Friday, March 14, 2014
decided it would be a good idea to get up early again and head to
the convention center to see if I could catch Damon Albarn
performing what I hoped would be songs from his forthcoming solo record.
While I wouldn't exactly refer to the production as playing solo
Damon was accompanied by 2 other guitar players, a drummer, a 4-piece
string section, and a pianist during most of the set, and a 6-piece
choir during the latter half it was great to hear Damon play
songs from his new project in a fairly intimate venue to a very appreciative
audience. This new music, at least in this format, is smooth and very
easy to listen to, sounding pretty pastoral, honestly. The new project
seems the antithesis of both Gorillaz and The Good, The
Bad, And The Queen. The new songs are beautiful and when things
get quieter and instruments fall away it really comes to light exactly
how much Damon draws from the David Bowie sound. I'm sure that
has been said by some before, but it really struck me during this
set of quieter songs. This set of songs was fairly soft, but the orchestration
and arrangements lent them a massive amount of power; calm, but big,
power and more than a touch of dramatic splendor. When the choral
group (culled from a local Austin church choir) came out to sing,
Damon did a fantastic new song based around a simple ukelele groove
entitled Mr. Tembo about a baby elephant that he had encountered
while overseas in a wildlife refuge. Great stuff, and once more, I
can't wait to hear this full record. Fans of Blur will surely
be loving it when it is released.
I have never had a good chance to hear The Hold Steady perform
live, so it was a nice treat to finally get to see the band play.
I was a bit late to the wagon on this band and their sound has definitely
grown on me over the years, so I thought it was fantastic that they
hold together very well as a live band. The great energy that the
band contains on recording is definitely extant in the live arena,
and maybe even more so. The band is fun to watch, very engaging and
each one appears to be having a fantastic time while the vocalist
is wildly demonstrative and gesticulatory. Geek rock fans rejoice,
The Hold Steady are still your heroes.
Phantogram was also playing this show so I figured I would
stay around and catch a few songs. I stayed for more than that. While
the band confessed they were playing a striped down version
of their songs, I don't really see how. They had five members on stage,
multiple keyboards and synth pads, guitars and sequences playing.
The songs were fleshed out and sounded great, beautiful and haunting
at times, raucous and danceable at others. I was not super familiar
with this band previously, but they combine elements of electro and
shoegaze and somehow blend it and modernize it for a sound that is
all their own. Fantastic!
headed south out of downtown to the Whip In, where the second annual
South By Oskar Blues (SXOB) party was being held, and I was scheduled
to play a set of my own music. I got there in time to catch Gasoline
Lollipops play their set, and I'm glad that I did. Hailing from
Boulder, Colorado, GasPops play a cool and dark alternative country
music of the type for which the Colorado scene has long been known.
It's the kind of music that when the story of one's life is made into
a movie, one hopes is playing as the theme when one hops a train to
carry him/her out west to meet their fateful destiny. Between the
lo-fi vocals and the bowed upright bass there was little in their
stompy honk to be unhappy about.
I also happily caught a set by my good friend Mike Booher
and his current band of musical miscreants who masquerade under the
simple moniker Booher. This line up is fun and full, creating sounds
around Mike's songs that lift them above the normal ATX crowd and
cause them to be more powerful and more energetic than his songs have
been in a couple of years. Some of the songs recall his old band
Zykos, but move the music in a forward direction, looking back
for inspiration but not dwelling in the old ways. The songs were noisy
and fast, filled with sound and an energy that was palpable to anyone
standing in the room.
I got back downtown in time to catch a set by rockers Ringo Deathstarr,
an outfit that comes from a solid point of Jesus and Mary Chain-style
songwriting but imbue it with the sonic intensity and aural trickery
of bands like My Bloody Valentine. This band has all the elements
to be one of my favorite rock bands; gritty wall of sound from the
guitar, powerful and rhythmically elegant drumming, and a distorted
wash of bass guitar lines. The vocals vary from highly melodic whispers
to angry, vicious screams, but not the type that grate like nails
on a chalkboard. The music is overall a righteous aural assault, built
of sonic shifts that incorporate lessons learned from second-wave
shoegaze bands like TheBrotherKite and that ilk and tie it
back firmly to the sounds bred by MBV and their contemporaries.
I was happy to catch a quick set by Ezra Furman. I have known
about Furman for a few years as we have received some of his earlier
albums for review here at Hybrid and I always thought he was just
a small bit on the outside of my comfort zone, musically. I haven't
heard his music for a few years and it seems things have changed a
bit. He still writes very quirky songs and sings them with his very
quirky voice, but the songs themselves have improved and become less
about not being songs and more about melody and structure. His band
utilized horns, shakers, and all kinds of other instruments to give
each song a little life of its own. Furman carries on the quirky traditions
set forth by Gordon Gano, but maybe has learned to tame things
down just a bit, becoming a better, more solid songwriter in the meantime.
I have to admit I was filled with a bit of trepidation seeing The
Front Bottoms play their set. I had been told by a couple of people
how great they were and that they had been often compared to the incomparable
Johnathon Richmond. While I don't know that I would compare
them to that godfather of indie rock, I would say that overall the
band reminds me of a much younger, much more playfully literate and
artsy version of The Hold Steady. But that could be simply because
I seen THS earlier in the day. The music is not straightforward, but
is obviously well-loved by their fans, as they had many people speaking
along to more than half of their songs. I say speaking along because
it didn't seem to me that the band was doing much singing. I also
know that they had played a number of shows previous to this one over
the last few days, and this was their last of the festival; so there
may have been some exhaustion coming into play as well. The band was
great live, they engaged the audience very well and constantly, the
audience was singing along to most of the songs, sometimes carrying
the song when the vocalist just let go. There were many hilarious
stories told during the set however, and the band are very good performers
in their own rights, building the set with high energy tons of good
fun. The band writes interesting songs, filled with clever stories,
lyrics, and turns of phrase that make the atonal presentation fairly
palatable. I would see them again live just to see if they were having
a tired night, and I definitely would like to hear their record to
see how the songs translate onto recorded media.
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