SXSW Night 2: Gazing with the 'breeze
Thoughts on my second evening in Austin after the jump...
So you might have heard that British music rag NME ran a profile of some of Columbus' rising art-punk bands (and a couple friendly scragglers from Indiana and Michigan) and herded them into a blanket genre called "shitgaze," nipping the term from Psychedelic Horseshit's jokey description of their sound. Well, even if "shitgaze" is not exactly a perfect description (Times New Viking prefers "shit-pop"), these bands certainly share a sensibility, and if any show was going to sum it up, the Siltbreeze Records showcase was going to be it. Siltbreeze, the Philadelphia label that has put out records by Horseshit, Pink Reason and Times New Viking among other non-Columbus compatriots, rounded up a bunch of its acts for a Thursday night show at the Soho Lounge. I parked myself there Thursday to get a closer look (or listen, I suppose) to the shitty sounds.
Three duos kicked off the night, but only one really stuck with me. Ex-Cocaine was the sound of two dudes effing around on guitar and bongos. I wasn't into their music at all, though I suspect it was designed for people who like to alter their consciousness more than me. Later, using perfectly good instruments like guitar, keyboards, drums and vocals, Naked on the Vague encapsulated "art music" in the worst sense of the phrase.
Between them, though, Blues Control proved that this esoteric instrumental stuff can be executed beautifully and powerfully. Hunched over a guitar, a rack of keyboards and various machines, the Queens duo gave birth to a trippy, transfixing blend of beats and melodies. I'll take more of that.
The first proper rock band of the night was Eat Skull, whose deformed punk-pop fit the "shit-pop" bill to a tee—that is, until they ditched the keyboards and ended with two hardcore songs. They get the seal of approval.
Up next was a special treat. Columbus punk icon Mike Rep had Times New Viking fill in for his usual band the Quotas, and the five-song spiel they spouted was as spectacular as any I've seen this weekend. I imagine it would have been even better had I brushed up on Rep's catalog, which I really oughta do some time soon.
Psychedelic Horseshit played the best set of the evening, bar none. I found it appropriate that their setlist was a crumpled napkin and even more appropriate that they broke into "Bad Vibrations" just as two bros in the crowd nearly broke into violence. Their shtick was quick and to the point, as thorough a blend of skuzz and songcraft as you're likely to find. Never let anyone deny these guys' immense talent just because they like to play it rough around the edges.
Watching Xno Barbecuex set up was nearly as entertaining as watching them perform. The drummer for the Aussie noise duo anxiously assembled a kit from various pieces of other band's drum sets, neurotically flipping cymbals upside down and sending cymbal stands crashing to the floor. The set wasn't much different—as his junkyard jam set continued to collapse around him, drummer boy and his guitarist buddy launched into an abrasive but deceptively musical improvisation that reminded me of Ohio experimental stalwarts Lambsbread. I don't know if I'll ever choose to listen to this kind of thing on record, but the more I'm exposed to it, the more I gravitate toward it in a live setting.
Pink Reason's set didn't resonate with me, thanks in part to a bass player that didn't know the songs. I get that these bands keep things slack, but this gal was mucking up just about every song with her tentative knowledge of the songs. Kevin DeBroux and the rest of his latest lineup soldiered through it, though, and made me want to return to their plodding dirge rock soon when everybody's on the same page.
Last up was Times New Viking. They played a standard-issue TNV set—loose, loud, melodic and powerful, with a mix of sharp wit and inside jokes between songs. There's a reason they're indie rock stars.