Friday, April 24, 2009

Songs, Sun, and Lone Star Beer: SXSW 2009, Day 2 PM

Start with Day 2 Day Parties

I had exactly 12 seconds to hit my room, clear the day's photos off the camera, and run back across to the faaar west side of town. Night Two in Austin was going to start with a one-two shot of Silver Lake, CA.

1. Eulogies
Eulogies was a band I'd heard a ton of good things about from reviewers outta Silver Lake. Makes sense as the reviewers I know gotta thing for fuzzy shoegazey stuff with chimey guitars (but who doesn't right?)

The band was playing upstairs on The Ranch's semi-enclosed deck. On the second song of the set, all their mikes suddenly went out. But it didn't frazzle these guys, they merely continued playing, finishing the song as an instrumental. Says a lot about a band that can seamlessly do that without missing a beat.

They had some rather unique things about them. One was their drummer's playing style. He didn't play a typical 1, 2, 3 beat, it was more....scattered. But it made the songs way more interesting and made you pay attention. The second was the ingenuity of using a Fosters beer can filled with...something (pebbles maybe?)..that they used as a maraca. Gotta love a band that jams econo. The third was the happy realization that this is a band of brainy types-how many bands do you know that would freely use the word "sycophant" in a rock song?

The lead singer's voice was a cool delicate fake out. It's one of those great voices that goes along and kind of lulls you into a state of calm. And then he lets loose, throwing melodious rocks in that pool of calm, and you think "WHAT the hell was that wonderful thing??" They did a song that was possibly called "I Won't Lie" like this, and was just tremendous...truly goosebump inspiring.

(See the rest of the photos from their set here)

My only wish? That the band had moved around a little more (I know shoegazey music is a bit on the maudlin side and somewhat mopey, but movement in a live band is what separates live from Memorex you know?). And better lighting (with the sun slowly making its decent on that side of town, many of the photos look like the band was playing under large boom lights). Hopefully both things will be different when they play with Great Northern and The Dears at the Black Cat on May 7.

Give a Listen: If I Knew You-Eulogies

I had to leave before Eulogies finished their set to cover the great number of blocks for my 8 pm slot back on the east side of town. But, as it was on the way, I also planned to catch the first few songs of The Airborne Toxic Event's set at the Austin Convention Center's "Bat Bar." Upon arrival though, I realized that was going to be impossible as the line for Airborne's venue was enormous. But it was still great to see. Airborne went from playing the tiny Cedar Street Courtyard, a place the size of a bowling alley lane at last year's SX, to a huge room like the Bat Bar in 12 months...pretty commendable. I texted Airborne's drummer, Daren Taylor, and said, "Wow the line out here is huge!! What a difference a year makes eh? Go you!"

2. Castledoor
I moved on to continue my "taste of Silver Lake" with Castledoor, a band that played a lot with Airborne early on. Another band of many (six in this case), they had two keyboardists, three guitarists, and a drummer.

They were also, by far, the most colorful band I would see all weekend. No somber hipster-black for these kids...

Their music reflected that celebratory spirit too. I'm not saying the lyrics were all shiny happy people-esque, but more that introspective lyrics were paired with harmonic music that moved, jumped, and swayed.

The lead singer's mannerisms and soaring ring of a voice put me in mind of Bono (which I found positive cause I like Bono). And yes, while Bono can be over the top, he always achieves what a good frontman is supposed to do: connect to his audience. Castledoor's frontman had that same talent, perfectly bonding and whipping up his crowd to level 5 of adoration.

There was only a handful of people at the Independent, and while some bands might have phoned it in with that small a crowd, Castledoor wasn't having that. Clearly this is that sort of band who plays their hearts out for a crowd of two just as much as they would for a crowd of 2,000. Those Silver Lake kids, they don't mess around.

(See the rest of the photos from their set here)

Give a Listen:: Skipping Stepping Stones-Castledoor

3. One Day International
I took my first pedi-cab trip (cool but bumpy) from Castledoor's set to the band I had high on my list for seeing at SX, One Day International.

Another group of multiples (5...what was it with many-membered bands this year?), they hail from Dublin, Ireland.

I pretty much cringed when I saw they were playing The Rio venue, a Mexican restaurant with god-awful lighting and mediocre sound. But I found that if anyone can handle such a place, it was a band like ODI.

Their members have been musicians for some time before coming together about a year ago, hailing from backgrounds that include classical and jazz styles, and the theater. All of these aspects fittingly find their way into ODI songs.

Influenced by musicians like Nick Cave and Tom Waits, The Band, and Sigur Ros, ODI weaves intricate and lush melodies into songs that sit on that interesting border between indie rock and the jazz/folk/classical tangents. There is a loveliness and depth in their music, one that's as warm and inviting as a favorite childhood memory.

The band practically lives the songs onstage. The lead singer sways like a metronome as he sings, eyes closed, most of the time...

...with the bassist, keyboardist, and drummer nodding along in time. The cellist is a lithe female, but you'd never know it. She rocks the cello and makes it keen, and holds the cello while beating the bejesus out of a drum at the same time. (Turns out she's a stunt car driver in Europe too!)

All in all, I think they won over more than one person with this SX performance. Here's hoping they make it back to this side of the pond again soon.

ODI was gracious enough to give me a few minutes of their time before their set to talk about their band and favorite Irish writers, and we'll be posting that here shortly.

(See the rest of the photos from their set here)

Give a Listen: Little Death-One Day International

As always at SXSW, when planning out your viewing schedule location is an important consideration. If you're at x location and y venue is 10 blocks away, you're going to miss quite a bit of a set just getting to y. Then, probably, quite a bit of your z choice if you have to walk 10 blocks back. (Though Austin is pretty flush with pedi-cabs during SX, which is really neat.)

As my z, aa, bb, and cc locations for the rest of the evening were all in the same area, and z was starting at an odd time of quarter past the hour, I hopped over to Emos for two seconds of one of the current buzz bands, Cut Off Your Hands, knowing I’d probably miss them at the SPIN day party on Friday.

(See the rest of the photos from their set here)

This band definitely does not have any issues with being “lax.” The lead singer leapt into the crowd to surf atop its hands, and flailed himself around the stage in wild abandon. The way he moved to their power pop from Down Under, I wondered if he actually possessed a spine. (More on their live show in Day 4.)

4. Monte Negro
It turned out that Maggie Maes, the site of my 12:15 AM-1 AM was...running behind schedule-wise. As I said earlier, it's typically a pain but sometimes it allows you to discover a band you didn’t expect to find. This is what I found in the form of a Spainish/English band from LaLa Land (Los Angeles) named Monte Negro. I only saw the last half of their last song so I don’t think I can fairly comment on their sound or songs, but the lead singer was definitely something to see.

He’s one of those that Muzak could be playing in back of him, and with all that energy and passion, you’d still be riveted. By the end, he was wiped out, lying on the stage and panting for breath.

(See the rest of the photos from their set here)

Give a Listen
: Pena Collective-Monte Negro

5. Val Emmich
Val Emmich is, apparently, the love interest on a tv show called "Ugly Betty." I say "apparently" because I've never it. His SX mp3 was really good, like A- good. And I can see why he's a show's love interest: hipster-boy skinny, great dimples, pretty cute overall. But by this point in the evening, your fair narrator had been standing/walking/race-walking for over 12 hours straight. She had also not eaten all day. Had plenty of water and Lone Star beer, but no food. I don't know about you, but in instances like this, my patience level becomes pretty translucent. So things like standing around for 30 minutes past an appointed start time, waiting for someone to get his butt onstage, made the annoyance scale leap from 2 to 403. And no amount of cute would make up for it. He was going to have to wow me.

I want to say I was bewitched, bothered, and bewildered but....nope.

Ok, part of it was due to sound issues, but honestly? Drying paint moves around more than this guy. The music was reasonably good power pop, much like the single I liked so much. But the combination was not enough to "wow" for me, so I left after a couple of songs.

The man does photograph well though, I will give him that.

(See the rest of the photos from their set here)

Give a Listen: Get On With It-Val Emmich

5 and 6. Kevin Seconds and Peter, Bjorn, and John
I never connected the dots that Kevin Seconds, my 1 am slot, was THE Kevin Seconds, of 7 Seconds

I'd really liked his SX mp3. "Backaches and Bad Dreams" was noted on my list as "an early 60s sound with a Paul McCartney-like voice." So walking in expecting that from a guy who's known for hardcore punk, I was all sorts of confused to find he was playing just an acoustic. In a church, that was a seated venue. Sure it was quiet and really rather lovely, but hearing quiet and lovely while seated and exhausted at 1 AM, I was pretty sure I would be passed out cold by his second song. And Kevin Seconds doesn't look like the type of guy you'd want to piss off.

Give a Listen: Backaches and Bad Dreams: Kevin Seconds

So instead, I went to meet the guys who were ending their evening with those three-non-blondes from Sweden, Peter, Bjorn, and John.

They were good, but Val Emmich was more animated. Based on their dance-floor staples like "Young Folks" and "Nothing to Worry About," I totally expected them to be way more upbeat live. Plus, their guitarist was kinda, well, creepy. Creepy stuff before bed is never a good idea. And then, I hit the proverbial wall.

Give a Listen: Young Folks: Peter, Bjorn, and John

Many beers, no food, and being in constant motion all day had found me. I fell asleep fully clothed and face down on my bed in the hotel that night. SX had caught up with me...for now.

Day 1 review here

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