Monday, March 22, 2004

Saturday (finally) at SXSW:

After somehow rolling out of bed around noontime, we found ourselves down at Trophy's Bar and Grill, where we had to beg to get one very big fried hamburger that was actually pretty good, but makes you think maybe they should excise the "and grill" part of the sign if they're so reluctant to deliver the whole grill thing. Made it in time for the last two songs or so of August, TX's set. This is a four piece that specializes in drifting guitar washes over hypnotic bass/drums and proves a perfect hangover chaser with a mellow, expansive wash of ambient guitar haze and minimal groove that helps this old wilderbeast slowly readjust to the harsh day's glare. My Education follows a similar trajectory with a slightly expanded lineup (including violin of course - it's usually either violin or sax with these guys). More agreeable mellow/build-up psych on a Sa-turd-ay afternoon before we...

...Decide to head over to Waterloo Records for an Iron and Wine instore performance, and more sardine-like body-cramming into the aisles of one of my favorite places on earth. Waterloo and its various employees have steered me towards some of my most prized and consistently enthralling purchases over the last decade or so, and usually at a good price too. Iron and Wine are quiet and downhome, as expected, and all the kind patrons give the trio, including a sister on guitar/vocs, hushed reverence. I also manage to procure some jim dandies for my "new stuff" pile, given I want candy, and this is thee candy store. Items I brought back from my little festival sojourn:

+ Mu Mu (Akarma) awesome heavy vinyl reissue package.
+ Southern Lord Let There Be Doom 2 CD comp
+ Davis Redford Triad Blue Cloud CD (Holy Mountain)
+ Reynols Pacalirte Sorban Cumanos CD (Beta-lactam)
+ Circle Prospekt CD (Ektro)
+ Steven Wray Lobdell Automatic Writing By the Moon CD (Holy Mountain)
+ Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004 CD
+ The Black-Eyed Snakes Rise Up! CD (Chairkickers)
+ Khanate Things Viral CD (Southern Lord)
+ Volebeats Bittersweet CD (Third Gear)
+ Jack Rose Opium Musick LP (Eclipse) Given away as a gift.

...and probably another title or two I've forgotten. So Iron and Wine are sweet, maybe a bit too sweet. Could'a used a bit more bitter. We pass by a rock art gallery where another day show is underway with people like Boxcar Satan, Kinski, Davis Redford Triad and some local garage/noise acts tearin' it up. More free beer--must uphold ancient trad of milking SXSW for every last free drop of the stuff. But then comes news from the front! Vancouver's Unicorns have in fact made it through for their SXSW shows. Two Texas shows were already cancelled when a member was held up by border authorities (I'm sure it was the one with the mop hair, creepy creepy!). So we hauled butt over to Club D'ville where we confronted with a barrage of cute pink shirts and tall skinny boys.

The Unicorns are a trio, a kind of 3 Stooges on acid, with Larry on guitar/bass/vocals, a mod-haired Moe doing the same and playing keyboards, and Curly, as a guy who actually has curly hair, playing drums (quite ferociously). Together these three are just a pure joy to behold--classic guitar-pop worthy of the early Flying Nun daze smashed up against funky synth-psych concoctions and regular Beefheart blurt-outs. Amusing stage banter as well--sample line: "Austin smells like cum." But I suspect every town these sexy lads stumble through smells like cum. Regardless, energy and performance wise, this is a real treat, balancing genuine rockism with a gift for pop invention, and they even played that theme song of theirs too, "I Was Born a Unicorn." I wish I was more than a horse.

Things begin to blur, crowds begin to bleed into one another. Everyone looks the same, wears the same special festival badge, writes for the same lame Scandinavian newspaper, smokes the same Native Spirit cigarettes (rolls their own), uses the same silly cell-phone ring tones. Hell on earth? Or just a little place called Hillywood? Austin is located right on the cusp of the Texan hill country, making it a regular retreat for the entertainment eleet, but this was more akin to trench warfare.

We swing over to the Parish for a spell to catch Dosh, part of the Anticon showcase. Nice big-beat electronica with laid back grooves and oscillating textures that I wish would've gone longer than the anointed 20 min or so set that we were privy to. I'm never really disappointed with anyone in the Anticon crowd, and Dosh's minimal hiphoptronica goes down smooth like a shot of gray goose.

Back to the notion of hell on earth. It was time for Khanate (pronounced con-8) at the Ritz Upstairs. The ungodly doom/no-doom quartet of noise torment formed from the ashes of some of extreme metal's most respected noise terrorists can be seen as Stephen O'Malley's "rock band" reaction to the masterful minimal drone sludge of his Sunn0))), or just an attempt to aurally capture the state of doom and creeping torment as precisely as humanly possible. For an inspired dissection of their debut CD written by psychedelic magus Julian Cope, click here. They play two "songs" this night...the first opens with the singer conjuring screeching mic hiss for a good three minutes before O'Malley's guitar drones and James Plotkin's bass vibrations start to rumble. Enter incredibly eerie tape noise and monstro drum anvils, but there is never any kind of real movement forward here. Riffs are torn apart, broken down, grooves hinted at and then left dangling over the cliff, screaming from the heat of flames below. Songs stretch into infinite chains of tension begging for release--some sort of resolution--which never comes. This is a kind of sonic reinvention of heavy metal, doom, black, whatever you want to call it...and quite hypnotic and appealing given all its inclinations to actually repel the listener. I love the vokills. This is something new. This makes my skin crawl with delight.

And there was more to go, but we mainly only saw bits and pieces, a few songs from Consonant's set (Mission of Burma light?), one or two songs by Themselves (asked to leave the premises for some mysterious reason at this point), and a cpl songs by Thalia Zedek--remember her? Me neither. Just kidding, Come were the shit, but her night-ending set, performed mostly to members of Silkworm and the New Year. And was that Joel Phelps in the corner? It seemed kind of sad at the time, but such is her world-worn delivery. Members of many bands that really mattered to me throughout the early and mid 90s stuck here on a patio playing to themselves. The rest of the world had apparently moved on. I'm sure the New Year had a good crowd though. They always do.

All in all, the fest was a bittersweet experience, just like that great Volebeats EP I scored. The Voles were incredible, the ultimate good vibe party-rock group, and super sweet guys too. Big Star seemed more workmanlike though, "check, please!", and the Unicorns were simply themselves, which was plenty for me. I'm glad we got to see them. And I'm glad we made it through alive, with change to spare. But I'm making a pledge here and now: Never Again! In the words of Alan Dubin, SXSW can be summed up in two words, "No joy!"

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