SXSW: Day 3 Recap

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Despite a choppy start, my Friday at SXSW proved to be every bit as good as Wednesday, with a night full of four awe-inspiring performances. Columbus represented, and bands from England, Japan and the American South showed (a)this is truly a global event and (b)the world is overflowing with diverse musical talent. Click below for a (loooooong) report on the day, and look at the photo galleries posted underneath this entry for extended (in)sights.

I had been salivating over the Pitchfork party since it was announced a couple months ago. My plan was to show up 30 minutes before the first act to ensure I got to take it all in. Unfortunately, staying up too late once again caused me to run over time with my work Friday morning, and I missed anticipated sets from Do Make Say Think, Beach House, the Pipettes and the Ponys. Luckily, I might catch the Ponys this afternoon, and Do Make Say Think is coming to Columbus in a couple weeks. (Their new album is pretty cool, and I imagine it will be a killer show. Look for a short preview in the March 29 paper.)

I was all set to arrive for RJD2's band, but the taxi company took almost two hours to show up, so even though I called early to anticipate their delayed arrival, they still screwed me. My backup plan for RJ was to see him later that night at Karma, but it turned out he was doing a DJ set, not playing with his band again, and I was closed out of the show anyway. We'll have to settle for an update from band member Derek DiCenzo. According to Derek, the second date of the tour went much more smoothly than opening night in Columbus, and the band has had smooth sailing from there, with sold-out shows and warm reception for their increasingly tight collaborations. Of course he's going to say that, but I believe him. So there you go. I still hope they come back around to Columbus before it's all said and done.

Now on to music I actually did witness: Menomena was one of my most anticipated acts of the festival. Two albums in, they're one of the more innovative acts in indie rock, pulling out all the bells and whistles on record and on stage despite using only three pairs of hands. The stage setup was formidable, particularly Brent Knopf's rig of keyboards, guitars, laptop and xylophone. Yet I expected even more piles and piles of equipment. Justin Harris switched from bass to guitar to saxophone, but he never did more than one instrument at once, and Danny Seim stuck with the drum set throughout.

No matter, though, so long as the music delivered. That was a so-so proposition. The Portland trio chose some of its best songs, starting with "Wet and Rusting" and later hitting "The Pelican," "Muscle'n Flo," "Cough Coughing" and "Rotten Hell." But the songs definitely lost something without the help of multi-tracking. I found myself wishing they had hired more musicians or simply programmed some of the missing parts into the laptop. Live, their music lacked the fullness that helps make their records some of the best around. It wasn't necessarily a bad show, except for a flubbed drum part in the last 10 seconds that caused the band members to crack up, but it was hardly satisfying.

Aziz Ansari's comedy was mostly good, especially his bits about MTV shows like Next, though his rape jokes didn't go over so well with some audience members who called him out on it. I'm not getting involved in this one...

I ran into Ansari and Paul Scheer when they were coming in. The pair are part of the comedy group Human Giant, which was responsible for this amazing send-up of record store clerks, among other sketches. Human Giant is getting a new show on MTV starting (I believe) next month. They handed out a sample DVD... I'll try to watch it on the plane back and let you know what I think.

I've already seen Girl Talk twice this year, so I wasn't that psyched for Gregg Gillis' non-DJ set, but he blasted the best overall mix I've heard from him yet, even if I didn't hear his greatest mashup ("My Love" with "Whoomp! There It Is") in there. Security kept fans from getting on stage, keeping this from being a typically rowdy Girl Talk show. Still a fun time, but without the interactive element, it's no must-see.

Next up was Deerhunter over in Emo's Jr. I should explain that Emo's is this huge complex of bars that takes up almost a block on 6th Street. The main venue is a covered area that opens into an open-air patio, and the patio leads to the smaller room Emo's Jr. Those spaces wrap around Emo's IV Lounge on the corner. Across the street is a tent called Emo's Annex, which may or may not be set up when SXSW isn't in town. Anyway...

Atlanta's Deerhunter is one of those megahyped bands that I didn't listen to on the first wave of praise. I need to check out their Kranky Records debut Cryptograms, though, because they put on a fabulously weird show. These guys look like the outcasts from your high school, the kids so excluded that even the dorks look down on them. The singer is a walking Skeleton with a less-than-handsome face, and his crew of freaks and geeks appear to be the types who shared many Friday nights together playing Magic: The Gathering. (Disclaimer: I owned Magic cards in 8th grade. They may still be in my closet.)

This band, then, is revenge of the nerds, their way to rise up and be appreciated for their weirdness. (Note: It's possible I'm reading too much into their appearance, but I doubt it.) Deerhunter's sound is this weird blend of psychedelia, PiL-style post-punk (the vocals, not the rhythms) and the dark garage stuff mined on the El Jesus de Magico record. It's dreary and sometimes shapeless, and Skeletor leads the way through, moaning his way to the big, noisy climax. This is not for everyone, but I thought it was pretty awesome—certainly the best set I saw that afternoon.

I decided to give Peter Bjorn and John another try and discovered that they're simply not that great of a live band. I appreciated this second go-round much more because I knew what to expect, but other than a glorious "Young Folks," it still didn't capture the magic of Writer's Block. Of course I'm still going to see them in Columbus on May 7.

Wandering around after the Pitchfork party, I noticed that same soundstage where I spotted Matt Pinfield Thursday night. Confirmation: definitely Pinfield. And look who he was interviewing!

That's right, it's that (allegedly) kid-lovin' rock legend, Pete Townshend! The people you run into at SXSW, I tell ya. Talked to some Terribly Empty Pockets on the street and learned (a)they ran into David Byrne, which is ironic since every reviewer and concert-goer ever has compared singer Josh Holt to Byrne and (b)Holt has a double ear infection and has been in the emergency room. Hopefully he can play at tonight's showcase!

In the company of 3/5 of Necropolis, I had a perfect pulled pork sandwich from the Jackalope. I can't compare pulled pork to the slabs of meat I consumed at Stubb's, but for now I have to side with the Jackalope. Go there if you're ever in Austin. It's at 6th and Trinity. Just expect a wait of at least 45 minutes, at least during SXSW.

Friday night kicked into gear with Times New Viking's set at Exodus. The Columbus art-punk trio continues to make a huge splash in underground rock circles, and this performance was the umpteenth reminder of why. They obliterated my assertion that nothing could send me into a frenzy like Two Cow Garage's album release party. I always thought TNV and me were just friends, but it turns out I'm in love—passionate, burning, crazy love. Do yourself a favor and go see them while they can still get away with playing in places as small as Cafe Bourbon Street.

(OK, so they'll probably always play at Bourbon Street, but you should still go see them there now.)

After the show, I had intended to see RJD2's DJ set, but I couldn't get in, so, feeling fulfilled in terms of quality by TNV, I embarked on a quest for quantity. As it turned out, I was rewarded with more jaw-dropping shows. I started by heading toward La Zona Rosa, a bar with lots of marquee shows this week that's tucked deep in the southwest corner of the entertainment district. I figured I could catch the end of Amy Winehouse and see the "special guest" who was lined up. I had almost finished my trek when I saw a flood of people coming back the other way, so I knew Winehouse was done. I asked people who the special guest was, and because I am not that familiar with Razorlight and their name puts me off, I headed back in the other direction.

Another "special guest" was scheduled to play before the Walkmen at Emo's Annex, the tent venue. It turned out to be Annuals, a very young blog-buzz band from North Carolina. (Side note: I like Annuals, but when I see "special guest," I want somebody high profile enough to impress my friends, perhaps even my parents.) Annuals proved to be quite a special guest indeed. You always hear about bands that formed after going to see a Sex Pistols concert, or that every person who saw the Ramones went home and started a band. The whole point was "this punk rock stuff looks so easy even I could do it." Perplexingly, Annuals seems to have formed after going to an Arcade Fire concert. The ease with which Adam Baker and his crew come up with soaring arrangements and flowing song structures blows my mind. Good show, lads (and lass), good show!

Seriously, these kids are so young. I'm only 23, and they're making me feel like a geezer. Between them, Beirut, Tokyo Police Club, Be Your Own Pet... you get the idea.

I thought the special guest at the Arts & Crafts showcase might be Broken Social Scene, but I showed up and found out it was the Dears. Foiled again! Perusing through my schedule book, I realized Japanese psych metal titans boris were supposed to be on at Spiro's Amphitheater. I was nearby, so I hurried over, and sure enough, they were just starting a set heavy on drone and short on riffs. I'm not sold on the band's current fixation with shoegaze-style metal. I'm not familiar with their work before last year's Pink, but that album was packed with old-school Sabbath riffs and punk speed, aside from the droning first track. Let's say this: The set was awesome—with more of a give and take between slow and fast, it could have been totally awesome.

I left the boris show early to see the last band on my schedule, The Good, the Bad and the Queen. This is the supergroup featuring Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, Tony Allen of Fela Kuti's band, Paul Simonon of the Clash and Simon Tong of the Verve. I'm happy to report that, unlike many a supergroup, this band is actually quite super.

Can we all agree that Albarn is one of the all-time greats? Just look at the breadth and depth of his work. Based on Blur alone he's a legend, but he's managed to crank out three or four brilliant singles on two good albums with Gorillaz, and now he brings us this masterful band, which mines the same worldly, downtempo pop that fleshed out the last two Blur albums. I would even suggest that Albarn has earned the right to prance around stage in a ridiculous tophat.

It looked even more absurd when he sat at the piano, but I couldn't get a good angle for a photo.

Anyway, if you're still reading this, thanks for being such a dedicated reader. Saturday looks to be focused mostly on the many locals appearing at the Columbus Discount Records showcase, plus a few more scattered daytime sets. I'll have a full report by Monday.