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SXSW 2011: Tuesday

16 Mar

In Which We Get Delayed, Get Warm, Get Lovely & Get Geeky

Doggerel, MSP-AUS, SXSW

The shaky lean, precipitous climb
the hopes of bands on the rise
and there the cemetery far below,
filled with soldiers, far from home.

The plotted houses, a frozen swing,
ordered lives, the old man’s sting
driven fast into the solid earth,
tears bodies from their warmth and worth.

Yet we are not so far, my dear,
we up the sun, we can go clear,
the further south, the more snow melts,
the more my love recalls itself.

Point the way, love, get lost in sound;
south by southwest, where hope abounds.

So it starts with airports and airplanes filled with people eyeing eachother, trying to figure out if you’re in a band or in the industry or just there as a tourist. Landing in Austin, waiting for the better part of CakeIn15 to come in, some people are really friendly- northerners, people from cold climates just starting to remember what sun and t-shirts feel like, for the most part. One Irish kid strikes up a conversation, his name is Dec, he was recruited to play keys for the band Sacred Animals 3 weeks ago and has since played Canadian Music Week, New York City and now SXSW. Not bad for your first month with a band, and that kind of whirlwind is just the kind of pick-me-up we’re looking for in Austin. Then, the drill- get picked up for a free ride in a branded Chevy Cruze, figure out 6 people in a room for four in an historic hotel, pick up the critical credentials, run into Fitz and the Tantrums, wait in a line at CVS with Germans, an Eastern European band singing John Lennon and a guy buying four tins of frosting. It’s Austin, it’s warm, it’s weird, it’s all good.

Getting the music off on the right foot is key, and the first act of South By Southwest 2011 set a standard that is going to be hard to top, as The Civil Wars just flat-out killed their set at the IFC Crossroads House. The duo, comprised of native Alabamian John Paul White and Northern California girl Joy Williams, pair for some of the sweetest, most heartbreaking harmonies in the American roots and blues tradition that is earning their debut disc, Barton Hollow, loads of acclaim. With Williams cooing in a lacy cocktail dress and White looking very much like the unplugged little brother of a White of another stripe, they opened with “Tip of my Tongue”, seductively finger picked before moving into “Forget Me Not”, in which both members showed off their sustained harmonies, with White wiggling his eyebrows playfully at Williams to keep it going and shift pitch. Other highlights included the title track, and a swampy new tune, “Oh Henry” and not only was their original material strong and gracious, but they punched up their set with a trio of brilliant covers- a plaintive rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” that turned the usual sweetness into a pleading lament, a vamping version of “Billie Jean” and a heartfelt and spare take on “Disarm” by the Smashing Pumpkins. Of the last song, Williams noted that there was not a lot of overlap in the duo’s disparate musical upbringing, and so when their worlds did intersect, as with “Disarm”, it was “sacred territory” and that Billy Corgan had heard them do their version, which was both the greatest thing to happen to them and freaked them out. The Civil Wars held their own far and away, so much so that a repeat viewing may be in order.

The next destination of the night was a fun little joint called the Art Disaster party at the Beauty Bar, with a stop along the way to run into a bunch of the GAYNGS Affiliyated crew and the ever-lovely Hilary Davis of Bella Koshka. Once into the venue, the reason for SXSW trips became readily apparent, as although we were there to give some hometown love to Dearling Physique for their sole SXSW appearance, they were running late and the band Social Studies was still onstage. It turns out that the San Francisco quartet would happily fit in to a show the 7th Street Entry on any given night. With their propulsive bass, Gracie Slick-esque front woman and keyboard lines shifting between enveloping blasts and playful riffs, here was a strong band with touring and label potential, and getting bands like that visibility is ostensibly the very reason that South by Southwest is around.

Because Social Studies ran behind, though, we were only able to stay for the first two songs in Dearling Physique’s set, and although the opening was marred by a poor vocal mix, by the time Domino & co. broke into “Monster”, their new single, the floor was starting to move. Domino of course, lead the pack, getting deep into his performance in a Kevin Kramp creation of knit ropes that hung about him, bringing the art, and avoiding too much of the disaster.

The reason we left the Beauty Bar was simple: indie-geek heartthrob Michael Cera. Cera, who as an actor has played a bass-playing musician in movies like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, is now a real-world bass-playing musician in the band Mister Heavenly. If it sounds gimmicky or like a pet project, Mister Heavenly has some serious indie bones, it is fronted Nick Thorburn, the man behind The Unicorns (a personal touchstone favorite) and Islands, Modest Mouse‘s Joe Plummer is on drums and Man Man frontman Ryan Kattner is a beast at the keys. It’s an agreeable sounding band, heavy on the 50s sound- they call it “doom-wop”, apparently- and while the rock guys do their snarling, crashing thing, Cera does exactly what his movies would have you think he would do- stare really intently at his hexagonal bass, move with the grace of a leg fallen asleep and occasionally smile sheepishly. Cera is not an official member of the band, but he and Thorburn have collaborated before on a video for Islands, and non of that seemed to matter- the capacity crowd inside and watching from outside loved it, and watching people push themselves, well that’s a great way to start off any endeavor, and anything can be a sex bob-omb.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. What's Good in Nashville? Classic Williams, SXSW & Swift takes on Seuss - March 18, 2011

    […] Some local SXSW notes from around the blogosphere: Cake in 15 has video from the Civil Wars‘ performance at the IFC Crossroads House & American […]

  2. What You Missed: The Civil Wars | Cake In 15 - April 19, 2011

    […] Civil Wars for the CakeIn15 crew, which was utterly fine by us, seeing as how they were one of our favorite live acts from Austin last month and their record Barton Hollow has been getting consistent play at home. Joy […]

  3. A Slice of 2011 | Cake In 15 - December 26, 2011

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