of country
in a big mix of bluesy folk music. The songs were full of gritty
guitar with enough tone to spare, and reminded me of a poppier Social
Distortion, but with a 60's electric piano and an occasional
groovy vibe. A few of their songs launched into full rock mode,
dude's voice sounding much more comfortable belting out lyrics through
a screen of distorted guitars than through the slower, more laid
back songs. The band has just a touch of R.E.M. in their sound as
The main attraction of the evening for me was Steve Earle.
Although Earle is looking a bit old these days, he proceeded to
floor the audience with a solo acoustic set that was simply stunning.
If there is anyone in the world who loves Bruce Springsteen
and has never heard Steve Earle, then they are on the right track
but haven't arrived at the station. Earle was amazing, especially
when he pulled out the harmonica for a few songs, proving his prowess
at wailing harp. If the crowd at the back of the venue would have
shut up a bit it would have been a perfect place to hear his stunning
version of the haunting "Goodbye". Steve Earle is not
only an amazing songwriter, but can pull more emotion out of an
acoustic guitar than I believe I've ever heard anyone esle get.
After a very melancholy reading of "Fort Worth Blues",
Steve Earle was joined on stage by his lovely and talented wife
Allison Moorer for the amazing "Comin' Around".
For his well deserved encore, Earle treated the crowd to a stunning
version of his classic "Copperhead Road". I didn't figure
that anything could top this performance, but decided I'd head over
to see if I could catch a bit of Damon Albarn's new project,
The Good, The Bad, And The Queen. Featuring former The
Clash bassplayer Paul Simonon and drummer extraordinaire
Tony Allen, this new "supergroup" is a wild throw,
even for Albarn. After the last few side projects, including his
strange solo recording Democrazy and the fantastic Gorillaz
records, the music of TGTBATQ is fairly dark, with a weird gothic
carnival tint to it. The band was fun and enjoying themselves while
putting across such a haunting frenzy of energy that the crowd was
enrapt. Albarn continues to write engaging music and is becoming
quite the frontman, even as a live action man again.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
After a day full of relaxing and searching for barbecue while giving
my ears a little bit of a break, I headed out to catch the official
Zookeeper showcase. Chris Simpson's new songs, and a full set with
a full band (at least, that's seven dudes on stage), really delivers
on what those of us enamoured of his previous work were hoping he'd
get to. Zookeeper is taking the beauty of The Gloria Record
and giving it a raw edginess and smart semi-Americana sound. Having
three guitar players makes for a big sound over the dueling organ
and piano melodies, and Simpson's voice cuts through the mix with
his brilliant lyrical musings. Former Gloria Record bandmate Brian
Hubbard joined the band on stage for the last song, adding one
more guitar into the mix, and reminding those of us in attendance
that Zookeeper is a band that is in constant flux. The sound was
great, and the band was spot on.
Next, I headed over to catch the official Zykos showcase, and was
once more blown away by the evolution of the band. Zykos' sound
continues to evolve a bit, incorporating a bit of The Jam's
influence on a few songs, as well as building on their uniquely
formed rock music. The band covers the gamut from energetic pop
anthems to epic dynamic anthems, their music relying more on some
very nice electronic treatments that really add to the texture of
the overall sound. Mike Booher has built his frontman persona
up even more, moving from his Mick Jagger-ishness into a
much more relaxed and unique form, and finally looking truly comfortable
in his role as leader. The songs have an unmistakeable presence
and the band is even tighter and groovier than ever before.
I made one final trek with some friends to catch Cursive,
as they closed out the festival at an outdoor show, choosing to
skip the long line to try to get in to see The Stooges. I
have to admit, I still don't fully understand the appeal of this
kind of music... but after experiencing Cursive live, I get it a
little bit more. The band is far better live than on record, especially
in a tent, with Tim Kasher maniacly waving his arms between
guitar blasts. The tent makes so much sense, because there is definitely
a sense of gospel or magic in the music of Cursive. Kasher has moved
from a stalwart frontman to being overly expressive and more than
a bit crazy on stage, and the energy he brings to the stage makes
for an enjoyable experience. The appeal of punk rock I can still
understand a bit, but the mathy influences make the music difficult
for me to access, and it's even mroe difficult for me to understand
the crowd... totally enraptured, pumping their fists in the air
and singing along to these songs that make me near manic myself.
The charisma of Tim Kasher and his music is undeniable... but who
knew there were so many girls that got so into this stuff? You learn
a lot some nights at SXSW.
Like this article?
it to a friend!