First, instead of busting into my normal intro wherein I alternately bitch/compliment the folks that put SXSW together, allow me to bullet-point a few strange occurrences my wife and I endured at SXSW 2012:
• Immediately upon arriving, we saw Matt Pinfield, of 120 Minutes fame, and he said something like, “You kids have fun.”
• The Puffy Areolas’ singer/guitarist strapped his guitar onto my wife near the end of their 5 PM set Wednesday; she did her best to paw away at the six-stringed instrument — so intently, in fact, that she didn’t notice he also was trying to get her to sing vocals. Definitely a curveball…
• At the end of Thursday night, I reached the corner of Red River and 6th and longingly looked at a stack of sausages being peddled at a cart (yep, I’m finally avoiding the smoked, salted meats I hold so figuratively dear). I happened to see a homeless, bearded bald man bite like a MO-FO into one, and upon closer examination, I realized it was Doug Martsch. And yes: We had a moment.
• During a quick record-shop at End of An Ear, I realized one of the dudes behind the counter, the one donning a Burzum shirt, used to live in Spokane too. In fact, he is just old (or young?) enough to have been grounded when the infamous first lineup of Tool (which included original bass player Paul D’Amour, born and raised in Spokompton) rolled through the old Spokanzi in the super-early 1990s. Now that’s a fuckin’ trip, man.
Puffy Areolas’ live show is misleading because without the benefit of audible saxophone or, for that matter, snare drum, (the blower’s toots were obscured by the throb of bass, drums, and guitar), it’s difficult to discern the complexity inherent in their music. Their jet-engine punk worked well in the small venue regardless, but I found myself wishing I could show everyone in attendance the Areolas’ recent 7-inch on HoZac or the full-length on Siltbreeze. Great band, decent show, and a last-minute arrival that made the show all the more enjoyable.
It’s always a tricky proposition to evaluate someone’s music when you’re hearing it for the first time in concert; I was aware of Wymond Miles’ sojourn from The Fresh & Onlys, but hadn’t yet partaken. Luckily, his band put on a nice semi-sparkle, Miles stepping up and performing his frontman duties with only a touch of the hesitation that often bubbles up when a sideman decides to go out on his own. Nothing that’ll make me forget about F&O anytime soon, but a nice, shiny blend of shoegaze and all manner of indie rock.
I thought this floozy was Grimes. That’ll suffice.
I love these guys, but by the time I got to their performance, they had already finished with the echo-vox droning and were moving onto the part of their set I like least: the long, drawn-out jam that seems to set aside Tonstartssbandht’s strengths in the name of much less convincing endeavors. Love the new toys, love their voices, love them PERIOD, just not in love with the instrumental portion they’ve been including in their set since I saw them in Colorado a few years back. To me, it isolates their weaknesses and reveals none of the true fruit they’ve been carrying in their brains from the beginning. Plus, the 20-minute set times of SXSW don’t help anyone.
[At this point, we saw part of a comedy show then checked out Craft Spells, which contains an esteemed member of our family, so we, as always, recuse ourselves from evaluating their set.]
Considering how great Dan Deacon’s set was, you’d think Thursday wouldn’t have been so hellish. But man, it was. The one bright spot was getting to see the Deac-man redeem himself after the total AZZ-fuck that was Fun Fun Fun Fest (to recap: sound problems, dirt flying in the air; all shit). Downing all-you-can-drink beers — Austin is so far ahead of the curve on this one — and stuffing ourselves into the belly of the dance-rock beast, we could barely see Deacon’s turtle head popping up between bobs, but we could hear him chime in every so often, and it was enough to keep us in line. I’m not as impressed by his crowd-control skills (though they are ample) as I am his compositions, which spiral out of control fairly quickly and dilate the pupils even quicker. Two guest drummers were on-hand, and that alone rendered the swelling buildups more potent than a bag of sticky alien icky. All you could do is chug and make an attempt, however half-hearted, to keep it all down.
At this point, you’d normally see another bold bullet point with a band name attached. Well, guess again; we were shut out at every turn. We walked miles to see Thee Oh Sees in a residential neighborhood only to find hundreds of other jagoffs just like us waiting in a line thicker than potato soup. Adding insult to injury, I realize my calculations are incorrect: Deerhoof isn’t playing after Oh Sees; they played before Oh Sees, and we missed them completely. Then, later, we attempt to see Fiona Apple. AHAHAHAHA, OH MAN, I FEEL LIKE AN IDIOT for trying that. Then we finally got in somewhere good — the Mexican Summer showcase — but it wasn’t good enough; we just had to see a few comedians then make a pass at Tenacious D, ignoring the potential Jesus and Mary Chain show because of its distant proximity.
While all of this is going on, I try to use a port-a-potty and fail, in the process tossing my steamy cookies all over an alleyway and my shoes and, subsequently, missing Oneohtrix Point Never, whom we WOULD have seen had we just stayed put at the Mex-Sum showcase. OH MY GOD, LIFE IS A BRUTAL, INSIPID WHOOOORE!! Lessons like this cannot be unlearned. (Let’s move on, hmm?)
After such a tough go of it on Day 2, we almost decided not to come back. Something, however, was in the air, and we were rewarded with what became — easily — the best SXSW day of 2012. It started with (unbeknownst to them of course) Gumshoe’s spirit lovers Ganglians and their post-hippy indie zeal. Not so much channeling Beach Boys these days as tipping the occasional cap, Ganglians seem to have revved up their presentation somewhat. Used to the delicately beautiful plodding of Monster Head Room, I was taken aback by their more aggressive live show, but ultimately won over. Ryan Grubbs is a modern-day Gandalf, towering over the crowd, and his guitarist is energetic and more important to the mix than most Ganglians LPs would indicate. It’s impossible to be down when this gang is in town.
Built To Spill
My boy Doug Martsch and his Built To Spill crew never fail; I’ve reviewed BTS at least a half dozen times for TMT, and this show was a lot like the others: warm, rock-y, bearded, jammy, arpeggio-heavy, and absolutely life-affirming. My one qualm is why not more new material? Isn’t Martsch sick of ripping through the same tunes after a decade playing essentially the same set (give or take “Goin’ Against Your Mind”)? I love what they’re doing, but if critics are going to beg Billy Joel for fresh songs, as old and cornball as he is, what about Dig-Doug? Time to get to work, brother.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Remember when these guys were huge? It was before your time? Oh jesus… well, whatever their stature is at this point, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have always been a fun way to waste an hour, and they didn’t disappoint, graciously plucking from the two albums we all know and dipping into a newbie or two, quite unconvincingly, I might add, only when the crowd was ready for a short break from jump, nodding, and rrrocking. I’m surprised at how well Alec Ounsworth rises to the occasion as a vocalist, even when the band behind him is loud and constantly cranking out a linear one-two-one-two intensity, and I don’t find his pipes cloying in the least. He seems glad to have the spotlight focused on someone else; that’s probably what suited him best all along.
The first and only true miracle of SXSW 2012, for us, came in the form of the big, gray, lumbering, hairy, snuffoloffagus of a beast that is J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. After CYHSY, we thought our night was over, but I sensed something was a-hiss — I grabbed my partner, ran into a backyard, muzzled into the crowd’s lap, and BAM, there’s Lou Barlow, aged to perfection, rocking right in front of me. But let’s face it: Dino-ju are all about Mascis and his sky-bombing guitar adventures, spikier than a wrestler’s shoulder pads and louder than three tours in I-rock-istan. Everything you’ve heard about these fuckers is true, from the amp-maxing to the long codas to the sheer luster of Mascis’ god-hair. I fucking cherish the fact that I finally got to see these guys make hay, doubly so because it came as a complete surprise. To hear “Sludgefest” as a show-closer (and maybe even the encore; sorry, can’t remember) truth be told, almost brought me to tears. Such a gorgeously sung tune, too, Mascis’ voice so much more powerful than most give him credit for, and his warble… no matter what anyone tells you, this is where Kurt Cobain starts. The aforementioned encore was especially welcome because most of the dumb asses cleared out the instant the trio walked off the stage (fatal mistake) and we were afforded a better spot. All in all, it was a touching finale from one of the only rock groups to reform without losing an iota of power. Most of us won’t be rocking this hard when we’re 50 and older, but we can always dream.
[Illustrations: Carolina Purdum]