Photos and words by Kyle Rother
Every year’s end, just before and after the holidays, the live scene around Austin tends to slow to a dramatic halt. I feel like I’ve written that same line in different forms every year. In the past it was terribly slow, with no “great” local bands to speak of, just small acts to make you smile. Recently however, Emo’s and other clubs along Red River have been doing their best to brighten the oft gloomy skies of the Austin winter, with their annual free week of shows that has in the past offered one or two good sets of warmth amidst the new year with acts such as Sound Team and The Lemurs doing their best to start of the year with hope.
This year was no different. Well, actually it was slightly different. Free Week was still going on, bands were still ringing in the new year with hope, but on the first Friday of this new year the hope of a dramatically more entertaining 2009 was emanating from a different side of downtown Austin -- the BBQ marinated interior of Lambert’s on 2nd & Guadalupe (pronounced gwadaloop in true Austin fashion). It was a late set from the three acts, but nonetheless important as it just might prove to have been the first show of the year from three of the most promising bands in Austin of the coming year.
Canopy started things off with cheer: eyelid-clenched, chest beating cheer. Theirs is a sound of brightness and percussion, of enthused vocal waves and electronic squiggles. Cries of Vampire Weekend amidst the crowd’s naïve half didn’t do them justice. Once known as Ccanopyy and roughly 8 members strong and fitting of grand bright orchestration in line with Van Dyke Parks (save his actual orchestra), during that incarnation they rattled the smaller venues about town and had a good run of late 2007/2008, releasing their first EP Canopy//Anopy. Having now slimmed down to a four piece their sound is more focused and benefits dramatically. To see where front man Praveen Ayyagari takes his friends in 2009 will be exciting.
Second act, Harlem, busted out loud and fast -- much to the dismay of many an eardrum in the smallish space of Lambert’s upstairs. Their self-effacing demeanor betrays the fact that they have been of late on the mouths and minds of many a buzz-building bloggers. I think their ability to make good on the garage rock sensibilities their friends in The Strange Boys have pounced on is easy to see, and would’ve been much enjoyed by the masses this night if not for Lambert’s ill-mixed sound setup. Maybe they just rocked too hard. Oh yeah, they also have a huge bass drum. It was worth the bleeding ears if nothing else.
With two bands down and a thinning yet enthusiastic crowd in full swing of the witching hour, Brazos took center stage to begin what should be their year to make good on roughly a year and a half worth of buzz. Back in May of 2007 I saw them for the first time, opening for White Denim at the Mohawk. At the time the then four-piece outfit was a pleasant surprise in their ability to take charge of the small space and entertain everyone with their self described minimalist folk. Since then I’ve seen them acquire and lose a few musicians here and there, run through about three drummers (one of them being White Denim’s Josh Block) pick up and drop a saxophonist and lose one of the most innovative guitarists in Austin to grad school. It’s quite a lot for a young band to go through, but the way Brazos ran through their set on Friday, you wouldn’t have known.
Their sound is all at once jazzy and melodic, moody and bright. They are Radiohead’s younger siblings half the time and the other half roll along lazily, like the central Texas River from which they derive their name. Favorites from their past two EP’s like “Feeding Frenzy” and “Mrs. Virginia” were absent which prompts a lot of belief in their upcoming LP, from which much of the set’s material was inevitably from. Highlights included their myspace track “Day Glow” and “We Understand Each Other” which exhibited their ability to rock with pop sensibility, but the most enjoyment in listening is derived from tracks like “For So Long Now” or absent “Nobody’s Listening” which revel in ambience and free expression of sound but that inevitably return to join in perfect cohesion of time and melody. The ability of solid and capable song craftsmanship is readily apparent.
So with their upcoming (spring?) LP now eagerly anticipated (at least locally) and an inevitable slew of shows in support, it is easy to get caught up in the hope that Brazos will have a great 2009, hopefully with Harlem and label mates Canopy in tow.