Friday, March 28, 2008

"Rock and Roll Spring Break, or My First Time at SXSW (Day 1 cont)

(Day 1 begins here)

DAY 1 (continued)
7. The Playing Favorites
As we'd often split up with our sometimes-varying band schedules, phone texting proved essential for coordinating and commenting on stuff we were all seeing. John had gone to see The Playing Favorites, and I'd had them on my schedule too, but for whatever reason Pinstripe had been ranked higher (and I wasn't quite "aware enough" at that point to do the multiple-venues-in-one-time-slot jog just yet. Remember this is only Day 1 heh). But during the course of Pinstripe's set, I started getting texts from John, the first being "The one guitarist is wearing a Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels t shirt." Now that peaked my interest because I recall TPF's sound being sort of punk-like. A punk-like guitarist sportin a GP shirt? Hmm, ok… Then a couple Pinstripe songs later I get "Dude, you have to come see these guys. They win the Spirit of the 'Mats award this year hands down." Pinstripe was ok but a band embodying both GP AND the Mats?? He knew I wouldn't be able to resist that. So I texted "Ok, ok I'm on my way."

He was right...they were great. No GP-like influences apart from the shirt, the bassist just had exquisite taste obviously, but that wasn't a problem because their riffs, fantastic harmonies, and stage banter sold me. Nicely loud and raucous, the "Spirit of the Mats" indeed. Think a harder Fountains of Wayne almost meeting Green Day. Which kind of makes sense as their members are all from similar sounding bands: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Sugarcult, The Pen Fifteen Club, Summercamp, Lag Wagon and The Rentals.

Plus, the drummer put me in mind of Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos (in that he looked liked someone's wayward uncle filling in and then kicking ass on the drums), and Bun E. Carlos is well....Bun E. Carlos. And in addition to the cool GP shirt, one of the guys was sportin Duckie Dale shoes. All of these things and their very tight sound, and I was like yup, dig 'em big. Go see them live even before you listen to them….Their recorded stuff really doesn’t do them justice and you’ll have a ball seeing them live, I promise.

Oh, and I approached the bassist wearing the GP shirt about where the HELL he found it and he said Worn Free this online site. This little bit of info will reappear later in our story, I'm happy to say...

Leaving Town-The Playing Favorites (MP3)
Indigenous-The Playing Favorites (MP3)

8. The Details
John and I had moved on to catch The Details for the 11 pm slot. It occurred to me at one point that I had a huge contingent of bands that I was really excited to see on my list from Canada. The Details were one of those. Catchy hooks and really drum-driven songs, with well-crafted lyrics that weaved a lot of the juxtaposition of yearning and the regret one sometimes feels for having that yearning. In fact, I'd probably have to cite the latter being used a bit too much...I mean, I'm from a small town too in what felt like the Canadian frozen tundra most of the time, always looking to get the hell out, and some great songs have come out of that experience... but like the old adage, a one-trick pony gets boring after a bit. But the band was young so maybe over time...

I read an article that compared them to another band I saw and loved, The Weakerthans, (which is possible especially as one of the Weakerthans plays on Draw a Distance, Draw a Border). But I found The Details sound harder.

One thing they mentioned from the stage that was interesting: more than one band they knew that was slated for SX wound up not making it because of getting denied at the border (you know those bass players are public enemy #1 here in the States). Apparently, they should have come over with the Mounties in uniform I saw scattered throughout the audience in The Details set.

The Height of Land-The Details (MP3)
Always, Always, Always, Never-The Details (clip)

9. Bo Pepper
Some other friends had set out to try to get into the REM show for the midnight hour, and though seeing a larger act like that in a small venue like Stubbs could have been cool, I figured it would be a zoo (apparently it was). And Stubbs wasn't in the vicinity for the 2 bands I wanted to hit in that same timeframe.

I caught Bo Pepper, a 4-piece band, out of London first. They had an interesting tune "Blink and You Miss It" that had caught my attention from the SXSW mp3 list. They weren't bad...but couldn't keep my attention. Great harmonies and quirky 2-minute pop songs that one could tap your foot to, but it was too B52s-from-the-early-80s for me right then. Plus the lead singer reminded me way too much of Elvira (can you say SEVERE bangs?)

Blink And You'll Miss It-Bo Pepper (MP3)

Also, I think I started to notice this earlier that evening but definitely with the lead singer of Bo Pepper-apparently REALLY. BIG. BELTS. on females is making a comeback. At least those who played in bands at SX this year. Ladies, ladies, ladies...they're called "fads" for a reason and some, like REALLY. BIG. BELTS., or these or this or this, should never be revisited.

The chick in the next band I went to didn't get that memo either.

10. The Hard Lessons
But this time, I felt pretty comfortable with how to do the whole SX thing so I decided I'd start venue-hopping so as to catch all I could in the same time slot. Bo Pepper wasn't keeping my attention so I met up with John and we headed over to see The Hard Lessons, a 3 piece band out of Detroit.

Ok, a lot of bands I saw during SX were good but not "THESE GUYS ARE FUCKING AWESOME" great. Some may have been a bit repetitive in lyrics or sounded like the band I had just seen...but I was able to find something I liked in all of them. The only thing I liked about The Hard Lessons was the intense amount of smart arsery I was going to get to invoke when writing about them.

Folks, it was like watching the characters of the musical "Hair" trying to do "MacBeth", just a total identity crisis. The SXSW MP3 that John and I heard, "See and Be Scene", suggested fun pop-music....nothing too serious, but still interesting. The band opened with something that sounded like a wanna-be Led Zeppelin cover, and the male guitarist was doing all these shite arena-rock stage moves that I despise, like speaker climbing and yelling to the crowd and stuff (did I mention this was the first song?) On the 3rd song the female lead singer/keyboardist was channeling straight-up Mellisa Ethridge, while channeling Belinda Carlyse's wardrobe circa 1983 (more big belts yup).

Ah screw it, I can't say it any better than this, AND this write up includes the phrase "cock hard Detroit rock" hahah:

The Hard Lessons have played Northwest Ohio, Detroit and Ann Arbor regularly for several years and in that time I have always missed their shows. But, I have always had friends see them and return with nascent reviews. But, after seeing them firsthand, I fear my friends were just blinded by the impressive midget drummer. The Hard Lessons, while capable of pumping out catchy crowd pleasing jams, are paint by numbers song writers.

The sound attempts to be cock hard Detroit rock, which it does, but the content is often simple and poppy. Imagine Feist’s “1234″ played by a Detroit band and you have the bulk of the Hard Lessons set: lots of counting and clapping and whimsical puns on familiar catchphrases. But, my opinion seemed of little importance to the impact The Hard Lessons have on the 100 mile radius of music I am attempting to cover. Everyone loves this band. Pitch my opinion to the pigs because The Hard Lessons are rocking its small nook in the Midwest and loving every second of it.

And good for them. But John and I decided veggie hot dogs were way better than watching dreck and took off.

Ironically a few days later when we were at the SPIN day party at Stubbs, we saw them playing a room inside that was the size of someones basement. I guess I headed to the ladies room at the wrong time because I got an eye assault of the worst kind as the male guitarist, sportin 70s shorts, decided to riff bad music with one foot up on the speaker. Thank you SPIN day party for making the booze free because Lord knows I went and drank many after that. Blech.

See and Be Scene-The Hard Lessons (MP3)

11. Centro-matic
I'd heard of Centro-matic but hadn't listened to their stuff. But I liked what I heard on the SXSW mp3 so I set them as my 1 am slot. Out of Dallas, TX, they had quite a built-in fan base for SX apparently because theirs was the first time all night I waited on-line to get in anywhere and the place was mobbed.

As for me, I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about.

I mean, ok, the harmonies were nice...think Brit pop-style harmony with fuzzy guitars and something I can only describe as a "Texas" feeling under it all. A guy who saw me writing during the show struck up a conversation and said how he was a huge Centro-matic fan, and was in from Reno, NV primarily just to catch them. His exact words about them were "They're like Ted Leo meets 2 Cow Garage." I didn't tell my new friend that they sounded more like Ted Leo on Valium who was channeling the dead members of Lynard Skynard.

Triggers and Trash Heaps-Centro-matic (MP3)

At that point, I was too tired to stand around and be uninspired so I headed back to our hotel to rest my weary bones and have a few beers with the guys and plan out the next day's festivities....

Day 1, Total Bands Seen: 10

Like I said, there are a kabillion bands that play SX and seeing all that you'd like to see can be difficult. Check out the ones not mentioned here (and thus, missed) especially around the 8 pm hour, and give them a listen...
My SXSW Schedule

Day 2 coming up....

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