SXSW (Friday): Hungarian Indie Rock/Islamic Metal and Rap
Club 115; Austin TX

[03-20-2009]

If you really work it at SXSW, you can walk five square blocks and see the same handful artists about 10 times a day. Despite the fact that I had declared Friday night as the most consistently good night of this festival week, I figured I would go see something that I will never see again in my life: a showcase featuring two popular Hungarian "indie" bands, an Iranian speed metal act, and a Palestinian rap crew.

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- {Supersonic}

I strolled into Club 115 and first checked out Supersonic's gig. If the name weren't enough to give it away, Supersonic were a tad trad-rock in their approach. At least the Budapest quartet think big: Oasis and U2 can be heard in their stadium-sounding rock. And it is done well, in spite of its somewhat derivative nature. After a long and confusing soundcheck, the band revved into gear and singer Balazs worked the front of the stage and his tambourine with the sass of a less ambivalent Liam Gallagher (he was noticeably happy to be playing here), and despite hitting the stage early, they made a few fast friends who could barely contain their excitement with meeting the band.

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- {The Moog}

Budapest may be close to 6,000 miles from Austin, but to think it is a cultural wasteland would be a mistake. While The Moog went to great lengths in making themselves presentable in an English dandy sort of way, their music plays around the same park as popular "alternative" U.S. acts like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Green Day, but more melodic and less pretend-dark-and-disturbed (I won't include Green Day in that last statement; they know a good melody when they steal one). With Buzzcocks-sounding intros and fuzzy pop bodies, the band displayed confidence with each song they performed, and although they write a decent but generic brand of pop-rock, it would sell millions if marketed properly. More important than anything important like their music, they have a Fucking star with a capital F in lead singer Tonyo, who struts, preens, and confronts with the best of them. If The Moog were based in L.A., Tonyo would be sharing face time on mag covers with Mssrs. Wentz and Jonas. That's not speculation; that's fact.

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- {TarantisT}

While the Hungarian bands did not exactly break my realm of expectation, neither did TarantisT, but that is only because I saw precisely what I expected to see: a loud, fast, great thrash trio. You think you've had travel hiccups? TarantisT's story is one of struggle and ultimate triumph, with the bonding power of music. The Tehranian speed metal godz were booked to play Austin two years ago but were denied travel visas. Last year, they got their travel visas but were told they had to apply for a special travel permits from Dubai. They did, and they arrived, one day AFTER their scheduled show at SXSW. So, they did what any desperate band would do: they came over anyway and stayed in the U.S. playing some shows until the Iranian army threatened imprisonment if they did not return to their homeland. Throw in a few more visa problems along the way and, long story longer, TarantisT made it back to Austin to finally play a show at SXSW. Having only enough time to rehearse a small handful of songs with a quickly-assembled lineup (again, army, visa, and availability problems), the band nonetheless snapped the eardrums of every patron in the small club with rapid shots of thrash. The crowd treated the band like heroes, and bassist and singer Arash Rahbary had a grin on his face most of the night, except when he was screaming out evil in a deathly serious fashion. The smile returned often though, even when brokenly belting out the universal call-to-arms, "Is the pit ready?"

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- {Palestinian Rapperz}

There is no real sense of mystery to a band called Palestinian Rapperz, is there? Well, yes and no. For starters, there wasn't the plural Rapperz on stage tonight, only the quick-tongued frontman Mohammed Al-Farra. Rapping in front of a makeshift band of local musicians who provided suitable funk backing, Al-Farra delivered socially relevant and intensely personal rhymes. Punching a keffiyeh-covered fist in the air for a good chunk of the set, the Rapperz' leader held court on political hotpoints and goaded the audience into joining in the celebration. A keffiyeh-clad female guest jumped up on stage to trade off with Al-Farra during a track that the two of them, plus band, wrote and rehearsed in a few hours earlier in the day. Musically, the band played up catchy backdrops for Al-Farra's lines using a standard setup of guitar, bass, drums, and organ -- and while effective, it was rather run-of-the-mill. Lyrically, though, very few true gangsters can compare their thug lives to writing abut Israeli occupation, war-torn home neighborhoods, daily survival, questions concerning the state of human rights and racial stereotyping. Judging by the crowd of Americans completely losing their shit and chanting back pro-Palestine slogans, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more people wearing the keffiyeh. If they do choose to take a side on this slippery social and political statement fence, hopefully it will be after lengthy conscious deliberation instead of wearing something as a meaningless, empty-headed fashion accessory.

On Friday, there wasn't a lot of things I haven't heard before, but that is the case with most bands from anyplace you could name. At least tonight, the song may have remained the same, but the story was always different.

SXSW (Friday): Todd P. Presents Ground Control Party
Aunt Bea's; Austin, TX

[03-20-2009]

The "unofficial" parties are as important to the fun at SXSW as the officially-sanctioned, bigger-name-sponsored shindigs. On 6th Street, but a-ways up from the main disco drag, NYC organizer Todd P., along with a bunch of promo all-stars, put on one of his dozens of festival parties in Ms. Bea's back patio and parking lot. These underground, free shows tend to bring out those true blue fans that cannot afford badges and wristbands or, as was the case today, those who are simply too young to attend clubs. They also tend to feature a who's who of what is being talked about within grassroots music scenes. If that means rubbing elbows with the hipster contingent sporting bizarre and cute tattoos of cans o' beenz, tea cups, and ghetto blasters, and donning mesh-back, Ghostbusters baseball hats, so be it. Between the steady flow of Olivia Newton John hits a bunch of renegade artists showed up, played hard, and exposed a side of SXSW that emphasizes music and community first. There was no chance this afternoon was going to be anything but a blast.

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- {Rafter}

I showed up just as San Franciscan class clown Rafter was playing. Backed by a brace-faced beauty and a drumming bumpkin (I say that only because of the straw hat!), Rafter (Roberts) drove through a fast set of electronically-assisted miniature pop opuses taken from and outside from his four albums. The only thing that rivaled his awesome energetic songs was his motormouth song interludes. Obviously taking the mic after consuming a breakfast of Red Bull and sugar packets, Rafter ranted, lied, and charmed the shorts off the small but receptive crowd. Anyone who can have a gaggle of dancing girls hitting the floor at such an early hour has to be doing something right.

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- {These Are Powers}

Next up were These Are Powers, who subbed in early for the delayed Deer Tick. The frenetic trio of Anna Barie on effects and kamikaze vocals, Pat Noecker on the rumbling low-slung bass, and Bill Salas on percussion and drum pads drove home the point that they had arrived with a raucous set of full-on sex and violence. Whether you call them electro-dub, junkyard beat, or as the band themselves describe themselves, "ghost punk," it is getting increasingly obvious that they no longer belong in any convenient no wave/noise classification (especially as Barie continues to play less guitar and more toys and pedals). When the band thrusts and jerks and seduces with a tune like "Life of Birds" and when Barie hikes up her skirt to show us her tambourine bruises and says, "See what we do for you?" it is clear that These Are Powers are a band well worth any expense or travel time to see. Travel time? Hell, they are worth the expense of time travel.

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- {Deer Tick}

Deer Tick hero John McCauley III arrived in due time and took a seat just to the side of the patio stage to give the devoted crowd a taste of his aching outsider country. Although he now plays majorily with a full Deer Tick band that fill out his musings more than effectively, this solo acoustic show brings McCauley back to his basics. His short set left everyone wanting more, but he held the devotees in awe, so much so that if he had played only "Spend the Night" the crowd still would have been as happy as happy be.

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- {Vivian Girls}

It was only a matter of time before I would run into Vivian Girls. If you're playing a couple of dozen shows over four days, everyone in Austin has the chance to see the mega hot trio (indeed, at the end of their numbers, bassist Katy announced that they would be playing an additional show, at midnight on the pedestrian bridge that runs along the river downtown). For this show, the ladies took the stage and played a set of unsophisticated and exciting pop songs. Yeah, you know 'em. Many, many people flock to Vivian Girls because of their current flavor-of-the-month popularity and now-ness, and others are drawn to their down-to-earth nature and amateurish charm. While this is undeniably "their time" and do certainly hearken back to a time when passion triumphed over technical musicianship and recording precision, great pop songwriting will always be the Girls' real strength, regardless of any fashionable trend of the day.

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- {Titus Andronicus }

After the interlude of punky tweeness, Titus Andronicus blew a little piece of everyone's brains off with their side-stage blast. Throwing caution and pretension to the wind, the Jersey band knocked back song after song full of swagger, lyrically acuteness, and everyday rebellion. The band was characteristically aggressive and went full-steam from the start of every single song with a barrage of bass, drums, and catchy, crunchy riffs. Singer Patrick Stickles was completely unhinged, as he thrashed his body and mic stand around like like a drunk savant throwing the discus. There are a lot of groups who dabble in the small punk-Pogues section of sound, but Titus' passion is undeniable and their shows are spectacularly rambunctious. I'm not a mathlete, but this all adds up to a band playing in a league of its own.

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- {Ponytail}

The ubiquitous and affable Molly Siegel has been everywhere at SXSW, bumpin' around in her Ray Lewis Ravens shirt with a smile for everyone that wants to say "hi." She personifies all that is good about a festival that has more than its fair share of industry douche bags wandering around for their next free meal, drink, or line. Given her personality and Ponytail's infectious tunes, it is no wonder they drew a big, eager late-afternoon crowd. So big, in fact, that I decided to kick back and take in the sounds instead of battling for snap space. Plus, with both my and Siegel's short statures, there was no way to get any worthwhile photos short of climbing a tree to gain a vantage point. And I gave up tree-climbing, just last week. Starting very, very slow, Ponytail soon gave the kids what they wanted: an explosive, non-stop, high-NRG set with plenty of whinnying and cooing and shouting and yelping for all to enjoy.

SXSW (Thursday): Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans & YouTube
Mohawk; Austin, TX

[03-19-2009]

- {Bishop Allen}

Continuing my trend of showing up just before shit gets crazy, I managed to snag a spot up front for Bishop Allen's set at Mohawk. The music project of Harvard alums Justin Rice and Christian Rudder was wildly popular among my friends in college, so I was glad to finally see them, but I honestly couldn't imagine listening to their records. They're incredibly cute, with clear, pretty vocal harmonies over guitar, vibraphone, and drums, and their set was much to the delight of the adorable teenage couple in the front row, who I overheard telling someone about how they'd been staking out their spot for an hour. Perfect for handholding young lovers, but my grumpy, prematurely crotchety old mind wants a little more substance. Bishop Allen released a new record this month, entitled Grrr...

- {Julie Doiron}

Got a text saying “bak room grl is awesome,” and so I decided to see if this was true. It was! Canadian singer/songwriter Julie Doiron is best known for her work in Eric's Trip (and, as of late, with Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum) and gained critical acclaim for her split 7-inch with Okkervil River, but she holds her own quite well with a nonchalant, vaguely foreign style. Squinting through messy hair, Doiron's style is autobiographical and honest, backed simply by her own acoustic guitar and a drum set. Her latest album, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day, was recently released on Jagjaguwar.

I decided to conserve my energy for the next two acts and decided a fajita break was in order. En route to food, I was given a YouTube sweatband. For my wrist. In case I want to advertise YouTube while exercising. Okay.

- {Akron/Family}

Akron/Family, instead of looking vaguely annoyed at the house music playing over their soundcheck as most bands do, decided to air-guitar their way through most of it, which I think exhibits good sportsmanship. With a nod to rigidly short sets at SXSW, Seth Olinsky implored us: “We don't have a lot of time, so if you don't start moving, we're gonna have to stop!” It's impossible NOT to dance to Akron/Family's primal take on folk music, and more than one shout-a-long erupted spontaneously throughout the set. Also, Akron/Family may be the only band to actually get away with wearing sweatbands on their heads, which will continue to be true unless they get into short shorts. Olinsky's stage dive would have been a BIT more interesting that way.

- {Dinosaur Jr}

Although most people were probably in-the-know by the time they hit the stage, Dinosaur Jr were the “secret special guest” of the showcase, completing their massive setup by 1 AM. How J Mascis has any hearing left at all completely astounds me, as he plays surrounded by at least seven powerful amps. Dinosaur Jr are all business, delivering an aural assault with little ceremony, as only the fathers of lo-fi indie rock can. While I had my own intense fangirl moments with older tunes “Little Fury Things” and “Freak Scene,” new track “Been There All the Time” from 2007 comeback album Beyond is nothing but a fucking barn-burner, showing that Dinosaur Jr have still got it, even after becoming “old and weird” (as quoted from their Pitchfork.tv feature). Surprise guest Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene stepped in for “The Wagon,” as if seeing Dinosaur Jr wasn't fantastic enough. The crowd was stirred into a frenzy, prompting a burly security guard to... scowl at them. Effective. As the horde of photographers became steadily annoyed at being hit by the wave of revelers, they eventually turned around and shot the crowd in retaliation, which was interesting drama to observe from my balcony spot. Dinosaur Jr remained completely unfazed, with Lou Barlow heckling the crowd good-naturedly (I think). “Thanks for coming,” said J, and that was it. What you see is what you get with Dinosaur Jr, and since it's worked for this long, I don't see why they should ever change.

SXSW (Thursday): The Henry Clay People, Vetiver, Nite Jewel, Crystal Stilts, Let's Wrestle
Various; Austin TX

[03-19-2009]

Whereas my day was spent inside clubs or on walled-in patios, I was grateful to get out on a real patio, where the Texas breeze could take away some of my accumulating festival stank. Knowing I was in for a long night, nothing could have been a better rejuvenating tonic than sitting on the off-beaten-track enclave in the late-afternoon sun taking in a surprisingly chipper group of young-uns and a young, but old ‘n’ wise-sounding bunch of wunderfolk. Who they be? Let's see!

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- {The Henry Clay People, Vetiver @ Opal Divine's Freehouse}

Checkered shirts and power pop flowing freely on the patio? I have run into {The Henry Clay People} territory. The California foursome played a energetic set of not entirely dissimilar pop anthems but played them with tons of youthful enthusiasm. Think an American Teenage Fanclub or an American Sloan or an American Velvet Crush (wait, they are American!) and you are headed in the right direction. It is refreshing to see a band having fun, particularly within this annual bastion of studied cool. The boys played what they know; these realistic songs about being young, working part-time (all the time), and needing nothing more than a couch to get by worked even better when mixed with the genuine look of wanting to be there.

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While the Henry Clay People were entertaining, {Vetiver} were downright mesmerizing. Their originals were as beautiful as their choice of covers (I loved their rendition of Bobby Charles' "I Must Be in a Good Place Now"), and their sound was perfect. Associations that Andy Cabic has to the new breed of folksters should all be a distant memory now, because Vetiver belong to a blues/alt-country that summons the memories of The Band or a more somber, prime-time Jayhawks. The group played a lovely bunch of songs and were even serenaded by a trilling bird throughout. While this little piece of paradise was nice, I had to go back to the grind of the heart of downtown to explore some more club options.

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- {Nite Jewel, Crystal Stilts @ RED 7}

After killing time taking in the sights of Austin's "entertainment district" (take that any way you want -- wink, wink) I hightailed it back to my daytime haunt, RED 7, to soak in a bunch of New York bands taking part in Heeb Magazine's showcase. I caught the ass-end of Suckers, who were workmanlike experimenters with a frontman dressed like Joseph The Technicolor Mime. The band was alright and the crowd was small, but I didn't see enough of them nor remember much of the show to make any bold descriptions. I did, however, see more than enough of {Nite Jewel}. Playing a nice, lengthy spot, the erstwhile multi-media artists Ramona Gonzales and Emily Jane rocked the party the only way they know how: with waves of sound mixed with minimal electro-beats backing up Gonzales' Debbie Harry-gone-shoegaze vocals. Influenced as much by smoove R&B and fun ’80s pop, Nite Jewel was a breath of freshness and the ideal way to start the second half of the day.

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{Crystal Stilts} were more than an hour late for their set, but most people didn't care. I have seen them before, but I still find something new in their sound every time. This time, I actually noticed the band's strong early rock ‘n’ roll and girl group tendancies more than their slightly gloomy, twee-meets-garage influence -- and it felt good. Making up for their scheduling mishap (they didn't know they were playing this show, allegedly) by asking for requests from their small back catalogue and pandering to a crowd that was already converted long ago, Crystal Stilts sounded like Crystal Stilts: fuzzy pop guided by a floppy fringed jangle guitarist, distant zombie vocalist, competent bass and keys, and upright citizen twacking away on the small set of drums (early Primal Scream/Bobby Gillespie-style). Tracks like "Shattered Shine" and "Converging in the Quiet" got the biggest claps of the gig, but the band (alongside a number of similarly-hyped NYC bands playing this same night and all over SXSW) are a hot ticket right now, so there was no chance any of their songs would go over like lead balloons.

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- {Let's Wrestle @ Wave Patio}

By the time the Stilts ended their show, it was late and I was due elsewhere. Timing and snap decisions are everything, and I decided to forgo the likes of Chairlift and Telepathe and hustle off to Wave to see Let's Wrestle. It turned out to be a poor move on my part. Sure, I saw Let's Wrestle, but just barely. Placed in a absurdly small rooftop patio, the UK trio played to a tight crowd who grasped for oxygen, even though it was outside. Attempting to get anywhere close to the stage was pointless, so I hung at the back and took in a band that I have recently been raving about to anyone who will listen. The disappointment of being stuck in a inconvenient venue was nothing compared to the disappointment of a sub-par performance by this very young pop combo. While there were flashes of brilliance to be had (a great version of "I Won't Lie to You" had the crowd in full pogo mode, for example), Let's Wrestle also introduced a couple of new elements to their sound that I did not want to nor expect to hear. Gone were the touchstones that attracted me to them in the first place (the wonderful ambivalence and nonchalance) and in their place were generic pop shapes. New tracks were relatively unmemorable and older tracks felt as though they were being performed at a double-time pace. Now, I am an environment reactionary; something like a bad venue, lunkhead bouncer, or bad seafood will usually color my mood and patience level. However, even after putting my most positive foot forward up there on that patio, I couldn't brush off a worrisome feeling that I was witnessing the birth of the next Ash, a band of three that lost all of its early punk-pop vitriol when it jumped into the catchy-but-disposible straight pop game then into its late-career, straight-up, crap-rock facade. I hope I'm wrong.

SXSW (Thursday): Flower Love Traveling Band, Wavves, Max Tundra
Various; Austin, TX

[03-19-2009]

- {Flower Love Traveling Band}

With an hour to kill between my next scheduled show, I had the great fortune of stumbling upon Japan’s Flower Love Traveling Band at Smokin’ Music. I always forget that, along with irritably exuberant pop and soul-crushing noise, Japan is also the world’s last bastion for compelling prog-rock. Flower Love Traveling Band constitute all the qualities of great prog-rock: virtuoso technique, epic sonic explorations that ride just shy of overlong, and, perhaps most importantly, a critical self-awareness that you are a prog-rock band and that it is totally ridiculous and glorious all at the same time. FLTB’s wah-heavy, almost backwards-sounding licks were cranked out on a surfboard-sized eight- or nine-string guitar, while the dread-headed lead singer screeched an ear-piercing falsetto. Rollicking drums, touches of keyboard, and submerged bass rounded out the whole proggy mess, but of course the real stars were the singer and the guitarist, leaving FLTB’s sound somewhat of a combination of Damo Suzuki chanting, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd guitar licks, and Henry Cow or Soft Machine playfulness. The funniest part about FLTB was whenever someone began a solo -- whether it be the guitarist, drummer or keyboard player -- the rest of the band would surround the soloist and just smile and groove along. Most people knock prog-rock for taking itself too seriously and not having enough fun, but any signs of such joyless pedantry are nowhere near the light-hearted complexity of Flower Love Traveling Band.

- {Wavves}

So apparently Wavves is getting run through the SXSW hype machine big-time. He's playing approximately 953 showcases, as he so bluntly pointed out when I saw him at The Music Gym, so I guess he’s the festival’s golden boy and “breakout” star. Even the drummer from Psychedelic Horseshit had a shirt on that said “Wavves Suck,” and of course when you’re catching the ire of your fellow artists, you’ve truly made it to the top. I just figured he was an above-average punk rocker in the same vein as Times New Viking or No Age, which I guess in itself leads to intense media attention. All the hoopla had obviously taken its toll when Wavves hit the stage last night. He opened the show by griping about how many showcases he had to do and that this set would be a short one. After his announcement that his show was going to be half-assed, he half-assed his way through the highlights of his new record and said goodnight 20 minutes later. I understand that he has lots of shows to play at this week and is probably getting sick of it, but isn’t that why you don’t overextend yourself in the first place, you know, in case you end up phoning it in and coming off like some entitled jerkoff to a crowd of 150 people who really just wanted to enjoy your music? Plus, he was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt and a Red Sox cap! What the fuck is that shit about?!

- {Max Tundra}

Any ill will I had towards mankind’s instrument wielders disappeared once Max Tundra (pictured) took the stage next. After the house cranked Appetite for Destruction during the interim for about as long as Wavves played, Max Tundra, in the most adorable-looking cardigan you could ever imagine, jerked and giggled his way through a synthy celebration of life. I have a feeling that when Lord Xenu or the Free Masons or Lemmy intelligently designed the Earth 6000 years ago, along with all the bullshit, God created Max Tundra to serve the world as a beacon of absolute joy, a silly little British man assigned with the crucial task to inundate this desolate world with rainbows and high fives and raspberries and little puppy dogs through song. Tundra feels most at home when his voice is at its highest register with his three or four synths heading out on totally different but expressly joy-related journeys. When he sings at a baritone level, he seems like he’s almost mad at everybody just because he doesn’t sound like the happiest man on earth for a few measly bars. But aside from that small vocal criticism, it’s impossible to hate on the exhilarating synth-pop of this tiny, tiny man. He holds in his hand the key to mankind’s ills, all the life-affirming charm of Vince Clarke and disco-era Sparks dressed in a jester hat and tinkling on a synthesizer.

Whew! So much stuff! Where shall I go tonight! Find out tomorrow! Or don’t! It’s cool!

SXSW (Thursday): The Carrots, Eat Skull, Brimstone Howl, Psychedelic Horseshit
Various; Austin, TX

[03-19-2009]

After spending the lighted hours of Wednesday schlepping my stankin’ ass across the greater half of creation from free showcase to the next, I decided that today would not be yesterday, as is normally the case. The daylight would be for shade, sausages, and suds, a proper festival feast. The streets are rife with top quality dogs (holla atcha, Best Wurst and Beezlebuns), and I found a breeze and beer at the upstairs deck at Flamingo Cantina for the Team Clermont Official SXSW College Party. Along with the surroundings, I found the company to be most agreeable, which included TMT’s own Mario Speedwagon and other very nice people from the Athens, GA area. Playing inside were, amongst others, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Mirah, but the meteorological conditions indoors were not unlike those of an opium den, so unfortunately I missed all those neat groups.

No matter. I more than made up for my daytime flippancy in the evening. I started the night waiting in line for the Sub Pop showcase at the Radio Room. A band that I enjoy, No Age were kicking the night off, and being the type of chap who enjoys watching things he enjoys, I queued up. It turns out, though, that everybody else at SXSW enjoys No Age and enjoys watching bands they enjoy, and thus the queues stacked and stacked and grew and grew while the club doors remained mercilessly shut. I had developed a pretty tight schedule for the night and didn’t want to No Age’s overhyped asses to cock it up (I say that out of bitterness, not hate), so I took a gander my schedule to see who else was playing at this hour.

- {The Carrots}

“The Carrots are playing at fucking Emo’s Jr. right now? Fuck No Age, I’ma see the motherfucking Carrots!” I pondered soberly in the shimmering eventide. The Carrots’ Brill Building bop is quite a leap from No Age’s fuzzed-up punk, but I definitely made the right decision when I hopped out of the Sub Pop queue and booked it to Emo’s. Even though The Carrots (pictured) aren’t the most dynamic live act, their deliciously spunky tunes fill in the gap left by a lack stage dives or audience-covering parachutes. Even though they do little more than bob their heads along with their time-trapped pop, that’s exactly what the audience is doing, too, so what does it matter? How could they not tap a toe or two during a song like “Say It Ain’t So” (no not the Weezer tune)? Despite The Carrots’ slight musical retread of Phil Spector-era lovey doveyness, their songs are so tight they needn’t be overtaken by other modern genre innovations. Unlike the punkitude of Blondie’s first record or the disco-ification of The Pipettes, The Carrots are a delightfully straightforward recapture of girl-group pop’s golden age.

- {Eat Skull}

Alright, enough of this sunshine and lollipops bullshit, on to the punk rock! I caught Portland-based Eat Skull at Soho’s Lounge next, making yet another leap into a completely different musical area code. Being a fan of last year’s Sick to Death, I was pleased to hear Eat Skull retain that same hissy incoherence live. Just like on the record, the lyrics do little more than bob to the surface as waves of blighted guitar and synth wash over. But even though Eat Skull’s tunes sound more like early Guided by Voices than My Bloody Valentine, their live presence is more akin to MBV’s woodiness than GBV’s garishness. Static and rather emotionless, Eat Skull plodded through one song after another with little animation. Since I’m already a fan of their music, it wasn’t something I minded much, but I could just listen to the record for the same experience.

- {Brimstone Howl}

Next up was Nebraska’s own guitar heroes Brimstone Howl. I haven’t seen Brimstone Howl in some years, but even though they’ve ditched their once-signature makeshift turbans, they haven’t lost an ounce of their manic guitar power. The tunes themselves are okay -- simple and fast punk tunes with few mind-blowing hooks -- but the real treat about Brimstone Howl are the guitar solos. Oh my, the solos. Along with a standard drum and bass rhythm section, Brimstone has two guitarists that switch from lead and rhythm duties seamlessly. Short, blistering Angus Young-style solos can pop up from either one at any moment, giving their so-so tunes much needed weight. Such unpredictable fretwork keeps Brimstone Howl exciting and full of anticipation for the next big payoff.

- {Psychedelic Horseshit}

I kept my punk streak going with another trip to Soho’s to see Psychedelic Horseshit, a splendidly named outfit from Columbus, OH. One thing that surprised me right off the bat was how composed and well-ordered Psychedelic Horseshit’s set was. I’m only familiar with the unfettered chaos that I’d heard on PH’s ’08 LP Magic Flowers Droned, a record that showed them living up to their namesake to a T. But in concert, they performed distinguishable tunes and had a set of bongos (or was it a tabla?) and even a saxophone with intentions melodic rather than anarchic. I don’t think Soho’s was really ready for such a bevy of sound. There was barely any bass coming from my side of the venue, leaving the whole show with a noticeable lack of bottom, not to mention the near absence of the bongos/tabla or the sax. The best part of the show occurred when a Soho’s employee told PH they had two minutes left, so in response they tore into a five-minute noise assault. The employee eventually came back all hopping mad and told them to cut it out, leaving everyone with smiles. I only wish the whole show would have been so uninhibited.

[Photo: Elizabeth Skadden]

  

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