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Friday, March 16

Friday was another day to sleep in a touch and then head down for my second performance… which ate up most of my day. But I did have enough time to squeeze over the Austin's Yard Dog Gallery to get a heaping helping of some Chicago country music courtesy of Jon Langford and The Waco Brothers. The Wacos were a bit looser than I've ever seen them certainly due to some alcohol consumption. They were playing as Waco Brothers and Paul Burch… due to the impending album release of the same name. The band tore through some favorites, but mostly played new material from the forthcoming album. But at the end of the set there was to be a beautiful surprise that certainly made the trek across town even more well worth it… It's not everyday one gets to experience the rowdy drunken bliss of a Waco Brothers show… and even less often does someone as amazing as Bill Kirchen get to join them on stage for a Johnny Cash rave-up. Kirchen was loose and having a great time in the Austin sunshine… hamming it up and throwing around his Telecaster like a mad dervish hopped up on some sort of crazy pills. It was beautiful. Sonic. Blissful.

As the evening got rolling I caught a set by the dBs. Having never seen them back in what most would consider their heyday, I was excited to see how they would sound. They sounded fantastic! The older songs resonated just as beautifully as they did 20 years or so ago, and the new songs from the forthcoming release on Bar-None sounded as good, if not better! Peter Holsapple's voice is clear as a bell and as resonant and charming as ever and his guitar playing is solid. Chris Stamey sounded great, his guitar playing - especially on the 12-string - was fantastic and impassioned and beautiful; the perfect balance of twang and jangle. Mitch Easter and the drummer were in sync and playing strong, showing the world exactly what a great rhythm section should sound like; super tight and as crisp and resonant as anything could ever be. A fun end to their set was a long and rambling cover of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," complete with 12-string guitar, long drones of feedback, and swirling rhythms. AWESOME!

I decided to not have the problems I'd had the night before with lines and head over to the Merge Records showcase early. I did not want to miss Bob Mould play. I arrived in time to catch Love Language play their set, which was great, since I'd been hearing good things about them. They sounded great. Nice modern pop music, recalling a bit of a retro edge, but without seeming to be stuck in the past. The songs were filled with cool chord progressions and beautiful melodies that were instantly likeable and sing-along-with-able. The coolest thing was that all the songs were underpinned with a nice rock'n'soul feeling that really helped the songs escape all the modern trappings of modern pop.

Crooked Fingers were next on the bill and I was simply stunned by their set. I have not heard their last two records and the band has obviously come a long way and are moving in a direction that I can relate to much more. The newer music is a weird amalgam of the melodicism of British rock and the honest, down to earth feel of Americana. There were times, inside the beautiful musical darkness, that the vocals, and even the melodies, carried a touch of Tom Waits-ian craziness. Even when the band stepped it up a notch and really rocked it out, there was a nice bit of dark country music under it all. The set ran back and forth from mellow, beautiful tunes to full-on rockers, occasionally presenting a magical droning that coalesces into a dark rock tune. Crooked Fingers can be fantastically sonic at times, pouring walls of guitar sound over tense and unhurried rhythms.

Imperial Teen was next in the night's line-up and they sounded great… like always. The band is still purveying its semi-unique blending of 60's based organ pop with dirgey, feedback-heavy (but not squealy) indie rock. Despite the "oo-oo" vocals, Imperial Teen still sounds, for all intents and purposes, like a Sonic Youth clone of sorts… it's music for folks who love that small, yet expansive sound. The rhythm section was tight and pounding, with one of the most amazing drummers I have ever seen live, while the excellent background vocals created complex counter melodies that made the tunes even more catchy and memorable. While more poppy than Sonic Youth could really ever claim to be, Imperial Teen ahs a very similar thickness of sound… where Sonic Youth buried their melodies in walls of sound, Imperial Teen lets the melodies shine right out front of the noise.

Bob Mould. That would be good enough… and I had already told myself that I would have to be at the MOG day party Saturday to hear Bob run through the entire Copper Blue album by Sugar to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Well, I didn't need to wait for Saturday. Mould launched into Copper Blue with a fierceness and vitality that was amazing and scary and beautiful; a true punk rock show for a punk rock pioneer. While the night was not as fast as Land Speed Record, it was just as loud and just as visceral and important. This show was proof - amazing, stunning proof - of what exactly a 3-piece band can do sonically with the right tools and skills. So much sound coming off the stage, all tucked inside a fury - FURY - that was unmistakably Mould. The sonic bombast of Sugar's rock'n'roll magic is undeniable and Mould and Co. brought it in full. The fury stopped only twice; once for Mould to announce that his new record would be coming out in September on Merge and that they were done tracking everything but vocals, and once more to tune before launching into an absolutely ripping, speedy version of "If I Can't Change Your Mind." That song really stood out for me. I thought for a moment, during tuning, that the lion's roar that had been present for the entire night would be set aside and traded for something softer… perhaps a 12-string acoustic guitar. But I was pleasantly surprised when instead, Bob launched into it in full, distorted tone; the soft beauty of the song replaced with a jagged thing that was just as beautiful, but removed.

-David DeVoe


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