SXSW ’09 in Review: Tuesday – Thursday

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    Another year brought another week of media hell to Austin, Texas’ dusty, city streets this past weekend. Hundreds of writers, musicians, and publicists shuffled about in a frenzy, moving from one venue to the next bar, trying to pretend it was all some sort of a vacation. It wasn’t too hard of an illusion. Considering the free alcohol here and there, the smoky barbecue pits on every corner, and the endless rows of pizza boxes, anyone might have considered it one giant, accessible party.

    In many ways it was, but that didn’t stop everyone from punching in and out in a very work-like fashion. After all, this isn’t your typical music festival, where every band’s there to just rock out. Most acts, if not all of them (save for the big ones), were there to shatter the proverbial bars they all set for themselves months or years beforehand. This is where songwriters sweat from playing hard and being nervous. It’s where everything is raw and everyone is on their game. This has always been the case with SXSW and nothing has changed this year — only the bands and a newer, trendier logo.

    Unlike last year, when our correspondent Matt Sanders went solo into the city-spanning chaos, Consequence of Sound (CoS) took it upon itself to not only cover the event this year, but to get involved as well. With two parties and a showcase, we found ourselves working nonstop, yet we were only waist deep in the media muck that could swallow even the strongest, most ambitious patron. That’s why we decided to start early, arriving Tuesday night, on the eve of the week’s most insane and surprising festivities.


    Needless to say, our knees are sore, our ankles feel swollen, and our eyes feel like they’re going to pop. Awesome? You be the judge…

    Tuesday, March 17th:

    While Tuesday served more as the closing for the interactive and film portion of this year’s South by Southwest, there was music to be found, particularly at La Zona Rosa where the SXSW Interactive Closing Party was going down.

    Hailing from Montreal, Winter Gloves pleased on lookers with a collection of synth friendly sounds that blended groovy electro beats with a youthful indie persona. Think Holy Fuck-lite, add vocals, and a touch of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Needless to say, the quartet made for a great way to kick off SXSW.

    As did the band that followed. In what was their first live performance in well over a year, Voxtrot used their first of two SXSW appearances to further introduce a packed crowd to the band’s new darker, heavier, and somewhat synthy – yes, more synth! – style that the world first got wind of last week with the release of “Trepanation Party”. Fortuanly, these sounds don’t contrast with the ear pleasing vocals of Voxtrot’s clean shaven frontman Ramesh Srivastava. In fact, they worked quite well together, resulting in a set that can’t help but get one excited over the band’s upcoming, yet-to-be-announced endeavors.


    Wendesday, March 18th:

    The first “official” day of South by Southwest’s music portion offered a brilliant example at just how incredibly overwhelming and mind-numbingly chaotic the week can, and eventually would be.

    Over at Red 7, Force Field PR and Terror Bird Media offered a day party showcasing a rather eclectic mix of up-and-comers and industry favorites. Despite the early afternoon time slot and subdued feel of his sound, Swedish multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen, aka Loney Dear, garnered quite a crowd with his sweet and innocent melodies, while The Thermals basically blew off the roof – well, they would have if there had been a roof in the outside area of Red 7 – with a ruckus 35-minute set. Consisting mostly from material from the band’s forthcoming studio album, Now We Can See, which in the end, basically sounds the same as any of its past work give or take a guitar solo or two, the set earned Hutch Harris and Co. quite a reception, and a positive first of eight SXSW sets.

    Inside, two hip-hop outfits hailing from completely different backgrounds each had no trouble making quite te impression. Though still baby faced and raw, the duo known as DMG$ (pronounced Damaged Goods) exhibited a charisma and spunk that can best be described as jaw-dropping. Between their on stage dance moves and in crowd free styling, DMG$ has a persona comparable to the best of their contemporaries. The potential is there and once the rhymes solidify, which will come with time, the duo should have no problem make a name for itself in the coming years. The same can probably be said about fellow hip-hoppers Themselves. Well, that is if they stay together. Doseone and Jel took the Red 7 stage on Wednesday for what was one of their first performances since reuniting after a five year hiatus last month. The talent is still there and in a big way. The only question now is whether Themselves will stay Themselves long around long enough to see this talent through.


    Three blocks and four hours later, it was Stubb’s time to shine. Playing hosts to NPR’s official showcase, the Red River Street venue was jam packed from the get go with hungry SXSW’ers looking to get a good spot for the evening’s best bill, one which in the end, failed to disappoint.

    Albeit featuring a much different style the acts to come, Phillipa Brown showed just why nearly every Australian and Perez Hilton is clamoring over the musician better known as Ladyhawke. Sounding a cross between Madonna and Peaches, Ladyhawke turned Stubb’s into an 80s dance floor during her nearly 45 set, well, give or take the time she dabbled in some guitar playing.

    These days, it isn’t often you find down right dirty rock ‘n’ roll, but then again, these weren’t any ordinary days. So perhaps it was only appropriate that one of Texas’ own brought some of the dirtiest rock South by Southwest would see. Playing a set consisting of material mostly from their recently released new studio album, The Mountain, the Heartless Bastards to put it blatantly, shredded for the better part of 40 minutes. Punchy, punctuating, and powerful is another good way to put it, especially during renditions of “The Mountain” and “Hold Your Head High”.


    Equally compelling was the night’s next act, just in an entirely different way. With cello, bass, and banjo in hand, The Avett Brothers took to Stubb’s to offer one of a kind folk styles, or in other words, some of the most enthusiastic unplugged music one will stumble upon. The one problem? Due to the extensive set up required for such an act, the band was limited to a 25 minute set.

    At first look, it would seem as if The Decemberists would be the perfect act to close such a showcase. Not only Colin Meloy and Co. offer the best of both worlds when it came to the sounds of the previous bands, but they would also be using sets to introduce the industry to their forthcoming studio album, The Hazards of Love. Yet for as unique of an opportunity as the set was, it may have also set up The Decemberists for failure. By no means, was their performance of the 17-track effort in its entirety bad, because in reality, it was anything but that. In fact, it was almost too much; too many sounds, too many musical shifts, too much texture, all which in the left left fans dazed at what had just taken place in front of them. Some left the sluggish, prog-rock rifts early, others heckled for old favorites amidst the band’s Arcade Fire-like tribal drumming. Needless to say, the reaction was almost as emotional as the album itself.

    Thursday, March 18th:

    While Full Metal Texas kept to capacity over at Emo’s Annex, down the road at the Radio Room, where Brooklyn Vegan’s day party kicked off, things were heating up — literally and metaphorically. Brooklyn’s own Bishop Allen held the attention of most daytime attendees, where at least five hundred folks cluttered the outside patio. In a flannel button up, vocalist Justin Rice sweat from every pore, his back an engulfing mass of perspiration, which made their catchy song, “Rain”, a rather hopeful one. Both he and instrumentalist Christian Rudder kicked things up a notch with the Nick & Norah favorite, “Middle Management”, which rocked n’ rolled just about every sweaty hipster wearing too much black or too many layers for comfort. Some new material off of their latest, Grrr…, went over well, but past hits (“Click Click Click”, for one) were sorely missed.


    Maybe it was all the Brooklyn influence (that might be a good educated start), but everyone seemed to be quite the fish out of water. Between the skinny jeans and the Wayfarers, Greenwich Village was well represented here, with artist types up the ying yang. Some were acts waiting off to the side to play, which included the very posh Hymns, who would go on to back Daniel Johnston on a few tracks. The New York quartet looked like four Jason Schwartzman’s, only slightly taller with more of the silent treatment. Their jangly sound seemed to combine ’60s Rolling Stones and Gimme Fiction-esque Spoon. It was a lovely sound for the afternoon, though cut short with the inclusion of legend Johnston, who started with “Mean Girls” and digressed into something else altogether. The wild songwriter looked wild in general, with color-streaked silver hair and a tense, apprehensive stare. With his songbook in tow, the West Virginian held his own with the crowd, though his popularity was unmeasured with the acts present.

    Back inside, things, to quote the late Johnny Carson, got a “lil crazy, a lil wild”, as These Arms Are Snakes pretty much destroyed the indoor stage. Despite hailing from Seattle, the amicable-if-not-highly-disgusting quartet held a somewhat hillbilly look, perhaps in honor of the Texas spirit. The skeleton skinny frontman Steve Snere battled the stage himself, jumping over amps, gyrating stupendously, and kicking over various chairs off stage. At one point, the bratty frontman spit up a loogy, only to catch it on his hand and lick it up again. Think that’s gross? How about the moment he pulled a Jim Morrison by sliding his fingers down his pants, only to kick it up an extra notch by licking ’em after. Everything about this act was performance which is unfortunate because their music isn’t interesting in the slightest. It’s unfocused distortion without being shoegaze, which in other words, is somewhat irritating — especially with the sprawling screaming that seems to pre-date them to 2002. On a good day, they could be likened to At The Drive-In, but that comparison stems from the fact that both Snere and guitarist Ryan Frederiksen seem to play the Cedric Bixler/Omar Rodriguez playbook note for note. If anything, they’re fun to watch on stage, but hardly a logical act to get behind.

    Call it what you will, but Cursive‘s live show is one of this year’s best on the scene. Vocalist and guitarist Tim Kasher is quickly becoming one riotous hero in the indie community. His vocals have grit, his movements are concentrated and fitting, and the emotion is always raw and vital. Under a thick mop of sweaty hair, Kasher led a jagged, if not downright exceptional rendition of “Art is Hard”, one of the band’s best tunes live. The swinging violins, the dancey drums, and the crunchy guitars are too addicting. While playing a great deal of their latest record, Mama, I’m Swollen, the Nebraska heavies kept it “old-school” with plenty of old time favorites, too. While an early set, and the first of many SXSW appearances, Kasher & co held a larger than expected crowd, with a line coming in that sweltered by the minute. To be fair, it wasn’t just Cursive picking up the pace, and Kasher took note of this: “The Wrens are playing outside. I’d much rather be there right now, but I’ll have to catch them another time.” Fortunately for the crowd, Kasher stuck around and punched in an exceptional set, rewarding the Brooklyn blog with some very necessary props.


    So, The Hold Steady took to Red 7 in the late afternoon as part of the Found Magazine and Quackmedia Day Party. Or, at least we think…

    Kidding aside, The New York Times was there, as was Tiny Mix Tapes. So read about it there.

    Is 80s influences, electro infused, synth heavy, Apple approved music your thing? Then Emo’s Annex was the place to be on Thursday evening for The Windish Agency official showcase.

    With their new album, Bitte Orca, set to hit record stores in a couple months, Dave Longstreth and the Dirty Projectors took to Emo’s to offer fans a taste of what is to come, and on first listen, it’s pretty damn solid. Cool and funky are some words that come to mind in describing the poppy, yet heavy, R&B, yet artsy nature of the band’s 45 minute set, but in this case, maybe it’d be better to just take a listen yourself. NPR is currently streaming the entire set right this second.

    Based off their recently released debut album, The Spirit of Apollo, there was probably no act more anticipated at this year’s than N.A.S.A. Draped in space suits and backed by a barrage of movie clips from who knows where, the DJ duo of Squeak E. Clean and Zegon had both a successful lift off, and minus a few rough patches (was it just us, or was 30 minutes of dancing aliens just too much?), their expedition proved to be quite successful. Highlights included remixes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kanye West, and Nirvana, along with a Girl Talk-like on stage danceapalooza that left Emo’s sole bouncer in a state of sheer pandemonium.

    Since stumbling upon Little Boots at Brooklyn Vegan’s day party at CMJ last fall, we have been pretty big fans of the 25-year-old Brit. Ok, we’ve been obsessed. But even that didn’t stop us from noting the changes in both Little Boots’ on stage performance; in just six short months, her vocals have transcended from cute and innocent to powerful and engaging, while her sways behind the microphone have been replaced by confident crowd interactions. This Madonna Jr. now not only exuberates potential, she is finally beginning to realize, and in the end, it’s only a matter of time before the entire world knows the name Little Boots.


    To be continued…

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