Austin: SXSW Evening Recap, Volume 2



As I continue my accounts of the past week, I am sitting in seat 10C of the aforementioned flight 440 to Houston and Jose Gonzalez just placed his carry-on bag in the overhead bin directly above my seat. Do I tell him he's fucking incredible? Do artists ever really care when someone in the "industry" says they like their music? Something tells me Jose Gonzalez might, but whatever, I already missed my chance. Damn you inner monologue!

Anyway, where did we leave off? Ahh yes... Friday...

[cue flash back sequence]

FRIDAY

I spent the majority of Friday doing various work-related things that didn't involve watching bands... sadly. When I finally had some free time, I made my way over to the Jane Magazine party where my intention was to see newly-signed-to-Barsuk band, Mates Of State. I've been a fan of this husband/wife duo since their early days, though I've never actually seen them live, a problem I was hoping to rectify. As I made my way over there, I realized that this was going to be somewhat of a challenge. There was a gigantic line and Dan from Real World Miami was working the door. Yes, seriously, not some guy who humorously looks like Dan, but Dan himself. I'm still trying to figure out why. I totally cut in front of this big line of people by pretending I was with this other bunch of people walking in.

Awesome, I had just managed to pass up a giant line and I was pretty stoked. I walked into the Beauty Bar's main room to discover Kitchaps (a.k.a. the dudes from VHS or Beta) spinning fun party records and doing a good job, as always. So I grabbed a beer and tried to head outside to see the last few songs of Of Montreal's set. I quickly realized that there was a second long line (well, less of a line and more of a giant clusterfuck of people) for those waiting to go outside to see the bands. Once I realized the line was not moving I ventured up front and nearly slipped by the door guy (a non-Real Worlder), but was sadly grabbed by the arm at the last moment. I tried to reason with the guy - "I'm a writer, the label asked me to write about this band... Is there anyone from Jane that I can speak with... (name drop here, name drop there)" - but this dude would not budge. So I continued waiting another 10 minutes or so before the whole group of about 50 people waiting patiently got berated like kindergartners to "move back." There was no place to go of course, but that didn't stop the gigantic bouncer guy from yelling and shoving us all. Adios Jane Magazine party. No muthafucker is gonna push me and muthafuckin' get away that shit... (just kidding).

I meandered back to the FADER space for some free booze, caught performances from the Twilight Singers and The Charlatans UK, and plotted my course for the evening. Stop one - Isobel Campbell at (you guessed it) Dirty Dog.

Isobel had already begun her set when I walked in. She was wearing a tight, think black and white striped shirt, denim shorts with tights and cowboy boots, and yes (guys), she looked sexy. Her Mark Lanegan stand-in sang, "Where you been my darlin' / where you been my friend," from "The False Husband" as I meandered up to the front. The room was packed, though only about the first 50 people were actually paying attention. I only stayed for a couple songs, as the vibe in the room wasn't all that great and I was having a hard time actually hearing Isobel. I could tell, however, that in the proper setting (one where there wasn't a shitload of people talking), she'd be electrifying.

With that, I sauntered over to try to catch a few songs from Silverlake's finest, The Silversun Pickups @ Spiros. After working my way past some strange hip-hop cover band I walked outside to find some other band who was STILL not the Silversun Pickups. I finally realized there was a THIRD stage at the venue and by the time I made it there, the band was finishing up their last couple of songs. So I bolted out, but not before telling the lead singer of La Rocca that his band rules and spotting one of the twins from the Vacation.

The next stop of the evening was one I had been waiting a VERY long time for. It was the Fever's official showcase at Buffalo Billiards. In case you didn't get a chance to read my review of their new record (you should), I basically think it's a work of genius and the best album by an American band I've heard all year. I know this may come as a shock to those of you who are only familiar with their previous effort, Red Bedroom (which was good, but not genius), mostly because it was a shock to me as well. The new album is filled with all sorts of weird instrumentation and a psychotic vaudeville circus vibe (think punk rock Sgt. Peppers on acid). So the big question of the night was, "could they pull off these songs live?"

I dragged my pal Stacey from Chi-town zine UR Chicago to the gig and we arrived just in time to see Diamond Nights finish up their set (about 15 minutes late) with a rendition of some classic rock song who's title escapes me at the moment. After Stacey lost her phone, then recovered it again when I called it and the bartender answered about 10 minutes later, we trickled up to the front with a sigh of relief to get a primo spot for The Fever's set.

Frontman Geremy Jasper stepped out on stage to a cheering crowd as the band played "Curtains," the opening instrumental track from their new album, In The City Of Sleep. Sporting a black suit with a green, un-tucked striped shirt and Indiana Jones-type hat with long blonde locks flying out underneath, Jasper strutted around the stage and grabbed the mic just in time to belt out the first line of new song, "Redhead." It sounded fucking awesome. The 6'+ Jasper looked like a giant as he ran around the stage belting out lyrics, spastically gyrating, and pumping up the crowd. The band was super tight. Organist J Ruggiero played bass keys with his left hand while providing the organ/piano with his right (a la Ray Manzerek of the Doors). Guitarist Keith Stapleton was flawless as his fingers snaked across the neck of his guitar with a gnarling, angry precision. Achilles Tzoulafis pounded away at his drums, shaking his "fro" dramatically in the process.

They went back and forth playing fan faves like "Labor Of Love" and "Ladyfingers" from their debut, Red Bedroom, and new songs like "Crying Wolf" and "Do The Tramp." The atmospheric sounds and minute details that make In The City Of Sleep stand out were missing in the live show, but the new songs came to life in a different way. The raw energy of the band members seemed to ooze its way into each new song, amplifying the raw and gritty edge hinted at on record. This was one of the best shows at SXSW this year, but sadly, since the band was running at least 20 minutes behind, I had to bolt to checkout Editors at their official showcase @ Blender Bar.

Holy shit, the door at Blender Bar was a mob. People were lined up on all sides trying to push and/or talk their way into the venue. It was clear that this was one of "THE" shows to be at in Austin. I luckily "knew someone" who walked me in past the line and past a slew of anxious faces. I settled in about thirty feet back and got into a conversation with a couple of guys who had no idea who Editors were. They were just waiting to see KT Tunstall. I told them they were in for a treat, and damn was I right. Editors quickly took the stage (on time) and without a word exploded into "Lights." With a guitar in hand, frontman Tom Smith looked energized. The typical SXSW audience (label guys with arms crossed and NO emotion whatsoever) seemed to be replaced by - oh my god - real fans! As the band plowed into "Blood," the two non-Editors fans in the place gave a thumbs up and started clapping along. I might have even seen one of the guys "fist pump."

I snuck up to the front bar to stage right to get a drink and realized that it was a perfect place to shoot some great photos, as well as a cool spot to see the crowd. There was a group of people dancing on tables against the wall, a packed house and a clear line still trying to get in from outside. As Editors cranked out "Blood," "Munich," "All Sparks," and "Fingers In The Factories," it became clear to me why this was arguably the most talked about band at SXSW this year.

They are superstars. I mean, they're not technically superstars yet, but of all the bands down there this year, they have the most potential for long-lasting success. The comparisons to Interpol that abounded when people in the US first heard their debut, The Back Room, made sense. Tom Smith sings in a low, monotonic voice like that of Paul Smith (sometimes), but after seeing the band live the Interpol comparisons have flown out the window. If anything, Tom Smith is most like Chris Martin. He's insanely charismatic and charming and passionate about each song. Where Interpol are shoegazers, Editors are a stadium sized rock & roll band that reminded me most of U2 or Coldplay. Their songs, while definitely "cool," are easily accessible to main-stream audiences much like those of Coldplay (but not as soft and cuddly).

Girls love that band because Chris Martin is sexy and because he sings songs that make them feel good, but many guys out there call Coldplay "pussies" when their girlfriends drag them out to giant shows (even though I think they secretly love Coldplay and just feel "gay" about saying so). Editors fucking rock, however. They still sing songs that will make the girls feel good. Smith is a good looking guy who will soon be gracing the covers of fashion magazines (probably), but the guys won't have to feel all self-conscious about digging this music. THAT is why Editors will be stars. They are the right band for right now. They take the cool Gang Of Four/Joy Division vibe and combine it with the stadium-sized showmanship and energy of U2 and Coldplay and like those bands, they have a frontman that is capable of taking them all the way. I wouldn't be surprised if my mom knows who Tom Smith is next year at this time.

Phew... (he says as he steps off his soap box)

Anyway, after Editors wrapped up and I jotted down a million notes as to why this band was bound for success (see above), I met up with some pals and took a cab over to the Sound Team's recording studio/barn/giant complex with tons of out door space on the outskirts of town. Sound Team, who recently inked a deal with Capitol Records, live in Austin and this was THEIR hometown party. The vibe inside was really cool. Most of the people hanging out where from Austin and they were there supporting their favorite local band. There were a couple port-a-potties and a zillion kegs. Sound Team was performing in a cinderblock barn-like structure with no stage that was packed to capacity with sweaty, dancing Austin-ites. Outside, they had a digital projector showing real-time footage of the show inside on a giant wall. Everyone was crazy nice and civil and just there to hang out. It wasn't a pretentious scenester party. It wasn't sponsored by anyone. I didn't see any psudo-celebs there, not even that VHS or Beta guy (I really do like that guy actually, but you know what I mean).

After sound team finished their set, which I couldn't really see and only kind of remember as being awesome because it was about 2am and I been drinking since about 2pm, I took a seat on a bench outside. While chatting with some nice folks from Austin, a light was suddenly shined in my face and a stern-looking man with a badge told me I could either dump out my beer or get a ticket. That was probably the easiest decision I made all week. I poured my beer out and then hiked about 37 miles back to town, though I didn't seem to mind much. It was time for a slice of pizza and bed.

SATURDAY

Satruday's events were greatly less exciting than the day before, partly because of the terrible hangover I had, but mostly because it was rainy and cold. I spent most of the day inside writing, went to Iron Works for BBQ and then spent the rest of the day wishing I was back at Iron Works eating BBQ. Before I knew it, it was about 6pm and I thought it best that I pack for my 10am flight BEFORE I went out for the night. In all honesty, it was a struggle to not just plop down on the bed and go to sleep, but the six shots of SoCo and lime I did with the members of OFFICE an hour or so before seemed to give me the momentum I needed.

Though I had a perfectly planned list of shows to attend Saturday evening, I only made it to two of them. The first was NYC's Shy Child, a two-piece dance/punk type of thing featuring one of the members of Supersystem. Word on the street is that Paul Epworth is a big fan and is going to produce their album, though that is completely unsubstantiated. They were cool and dancy and fun and one of them plays the key-tar and I'd definitely go see them at some place like the Empty Bottle or the Hideout and shake my ass with a bunch of hipster dance kids, but I was too tired to dance, so I went to Emo's to rock out to Priestess.

I had seen Priestess band photos in several different places, and they looked scary - all death metal-like and creepy. When they came out, they all had long, greasy hair and dirty clothes, but they pretty much just looked like the kids in high school that smoked pot in the bathroom and loved Zeppelin and Slayer. Before they busted into their set, they said, "We're Priestess from Montreal. We're gonna FUCK You!" It was pretty rock & roll. They proceeded to blast out song after song of straight-forward, dirty rock & roll. I don't know any of the songs because I don't have the record, but if you like Led Zeppelin and Slayer and you smoked pot in the bathroom in high school, you'll like Priestess.

After I got the general vibe of Priestes, I went to grab a drink with Ready To Break owner Paula Moore and ran into Jont (who you might remember from SXSW Evening Recap, Volume 1). We chatted for a bit about music, SXSW, his plans for the future and he even gave the names of some artists I need to check out. They were D.W. Box, Matt Hopper, and Polly Paulusma, in case you want to check them out too. Google them or whatever.

Returning to the main room of Emo's after a nice convo, Paddy from The Dillinger Four came out to announce Texas rock & roll bad asses, Riverboat Gamblers. Apparently he had gotten into a fight and had to give the cops his information and he wanted to tell everyone about it. The Riverboat Gamblers then ran out on stage with frontman Mike doing all sorts of wall jumps and dangling from the rafters and basically just rocking my fucking balls off. This was probably the most "real" band I saw in Austin. Mike said that the day before he was washing dishes for a living and that the next day he'd be washing dishes again. But tonight, tonight he was here to rock and I'll be damned if he didn't. Playing with more balls-out energy than any other band at SXSW, The Riverboat Gamblers absolutely kicked ass. It was my first introduction to them and I became a fan somewhere between song two, where Mike did a hand stand and fake-humped Paddy (who was sitting against the wall to stage right)'s face, and song four or so, when Beatle Bob joined the band on stage to "shake it" as only he can.

The very last show of my SXSW experience was Elliott Brood, a three-piece from Canada who play a style of music self-described as "Death Country." They were playing at the 18th floor of the Capitol Place hotel, which is basically just a big room with wraparound windows and a make-shift stage that overlooks the entire city. It clearly was not at the "cool" place to be. This was definitely not the Vice Party or the Dim Mak party (which had big lines and went till the crack of dawn). There was no line and I didn't recognize a single person in the place. I started to question my own qualifications for being a "rock journalist" because this was one of my most anticipated shows of SXSW - at 1am on the top of a hotel, with 30 other people to see a "death country" band. But whatever, at that point I didn't care anymore. After having missed a ton of bands that I really wanted to see, by god I was NOT going to go to a party 15 miles from town to drink 'til 5am when I could see one last band that I just might love.

I'm glad I made that decision too, because Elliott Brood were awesome. They released their debut album, Ambasador, on Canadian indie Six Shooter Records in February. It's an acoustic leaning affair, filled with banjos and guitars and cool lyrics about death and disaster and loneliness and despair. I love it and I quickly learned that I love them live too.

Live, the band is made up of a banjo player (who sometimes plays guitar) a drummer and a guitar player (who also plays bass pedals with his feet). Obviously amazing musicians, the men of Elliott Brood spoke to the crowd like we were sitting in someone's living room. Very comfortable and at ease, they opened with "Second Son," a banjo-heavy, gravely song that Billy The Kid would seemingly enjoy. The guitarist stayed seated for the extent of the set - "Wolfgang," "Johnny Rooke," etc. It took me about three songs to realize that they didn't have a bass player, but that there was some heavy bass coming from somewhere. I then realized that the guitarist had slipped his shoes off so he could manipulate a set of bass pedals. He didn't make one mistake. It was 1:30am and I could barely keep my eyes open, but this guy was playing the guitar, singing, and playing the bass with his feet and I decided that Elliott Brood was one of my favorite shows of the conference. There was something genuine about what they were doing. No pretences, no scenester bullshit, they just played this music that seemed to come straight out of the old west and they loved every second of it.

Well that about does it. Other highlights include brunch every day at Las Manitas, lunch on Saturday at Iron Works, the Best Wurst hot dog dude and that death metal rock & roll pizza joint on 6th st. I like food.


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Austin: SXSW Evening Recap, Volume 2