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SXSW Wednesday

18 Mar

In Which Your Correspondent Gets Free Lunch or The Best of the Disaster Principle

You know you’re at South By Southwest when breakfast is lunch and you know you’re in Texas when that breakfast is beef brisket. It’s kind of like the Texan Breakfast of champions, and thanks to the folks at AOL/Spinner, Wednesday got off to a tasty start. Mark one day down for free breakfasts. Today, the Muzzle of Bees day party with Peter Wolf Crier should have free breakfast burritos.

Wednesday during the day was mostly spent at the Paste magazine party. Some old friends and favorites were playing and the new bands did not disappoint either. First up on the bill and with a nice crowd already for a noon slot was Basia Bulat, Canadian songstress who has been through the Twin Cities several times and who Staciaann met in the bathroom at First Avenue while Basia was trying to figure out which dress to wear for her gig. Backed by her brother Bobby on drums and Alison “Wonderland” Stewart on viola, Bulat’s warm and buttery alto filled up the room, even as she closed out her with a solo rendition of “Hush” an old gospel tune, against the noise bleed competition from the outside stage and street. Bulat’s songs, especially when she plays the autoharp, have a swirling old plains feel to them, and they were a beautiful way to kick off the day in Texas.

One of things you do need to do if you want to get the free swag/drinks/food is show up early. After Basia’s set, so by 1pm, one of the bars had already tapped out their reserves of free Sierra Nevada and the Izzie sodas were gone by 2. Still, while waiting in line for such things on the outdoor patio, Louisiana’s Givers were putting on a terrific little set. With a sort of noodling psychedelic guitar sound grounded in some deep bass and fuzz pedals, they came across like a more Jefferson Airplane influenced Dirty Projectors and were really fun to watch live, especially as the female lead switched between acoustic guitar and stand-up toms in front of her. I can only imagine that with their multiple guitar lines and percussive punches that they are a band that could fall dangerously flat on record, but on stage the mix was hot and they should definitely be on the Twin Cities tour watch list.

Back inside, Free Energy came onstage to play their first show of the day. Since Paul Sprangers used to front Hockey Night in the Twin Cities there is obviously a desire to call Free Energy a “local” band, in the same vein as the Hold Steady. In the debate posed on Twitter by @gimme_noise, @Staciaann and @doubleasterisk took the side of claiming but @solace put some distance between the band and Minneaolis, saying that the Hold Steady made it easy to claim them with their references to Twin Cities landmarks in their early records. Here’s a Mid-western passive-aggressive stand for you; we’ll claim the roots if they really truly blow up, and if not, Philly can have them. Still, with the crowd they packed in at the 7th Street Entry a couple weeks ago, and their totally infectious mix of T. Rex and J. Geils Band (which is really easy to get into if you happened to be a Hockey Night Fan) is definitely ascendant.

Free Energy from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

After an amiable set from New Yorkers Freelance Whales, whose sprinkling can used for percussion had a warning label posted on it that any use other the recommended was not advisable, Carolina Chocolate Drops came on and did something amazing. Two men and a woman, from North Carolina, they get down deep into American music. When I interviewed Ben Knox Miller of the Low Anthem and asked him about the current popularity of roots music, he responded, “Hey, I don’t know if there’s any one reason, but music that comes from the old traditions will always be around. It’s real, it’s simple.” The Chocolate Drops embody and vivify that Faulkenerian chestnut that the past isn’t even past, because through their fiddles, banjos, guitars, kazoos, jugs, bones, breath, hands, feet, their very bodies, it lives in them and on stage, music specific to time and place and yet transcendent of it. Old blues tunes, drum-and-fife, Dixie jigs, plus a cover of Blu Cantrell’s 2001 revenge belter “Hit ‘Em Up Style”, everything comes full circle and anyone who cares about American music has no excuse to miss them when they come in to town this summer, or to pick up Genuine Negro Jig, out now on Nonesuch Records.

Carolina Chocolate Drops from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Frightened Rabbit provided the first real exposition of the disaster principle of rock and roll, that everything will go wrong, we want to watch it happen and we want even more to watch a band pull though, the thrill of riding along the edge of chaos into the light. As they came into the Galaxy Room, the Glaswegians were already looking harried. Although this band of Scotsmen is rarely sunny by disposition, their dourness and desperation can be incredibly forceful and compelling, sounding like a thunderstorm across the glen. Still, they did not look like happy campers and as frontman Scott Hutchison tried different variations of UK-US converter plugs it became clear that his guitar pedals and their keyboards would not be willing to cooperate. As they became more wild-eyed and with time running out, they signaled back to their sound man, who came through the monitors saying, “Fuck it, this is the most rock and roll thing I’ve ever done.” So, making do with an acoustic guitar hooked into a direct input and some of their backing instruments, they tore into a shortened, sweaty and impassioned set. As born out by their excellent albums Sing The Greys, The Midnight Organ Fight and the recently released The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit play their hearts out. They did it in the face of adversity on a hot day in Texas and will surely do it again in more amiable circumstances at the Varsity Theatre on May 10th.

Later on in the day, Minneapolis locals and CakeIn15 faves City on the Make faced their own difficulties while playing a show on the swank stage at the Belmont. On the way down to Austin, singer Mike Massey lost his voice, and so when he took the stage, his blues rasp was deeper and rougher than usual. The band adjusted well, so that Peter Blomgren’s guitar and Stephen Rowe’s bass had extended playing time against Colin Stumbras’ drums and Massey’s upper registers were unaffected, leading to a fierce mix of high and low dynamics that made tunes like the soulful “Ships Across the Ocean” and Minneapolis summer classic “Chicks on Bikes” grind and pop. Later on at the Green Room Booking gig at Lambert’s, Ruby Isle was doing their thing with the lights on, which is not as dirty as it sounds and had the diminishing effect of stage wildness. Still, I really can’t wait for their new-wave cover album of Appetite for Destruction comes out this summer.

I’m going to try and catch as little Minneapolis music as possible whilst here, it seems like going on a package tour to Italy or Egypt and only eating turkey-mayo sandwiches. Speaking of food, and I am going to belabor this point, Austin’s street vendors put Minneapolis to shame. Where is our street food? We got these goddamn cupcakes from a truck! You can’t tell me that winter makes it impossible, there is so much we do only in summer that street food should be one of them. City Council member Gary Schiff, I am going to tag you in this note when it imports to Facebook, and I want you to get on it, mmkay? Because this is a travesty. Imagine if Rotisserie Brasa had a pulled pork sandwich stand on Nicollet. Let’s get on this.

Here’s where the Hipster Heirarchy comes in- Staciaann with her badge got into the NPR Showcase at Stubb’s with the Walkmen, Spoon, a very dimly lit Broken Bells show and an outrageously phenomenal Sharon Jones fronting her Dap-Kings. I, however, with my limited access wristband did not get in for any of that, but I did get to meet up with my best friend from college who I had not seen in far too long. She has become a dubstep DJ, and so we packed in underground at Barcelona to dance like crazy to some of the best current dubstep DJs, DreadBass Soundsystem and Eprom, both from San Francisco and Manchester, England pioneer MRK1. After mostly standing in crowds during the day, letting loose and dancing with friends to people doing what they love, that’s some beautiful freedom, and you couldn’t really ask for more.

Actually, you might ask for more linking, video and photo. We’re working on it. With limited bandwidth and capacity, uploading video is not the easiest. We will do a recap when we get back and clean everything up then. Love you all.

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