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SXSW Saturday

22 Mar

In Which Your Correspondent Gets Cold or “Practice Is For Good Bands”

You know you are a Midwesterner when you continually apologize for things outside your control, like bumping into someone in a crowded club or talking too long or, in the case of Saturday in Austin, the terribly cold, overcast and crappy weather. Everyone in the Minnesota contingent was up to it; “Sorry we brought the grey down with us har har har” and it just seemed cruel, after slogging through November to March up here that the last day in Austin should treat us so harshly. It certainly didn’t help with the motivation to get up and out to onto the streets. Saturday at SXSW always seems like a strange day, though- the tiredness has kicked in, the day parties and shows are a little more scattershot and though there is some great stuff happening, it is also a good day to tie up some loose ends and do some aimless wandering.

Broken Crow Mural in Austin

So instead of heading out to 6th Street right away, we finished up some editing and posting and did a photoshoot with Cincinnati, OH band The Pomegranates. Managed by Adrian Young, who also manages Cloud Cult and Ice Palace, The Pomegranates had a great SXSW experience, picking up a nod from SPIN magazine as “Best Bid at the Big Time.” We thoroughly enjoyed what we saw of them the first night at the Beauty Bar and had a good time with the shoot, so make sure and catch them next time they come through. After that, we stuck around the Convention Center to go to the Flatstock poster show and record sale, a dangerous proposition for art geeks and poster nerds. Seriously, you can get through South By on a couple bucks a day for food and sundries if you RSVP to the right places and show up for the free grub and booze, but Flatstock can quickly diminish your bankroll. We picked up a couple little things, including a poster from the Landland crew (who were repping Minneapolis along with Burlesque of North America) and throw pillows with boomboxes screenprinted on them. You know what they say about SXSW; come for the music, stay for the home décor.

Slow Club

When we did finally get going, we decided to try and see some smaller acts and scrappier bands, as opposed to bigger-name bands that were playing, it only seem fitting to close out the festival that way. We hit up Barbarella, a little dive bar with a tiny stage at the front and banks of TVs playing Elvis’ Ed Sullivan appearances on loop to catch Sheffield, England duo Slow Club. Slow Club, made up of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor, share guitar duties and Taylor occasionally drums while splitting vocal duties, often to great harmonic effect. The duo would fit in well with a lot of the Twin Cities folkies and they invited another sweet-voiced duo, First Aid Kit from Sweden (who got some internet buzz a while back for their spare rendition of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”) to join them onstage for “Dance Til The Morning Light” and then moved out into the crowd to end up with “When I Go”. They were all set to play another song, but the following band had already started setting up behind them, so that was it, and that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Slow Club from Carl Atiya Swanson on Vimeo.

Jeremy Messersmith

Feeling down for more sweet melodies, we headed over to Central Presbyterian Church to see local fave and CakeIn15 pal Jeremy Messersmith. Jeremy had brought the full band with him down to Austin; Dan Lawonn on keys and cello, Andy Thompson on drums and guitar and recent addition Brian Tighe on guitar. Tighe, also of The Hang Ups, brings experience and a guitar-playing personality to the band that perfectly nails the Beach Boys/Zombies feel of Messersmith’s new material, adding extra dimension to already strong songs like “John Dillinger’s Eyes” and “Organ Donor”. The band sounded great in the church, which is definitely one of my favorite SXSW venues and just made us more excited for Jeremy’s upcoming third disc, The Reluctant Graveyard.

Jeremy Messersmith from Carl Atiya Swanson on Vimeo.

Heading down the hill back to the main drag, with the wind screaming around us, we were all set try and catch The Middle East, an Aussie music collective whose stock had been steadily rising throughout the festival, but by the time we got to Maggie Mae’s the line was already around the corner. Hell, fellow buzz band Local Natives was still waiting around to get in. So, intent on catching something good, we headed over to Stubb’s to see New York band The Drums. Downsides to Stubb’s: outside, and it was still freezing, with a lacerating wind that got down to the marrow, and Minus the Bear. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with Minus the Bear, I just find them generally inoffensive and dull, plus they have a dumb name. So it goes. We ran into a Canadian who we had met on the flight down from Minneapolis who had once been in a band (“One of our songs was in an episode of Dawson’s Creek. It was in the seventh season so no one was really watching it then.”) and who had come to see Scissor Sisters, who were topping off the bill at Stubb’s.

The Drums

Despite the crowd at Stubb’s the mass of people didn’t help the cold, which was sneaking in down low to cut off our legs. It didn’t help the endurance between sets that The Drums’ setup and line check took forever, with drummer Connor Hanwick looking visibly upset with the tech and management people. It reached the point, time-wise, where you wondered if they were going to even go on, but then they did and all merry hell broke loose. The Drums are a kind of band that you either love or hate, and they are cool with that. Their lead quote on their website is from Fader, “We kind of hate these guys, to be honest,” and in the crowd when they started, there was definitely a mix of confusion, curiosity and unmitigated, spazzing joy (that would be me). The Drums are this total explosion of surf-rock channeled through Joy Division and electro-pop, and lead singer Jonathan Pierce has this totally odd, clipped persona, and brilliantly precise, awkward, campy dance moves while he sings like Ian Curtis on uppers and bandmate Jacob Gresham wheels around like Baryshnikov on acid. I don’t mean to insinuate the drugs, because I don’t get the feeling that their music stems from that, it’s just shorthand for how wonderfully out there and dedicated the performance was. Songs like “Best Friend” and “Let’s Go Surfing” combined silliness with poignancy and a fully invested sense of performative spectacle that, while totally different from the Fucked Up show we had seen on this stage the day before, still held thrall. Their upcoming shows in the UK are totally sold out, and after winning over the initially leery crowd at Stubb’s, it is plain to see why. The sound is going to suck in the video below, but cue up “Best Friend”, listen to that and watch this and then come out and party with me when they come to town.

The Drums from Carl Atiya Swanson on Vimeo.

Staciaann had to split back to the hotel to dump photos and warm up a bit, so I headed solo back to Barbarella to check out a showcase of Los Angeles bands. I really liked that joint- they had Red Bull from the fountain and a video DJ spinning tunes from Rogue Wave, Miike Snow, The Drums and Empire of the Sun on the TV banks, so the whole affair had an upbeat, pulsing air, even if it didn’t manage to fully get the cold out of my bones. LA trio Best Coast were up, a nice plugged in complement to the Slow Club show that had been on that stage earlier. In front of a wash of buzzy surf-guitars and fuzz-tone, frontwoman Beth Cosetino exercised her tired voice one last time- they had played 10 shows over the course of the festival- and although I am sure it was exacerbated through wear, her throaty alto meant that she could sing about every day things, wishing her cat could talk, boyfriends, getting high, without coming off as overly precious. With only a couple singles out abut an album recorded and supposedly on the way, it was a sweet little sundrop in the cold and hopefully they tour more this summer.

Better known from the LA noise/post-punk scene, quartet Abe Vigoda were up next and although I really wanted to get into it with them, their fast paced meandering wasn’t really doing the trick for me at that point in the night. Not that they weren’t intriguing, with multiple parts working off rhythm, but some of their gear wasn’t working right and the band was visibly frustrated. The great thing about SXSW is that if something isn’t working for you, just head out and find something else. If you are curious about them though, they are opening for Vampire Weekend tonight at First Avenue if you were lucky enough to snag tickets to that sold out show. Grabbing a slice of pizza and meeting back up with Staciaann, we head off to find the capstone to the night, a rare performance by Electric President.

Electric President

Electric President is a project of Jacksonville, Florida resident Ben Cooper, who has also recorded under the moniker Radical Face and released several albums of orchestral rock and roll, mostly recorded and tracked by himself in a tool shed in his backyard. The Radical Face disc Ghost is an amazing winter record and does not leave rotation until springtime comes, and despite being prolific (Electric President has a new disc, Violent Blue, out now and there is a new Radical Face album in the can) the SXSW gig was the first live show for the band in three years. The late night circumstances and setting- a nightclub called Karma Lounge with some jerry-rigged sound equipment and a thrown together stage- meant that nothing was going to go perfectly. There was feedback, laptops that were supposed to provide backing tracks died, and soundcheck took forever, so their new drummer did yo-yo tricks while everything tried to get sorted out. Sometimes you can’t take the troubles too seriously.

Yo-Yo Tricks from Stacy Schwartz on Vimeo.

When they did finally get to go, what they played was beautiful, even if the band felt out of place. When bass player Alex Kane commented that they really should have practiced more, Cooper laughed that “practice is for good bands!” Good band or not, Cooper’s song-writing is strong, full of melancholy carried over by his high and clear tenor. (He joked that he had the “voice of a 12 year-old girl.”) Tracks like “Insomnia” and “Safe and Sound” were deep and passionate, and it was almost re-assuring to see him joke in between songs, and the determination to keep playing through adversity extended to when their SXSW handlers told them their time was up- they went ahead and played another track that had a bouncing bassline and mostly involved them screaming, a good-natured end to their beleaguered set. But that’s the way I think things like this are supposed to end- damn the state of the world around you, if the industry’s falling apart or you can’t get anything in the monitors; there are people who have gathered together to share this experience, so let’s have at it. Full of determination, full speed ahead, at a show and in life.

Electric President from Stacy Schwartz on Vimeo.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Surfer Blood and The Drums | Cake In 15 - October 14, 2010

    […] and reconstituted as a four piece, and it felt like not a beat was lost from the first time I saw them in Austin. Opening with “It Will All In Tears”, their show was so tightly wound and constructed […]

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