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Mouthing Off
 

 

SXSW 2004, or What I Did on My AlmostSpring Vacation

*The Decemberists

Amazing Pilots

Cheer Accident

*Bettie Serveert

*The Bigger Lovers

The Bloody Hollies

for photos of some of the bands I reviewed, indicated by an *: CLICK HERE

 

Tuesday, 3/16

At Emo's Annex, or Big Top, or whatever it's called:

Single Frame - a trio that really needs a bass to counter the guit/drums/keys. Shapeless songs, no identity yet for this young band. They need to grow. C
This Microwave World
- I was thrown back musically to 1980, when I was burying my head in The Gun Club, Buzzcocks and Killing Joke. With moody Darby Crash/Jeffrey Lee Pierce frontman Sean O'Neal obviously displeased with the sound on stage, these guys churned out some great tunes quite noticeably influenced by the Cure, Fall, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, some Killing Joke ... the guitars and keys were mainly rhythm accents for the songs, all held together mainly by catchy bass riffs from Brandon Loe. Although O'Neal's poutiness was perfectly appropriate, a word from the well-traveled: Trust the soundman: He knows what he's doing - and NEVER argue with an audience member who says you sound great. A-
Young Heart Attack - Despite what I just said about the soundman, the mix for this band was awful, mainly because these guys played too loud for any nuances (if any) to struggle upstream against the volume. The best part of their set was the lead guitarist's mike check performance. He knows his bandmates' preferences & tendencies and REALLY knows his dBs. Great piece. Too bad his leads during the set were virtually inaudible. He should have spent as much time on his own guitar sound. The set itself was energetic and full of melodic but unmemorable songs. Great vocals/harmonies, though. Or maybe I was simply enthralled by the sexy slow-dancing of the tambourine&hip-shaking feathered-blond girl singer who looked like every girl I had a crush on in the 1970s. B-

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Wednesday, 3/17

At the Caucus:

Experimental Aircraft - The acoustics in the club were perfect for these guys and gal. Airy and echoey, lazy yet loud songs, subdued vocals. A
Swearing at Motorists - I had checked out my buddy's CD of these guys and was unimpressed. Thankfully the live set was a far cry from that. Punchy, great riffs, clear, strong, melodic vocals, great audience interaction betwixt tunes. Definitely see them again. B+

At the Parish:

Radar Brothers - Yawn. Trying to do what Spain does so well, but not succeeding. An inauspicious beginning to my official SXSW experience. C
Portastatic - Great story-telling songs by Mac McCaughan with a minimum of accompaniment necessary - tonight it was just guitar and bass. I'd seen Superchunk before and have been an almost-enthusiastic fan, but I now realize I prefer the lower-key (and volume) musings of the nearly-acoustic Portastatic. Great new CD, by the way. A
The Rosebuds - (or is it simply Rosebud?). After the first two tunes I was concerned that this three-piece (Again without the bass! What is it with you guys? Blasphemy!) were going to go down in my SXSW experience as a blank entry in my memory, but luckily they pulled out a bouncy redeemer for #3, and sustained the energy for the rest of the set. Way cool. A-
Destroyer - Confused. I am, that is. Maybe they are, too. I was expecting a joke band when 4 of the (30-something?) quintet came out looking goofy in pastels and headbands. Then the singer (who, I'm sorry, but he looked like a Guantanamo releasee) starts singing some rather cool lyrics about relationships and stuff that concerns us all, in a clear tenor that was completely unexpected. Hated them, liked them. Apparently the most talked-about band that night. B-

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Thursday, 3/18

At Red-Eyed Fly:

Natural History - We only caught the tail-end of their set, but what I heard sounded promising, with a slight whiff of Supergrass coloring the Brit-pop from this NY trio. saw them again two days later at Urban Outfitters and was summarily disappointed. And again upon hearing the CD. I couldn't differentiate much between one song and the next. Punchy rhythm guitar, next to no guitar solos, minimal bass lines and monotonous drumming. tsk tsk. I must admit the sight of a rock band playing in front of a display of pright pink bikinis was a nice change of pace, no matter how bizarre. For their first, brief set, an A/B+. For everything after that, a C.
French Kicks - Let me set the record straight. I do not like the Strokes. Any band that gets huge by basically copping the style & rhythms of Iggy Pop's Lust For Life has no place in my heart. That said I DO find myself tapping my feet to their stuff, grudgingly so. So when French Kicks came out with mediocre mirrorings of the Strokes I found myself grinding my teeth. C-
The Dears - Neo-Motown vocals fronting a surprisingly wide array of styles, but I doubt they needed all 12 of their guitars on stage. We had other places to go, so we didn't see the whole set. B

At Club Deville:

The High Strung - Definitely a high point at SXSW this year. Awesome melodic songs, a tight Detroit quartet with crunch and chops, vocals reminiscent of Dave Edmonds. Beatley/White Stripesy .... but definitely a crew with its own stamp on rock and roll. Wish I'd brought a lighter. A+
Brian Jonestown Massacre - I should have seen these guys long ago, what with them being from LA and my currently playing with an ex-drummer of theirs. Who knows? Maybe I DID do a gig with them at the Shamrock with them 13 years ago when I was in Kill City. For some reason I was expecting something like the Hangmen or Redd Kross. Imagine my surprise when instead I was treated to a rather swell 4-guitar wash of mid-tempo Beatles - er, Stones?! - influenced stuff not altogether unlike the Rain Parade of yore. B

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Friday, 3/19

At Waterloo Records:

Frank Jordan - Yet another trio. Faster tunes with vocals that were unusually bright and higher than the norm, but very charismatic and magnetic. Minimalist guitar solos, I think I need to get a CD to remember anything else. But yes, I DID like them. A-
The Coachwhips - Like Frank Jordan, this BASSLESS (grrr) trio is from Sacramento, but there the similarity ends. Kudos for their high energy and punk rock spontaneity - I'd never before seen a guitarist use CD "shelves" as a staircase while not missing a note. Biting the track lighting fixture was an added "highlight" - and he somehow got back to earth unharmed. Not as enthused was I about the totally low-fi (what's lower than low? Nega-fi?) equipment and incoherent vocals. Then again it's hard to enunciate when you have the entire mashed microphone inside your mouth. Taste good, does it? Rockabilly on speed, with the volume all the way up to Screech. B-

At the Blender Bar at the Ritz Lounge:

Comets on Fire - A week later, I have no recollection of this band, nor the next two, whatsoever. My notes indicate that I rated Comets on Fire a D, but to be fair THE SOUND AT THIS CLUB ABSOLUTELY SUCKS. Anyone planning shows here in the future should consult a psychologist, an exorcist or a physics major. Walls and floor too hard and ceilings too high - in other words, too echoey for the loud multi-instrument acts booked here.
All Night Radio - See above line in yellow. However, I remember thinking as these guys were playing I could actually distinguish some elements of goodness. B- / C+
Baptist Generals - See above line in yellow. Don't remember. I'd had about three Guinnesses by this time. My notes tell me to give them a B+
The Catheters - Horrible sound for these guys, and the vocals were totally lost. Now, at Room 710 two years ago, they were great, with Iggy-esque vocals and thick riffs competing for audience sweat in the small, smoky joint. Kudos to -and astonishment at the quick recovery by - the singer after landing on his back on the floor after having jumped in anticipation of the crowd catching him. He was smarter this year. That, plus the "stage" at the Blender Bar is at ground level. For their 2002 show I give them an A.

At B. D. Riley's:

Amazing Pilots - I was still heavy with beer, so you'll have to excuse the amnesia. If they were anything like the next band, they rocked. B
The Crimea - The great thing about B D Riley's is you can stand on the street and watch the band from mere inches away through the open window, which I much preferred to having my wrist frisked for (gasp) authenticity of my wristband by the paranoid (bar owner?) before entering the bar. And the Crimea put on a great show, from what I remember of watching their Phil Lynott-clone lead guitarist. B+

At Friends:

Bettie Serveert - Everything you'd expect of a Dutch rock band - and I mean that in the very best way. Chops, melodies, vocals - they don't screw around. B+

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Saturday, 3/20

At Urban Outfitters:

Natural History - See entry for Thursday, 3/18

At The Dog and Duck (outdoor stage):

The Bigger Lovers - Hello! Thank you - yes, THIS is why we came all the way to Austin. For surprises out of Philadelphia. This band ain't no cream cheese - it's all dirty-jeans Who-ish rock with hooks and a (thank you!) BALD BASSIST front and center, where he frigging belongs, don'tcha know. The gold star goes to the singer for wearing a Minutemen "What Makes A Man Start Fires?" t-shirt. God bless D. Boon. He would've pogo-ed to these gents. A+
The Boss Martians - Like Green Day, with much hokey rock posturing from the front man. C
Oranger - These guys were on our list of "To See" bands. They were OK - had some shiny moments. Definitely keep your eye on the drummer. B
The Golden Apples - I was inside for most of their set, drinking my Guinness and waiting for my fish and chips. B-
Trashcan Sinatras -
Well-fed and quaffed, I heartily enjoyed these lads with their ringing guitars and subdued, lonesome harmonies. Must investigate further. A-

At Buffalo Billiards:

The Haden Triplets - Sigh. The sound of angels in a new millennium. Petra, Rachel and Tanya (with Zak Holzman [Dengue Fever] on guitar) would fit right in on the "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. Beautiful girls with beautiful voices singing beautiful harmonies. I got chills. A+

At The Jackalope:

The Bloody Hollies - Great band name, great energy & stage show. No real songs, though; just bash & yell. C

At Room 710:

Cheer Accident - Saw only the opening tune, a cover of Led Zep's "Achilles' Last Stand." Thumbs up. Then it went downhill and I slid out the door. C

At B. D. Riley's:

What Made Milwaukee Famous - The paranoid bar owner's still checking IDs with only two hours left of SXSW. What an assclown. On the plus side, WMMF are fresh, friendly and non-threatening, and had a ton of MILFs in the audience who knew all the words to their songs, which makes them worth seeing again, in my book. B

At Buffalo Billiards:

John Wilkes Booze - Great band name, and a better thumpsquad than the Bloody Hollies. Deja vu of when I thought of the band name John Wilkes Kissing Booth in the early 90s and recently discovered there is such a group, as of 1998. JWB was trying really hard to remind you of the MC5 and they would have gotten my vote except the singer's voice was annoyingly high. Band: A+, Singer: C
The Decemberists -
Someone told me these guys were, in a word, "nautical." Not necessarily so. OK, the harmonium and accordion might evoke "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash"-era Pogues, but that's on what - three songs? These guys had an awesome sound mix, and the mandolin and pedal-steel guit contributed as much to the folk-pop as the wryly delivered Waits-ian lyrics. Think "Neutral Milk Hotel meets Edward Gorey and Ray Bradbury." Their CD is on my Get list. A

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Copyright Pungent Records 2004