Wednesday, April 07, 2010
SXSW 2010 - Day 1 (Wednesday)
My feet aren't killing me, my legs have some spring back, I'm sleeping in my own bed and I haven't had a beer in the sunlight for three weeks. I guess I am actually back from SXSW. Dang. For music lovers/geeks/nerds (i.e. readers of this blog), SXSW is something that should be experienced at least once. It's an orgy of sun, music, beer, tacos, Bar-B-Q, beer, music, music and beer... and very little sleep.
For some reason, there was free beer (Heineken, please) on the flight in. It augured well for the next few days. There was live music at the airport (it may have been Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, but I was focused on getting to the hotel), and even a SXSW welcome booth. And it was warm. Warm is good. At the booth, I asked about getting into town and they offered two options, a $25 cab ride or the Airport Flyer bus - cost one dollar. But outside we (my SXSW partner V and I) found option three - a day-glo converted school bus whose interior seemed like Austin Powers boudoir, if he had been a homeless vegan. Price - free! Apparently a Matador Records promo to publicize the upcoming release by the New Pornographers, Together, in stores everywhere May 4. There was a dry sink with liquor and mixers, so we fired up a Jack and Coke and were treated to our own private listening party for the new New Pornographers disc. Only in Austin...
The New Pornogrpahers - Your Hands (Together)
Quickly pick up our badges and dash to the hotel (room not ready, here's a couple of free beers) before we caught the 101 bus in rush hour to get to The Hole in The Wall, an aptly named venue nestled in a quiet commercial district in the shadows of the monstrous University of Texas, to see Roman Candle, definitely on my must see list. But my poor new friend Ken was wandering around the area asking people where this little bar was - it's just a little "hole in the wall". The first of many Ken encounters this week. But Roman Candle, whose Oh Tall Tree in The Ear was one of 2009's best (and even made into Teenage Kicks top 10 of the decade - what were we smoking?!), faced a very small but enthusiastic crowd in the tiny, sunlit splattered back room of The Hole in The Wall, seemed a little haggard and possibly under whelmed at the turnout. The sound was fantastic, the beers were cheap, the band played a solid 30 minute set and SXSW was here. Yippee!
Roman Candle - A Heartbeat
We had to make a quick exit so we could go back downtown to SXSW's heart (6th St. and Red River) but we made our first miscalculation. Bar-B-Q is a grand Texas tradition, but getting a brisket at a roadside stand and eating while walking was not a good idea. That BBQ is still simmering in my belly three weeks later. Burp. But it was any means necessary in order to get to the 8:00 Dawes show, at one of my favorite Austin venues, Club DeVille. Not expecting Dawes to garner the same rapturous greeting they received a few weeks ago at a packed Philly Johnny Brenda's show, I was pleasantly surprised that Austin received them quite warmly, including a rousing, thrilling sing-along to "When My Time Comes" a standout on their sleeper debut disc, North Hills. Owing as much to CSN as to The Band and John Prine, Dawes builds on group harmonies like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, but with more open space and straight forward song craft. And I can't wait to hear kid brother Griffin Goldsmith's lead vocals on "How Far We've Come", a standout this night, on their next record.
Dawes - When My Time Comes
Next it was down 6th Street and we passed the open door of the Thirsty Nickel, where we stopped in for a few minutes and caught two songs by Athens rockers Elevation, who thrilled for a few minutes in Austin, but whose Strange Love cd, while not without its charm and some anthemic hooks, suffers from an alternative rock sheen that sounds radio ready but does little to separate them from the pack. We were on our way to The Parish, another in an endless line of wonderful Austin venues, to see the Fratellis' offshoot, Codeine Velvet Club. But first up was Unicorn Kid, who is the one man "band" brain child of Oliver Sabin, a Scottish teenager who had the very young crowd in spasms of delight as he twiddled knobs and created blips, blurps and beats in a hypnotizing maze of dance floor sounds for Call of Duty fans. He describes his music as heavily influenced by video games, part of the "chiptune" scene, where musicians create music using video game hardware . It's a definite generation gap moment, as I spend much of my time at home trying to escape the sounds of video games.
Elevation - Razoreyes
Unicorn Kid - Animal City
Codeine Velvet Club follows in short order (SXSW runs a tight ship) and this band, led by Fratelli's kingpin Jon Lawler and sultry newcomer Lou Hickey, brought show tune melodies with horns and style married to big rock bombast that felt like it would play better at a lower volume. They stormed out the gate with a blast of bite sized symphonic rock but a disastrous cover of "Gimme Shelter" threatened to suck the life out of a set that was bursting with ideas and melodically sharp. I'm guessing this plays a little better on record.
Codiene Velvet Club - Hollywood
Then it was a couple of blocks over to Latitude 30, home base for UK bands during SXSW. Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit have one album, A Larum, which is a tender, old soul collection of poetic shanties that drink from the same well as traditionalists Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson. Actually Flynn might be a younger, less virtuosic, less bitter Thompson, or on second thought maybe not like Thompson at all. At SXSW, he and his band (not sure if they're still billed as the Sussex Wit) played a spirited set that featured the a good helping of A Larum (including set closer "Tickle Me Pink" and "The Box", but sadly not the wonderful "The Wrote and The Writ"). Flynn played a few new numbers and had the crowd gently swaying during his rollicking set. His model good looks and stab at a serious artistic scope seem to be a recipe for success, but in America he seems to be a fringe artist at best.
Same goes for Eddie Argos, whose Art Brut exploded onto the scene in 2005/6 with the shooting star rocket ride of Bang Bang Rock And Roll. They were a perfect one band art project that have somehow lasted three records. Argos' specialized arch talk-singing is an acquired taste, one that's being acquired less with each record. He came to SXSW with his awkwardly named Everybody Was In the French Resistance... Now! The Galaxy was half full but Argos was full steam ahead as the he explained the band's central conceit of conceiving answer songs to songs badly in need of a response. Not an entirely original idea or even that inspired, but still worth checking out. A master showman and jovial bon vivant, Argos has taken a clever one or two song idea and created an album from it. It's a bit like a comedy record - boisterous fun to experience the first time, but probably fraught with diminishing returns. But for this night Argos and company (big bosomed and unhappy keyboardist Dyan Valdes and guitarist Dave) were first rate and hugely entertaining. A balky mix brought Argos front and center into the crowd where he exclaimed "Hey! It's Jimmy Mack", "Think Twice (It's Not Alright)" and "Billie's Gene's" and I think the titles give away the songs. Especially fun was the raised eyebrow fake encore of The Rubinoos 1977 non-hit "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" which obviously inspired Avril Lavigne's psuedo-answer song "Girlfriend" which probably inspired this whole project and it's lead-off single "G.I.R.L.F.R.E.N. (You Know I've Got A). Got it?
The Rubinoos - I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
Prior to EWITFRN at the Galaxy was Elinor Rose Dougall, a former member of The Pipettes and now solo artist whose B-52's via Ronettes dance party stomp was a perfect appetizer for Argos' fun junkie. I need to hear more.
Elinor Rose Dougall - Fallen Over