Riding in the whirlwind. That's what I call the SXSW showcase grind. It's a hero's journey to be survived more than enjoyed. If we're lucky we emerge better people after the week long odyssey of endless standing and badge-envy, apostles of musical enlightenment. If we're not we maybe end up drunk in a puddle of piss, or as roadkill on San Jacinto, or maybe we smarten up and just hang back from the official fest showcases altogether, drink free beer and dig on all the righteous day parties. I guess I did a little of all of the above, some highlights below:
I pull into Austin Wednesday about 6:30 P.M., and get on down to the Thirsty Nickle on 6th for my yearly indoctrination into the clan of Sunburned Hand of the Man. John Moloney and his sonic kin (mostly new faces to me) tear through a barrage of old school analog drones meets funk stomp damage. It all seems a bit chaotic and even aimless compared to the previous Sunburned show I caught a year before, but then that's how so many of the greatest bands come off in the end: inconsistent. Those highs and lows are worth the endurance for those of us willing to take the plunge. Fine fest opener all in all.
Then a quick dash over to St David's Church on 7th to catch a series of performances curated by Steve Reich (it's pronounced Reish btw). Shhhhwing. Anyone who has ever gotten drunk on cheap wine and spaced out to the pulsing tonal mantras of Music For 18 Musicians knows what kind of master composer Reich is, each note tightly arranged with classical and jazz precision to reveal room saturating symphonies for the soul. The SOLI Chamber Ensemble is perhaps a bit too "straight" for my leanings, but guitarist Eddie Whalen's gorgeous set and the percussive rush of So Percussion more than make up for it, supplying the kind of high brow musicality that low brow fiends such as myself can occasionally truly dig on.
After this delicate display a few of us make it down to Habana Calle 6 on 6th (where else?) to catch The Gowns, a trio I'd not heard before now but was interested in since there's an Amps for Christ connection. With a lineup of guitar/violin/percussion, these folks come off as a kind of Appalachian response to the Magik Markers with lots of quiet squiggly moments building to rousing post punk eruptions. There's a hot blond singer/guitarist, a busy jazzy drummer, and the violinist works well whether unleashing monochrome rainbows or squealing barnyard squalls. Next, oscillating punk screamers Parts and Labor--very good at what they do. I'm just not a big fan of what they do.
...kicks off with an attempt at catching The Castanets at Mrs. Beas on the East Side, no luck. Catch The Woods instead, a cpl songs anyway; I guess these lads could be described as post Devendra hippie fuzz folk. Agreeable. Decide to trot up a couple blocks to a place called French Legation, nestled alongside a historical cemetery (makes for a serene backdrop), and catch a very fine J Mascis solo set in which he plays amplified acoustic guitar with occasional fuzz bursts. I guess this draws more from later Dino Jr. and solo stuff (must admit my woeful ignorance of more recent Mascis related things). Dig it regardless. Then back down to Mrs. Beas to find that The Castanets have played the shortest day set in the history of SXSW. I miss it. This marks a recurring motif of almost (but not quite) seeing The Castanets live (though I do manage catch a glimpse of Raymond Raposa with Denton locals Shiny Around the Edges two days later). I don't remember who the next band was at Beas. The trio has a sort of hillbilly scrappy dog appeal that makes me think of Flying Burrito Brothers and muttonchops and has me smilin' in my boots. Next comes Mexican food, coffee and further preparations for what would surely be a festival highlight: The Siltbreeze Showcase at the Soho Lounge on 6th Street.
Again, here I am in the middle of Asstown, TX, 6th Street cordoned off for showgoers, fratboys and gangbangers alike, and I'm about to watch eight different bands courtesy of one of my favorite indie labels of all time. All in the same venue no less. The impact that Siltbreeze had on my development as a fucked up antisocial sloprock junkie is immeasurable, and since then they've come back on the scene in a heavy way with a new generation of art skuzz purveyors ready to blow minds and scrape skulls. Enter Ex-Cocaine, a duo of guitar and hand percussion working a kind of post kraut tribal frenzy which is just what my sensitive receptors need to ease into this evening trip. Swim in it a while... (I recommending turning down the volume on these vids for better clarity)
Next comes Naked on the Vague from Australia. This guy 'n' gal marry distortion, minimal percussion and harrowing vocals into trance inducing/flailing/stumbling noisescapes that make such an impression that I'm forced to buy everything they have at the merch table. Definitely a real find.
Blues Control works a serene magic with its lulling underwater psychedelic muzak, skating the line between head burnt bong noise and easy as pie mellow-dee. Portland, OR's Eat Skulls bring the high energy garage punk onslaught. Psychedelic Horseshit throws a few more sarcastic punk logs on the acid fire, but it's A Pink Reason that proves to be the great white hope of the bunch with its earnest dope fucked fuzz punk anthems conjuring the ghost of a young Peter Laughner and his Rocket From the Tombs. Do us a favor, fellers, hang around a while. Mike Repp (with help from Times New Viking) stands in for the original Siltbreeze gen with his elder Ohio garage punk cred as a producer of some note (he recorded some classic early GBV sides among other things) and his gleaming silver locks. He also apparently appears on one of the first Siltbreeze releases, though I don't remember further details. Live he's a garage punker with a heart of gold who never really got over his Stooges obsession. Ace. Times New Viking close it down with their acidic art punk/pop. This set is more screeching and ramshackle than the one I caught some months before. Not bad at all, but kinda ear-splitting. All in all a life affirming evening of primal garage noise rock.
...is greeted with a quick dash over to La Zona Rosa on 4th to catch an afternoon show by me old pals Soundtrack of Our Lives, who I have fond memories of catching in a small space at SXSW back around 2002. Thankfully their 45 min gig completely rekindles my flame for these Swedish rock gods of yore as they run through a set comprised almost entirely of songs from their new unreleased album, including a fantastic cover of Nick Drake's "Fly" in the "Jehovah Sunrise" mold.
I don't know if some of the younguns truly know anything about these guys: Lead singer Ebbot Lundberg formed the group from the ashes of Swede Stooges stomp legends Union Carbide Productions with UBC guitarist Bjorn Olsson and tempers unabashed late 60s/early 70a hard/folk rock fixations with MC5 punk energy and does what a band like Oasis does without any of the smug annoyance, though rest assured SOOL are big stars in their homeland and likely have some fairly inflated egos. Everywhere else they're simply a must for fans of vintage psych pop. A taste, which sadly cuts out right before it really starts to rock...
Now a dash back over to French Legation to catch The Atlas Sound, comprised of members of Deerhunter, Jackie-O-Motherfucker, Yume Bitsu and more, trading in oldschool shoegaze/drone pop, providing the perfect bouncing shimmer for my post hamgover readjustment.
And then a quick drive over to a house party somewhere on the East Side where I'm lucky enough to catch three damn fine noise(esque) ensembles in a row:
--Indian Jewelry--Never grabbed me much on record, but here outside in the fading magic hour their fuzz industrial onslaught makes for an amazing pulsatng groove.
--Blues Control--More controlled and serene than there set the night before, the sweet stench of fruitbud in the air, nighttime, Mickeys, sprawled out on the grass, momentary nirvana. Perfect ballast for the big showcase grind.
--Rahdunes--New masters if the downtuned fuzz drone. Post industrial striations of deep-space-hum, spreading out against the night sky like so many fireflies before descending once more like invisible spirits shot directly into the third eye. Brainjam for the soul.
Back on the road again. I make it over to Emo's in time for The Akron/Family, but I grow impatient, so I start walking again with a couple nice folks I met from Canada (one of them plays standup bass in The Sadies) and we arrive somewhere (forgot!) and catch a few songs by Blue Rodeo--remember them? They've been around forever, and I can see why. Their amiable country folk goes down smooth for people unashamed to admit they enjoy bluegrass, The Byrds and The Eagles.
I dash back to Emos for the promised two hour set by The Akron/Family and behold The Line. Two of them actually, one for badges, one for wristbands. One moves much, much faster tha the other. I wait at least an hour. As I wait I hear Blue Cheer playing across the street--the real Blue Cheer!--and wonder why the fuck I'm standing in this line. It's sort of cool hearing them run through a muffled version of Jimi's "Third Stone From the Sun" a mere 50 feet away but mostly lame. I finally get into Emos about 30 mins into A/F's set, witness most of the damn thing and conclude that what Funkadelic does for all night funk jam parties the Akrons do for art rock hoedowns. And they're funky too. They invite the Lexie Mountain Boys (who are actually girls) on stage for much of the set (and some other folks too...hazy). Almost every song is 15-20 mins long, and the boys in the band start to look damn tired by the end. Their almost two hour set closes with what's become a fairly common practice for both the Akrons and bands at SXSW in general: They come down into the crowd and lead the audience outside into the street (no doubt to the Emos staffers' delight) and just keep playing and chanting forever and ever, or at least as long as there are people around to clap and sing along. I get it; it's all about tearing down the wall between audience and performer. It seems The Akrons are almost frat rock superstars now. Odd, but acceptable. Vi-vi-video...
Can't believe I've made it this far. Report first thing to End of an Ear to catch Nadja, Paul Metzger and Gary Higgins. Toronto's Nadja trades in dense doom fuzz crescendos drawing equally from the Sunno))) industrial void and the heyday of blissed shoegaze. Makes for an interesting mix and a fairly mind-glazing live experience.
Now I'd been hearing and reading about this Paul Metzger guy for a while. Picked up a copy of his Music for Modified Guitar at Terrastock and a split 12" with Ben Chasny/Chris Corsano. I'd also heard the angular jazz punk of his Minneapolis ensemble TCBC and always suspected he was best sampled in the live setting. Though that's perhaps debatable since his Music For Modified Banjo CD is undoubtedly one of the truly great solo acoustic raga albums of the last ten years or so.
So there I am, camera in one hand, cup of coffee in the other, seven feet from Metzger and all ears. He plays two extended blues/bluegrass ragas, one for guitar and one for banjo. The results feel decidedly more oriental in tone, with a strong emphasis on space and restraint and some well placed bow work. By the time he gets going, head deep into primitive string space, he's fully emersed and we're along for the ride. He almost looks like a marienette with his banjo, bouncing and convulsing as if controlled by some unseen force. Truly a mystical experience.
Gary Higgins and his band play smooth psychedelic folk with mellotron, bass and guitars. Nothing revelatory, and I only catch really two songs of their End of an Ear set before I dash off again (and of course the recently reissued Red Hash is a genuine lost classic btw), but it's a fine mellow ride, and as evinced from the tune below his new album is going to be something pretty special. Thanks again to Ben Chasny, not just for turning me onto Gary but also for helping to bring him out of musical retirement for a new generation of avid listeners. That's Gary in the back center...
Almost there...promise. Next I head over to the Chaindrive off 4th to catch Strategies in Beauty, yet another day party curated by members of Denton bands, Shiny Around the Edges and Zanzibar Snails. I miss Aiden Baker's (Nadja) solo set but catch the closing bits of Dust Congress, and the entirety of Shiny Around the Edges. SATE is a band I'd not heard or seen till now. Apparently they played as the Castanets backing band during all of its SXSW performances, so I guess I finally get to see the Castanets after all. Well almost. Shiny's grungy noise clang meets broken ambient dreams provides a sufficient kick in the pants and hooks me nicely. Behold the clang...
Next personal Dallas faves The Zanzibar Snails tear through a 30 min set of blistering deep space sonic murk that just keeps growing more intense and insane with each passing minute. The molten lava flow makes me feel as if I've been directly teleported into the heart of a red giant, time slowing to a crawl as my flesh starts to melt, and POOF, no more. Nothing. This is the end...only not really. Like an electromagnetic pulse, the Snails' shreiking electro clatter saps my camera of its remaining juice. I'm unable to document this highly visceral sonic experience. Apparently they blew a fuse so the whole groaning mass just cut out instantly. No resolution, no fade out. Nothing. The events are almost preternatural from my close vantage point.
And now we really are approaching the end. I get my buttocks over to Central Presbyrterian Church just in time to catch Christina Carter and Shawn David McMillan performing as a duo. They're playing cleanup in the time-slot following Jandek, which I actually elect to miss this year since I've seen him twice in the last two years. With support from Susan Alcorn and Ralph White I know I've missed something special, but that's okay. The room is cleared out quite a bit for Christina and Shawn's set. Fine with me since it allows room to stretch out and relax. It's the perfect evnironment to get lost in the languid blues and folk interplay. Shawn starts out on pump organ as Christina plays electric guitar and sings. They play three or four spacious numbers including a little dueling guitar action. It's all a bit of a blur at this point but without question entirely indicative of the level of probing intensity I've come to expect from both of these amazing musicians. Hope some recordings of this new incarnation surface sometime soon.
From there I simply wander a while. Dazed and confused is an understatement. I want to lie down in the middle of 6th street and just stare at the stars, but the fear of being trampled to death by a few hundred scantily clad females in what have to be incredibly uncomfortable high heels prevents me from doing so.
Somehow I eventually end up over at Scoot Inn on 4th for the end of the Load showcase and White Mice's night closing set. How to describe White Mice? Well they're very Providence, and all the members seem to be reared on early thrash, hardcore and brain-scrambling nowave. One's wearing a Bathory shirt. When they perform they wear these incredible mouse costumes, each with its own unique defining characteristic. My favorite is the drummer with his skinned mouse head, all grizzled and pink with a shock of white hair shooting out the top like a mohawk--fucking cool. Oh yeah and those bulging eyeballs. This sight combined with the massive bass drum he sits behind (thing had to be over 4 ft tall) makes for one of the more memorable images I've seen the whole week. My cam battery is dead at this point, so just trust me on this. Their set is a brutal/violent barrage of bass/drums thrash bludgeon with screaming oscillations slicing through the downtuned sludge like chinese throwing stars. A group of young and highly mobile mosh devils procedes to flail about, smack into each other, break beer bottles on the ground and beam proudly the whole time. Interesting. I keep my distance. All in all it's too fucking much for my old-hippie-fart ass to stand for too long, but I guess I can see the appeal for them younguns. I feel old.
After that I drop by Shawn McMillan's house for his latenight party and see many of the folks I'd seen live in various constollations in the previous four days hanging out and chit-chattering. And whaddayaknow there's Thurston Moore (who I didn't see perform once during the whole fest--shame on me) hanging out and digging the vibe too. He plants himself on the floor about three feet from the Rahdunes, running through another one of its serene deep space voyages. It's a nice sort of mid-volume come down with some rhythmic turbulence towards the finale. Love it. Thurston looks impressed. And let me just say here and now Aaron Coyes is a really cool guy and a consummate gentleman. He builds all of Rahdunes instruments from scratch and is certainly one of the great practicioners of the analog-aural-mind-cleanse working today. Long may you roam, brother.
Well that's about it. I apologize for the immense length of this post, probably should've split it up into parts. It's a madhouse down at SXSW and I'd not be surprised if I just lay low the next few years. I missed tons, i mean TONS of great stuff but still felt I managed my time well enough and got the most bang for my buck. I also bought a shitload of records, but that's a different story.
Also, sometime during this chaotic period I managed to see a stripped down Radar Brothers instore performance at End of an Ear and two songs (including "You're Going to Miss Me") by Roky Erickson and the Explosives along with guest guitarist Billy Gibbons. Thanks to M. Chamey, N. Hill, N. Mann and everyone else who made this rambling indulgence possible and my SXSW experience a lot more fun. Thus concludes my ranting and raving summation of four days in the whirlwind. Until next time. To quote the great one, "That'll be the day..."