March 20, 2006I fought SXSW and SXSW won
OK, actually I fought the limits of my own body’s endurance. In any case, nights that always extended too late and days that never began late enough have crushed me. But as I recuperate back at home, I have time to look over the past four days.
Basically, I was disappointed by none of the bands that I hoped would knock me out. Art Brut, Wussy, Giant Drag and Envelopes were all that I’d asked for. As for surprises, I’d like to hear more from the Grates, a more playful Yeah Yeah Yeahs from Australia, and the Brunettes, a young, adorable New Zealand band.
My weekend ended late Saturday night with a far older New Zealand band—the Bats. The stage for Habana Calle 6 is on an outdoor patio, and there’s a pavilion that stretches out past the club’s doors, where we listened to the band from a bench. And wafting up toward us, we heard a beat that’s insistent but never rushed, guitars that split the difference between chime and drone. In other words, music that was neither sleepy nor manic--the perfect soundtrack to my exhaustion.
And so, until next year, that’s SXSW…
March 20, 2006Under the weather
I really planned to wrap up my SXSW coverage this afternoon, on my flight back from Austin. My immune system, alas, had other plans. The rain/mist/drizzle/downpour cycle the past few days has finally dampened by spirit. Tomorrow! SXSW finale! Be there or Bea Arthur!Posted by Keith Harris at 12:23 AM
March 19, 2006American music clubs
My SXSW had been largely twang-free before tonight. Not by design—I was simply more drawn to unknown quantities, and many of the rootsy singer-songwriters I might be interested in are regular tourers I've seen more than once.
That didn’t stop me from checking out Rhett Miller, the Old 97’s front man and native Texan, whose show turned out to be a minor revelation. Miller’s third solo record, The Believer has been a non-starter with me for months, but live, the tunes crept up on me, the newer melodies and phrases now charmingly familiar. Guess I need to give The Believer another spin—or whatever you do with CDs.
Like anyone who’s spent any time in Chicago I’ve seen Jon Langford aplenty—the Mekons’ and Waco Brothers’ gregarious beating heart seems to play out with one band or another at least once a week. But I wanted to catch Wussy, and Opal Devine’s was a hike, so I checked out the typically superb Langford set that preceded Wussy. (Afterward Langford dashed off to set up for a 1 AM Wacos show--lots of bands book at least a handful of shows at SXSW, but for Langford that's SOP.)
Wussy, the new band featuring the Ass Ponys’ Chuck Cleaver, got off to a rocky start, and wasn't wobble-free without. But the songs from the band's debut, Funeral Dress, revealed themselves in all their stark frenzy. And personality will hold a show together when all else fails--Cleaver is a bearded lump of melancholy humor, and coequal songwriter Lisa Walker burns through her gothic love stories.Posted by Keith Harris at 11:59 PM
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March 18, 2006There's sleep enough in the grave
"You know how when I close my eyes, it looks like I'm really feeling the music?" Giant Drag singer-guitarist Annie Hardy told the audience last night at Emo's. "I'm really just sleeping."
Hardy's supposed exhaustion didn't hobble the two-person band's set, or dull her spacey yet acute onstage humor. But hers were not the only tired eyes in Austin on Friday. With shows beginning noonish and after parties ending fourish or later, a dedicated SXSW'er has no choice but to press forward, through the weariness to the other side.
My long last night began with the Brunettes, an adorable New Zealand band who blurt and clang and pluck on all sorts of horns, xylophones, banjos and the like. Then on to the previously mentioned Giant Drag. After that The Fever, who used to be gawky and captivating but last night were, unfortunately, everything you might expect a band from Brooklyn to be -- hard-rocking in that pushy way that comes when a band's confidence overwhelms their personality.
Metric had no such problem--frontwoman Emily Haynes is as charismatic an indie gal as you'll find, and the Canadian band has taken to adorning the jagged bones of its sound with searing guitar excursions. And DJ Jason Forrest pushes "pushy" to rapturous extremes, pumping his fist as his own rockish techno compositions blare from his laptop.
I'd have liked to have been among the frantic up-and-down jumpers near the stage during Forrest's set, but that would have involved standing, which was an option only of last resort by the end of last night. In fact, I sat through much-blogged locals Tapes 'n' Tapes. The bits that penetrated my late-night haze sounded promising. I just hope that if the people around me glanced at my drooping eyelids, they thought I was "really feeling the music."Posted by Keith Harris at 5:00 PM
March 18, 2006Hotel music
I'm convinced there are more day parties in Ausin this year than ever before--there is practically no moment of the day you can't walk down Sixth or Red River and hear one band's blare bleeding into another from some tent or pavillion. My daytime entertainment, however, took place in hotels.
The Driskill is an old swank hotel lodged in the heart of Sixth Street, too classy for the likes of us. We soon located some equally out of place indie rock types and made out way up to a natty conference room. Here Ranier Maria would play a sharp acoustic set, and their progression--from earnest kids who sought a big, shimmery enough sound to reflect a vague swath of emotion they couldn't get a handle on, to writers of smart relationship songs that recognize the interconnection of regret and affection--was never clearer. Nice Dylan cover too--"I'll Keep It With Mine."
The Living Things played three songs before them. By all accounts the three Berlin brothers are raucous, knock-down blur of punk and politics ordinarily, but this set was gentle and twangy, highlighted by a moving (and neither sanctimonious or sententious) rumination of Iraq. OK, actually Lilian Bosh's tight white cowboy suit, which made him look a cross between Prince and Annie Oakley, was the real highlight.
From there, it was off to The Current's hotel-broadcasting set-up, where Mary et al were just about wrapping their Austin visit up. I caught the Mystery Jets, who were likeable lads--one of 'em's dad even plays guitar with the band. I could've done without the proggy, mostly instrumental "Zootime," but the bounding "You Can't Fool Me Dennis" lodged itself firmly in my brain.
And that was my Friday afternoon. Friday night was a whole 'nother story.Posted by Keith Harris at 9:06 AM
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