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

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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