SXSW: Day 2 Recap
Much of SXSW Day 1 was like sprinting through a marathon, so I decided to take it easy on Thursday, the music festival's second day. I didn't get out to the bars until about 4 p.m. (music started at noon). While I didn't see as many bands as on Wednesday, I covered a lot of ground in terms of style, substance and locale: frantic punk in a darkened dive, psych and metal explorations in a back yard, shambolic indie in a 6th Street showcase and polished rock stars at Stubb's. Click below for a photo-infused recap of the day, and check out the Beerland and Snake Eyes Vinyl photo galleries below this entry.
I began at Beerland, where Athens, Ohio punk kings We March were set to play their only SXSW gig. My arrival perfectly coincided with a set from We March's buddies Holy Sh--! from Milwaukee. Where We March's instrumentalists build a barely decipherable bluster of punk noise as the backdrop for Zach Fuller's antics, Holy Sh--! was more punchy, but still raw. Both bands captured punk's inherent fury. The Milwaukee lads did it with tightly wound, stop-on-a-dime rockers with an inherent catchiness despite a lack of hooks. We March, on the other hand, incorporates metal and noise as Fuller shouts unceasingly and confrontationally parades through the crowd. It's been almost a year since I've seen We March, and while theirs isn't my usual cup of tea, it was fantastic to get another fix. Those friends of theirs were hella fun, too.
I planned to catch Columbus metalheads Teeth of the Hydra with the Birthday Suits at Snake Eyes Vinyl, so I asked the Beerland sound guy how to get there and found out it's a 10-minute walk outside of the main downtown music area. It happens to be next to a Mexican restaurant called De Las Casas; I dined there and killed some time before the 7:30 showtime.
I was surprised to discover that the show was outside (I guess no one technically called it an "in-store" performance) and the record shop was in an old house on a hill. The bands were essentially playing in the backyard, a strange sight to see in the midst of the ultra-slick world of SXSW. The venue made for a cool contrast with the rest of the day's sights and sounds.
Turned out the show was way behind schedule, and luckily so for Teeth, who had struggled with some van problems outside of Cincinnati and had just pulled into Austin. They arrived with Will Fugman of instrumental rock greats Brainbow in tow; he had vacation time to burn, he explained.
Due to later commitments, I was now doomed to miss the Birthday Suits, who come through Columbus to Cafe Bourbon Street with some regularity anyway. Instead, I was treated to Citay, a massive San Francisco psychedelic folk-rock group. Employing acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and (of course) tambourine, the band featured a male lead singer and two female backups clad in flower dresses. The best way I can describe it is it's like Brian Jonestown Massacre with twee Sufjan-style backup singers. It's heavily psychedelic, dripping in drone and melody, and I recommend checking it out if you get the chance.
Next up was Titan, a bunch of wanking wankers from New York. If you would get off on a Rick Wakeman-Yngwie Malmsteen collaboration, this is your band. I thought it was directionless and awful, and I wandered off to fiddle with my computer for a few minutes.
Finally, nearing 9:30, Teeth took the stage (or climbed to the top of the hill, I should say) and practically caused a rockslide. These guys are so heavy and so good (in small doses for non-metalhead me) that it's surprising the way their Tee Pee Records debut Greenland has been ignored outside the metal press. This music is perilously thick, absurdly heavy and absolutely essential for anyone who has ever raised their hand in a devil horn. It was a shame to have to leave early.
But I did have to leave early because Psychedelic Horsesh-- was set to go on at 10 at the Soho Lounge. On the way, I ran into Sean Padilla, the Austin-based one-man band known as Cocker Spaniels, who my old band played with once in Athens. Then I walked past a glass-enclosed TV studio set up on 6th Street, which included, as far as my eyes and this blurry photo can tell, ex-MTV schmoozer Matt Pinfield:
So I finally got to Soho Lounge (with three minutes to spare!) only to find out that Psych Horse had been playing for quite a while. I only witnessed two songs of their rickety, rambunctious indie scuzz. They seemed to do well for themselves down here, though, delivering one of their more energetic, fully realized performances. Sadly, half the sparse crowd was made up of fellow Columbusites, so not many newbies got exposed. Fortunately, the Horsesh-- has another showcase on Saturday.
I enjoyed a good, long conversation with some new Columbus friends, then decided that I might as well satiate my desire to see Bloc Party. I LOOOOOOOVED their first album, perhaps more than I should have loved something so glossy and cookie-cut, but the songwriting, the arrangements, the fury, it's all so wonderful. Alas, the new album is bullocks, so I missed the chance to see the ideal Bloc Party concert. I was surprised there wasn't a line when I showed up at 11, but it was certainly packed inside. Good timing, I guess.
Or not. First I had to slog through an insufferable set from Canada's the Dears. These folks and Bloc Party have a lot in common, actually. Both clearly aspire to be the biggest band in the world, writing epics from the U2/Radiohead/Coldplay(?) school. They just go about it a little differently. And, in a hilarious parallel in the "melting pot" category, it's as if the Dears told Bloc Party, "We'll see you your black singer and raise you bookend female keyboard players and a set of twins." At least I think the drummer and guitarist were twins. You couldn't tell them apart.
Anyway, like I said, they go about their world-winning goals in decidedly different ways. The Dears are all moody and perhaps a little too artsy to suit this kind of thing. I've read comparisons to the Smiths, but they really sound more like Radiohead trying to be the Smiths. The few moments of passability came when they dropped the artsy artifice and dove into a big, Inspirational chorus. The "Little Wing" type thing they closed with was by far their best song. (I took some photos, but I was far and they were too blurry for even me to post.)
The backpack I hauled around yesterday was starting to be a pain in the neck, literally, and my legs were beginning to remember last night. Plus I was reeling from the lackluster Dears and fearing more of the same from Bloc Party. But when the Londoners came out and began with "Song for Clay (Disappear Here)," I gave them the benefit of the doubt and began to enjoy myself. That third song from Silent Alarm, the one with the bass riff and "SO F---ING USELESS!" was next, and things were looking up. They were going about ruling the world by doing the same stuff as the Dears but also, you know, rocking.
Then "Blue Light" fell a little short. And "Hunting for Witches." And "Waiting for the 718." My fears were being realized. "Banquet" was sweet, but by the second half of the set, the band was wallowing in the faceless selections from A Weekend in the City that I had hoped they would avoid. "So Here We Are" and "Like Eating Glass" ended the set, and they could have been a lot better, but they were manna compared to the new stuff.
The encore, a high point of the show, included a new ballad, then "She's Hearing Voices" and "Helicopter," the song I came to hear. Drummer Matt Tong (a true geek) and the bass player had been doing backup vocals all night, so why they left out the most pivotal backup vocals of all is a mystery to me. The absence of those vocals and the keyboard that comes in at the end made the song a little thin, but it still stood out amidst some of the dreck they had pushed earlier.
All in all, a less satisfying but necessarily easygoing day. Friday should be jam-packed—back tomorrow with another report.