Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Rock and Roll Spring Break, or My First Time at SXSW (Day 2 cont)

(Day 2 begins here)

DAY 2 (continued)
The talk with Ken Bethea took awhile so the guys went on without me. (I don't know how anyone survived before without texting capabilities at these things, it is essential.) As I mentioned before, sleep and food are kind of as-you-go at this thing, but I decided to take full advantage of a sushi bar that was near the 8 pm venue. I was still trying to maintain a semblance of the vegetarian diet I'd been on via my trainer to make up for the amount of beer I was taking in (made perfect sense to me at the time), so this place was a godsend.

This was my first time seeing any bands at Habana Calle thus far (well, ok, unless we could count the 1/2 a song I saw Born in the Flood play at soundcheck the day before). I gotta tell you, I saw some great bands there, none of them really sounded good. Bands played in the downstairs bar area which put me in mind of someone's finished basement. Not the best for acoustics.

3.The Brother Kite
That's why I'm hoping The Brother Kite heads down the east coast again soon. Hailing from Providence, RI, they sound like Fountains of Wayne mixed with the swirly guitar sounds of Belle & Sebastian. I would assume that bands pick the best song they have to submit as their SXSW mp3-all the stuff these guys were playing was just as good. Great punchy pop songs that were really, really catchy. They had two lead singers that traded off songs, and the one had a dual neck guitar, something not often seen these days. And yup, the sound was a bit ick because we were in a basement, but I liked them so much, I made sure to pick up their cd, which you too can do here.

I'm Not the Only One-The Brother Kite(MP3)

As I’d sort of gotten comfortable with the lay of the land venue-wise by this point, my goal for the 9 pm slot was to hit three bands in 40 minutes: Born in the Flood, a band out of Youngstown, OH called The Deadbeat Poets, and Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers, from up near home, Northampton, MA. The best laid plans require planning, diligence…and in this case, bands to go on stage on time. And maybe a cab, because there was no way even one who walks as fast as me would make those three venues in 40 minutes even if they did go stage on time. Again, first rule of SXSW: location is essential when mapping out your bands.

4.Born in the Flood
Given what I heard at their soundcheck earlier in the day, and the fact I liked their submitted mp3, I really wanted to catch BITF. When I first got to the venue, I saw it was a Relix magazine-sponsored showcase, I thought “Uh oh…” (For those that don’t know, Relix is “the only magazine to truly cover the jamband scene and improvisational live music.” Or noodle-rock. “Greaaaaat….” I thought.) But BITF turned out to be to my liking…serious pop sensibilities and a lush, tight sound. The first song was a tad boring (or maybe I was just antsy as they’d gone on 10 minutes late), but the second one was raucous….I thought of a harder version of Pete Yorn. I had roughly 20 minutes if I was going to catch another band so I only stayed for 2.5 songs of their set. But I'd probably consider seeing them again.

Anthem-Born in the Flood (MP3)

5. Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers
Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers were over in the area where the rest of my evening’s picks were playing, so I ran over there for the rest of the 9 pm slot. The band seemed to have a built-in audience much like Centro-matic the night before, because the place was pretty crowded. I really liked their SX mp3, but what they were playing sounded different somehow. Immediately, James Taylor came to mind, and not just because they both live in Western Massachusetts. The sound had a mellow country tinge to it, very “singer-songwriter”-esque, jangly power pop with a harmonica and Kellogg playing acoustic guitar. I found it…just ok, not great. I was there for about two songs and then Kellogg requested folks start singing along with him….I dunno, that kind of thing always struck me as “hoky.” I mean, Dr. Dirty does stuff like that, Poison probably did stuff like that, do you really want to be lumped into that category Mr. Kellogg? So I left.

4th of July-Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers (MP3)

6. Magnolia Summer
Thankfully, Magnolia Summer was playing a 9:30 pm slot nearby so I got there right as they were starting. Admittedly, I’m a huge sucker for fiddle-playing, it just adds something so emotional to a song. When it’s done really well, a violin can make you feel so much emotion, it’s almost like lyrics aren’t even necessary. Magnolia Summer did just that (though the lyrics were great too). A three-piece (an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and a violin) from St. Louis, MO, they play beautiful music of the alt-country variety. An example of it would be Strangers Almanac by Whiskeytown minus the drummer. They mentioned having a record out this summer so be sure to check them out.

The Slip that Leads into the Fall-Magnolia Summer (MP3)

10 pm had me running, trying once again to hit three bands in 40 minutes: The Mission District, The Blood Lines, and The Steps. This time, however, the venues were close together so I actually pulled it off.

7. The Mission District
Remember when I said before about how while some bands were good, they often just sounded like the last band you’d come from? That’s a good way to describe the first two of the three 10 pm bands. The Mission District’s sound was good….edgy power pop is always good. Think a British version of Blink 182, a comparison I probably only make because the band members looked about 12. And probably I wouldn’t have been like “fuck this” after two songs had Maggie Mae’s not been 800 degrees Calvin inside. John had had an interest in them as well and asked whether it was worth coming over from where he was. I sent back the following:

They r good-but not that good. I mean doing the cmon clap along thing in the first song? But u r missing slutty girl scouts so…”

Listen, I’m not too old and cynical, I think crowd participation at a show is good. Springsteen is a great example, his shows are a blast, but he also works the crowd for close to three hours beforehand. You can’t just start that with your first song…unless maybe your lead singer is Mick Jagger.

Oh and yes, the slutty girl scouts. Like “How are they not falling out of those outfits and I hope they never have to bend over” slutty girl scouts. The weird thing was they weren’t the only people I saw dressed in costumes during my time there. Maybe SX is also home to some weird alternative celebration of Halloween in March or something...

Youth Games-The Mission District (MP3)

8. The Blood Lines
Before I passed out from heat exhaustion, I left to go a few doors down and check out The Blood Lines from Canada. Thankfully, they were playing on a rooftop so I was revived by the cool breeze of an Austin night in March. The Blood Lines were similar to The Mission District (power pop) but more synth power pop than edgy. Some very lovely harmonies and a really tight sound. The lyrics didn’t really do it for me (“I wanna die on a mountain” for example…uh, ok), and there was more imploring the crowd to clap along (but not the first song thank goodness), but I liked the sound. And their look! One of the lead singers was wearing a suit…and a toque (indeed, it is a beauty way to go eh?), and the female keyboardist had this white sequined bedazzled top on and white go-go boots….those crazy Canadians….

Modern Science-The Blood Lines (MP3)

9. The Steps
From Canadians to barely legal Austinians….I ran down the street to check out the third of my three bands in 40 minutes, The Steps. Frankly, I should have stayed at this one for the full 40. The boys may be youngsters but they play some serious rock with balls…makes sense as the aforelinked article states their love of the Rolling Stones and the Strokes. I heard some Jet in there….some Cribs in there…and for some reason, Weezer ala that "Hash Pipe" song. These guys are definitely worth checking out further.

Belle-The Steps (MP3)

10. Patty Hurst Shifter
Do yourself a favor and go here right now, and purchase PHS' "Too Crowded on the Losing End." Then put it on and rock your face off. I've been going to see these guys since roughly 2000 or so when I was in graduate school. They used to play at a place called Humble Pie a lot, which was an old garage converted to a restaurant/bar. The acoustics sucked like you would expect, but PHS could still kick ass.

I was thrilled to know they'd be playing SX as I hadn't seen them in a couple years so I made it a point to catch their whole set after as I didn't get to on Day 1. They were playing the same venue as The Steps, this little cheesy faux-dive called Dirty Dog Bar....I'll put it to you this way: there was a smoke machine and the graphic for the bar's name is a busty woman with a bulldog humping her leg. It reminded me of....a garage. We even had two roller derby women (I'm not making that up) doing something that can only be called "interpretive dance" with each other in front of the stage.

Ah, the more things change....

Ok, now granted, I know them and granted, I know I'm probably biased. But they make the 20th band I saw at SX in two days and of those 20, I can count on one hand the number that a) are great musicians, b) have lyrics you wanna go back and read, and c) they just bring rock music like it's supposed to be brought. These guys blow the doors off consistently when they play. There's not a lot of bands that can claim that.

Oh, and I got hit on by a cute 26 year old digruntled-with-music guitarist from Greensboro, NC who added 12 years to my age (he was a little drunk...I think he was kidding but it was tough to tell). Nonetheless, he was adamant about me having a drink with him. Thankfully I was spirited away by the PHS wives...

Anyway, I shot a few photos of PHS on stage but unfortunately, they didn't come out as nice as the Old 97s ones. This one is probably the best...

Life is Mostly Waiting-Patty Hurst Shifter (MP3)

11. Ari Shine
PHS was my 11 pm slot and although I had a few other options in between 11:40 pm and 1 am, I wound up having some beers and such with the PHS crew for awhile instead. I then started to make my way over to Lamberts, a good six block walk for the 1 am slot. I wound up getting there early, meeting up with John and Sean for the last two songs of this guy John was raving about, Ari Shine. One of the songs they did was a sped up cover of John Mellencamp's "ROCK in the USA"...sped up like Mellencamp was on crystal meth sped up. Good bar band sound, and sure, entertaining...but every town in mid-west America has a good bar band that's entertaining. I didn't understand John's enthusiasm. But then he's not into PHS and we love a ton of other stuff collectively, so I don't bother to comprehend.

Cooler Than Me-Ari Shine(MP3)

12. Buttercup
John and Sean bid me adieu and I stuck around for Buttercup out of San Antonio, TX. I really liked their mp3 submission. Their write up stated they had "influences such as Neil Young, The Kinks, and the Talking Heads," which I found interesting...But by this point, I'm more than a little pooped, and after waiting, waiting, waiting, finally 1:15 am they decide to start playing. Strike 1.

Odd, odd, odd stuff...and not a good odd...

They started with this song....let me put it this way: there's slow to fast songs and all, but their version of slow to fast was more like progressive rock opera than a regular song....and I am not a Jethro Tull fan, I'm sorry (strike 2). Then they went into some Hawaiian-sounding ditty....I'm sitting there going "I waited 15 minutes for this?" Now remember, when you listen to the mp3s and plan your band lists, it's quite a bit prior to SX itself (typically), so at times you find yourself thinking, "Uh, I chose these guys why exactly?"

This was definitely one of those times. I called Strike 3 and went to join the guys down the street for Denton, TX natives Bowling for Soup.

In Love-Buttercup (MP3)

13. Bowling for Soup
Ok, did I look at the crowd around me at this show and go, "Are we the oldest people here?" Yes, yes, we were. Was the band kick ass and funny as hell? Yes, yes they were. This was the perfect way to end a night. You might know their song 1985, which was a hit awhile back. But if you get the chance, go see them. They're a damn good band and I promise you, you'll have a blast.

Baby Hit Me One More Time-Bowling for Soup (MP3)

Day 2, Total Bands Seen: 13

Day 1
Part 1
Part 2

Day 3 coming up...

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