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Friday, March 15, 2013

It seems to be the year of resurrected, rediscovered, re-recorded, re-released bands... I trekked over to catch a set by Chicago's old school rockers Shoes. For those who did not spend their 1970s in Chicago, Shoes is a power pop rock band that specializes in simple, straightforward, lightly riffy tunes that are catchy and powerful without being overbearing. The band's sound is nothing groundbreaking but is simply some of the finest pop music without pretension and completely lacking in hype. Look for their entire catalog being reissued and hopefully some new music as well.

The Besnard Lakes have been making some of the most obscurely accessible indie rock with a shoegaze tint available over the past few years. Catching a set by them was fun and it is interesting to hear their sound evolve from a more direct rock sound to something touched with a lot more atmosphere and texture. For a 4-piece band they make a tremendous amount of sound, the two guitar players brilliantly intertwining parts and sounds to create a maelstrom of sound. The rhythm section is pounding and full of strength, masters of their instruments and creators of the backbone for the layers of sound being washed over them. At the beginning of the set, the band sounded remarkably like (a somewhat less proggy) Yes, but as the set progressed the songs turned more 'gazey, with hints of Swervedriver in the guitar lines. And as a note, this band made the absolute finest siren I have ever heard played on guitar... and almost air raid siren blaring that was fantastic!

After the shoegazey excellence, things switched gears just a touch and I got to see The Woggles play a nice succinct set of their brand of rock and roll music. The Woggles are one of the most classic of the surviving mid-school garage rock bands. They play the garagiest of garage rock. At the same time they are also one of the most soulful of the garage rock bands. The songs are filled with gripping guitars and throttling rhythms, creating a sound and show that is filled with high energy and gritty brilliance.

Allow me to digress for just a moment and rant about how I have been a bit disappointed over the past five or so years with the change in the SXSW festival from a music industry conference to a spring break destination. The hordes of college age, and younger, kids that come out simply to drink and hear whatever music they may hear while walking down 6th Street have become more and more obscene year after year. I understand that the advertising revenues and attendance bring more people into the town but the giant Doritos machine seems a bit over the top. The Fader Fort is a perfect example of the change in the festival over the past few years. It has been about 7 years since I attended the Fader parties, and now it has turned into a giant spring break party that takes up an entire city block, a crazy city within the city, filled with nothing but drunken kids imbibing free alcohol and wearing themselves out with constant partying. Not a horrible place to be, but it really showcases the change in what the week has become.

That said, I headed over and got into the Fort to catch the set by The Afghan Whigs. Dulli and company came busting out the gate with a fantastic couple of tunes full of fury and sound. About the third song in the band played a song that I was not familiar with (new tunes on the way!) and then settled in with Dulli doing a basically piano and voice version of a Frank Ocean tune. Then the band started getting a bit more funky than usual and jumping into what appeared to be extended jams, then suddenly, onstage appeared a dude who I took to be L.L. Cool J in his fancy bucket hat, but it turns out it was none other than Usher. The crowd of young folks went absolutely nuts, rushing the tent and the stage; girls screaming their heads off, tweeting the appearance, etc. Usher duetted with Dulli on a Whigs song, then sang a Whigs song mostly by himself, and then the Whigs backed him up admirably, and bombastically, on one of his own tunes. The crowd continued to go absolutely bonkers. The band left the stage, but the crown continued to scream for more. Usher ended up coming out and singing a song and a medley of his own tunes a cappella, getting the crowd to clap along and beatboxing his way through the tunes. I give the dude props; he sings real good. But again... spring break madness in full effect.

-David DeVoe


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