Thoughts on Friday's SXSW shows coming right up...
The acts I saw Friday afternoon more or less failed to rise above "satisfactory." Friday night, that wasn't a problem, as I witnessed what will likely go down as my two favorite sets of SXSW plus another two that weren't too shabby either.
But first, the unofficial events of the afternoon: When plans to see the Pitchfork party at Emo's were put on hold thanks to one of the most unreasonable lines I've seen this week, I decided to start my day with a stop at the Trailer Fire Records party at Shakespeare's. The tiny Los Angeles label is run by my OU acquaintance Jim Cartwright, who used to play in a band called Handstand that was sort of like a dancy precursor to Karate Coyote if I'm remembering their sound right. This was a pretty sparsely attended, as are most events down here without the benefit of the hype cycle, but I did enjoy Brooklyn's We Are Country Mice, who reminded me at various times of Two Cow Garage, The Knack and especially Modest Mouse.
On from there to catch a couple random bands at AV Club's party at Mohawk. The first turned out to be BRAHMS. Like The xx, they're an androgynous trio with no drummer and a heavy 80s New Wave influence on their music and fashion; unlike the "Crystalised" crew's whispery minimalism, BRAHMS is all about the musical mass and volume. The deadpan Dead or Alive singing rubbed me the wrong way at first. However, they won me over slightly with their dense tracks and became the latest band to deliver a visceral experience with a primarily pre-packaged drum setup.
Can't say I was pleased with Everybody Was In the French Resistance... Now! It's the pet project of Art Brut's Eddie Argos and his girlfriend. Imagine everything snide, campy and obnoxious about Art Brut, minus the bang bang rock 'n' roll, plus lounge crooner pose. Give me "Emily Kane" or give me — well, silence.
Next I was off to Soho Lounge for this hip-hop showcase to see former Fly.Union rapper L.e For the Uncool. He was in the building, but after nearly two hours of standing through numerous rappers that mostly lived up to the "Quality" title, it became clear that they were giving L.e the short shrift. He kept waiting patiently while the likes of Mic Terror, Tiron and Project Mayhem got their three-to-four song star turn. It seemed like he would finally get to perform at the end, but instead the party ended with anticlimactic R&B tripe from this woman:
I escaped to the Levi's Fader Fort, where quality control and free booze are assured, to experience my first joyful jaunt of the day courtesy of L.A. Afropop specialists Fool's Gold. Glad to see The Sun's Brad Caulkins rocking sax, guitar, flute and auxiliary percussion throughout the set. Haven't gotten to check out his other band here, Jail Weddings, but suffice it to say the man is involved with a lot of exciting bands these days.
As afternoon bled into evening, I attempted to enjoy Frightened Rabbit at the Mess With Texas party adjacent to Fader Fort, but the sound guy was absolutely murdering their dynamics. It's hard to pull off emotive guitar anthems without big guitars. Why they would put the drums and bass so much higher in the mix than the guitars is beyond me. I've never heard "The Modern Leper" so neutered. What a shame.
Then came my second adventure in attempting to see but not actually seeing a Columbus act play an unofficial SXSW event. This time it was garage rockers Chelsea Automatic. I walked 10 or 12 blocks outside the standard SXSW radius and arrived at Trailer Space Records just in time for their 8 p.m. set, only to find it had been bumped back to 10. I hit my hotel to handle some correspondence for a while then started to head back out there, only to discover via text message that the show was running even later and they wouldn't play until 10:45. The place was packed, and I knew they'd have an enthusiastic crowd — more than many of the official showcases can boast — so I opted to stop waiting and get back to seeing new bands. Catch you guys back in Columbus.
I'm glad I didn't stay for Chelsea Automatic or else I would have missed So Cow, the killer off-kilter Irish pop-punk trio that frequently plays Cafe Bourbon Street. "This one's basically the same progression as the last one, only faster," the singer said at one point. "That was twee; this is punk." So witty, so energetic, so masterful with the chord changes and the blazing solos — a wonderful way to get the night of official SXSW fare off to a better start than my spotty afternoon experience.
I left Beauty Bar and headed next door to Red 7 for Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace showcase. Nancy Garcia was playing some highly unmemorable music inside, but I was there for the outside act: The Entrance Band. The singer pronounced it "entrance" as in point of entry, not "entrance" as in hypnotize, but either way would have made sense. Their psychedelic shredding was the most impressive display of virtuosity and power I've seen all week. I'm running short on time, but look for more on this set in Thursday's paper. In the meantime, here's my tweet from in the midst of the set: "Things the Entrance Band sounds like: A monster slowly thundering ahead to flatten me; the end of the world; a good argument for drugs."
It would have been tough for anybody to follow that gargantuan force, so of course Shearwater at Antone's was a bit of a letdown, but through no fault of Jonathan Meiburg's band. As I attested last night: "Ambitious. Ornate. Not afraid to risk sounding pretentious. More ballsy than I figured. A good band to tour with Wing & Tusk." Seems like they would be better suited to a recital than a rock show, especially when Meiburg mans the piano for one of his high art slow jams. Still, if it hadn't been sandwiched between so much raw power, I probably would have been more engaged. Definitely want to explore their records a bit.
The real reason I was at Antone's was the evening's headliners, Liars. I've always been a casual fan, and I enjoyed seeing them play Barcelona's Primavera Sound festival many years ago when they were into being weird for weirdness' sake. But ever since the "Scissor" video debuted I've been compelled to revisit the band's immensely intriguing catalog, and my fondness for them has skyrocketed in the past few weeks. They were high on my must-see list for the weekend, a priority I later discovered was right on. These guys slayed. A lot of it had to do with sheer bombast of the band, led by quiet, unassuming Aaron Hemphill at stage right. But mostly, I had no idea Angus Andrew was so animated on stage. Dude seemed to be barely concealing his contempt for the audience and still went all-out. I've got to wrap this up, but suffice it to say I've been listening to "Drum's Not Dead" and "Liars" while writing this and it's confirmed: I'm now a Liars fan. Big time.