SXSW Music 2016 From D∆WN and Xander Harris to Seth Graham and Downtown Boys

Photo: Jesse DeFlorio/Hype Machine's Hype Hotel

We sent three of our writers to cover SXSW Music 2016. First up is long-time TMTer Willcoma, followed by SXSW veteran Liz Louche, and finally ending with the chocolate-grindin’ Weaver.

Right off the bat: SXSW is too gargantuan an affair to try and capture without coming off like anything but a snobby, ungrateful, nitpicking twit. It’s true that it’s teaming with an infinite array of vibes and its so swimming with bodies that you start to feel like you’re in a light-hearted dystopia of sorts. Even when with a friend or two, during a one-week citywide music fest you’re cycling through self-consciousness, harmony, and obliviousness at a delirious rate. You feel overwhelmed and alive. Like a St. Patrick’s day parade with infinitely more options for sensory soaking. I am the sort that generally appreciates what sinks in with a full set over flitting about, so I missed A TON. Things I was dying to see, things that I’d promised my editor I’d see and the ever elusive NEXT BIG THING.

So bear in mind, the following is (mostly) the best of what I managed to experience start to finish, and far from a fair representation of ALL that SX has to offer.


Nardwuar’s Video Vault (Austin Convention Center)

Photo: James Goulden Photography

My only convention center gig (admittedly felt inclined to avoid the slick atmosphere of the place, but the staff were all really helpful and nice) and one I feel beyond privileged to have attended. I was a little rickety that Saturday afternoon, but Nardwuar’s (John Ruskin) enthusiasm and positivity were an amazing boost. Even though it was mostly a Nardwuar The Human Serviette clip show (with some rarities thrown in), there was a fair share of riffing on mic, and he used every bit of the room to enliven his stories and advice. He often thrust the mic toward us to finish his sentences and did the sign off to provide the virtual interviewee experience, then answered people’s questions in an equally generous fashion. He’s an interesting guy in that he, like Pee Wee Herman, doesn’t make being a children’s show host-style caricature outside of that context a bad or creepy thing. There is a contagious passion and engagement with his subjects, even if he mostly just tees up obscure ephemera from their past. He’s tending that artist output continuum in a way that is important for those of us that care to acknowledge there’s more value to bygone product than mere nostalgia. Nardwuar is a personality that brings real joy and you could feel it in the room. The man is a study in tenacity: at one point a giant four-post banner collapsed off the stage into the wall behind him and he showed no awareness that I could see.

Fear of Men (Cheer-Up Charlies)

I loved (the outdoor part of) this venue! With it’s rock wall backdrop, it’s almost like a concert in a cave. I managed to catch this band’s last set of the fest and I’m glad I did. New song, “Island” was a particular highlight (especially since they didn’t play “Seer” or “Born”), wafting over the audience in cool, slightly biting waves. My friend pointed out that he thought the drums were too prominent, so perhaps I noticed that more than than I would’ve. When lead singer Jessica Weiss finally put on her guitar the sound notably filled out, but it was a hypnotic and lovely set. People even chilled out with the flying orange balls, so that was nice.

Waxahatchee (Central Presbyterian Church)

Speaking of lovely, Katie Crutchfield singing her eloquent sad songs in a chapel was the sort of preciousness that could inspire tears and laughter, and I heard both during her solo set (the second Waxahatchee show of the fest for me). I’d call blashphemy on the laughing, but what Crutchfield does is so rote (and I mean that in the best possible way) and unassuming that one could’ve been anywhere. Though happy for the laughing people having had their little moment, I can’t help but wish they’d have had it outside. Cause I was pretty damn choked up and totally OK with it till then (it was dark). She played “Summer of Love” again and its sicky sweet refrain has now taken up permanent residence in my brain. I’ve learned to just give in to these songs, even if the part of me that would’ve reached for them is kind of gone now. And I don’t give in out of yearning for grief-massaging teenage emotions, but a healthy, ever so slightly foreboding respect for what never goes away of them.

Sun Kil Moon (Clive Bar)

I had trouble finding this bar, as it was masked by a giant promo wall, but I got there well early based on warnings of low capacity. Gotta thank Showtime and Roadies for presenting me with the perfect storm of fetid emotion, mixed emotion, snorty laughs, and actual storm that I knew only you could at SXSW. So I was all about getting in there to see Kozelek. Partly cause of all the controversy and partly because Benji was a moving experience for me (and Red House Painters before that). So I got there (6:30, doors-at-8:00 ) dressed light cause I sweat like a flaccid sprinkler system and hate carrying things around. After the usual business of where do I go and what do I need I park myself in line and patiently wait. Around 7:30 or so it starts to spit. Then it picks up in earnest and we are provided with garbage bags for parkas. Another half hour and the door people are taking down the tent and huddling inside with VIPs. Since there’s plenty lightning and a call for hail, it is decreed that the show must be post-poned till a half hour after everything stops, if/when it stops. I look around me and see that I am not the only one digging my heels in. I text some friends in my trash bag and hope for the best. Mercifully, we are finally let in. I throw out my trash bag and get beer only to realize I should’ve kept my thrifty poncho and ordered a hot toddy or something cause it was now cold and I was still soaked with rain and sweat. I plug in my phone at the Showtime charging station and make may down into the small floor area for singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus. Judging from the Billie Holiday-by-way-of-Starbucks material available online, one would never guess just how indelibly lived-in her stage presence is. Her and her band smashed out some feverish alt-country jams that soothed my weary soul.

Then I got wearier. Kozelek came out looking liked he’d just woke up and drowsily introduced himself. Not sure what happened, but it was just Mark, his keyboardist and the drummer from the previous set. The singer informed us that Dacus’ drummer knew none of the material, so a trainwreck seemed imminent. Once the first track stumbled into action, one could sense the absurdity in repeating lyrics that came off so brazenly straight-forward that they became obscure again. Especially in the drowsy, possibly inebriated fashion that he performed them. Though shivering and miserable, I found myself wanting to feel this beatdown presentation out. The cold simplicity of the music’s presentation was unfortunately youtube comment-style undermined by the self-satisfied play-by-play of the people next to me. I found myself laughing.

Then there was his cover of “Win” from Young Americans. I think this rendition is worse than anything this guy has said or done. With his graspy range and sparse accompaniment, all that got distilled was just how ill-suited he was for a song (and artist) that is next to impossible for anyone to do justice to. I remember just wanting it to stop, and it blessedly did. The man made up for things most when he let the crowd sing the refrain to “Exodus” (“For all bereaved parents, I send you my love”), rendering that cloying practice a sort of melodic release. I don’t sing, clap along, raise my hands in the air or any of that stuff. No disrespect to those who do, but audience participation feels like kindergarten or (even worse) a pep rally to me. Nonetheless, on this soggy soggy night, the crowd sung it better. For a sleepy surly slog, it was mildly transcendent.

Iggy Pop (Moody Theater)

I may’ve felt ashamed and embarrassed to hold to my anti-crowd participation practices for this guy, but I had a brick shithouse of a dude standing motionless in front of me like a bouncer for most of the set anyway. I was squeezed in front and center, just to soak up all that punk-rock royalty. I don’t wanna watch some dingleberry from Vinyl doing his Madame Toussaud’s bit when I can witness the real deal. And I’m happy to report Iggy was a writhing, punching, howling beacon of whatever’s lasting of rock’s lasting vitality. As relics go, I’ve never seen anyone so relentless. It’s like he’s fighting for his life up there and would be more than forgiving for scaling it back a bit. Much credit needs to be given to Queens of the Stoneage for bouying the 68 year-old legend for what seemed like two hours. The new material has its ups and downs, but it mostly fit in perfectly with rousing staples like “Funtime,” “Passenger” and (now this is a Bowie cover) “Tonight.” At one point he perched like a gargoyle and stared straight into the crowd. I may not have disintegrated, but looking into those feverish eyes certainly set my guts buckling. Aside from still being ridiculously on point as a performer, the great news about Pop is that despite acquiring the good-humored humility of old age, he is still a fearsome entity to behold. After one song ended with a long string of bile soaked vitriolic epithets at a generalized “you,” he congenially, cheekily reassured the crowd that it wasn’t about us (might’ve been). There is nothing remotely setttled about this man, even now. And if this set was any indication, one would do well to go out and see a living master at work.

Sheer Mag, Peaches (outside venue)

I was sort of en route to other things, but both of these acts put on a strong enough impression to make me stop and listen. Sheer Mag smoked their insistently tight, Joan Jett-flavored garage punk thru the afternoon. Christina Halliday has one of the best rock n roll voices going this side of Jennifer Herrema and she really sounded sweet ringing out in the breezy, buzzing afternoon. Unlike with Sheer Mag, Peaches was visible from the street. She just had backing tracks, but she radiated so much easy charisma and fun (replete with a choreographed sex doll puppet dance) that I almost didn’t mind when some dude came up to me and said:

“It’s so dumb you gotta love it, Right!?”

I mean, seriously? Is it my face?

“I guess, Idunno…”

Guy walks away all to hell with this feeb.

Anyway, Peaches is alright with me. Only as dumb or ingenious as the next thing. She rocked “Talk To Me,” a real thumper I’ve always found to be an excellent workout jam.

Thee Oh Sees (Hotel Vegas)

Due to other commitments (and the fact that they weren’t at an official fest venue), I only got to attend one of their sets at Hotel Vegas, but Thee Oh Sees were colossal enough that I should’ve made each of their shows priorities in the first place. Having watched mind-meltingly intense performance clips of this band and Coachwhips on You Tube for years, it was a real dream come true to see them rip off some heads and body surf on all that blood in person. I’ve never seen a better use of the double drummer set-up and the crowd was well hyped. Only thing close to this transfixiating was WOLF EYES, who glopped Beerland in putrid, doomy fondant (their cantina/mellow blues side was particularly in evidence).

D∆WN, Mumdance, Leon Vynehall (Hype Hotel)

Photo: Jesse DeFlorio/Hype Machine’s Hype Hotel

Performing at our showcase with ISO50 and Hype Machine for the latter’s Hype Hotel event, New Orleans’ own D∆WN (f.k.a. Dawn Richard) was professional to an extent that seemed wildly out of place and supremely refreshing. Here it was, middle of the day with many of us in full-on short attention span mode and she snapped us out of it (almost — there wasn’t much dancing going on) with a pitch-perfect set of aspirational R&B-inflected techno anthems. Flanked with a DJ on one side, a drummer on the other, and two synchronized back-up dancers, D∆WN was an arresting portrait of space command. That choreography, which noticeably enlivened her stage presence, was met on equal footing with soaring vocals and pulverizing crescendos (wish I could say the same for Lower Dens the day before in the same space, where Jana Hunter’s new confidence as a front person was met with distractedly off sound mixing). I was sorry to miss JLIN before her, but D∆WN was a proper shot in the arm, no matter what the time of day was. Same goes for Mumdance, whose DJ set may’ve been mistaken for in-between music by some but embraced and imbibed gratefully by those of us still led by our ears more than anything else. His disorienting, jagged spillover progressions made it impossible not to move a little, even if you were beginning to feel that midweek fatigue creep in. Leon Vynehall did a set of lounge-y house music that, while not bad at all, provided more of a backdrop after the gripping controlled chaos of Mumdance. It was a good chance to meet and greet with fellow TMT writer Mike McHugh, wherein we had an ever-so-irrelevant conversation about this.

I want to tell you about a horrible mistake I made. No, it was not going to SXSW. SXSW is, for me, like a wonderful Narnia/black hole where you get sucked into a magical otherworld where time and responsibility don’t really exist and all that matters is watching bands, hanging with friends, drinking margaritas at inappropriate times of day, and trying to convince Lust for Youth to get tacos with you via Twitter. (They graciously declined.) Anyway, the horrible mistake I made was to take a kickboxing class for the first time in ohhhhh like 15 years the night before SXSW and then try to save money by limiting my food intake. This is a mind-blowingly stupid idea and will result in you hobbling around Austin like a young grandma (if you use Yung Gramma as your new rap name please just PayPal me like $5 or something) for four days and being in a sort of constant hunger-induced haze. Do not do this. This is not how I recommend you do SXSW.


Wednesday, March 16

However, this is the state I am in when I wander off the plane, visit the nice people at the Austin Convention Center to pick up my credentials, then head to Cheer Up Charlie’s to check out Guerilla Toss. The place is packed and people are jostling to see the fittingly psychedelic-painted stage. The band soundchecks before launching into their first song and instantly the room erupts into a space-punk dance party. It’s like riot grrl meets James Chance meets the future. It’s very sweaty and very heady.

Next up is Downtown Boys, who thankfully play outside, prowling across the larger stage emanating raw energy and classic punk sound. Over the next few days, everywhere I go I’ll hear people talking about this band, but in this moment, it feels like one of those rare SXSW moments when you discover a band that seems so primal and fierce they transcend the corporate bullshit that people joke about surrounding the festival (i.e. the much-maligned giant Doritos vending machine from a few years ago, the T-Mobile eXtreme Vape Lounge — jk I made that one up, but who knows? It could be there next year.) It’s a great way to start SXSW.

After a much-needed pizza break, it’s back to the crowded sweat lodge where Guerilla Toss had played to see Lust For Youth. This time it’s infinitely more pleasant, as I’m sandwiched into a corner with people who share one of my main life interests: talking about Lust For Youth. The band starts off with songs off their new album, Compassion, with a few hits from Internationale thrown in and the room is awash in a weird but pleasant mix of melancholy, yearning, and euphoria. It’s all good vibes, kinda like what I imagine nights at Manchester’s The Factory were like before so much of dance music became synonymous with bad drugs and bros.

Later on Wednesday night I head to Mohawk to check out White Lung. The show starts late, but the band make up for it by unleashing more formidable female energy and raw intensity on an appreciative crowd. The new songs are super catchy but substantial.

After White Lung finish their set, I walk into the bigger outdoor area and catch, by chance, Kelela. A lot of my friends who are into R&B are huge fans, but the recordings I had heard seemed to fall kind of flat. Live, however, I get sucked in. The LA-based singer owns the stage with a commanding presence, her songs falling mostly on the smoother end of the new weird R&B spectrum. The sun has set but it’s still pretty warm out, and with this early evening slot, Kelela’s performance gives off a sultry vibe that promises to be a party-starter.


Thursday, March 17
Photo: Jesse DeFlorio/Hype Machine’s Hype Hotel

N.A.A.F.I kicks off the day at the Tiny Mix Tapes party at the Hype Hotel, and instantly 1 pm feels more like 1 am. The DJ spins a dark atmospheric mix punctuated with radio hits from the likes of Nicki Minaj and Britney Spears. The bass is heavy and the room is huge — a little too huge so early in the afternoon, when most people are just crawling out of bed or still gorging on breakfast tacos and not watching a show. But by the end of the set, the small group of eager onlookers has grown significantly and keeps growing. People are dancing. The drinks are flowing. There’s a couple of masseuses. It’s kind of like a rave?

Next up is Blanck Mass, who starts off so low key I’m not even sure it’s him. Then he launches into “Dead Format” and it’s like rays of power just start shooting out into the room. For a dude standing behind a laptop, the Fuck Buttons founder sure can rock a stage. I feel like sometimes when you see a lot of music, the whole experience becomes kind of ho-hum, like “OK, saw that band, time to go home.” Blanck Mass is life-affirming. It’s one of those shows you see once or twice at SXSW where you leave just feeling joyful and you remember why you love music.

A recurring theme: I leave to get food. After a tofu banh mi in East Austin I head back to 6th Street to Elysium, where I encountered the Austin duo Breathing Problem. The band play music that’s simultaneously cold and industrial yet brutal, raw, and unsettling. Featuring female vocals that alternate between screaming and gentle and quiet near-whispers, this was totally electrifying and also one of the most legitimately scary things I’ve seen on stage. Towards the end of the set the vocalist seems to have stuck the mic down her throat while still moan/screaming while the male half of the duo comes over and cradles her head and kisses her. When it’s over I stand in silence, impressed, then do the only logical thing one can do after such a performance: get in line for free pizza.

Another Austin-native, Xander Harris, takes the stage next. His set starts out ominous and cinematic, before seguing gradually into thudding techno beats, John Carpenter-esque washes of sound, and stabbing, propulsive industrial synths. Over the course of his performance, the sound and mood transform again and again. By the end, the room is full of dance floor rhythms and the eerie beauty of a giallo soundtrack. It might sound odd or cheesy or whatever, but the atmosphere is almost sacred, like a black mass dance party set in a ruined cathedral.

Once darkness falls, I headed back to East Austin and Hotel Vegas where I do something I wouldn’t do for anything other than Sacred Bones: I stand in line. I’m worried I won’t get in before Exploded View, the new project of German journalist-turned-singer Anika, but it turns out to be fine. The vocals are kind of buried early on in the set, but over the course of the performance their brittle, haunted quality comes through. The whole set has a hazy, dark paranoiac air, like the soundtrack to a David Lynch road movie. (Use Lost Highway or make up your own version of what you imagine a Lynch road movie to be like for reference.) Standing in the spotlight, Anika herself seems to be from another planet, separate and wary of the crowd. Then on the last song, she gets down from the stage and stands among the front row of the audience, singing into their faces, cool, disaffected, and confrontational. This is not a stage presence archetype I’m familiar with, and I like it. I’m impressed.

Yes, I stick around for Blanck Mass and Lust for Youth again. They are incredible, again. End of review. Also there is the best drunk guy there. He is like a parody of a drunk guy. I give him a Pitchfork-style 10.0 and hope he gets home safely.


Friday, March 18

At this point it seems safe to say that my SXSW is looking more and more like a Goth By Gothwest. What can I say? I like what I like! And what I like is a deep unyielding sense of unease, minor key melodies, all black everything… and free breakfast tacos.

Anyways, it’s a banner day. In the 12 years I’ve been attending SXSW this is the earliest I’ve ever gotten up to see a showcase, and I’m making this effort for Tel Aviv post-punk band and new Burger Records signee Vaadat Charigim. It’s noon and the Israeli trio gives off a much bigger vibe and sound than you’d expect to be currently filling the small room at Cheer Up Charlie’s. They’ve got that 1987 sound, from when post-punk was no longer in its minimalist, snotty infancy, but was now getting more lush and more loud; when bands were on the verge of touring America and playing stadiums.

After Vaadat Charigim, I walk to the Convention Center to check out Flatstock, the touring poster show series that displays some of the best artists from America and beyond. In addition to posters and original art, many artists also sell shirts, patches, pins, and journals. Hot tip: cloisonné cat broaches will be the next big thing to adorn your lapel. I personally am now the proud owner of two amazing cat pins: a fluffy Persian cat with the words “Touch of Class” emblazoned on her tail from Midwestern artists Land Land and a cool cat wearing sunglasses and holding a can labeled “cat beer” from Massachusetts artist Nate Duval.

As I’m leaving the Convention Center I walk past a band that sounds cool. I stop and listen. I should get back to the hotel to drop off my lap-top, I think. I don’t go back to the hotel; I keep standing there, listening. When has a band you’ve heard from outside ever been good enough to warrant walking inside to watch it? I think. Finally I give in and walk into the Sounds Australia party to check out the band, something I’ve never done before. This band turns out to be Nite Fields, a very young, effortlessly cool Brisbane band featuring laconic vocals, some really tight, succinct drumming, and searing guitars. Like the other band I saw today, they’re a modern post-punk group, but they’re the total opposite of the Israeli trio. Nite Fields are raw, intense, and insistent. Towards the end of the set, the band layers some dance beats in beneath their early Cure, Xymox style sound, and despite the small crowd that afternoon, it feels like they are on the verge of something bigger.

Later, at night, rain sets in. Rumors abound. Shows are canceled! Rescheduled! Moved indoors! If you go to that venue you will probably die in a flash flood! But HEALTH are playing at Easy Tiger and I love HEALTH. They start late, but that doesn’t bother the slightly damp crowd, who seem willing to rough it to see the raucous Los Angeles noise rock quartet take the stage. Despite the weather, it’s a good thing the band is playing under the open sky, because it gives their no holds-barred approach to noise/punk even more resonance. The band seems even wilder than usual with more room to roam. It’s thoroughly satisfying and well worth the rain and the potential (if exaggerated) threat of death by flash flood.


Saturday, March 19

I see a lot of bands my friends want to see today and I don’t really dig them (or worse, much worse), so I’m not going to get into reviewing them. Instead I’ll tell you about the two solid bands I did see at Bar 96 on Rainey Street, which is located near a very top-notch food court (shout out to kimchi fries at Chi’lantro) and seems to draw a largely local and/or largely clueless crowd (read: lots of dude-bros) who nevertheless are quite appreciative of Hibou’s soft, dreamy and catchy take on post-punk and 90s college rock. The band plays furiously and runs around the stage, with the lead singer jumping on the amp and cranking out riffs in a frenzied crescendo. The crowd is dancing and moshing. They love it. They all disappear inside for more whiskey shots, which means they miss one of my favorite surprises of SXSW: Better Person.

Better Person’s modern take on an ABC/Spandau Ballet/Wham! style of melancholy 80s pop seems calculated to make you swoon and I’m here to tell you, it does. The sound is bad tonight. On stage, it’s just the Berlin-based musician Adam Byczkowski and a backing track but the mic feedback is so intense it’s distracting. It doesn’t matter; the music transcends that. Better Person’s songs references a very specific point in pop music history, while still coming across as the perfect soundtrack to all the most heartbreaking yet glittering and lovely moments of doomed romance in life. No one else is making music like this in 2016. It’s lovely.

While the Longhorns skip town to trash another, SXSW registrants fly in to trash Austin. Spring Break. SXSW takes over the best part of the season in Austin. All along the highway, Lady Bird’s wildflowers came out for the badges and the badges only — no wristbands — platinum badges will be honored before gold badges, gold badges before silver, silver before bronze, tin-ear or not…

Really, at over a week long, SXSW is its own season — a well-orchestrated season, a Biodome of sorts, but one whose climate contaminates the surrounding areas. A little bit down the road, in San Antonio, the merely weeklong Imagine Festival claimed “SXSW has nothing on us.” Logistically speaking, what the creators of the 29-year-old ecosystem pull off year-after-year is incredible, beyond large-scale. However, no amount of logistics can ever prepare for chaos, the variable. Where people congregate, the dice roll.

Some locals gripe when the circus is in town, countering the conference’s commercialism with anti-commercialism commercialism. “DON’T MOVE HERE” “Don’t California My Texas” “Keep Austin Country”: these slogans, and more, are for sale, because, in the end, business is business. Dusty Rhodes would agree. And in Austin, in 2016, at SXSW, business is art. Every fringe venue and fringe artist is more than happy, attitude or no attitude, to be a piece of the never-ending interactive multimedia jigsaw. These doors are to remain unlocked during business hours. Fire with fire.

Each performer has paid their dues ($33-45 application fee + travel + food + lodging expenses) for a shot at becoming visible. But is a conference tamped with thousands of performers the best shot at visibility? At the circus, see one clown, have a laugh. See five million fucking clowns at once, have a panic attack, run for your life. Here, at this circus, talent is a given, but gimmicks make a memory: dress like a Pharaoh; wear a giant wig; glue on a moustache; match T-shirts. A pair of Spectifieds in the river. Bones on the astroturf. CD-R fertilizer. Multimedia detonations.

Gunshots. At the very least: unconfirmed gunshots on Friday night, the one I heard on Saturday evening, and the two confirmed gunshots early Sunday morning. SXSW was one step away from Woodstock ‘99. Thankfully, holiday shopping and TSA has trained us to behave, to keep calm. One wrong move and the bomb goes off. The tension, the feeling that violence and chaos on a massive scale could break out, any moment now, is probably why SXSW plays host to orthodox and antiseptic bands, uncontroversial, nonpolitical.

Orthodox or not, the whole thing’s so loaded — overloaded — to the gills with good that it’s a powder keg of good. I turn my head and cock my ears in any direction and I hear good. So much good that the glut becomes joyless and random. So much I couldn’t catch it all in a lifetime. Here, deep listening is near impossible. Everyone knows their chords, holds a note, writes a decent song. All those decent songs mix together and become volatile. It’s not so much a conference as it is an assault.

I must be the crazy one, the noise must be getting to me, because most folks, tens of thousands of ‘em, seem to be having a pleasant time parading all-week-long-and-then-some in the powder keg. And the city at large doesn’t seem under siege, just inconvenienced. What festival is in town this week? Bat Fest? Art Fest? Film Fest? Music Fest? What’s the difference?

Money is money. Music is music.


Steve Arceri

Steve Arceri’s folk is intimate — like most folk — but not clumsy, and that’s the difference; it is correct, direct, and conscious. He played on the sidelines, at Dozen Street, on a small stage facing a snakeskin bar. This was Tuesday and slow; there was little human traffic, and most of the traffic was congregated on the back patio, away from the speakers. It was an intimate setting, fit for intimate music, but call me Tom Jobim, because a living room would have been an even better setting.

More Eaze

A happy hop onto the stage and More Eaze (former TMT writer M Rubz) was right into building up dark violin scratches. The mood was set, a serious one, but confuddled, within minutes, by silly disparate sounds of alien nature, pointing the way towards familiar constructs — minor synth, an attachable beat, vocoder vocals — almost R&B… almost. If radio is the cow, these are the cutlets. The song breaks apart and scatters, leaving little to hold onto, and the listener stares off. Up from the dirt comes a comical baritone voice, moving around like the Monster, getting a handle on its motor skills. A short set, confusing and accessible, unpredictable.

Randall Holt

Bowing at an electric cello aided by ye olde loop pedal, Randall Holt played tearjerker compositions that made me wonder if this is what Shostakovich’s silent cinema work sounded like, which took me back to the past, to late nights in Philly, listening to Shostakovich’s String Quartet #15 alone on headphones, which took me back to the present, with Randall Holt on stage, bowing away at the weepy strings, while a beered-up group to my right chattered on, unable to control the volume of their voices, telling stories about some questionable klepto they knew from Philly named Jersey Mike, gloating about Jersey Mike, proud to know such a creature as Jersey Mike. Which brought me to the thought, I’m having a hard time paying attention.

Caveman

A sound check can be more entertaining than a set. And a set can be more entertaining from outside than inside. The treble and harmonies escape through the pub window, the rest of it falling backwards after smacking face first into the brick. The outside adds dimension — apposite commentary as well as visual incongruities like Mr. Catfish in his pixelated wavegarden. That feeling you get when it’s snowing in Haggard’s December and you walk by a house with a candle in the window and an even warmer glow coming from inside, a dining room warm with a smiling family and a steaming turkey: Caveman, from outside looking in.

Evil Triplet

With Evil Triplet, I didn’t have to wait long for the bus. The lyrics were filler, clear-cut, easily understood through the downpour, serving as breathing room between the heat coming off blissful Sun-drenched guitar permeating all the way to the end of the bar rail, kicking against the goads, the highs and lows. There was perfume, aromatic; also, something stale. Maybe the smile that long ago sucked muck will one day melt, or it’ll smoke through the smoking barrel in either direction; caliber. I’ll take my chances.

Rat Bastard, Lisa Cameron, and Gerard Cosloy

The best part of waking up: the cuckoo cluck of free-rock devastation. Alienating and enticing, Volume is both the shield and the invitation. Enter the atmosphere and find an insular trio savaging the back line instruments at top volume start to finish. About a quarter into the thrashing, an amp on an umbilical cable lights up, destroys the mix, and doubles the loudness. Rat Bastard drags it around the room, tilts it towards the ceiling, towards the stage, out the door, into oblivion. Chance is the front man.

Seth Graham

I went to turn away but continued to stare straight into the cover of Pretzel Logic while Seth Graham experienced technical difficulties. The cover had been vandalized with a bic, new branches to new york trees and salty peanuts. Someone owned this, for years, before selling it off to Juiceland, but not before they’d bic’ed their name on the front and back. Anyway, if dynamics and disparates had a home, they’d be shacking up with Seth. The main thing holding these color-coded sounds — choir, string, lyre, gloss, saliva, embouchure, robot, organ stop, reed, clutter, buzz, and anyone’s guess — together is the software. Hands hover over the hard candy, a little bit shaky, ready to push the button. What’s next?

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