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SXSW 2011: Friday

19 Mar

In Which We Get Spun, Get Off, Get Orchestral & Get Short

Friday is the day that SXSW starts to show it’s seams a bit, with some cancellations, changes in plans and last minute scrambles to see bands. For instance, Middle Brother was supposed to perform on the KUT stage at 10:35 in the morning, part of the early-morning sessions sponsored by the Austin college radio station. However, because they were coming in from a late show in Dallas, they canceled, leaving the space open for Tristen, a Nashville singer-songwriter, to take their spot. The program manager for KUT said that they got the call around 4:30 in the morning that Middle Brother would cancel, and so they went out to roust up any manager with talent to spare in decent shape in the morning, to get, as the program manager put it, “their big break.” Only at SXSW could an early-morning gig in hotel lobby for a radio crowd be considered the “big break”, but Tristen gamely went along. Her record, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, has been picking up some critical steam and the spare arrangement and added early-morning rasp gave a Lucinda Williams vibe to the songs to songs like the cutting “Eager for your Love”.

Another day, another day party, this time the SPIN Magazine bash at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, which is always a well-attended affair with a hot lineup. This year, the old seemed to rule the day at Stubb’s- the young bands were tweaking old forms and the older bands were putting on terrific performances. The Smith Westerns were up first and it is almost shocking how young they are, there was barely a shaver up there. Live, they came across as less hazy than on the record, with more of a straightaway country feel to them that wasn’t unappealing, just not new. But, considering the talented guitar playing going on onstage, give them some time and watch it grow.

After the Smith Westerns outdoors, on the inside stage there was Electric Child, who was introduced as having danced professionally with the Metropolitan Opera and also having been banned from many clubs in Austin. Singer/dancer Alison Clancy was backed by drums and guitar, sing/talking songs with lyrics about the ennui of crushes and spent most of the show pirouetting and stretching in her skintight gold lamé leotard, making it sufficiently arty to bypass the inane lyrics, although the irony of her singing “all that glitters is not gold” was pretty funny. So for professional dancers turned musicians, give the prize to Oh Land this South by Southwest, and if Mad King Thomas ever decides to get a live backing band for their dances, they have a future in Austin.

Back outside, the punk supergroup OFF! put on a phenomenal display of burning tunes and passionate conversation. Fronted by Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag and Circle Jerks, with Steven McDonald of Redd Kross on bass, Dimitri Coats of Burning Bridges on guitar and Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket from the Crypt on drums. Thee guys have about a century of punk shows in them, and the put it to good use. The songs were burning and fast, Morris joked that, “We can 18 songs in 10 minutes!” His sage banter was terrific as well, he promised an OFF! Superbowl halftime show in 15 years, when the Oakland Raiders go up against the Detroit Lions, where they would hang “any politician who has ever fucked anyone over” as babies in diapers dance, descending helicopters decapitate the band and lasers shoot out of their bodies. He also offered up a moving tribute in the song “Jeffrey Lee Pierce”, named for the founder of the band Gun Club. Before the song, Morris said, “As an older guy you watch a lot of your friends fall away and being an older guy, I think I have earned the right to sing a eulogy for my best friend.” By then end he and some audience members had to wipe away some tears, and that’s a true sentiment, even if you can’t make out the words from the roar of guitars.

Now we can cross another buzz band off the list, as The Vaccines took the stage and played their very much 50s teddy boy rock. Again, agreeable, nothing hugely new, and answering the question posed by the title of their record, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? Frontman Justin Young’s vocals seemed a bit like James Allan of Glasvegas, with the drawn out, flattened vowels, although I’m sure the Columbia A&R rep standing over at the side of the stage is banking on more North American market penetration for The Vaccines than Glasvegas got. The next band has had plenty of North American exposure, thanks especially to “If You Leave”, from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. Yes, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark were up and performing as the original duo of Andy McCluskey on vocals and bass and Paul Humphreys on synthesizers, they put on an ecstatic show. They were introduced by Moby, who claimed that he began making electronic music because he was obsessed with the first four OMD records, and as McCluskey bounded up to the mic, he exclaimed, “After that glowing introduction, we can do nothing but disappoint!” They did no such thing, kicking off with “Electricity”, playing “If You Leave” (“All of a sudden you’re 18 at a high school prom, aren’t you?” McCluskey joked) and having Moby come out to guest on two songs, including “Enola Gay”. Again, the older guys showed that if you are doing something you love, it’s possible to do it well for a long time.

The Kills are not really a band that should play during the day, and guitarist Jamie Hince made that abundantly clear from the get go. It didn’t help at all that his gear began to malfunction, and as he banged on a pedal exclaiming, “Click click click, fuck!” after the first song, it seemed like it all might be over before it really began. They patched something together, but as Hince snarled and Alison Mosshart made vague attempts to keep it on lock, with continued technical issues, it was not a show to judge them by. Hince said as much on his way off the stage, “This is exactly why I hate playing in the day for sponsors at parties. Please, come see us in a club at night.” The one Minneapolis upside to the whole show- Mosshart was rocking a t-shirt with Dan Monick’s photo of Paddy from Dillinger 4 with the American flag wrapped around his waist. How much art can you take? A lot, as long as it’s not during the day.

The headliner of the day party was TV on the Radio, but before they came to the stage, a shout out to Skrillex, who played a killer DJ set before the New York band came up, really dancing and plying the crowd with beats. He had been at the MTV Woodie awards and the recognition is well deserved. TVOTR had already played the Stubbs stage the night before, for a terrifically well-received show and this time was no different. As Tunde Adebimpe and David Sitek circled the stage shaking tambourines and windchimes shamanistically, they built the guitars up until they burst into a wailing version of “Young Liars”, grabbing hold and not letting up. They ripped through older songs like “Dancing Choose” and “Playhouses”, then offered up the new “Caffeinated Consciousness”, from their forthcoming Nine Types of Light record, on the condition that the crowd dance, which wasn’t an issue, the passion was already there. Ending with a roiling, ravaging “Wolf Like Me”, there went a band loving what they do, and hopefully doing it for a long time to come.

More Friday to come…..

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