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SXSW 2011: Wednesday

17 Mar

In Which We Dance, Get Fadered, Get Fresh & Get Food

Before delving into the music, here are a couple things we learned about food at SXSW today:

1) The $2 banana bought at the Convention Center tastes different than the 69¢ banana from the corner store. The difference? The shame of having bought a $2 banana.

2) Curry ketchup will invariably escape from the Best Wurst brat you are eating whilst walking to a venue and land someplace on your body where it would be inappropriate or difficult to lick it off.

3) There is a restaurant in Austin advertising Korean bulgogi BBQ and burgers. This seems like a brilliant idea.

There is something pleasant about 2pm being considered an early start, because it was about that time, after traversing 6th Street, the main drag of SXSW and the incipient crowd of curious onlookers that we made it over to the Fader Fort, with diversions like Foxtails Brigade sweetly busking and popping our heads into the Paste party for a quick look at The Civil Wars again- told you it would happen!

The Fader Fort is a love/hate place to see music- it’s a branded venue, with everything this year being sponsored by Fiat (Musical instruments made from Fiat parts! A Fiat web design game! Logos all around!), the crowds can be overwhelming in the fenced-off area and the lines to get in can stretch for blocks and hours. That said, it’s an open bar and the lineups can be really stellar, so when you get in, you can be sure of a show. Such was the case for the Wednesday slate, and so by showing up early and getting press credentials, all that was really left to do was to stake out a spot and let the buzz bands play away.

Jonquil was just finishing up their set as we arrived and the Oxford boys were an upbeat way to start the day, with their tune “It Never Rains” a dance-pop and British take on the Vampire Weekend mode of indie-rock. Singer Hugo Manuel announced from the stage that, “We’ll be playing everywhere, so you can’t miss us,” and even if we don’t catch them again, their One Hundred Suns EP should be worth a listen. They were followed to the stage by another dance-oriented band, Brooklyn-via-Denmark’s Oh Land, which may just have been the best thing we saw yesterday. Fronted by singer and producer Nanna Øland Fabricius, their art-pop was a blasting and huge live sound, reminding us of the Metric show that we saw on the Fader Fort stage in 2010. Songs like “Son of Gun” and “Perfection” had the mid-afternoon crowd swaying along as Fabricius, a trained ballet dancer, tore around the stage and on drums and keys respectively, Hans and Torma, “straight from Denmark!”, kept a fierce but poised intensity. Ending with “We Turn It Up”, the chorus of “We coming up, we don’t care what you say!” was pitch perfect.

The cavalcade of buzz bands continued with Dom, who, like they were Wavves little cousin, have been getting a heaps of praise for their record Sun Bronzed Greek Gods. That record is bombastic and layered in production, which didn’t quite translate to the big, open airy space of the Fader Fort tent, but may work really well when they play the 7th Street Entry Thursday, April 7th. Whilst waiting for Dom to take the stage, a photographer started talking about how she had shot them at CMJ and that they had been crazy there- and this photographer’s day job is with Sesame Street, so she should know crazy. As Dom tore into “Jesus”, someone lit up a giant joint and another guy yelled out “Play some Slayer,” which just about summed up the whole affair.

Young the Giant had some technical issues in setting up their gear, setting off a slide of problems pushing the already short (25 minute or so) sets off schedule, but singer Sameer Gadhia summed up the ethos by telling the sound man, “Why the fuck not, let’s try it.” They tried it off with the single “My Body” and it worked well, building into a soaring indie-rock anthem like Grizzly Bear on sunny Orange County uppers. Gadhia’s spastic stage dances were quickly upstaged by the following act, the English dance-punkers Friendly Fires, whose frontman Ed Macfarlane showed off pouty dance moves that you can only imagine get him laid through their exceptional silliness. Starting off with “Lovesick” and ending with “Kiss of Life”, with their soul horns backing the shattering drum-lines, it carried on an excellent day of body-shaking Europeans upping the Austin ante.

The Joy Formidable brought some more chaos with them, as Rhydian Dafydd bass amp “literally caught fire”, according to singer and guitar player Ritzy Bryan. They, again, decided to “see how the fuck we get on,” and proceeded to pummel stage into oblivion- at one point Dafydd destroyed a bass drum they had brought up with them- their latest record isn’t called The Big Roar for nothing. With heavy, throbbing bass lines and Bryan’s wailing yelp backed up by some definite crazy eyes, The Joy Formidable earned some serious rock stripes and their showcases for NPR and Rolling Stone are certainly evidence of that. Following that madness, Twin Shadow took the stage to bring out their mix of Chuck Berry via Morrisey and 80s dance beats rock and roll, and the ecstatic crowd was happily hungry for it. Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, with whom Twin Shadow and Solange Knowles just recorded a charity track, was hanging out backstage, but there was no cameo, as the sets pushed into eachother to make up time.

To cap off the Fader Fort experience, there was something completely different on tap, the Gadsen, Alabama rapper Yelawolf. We had interviewed Yelawolf last year for AOL Spinner, but this was the first time seeing the rapper live, and his aggressive, threatening and melodic flows had the capacity crowd swarming, smoking and screaming out their love for box Chevys. Kicking off with “Trunk Muzik” and never letting up, Yelawolf had the most audience inteaction of the night, throwing out packets of “crackers for you crackers”, climbing the speaker stacks and stage diving- check out the end of the video for “Good To Go”. Ending the set with his two biggest tunes, “I Just Wanna Party” and “Pop the Trunk”, the gothic frenzy and antagonism could be summed up with Yelawolf roaring “I feel good about myself!” After that, just let it ride.

After popping into a showcase to investigate Shit Horse, a gimmicky North Carolina garage band fronted by Danny Magic, an older dude dressed in a UNC band uniform who was chanting their theme song, “Shit Horse! Is Gonna Ride!”, the obligatory Minnesota stop was in order. The entire Doomtree collective had their official SXSW showcase in the Flamingo Cantina and we caught sets from Mike Mictlan and Cecil Otter. Although the crowd was filled with transplanted Minnesotans, there was a respectable contingent of other audience members and although not at capacity, a hoarse Mictlan had the room moving with “Suicide Jimmy Snuffa” and “OMG”. When he cut off DJs Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak during “LA Raiders Hat”, saying he had to “cut the beat for Texas” in order to drop politics- “I was always a spic / wiping my face clean from spit / smile when I’m pissed / then cleaning the blood off my fists”, appropriate for the state and state of affairs, it was like a good Minnesotan show- everyone paid close attention and cheered at the end. Cecil Otter had a good run as well, going through the best of Rebel Yellow as well as false-start, “A Hundred Fathers” from False Hopes- Doomtree disc. “I haven’t done this song in five years,” Cecil joked, “And I was like, lets do it. Just throw some Budweiser on it.” If that’s not the South by Southwest spirit, I don’t know what is.

The night closed out with the Frenchkiss Records party at the Parish upstairs, including sets from Young Man and The Antlers. Young Man, most of whose online releases have been acoustic solo demos, showed off an appealing range with a full band- three electric guitars and a drummer showing off some serious jazz chops. Colin Caulfield’s heavily acoustic arrangements took on a great life of their own, especially as picked guitar lines bounced off eachother during the lovely “Time” and the woozy and dreamy “School” built into a frenetic ending that had everyone on stage lashing around wildly. Young Man also pulled a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” out of their hat, giving it a decidedly upbeat feel and regimented tempo, a bold move that paid off well. The Antlers were up next and they showcased songs from their forthcoming Burst Apart record, as well as “Kettering”, “Bear” and “Atrophy” from their excellent 2009 release Hospice. Hospice was a hugely emotional record, built off of frontman Peter Silberman’s dealing with death and care, but drummer Michael Lerner and multi-instrumentalist, Darby Cicci really stepped up to flesh out the songs and make the live performance a band effort. The annoyingly un-named new material (“This is a new song!” is not a particularly helpful stage announcement) felt like it came more from that group, as Cicci took the instrumental lead several times, and the set flowed well, giving hope that Burst Apart will work as well in the context of an album.

The day took it’s toll and we ducked out before The Dodos took the stage, but they are playing many other shows in Austin and will be at the Cedar on the 23rd, so no worries about missing out on them there. The capstone of the night was really yet to come though- the discovery of a food truck selling Korean BBQ tacos. The bulgogi beef and kimchi fries were a brilliant and eye-opening mix, just as any day with this much music should be.

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