Maximization. It’s very easy to let SXSW become about maximization. Half of your energy is spent figuring out where to go and when in order to see as many bands as possible while schmoozing the people you want to schmooze. This really is a crummy way to see music. My goal for the day was to see as many bands as possible that I’d never seen before. While all I really wanted to do was hang out at Ms. Bea’s and go to the “secret” midnight Vivian Girl’s performance, I stuck it out at a frustrating Iamsound label showcase at a venue that really shouldn’t have been a venue. But not before I spent my day seeing some excellent new bands.
The day couldn’t have started off better. After a quick bus trip downtown from where we’re staying in South Austin, my friend and I headed to Emo’s to plant ourselves there for the beginning of their day party. With free Magic Hats in hand, we enjoyed Yellow Fever, The Rural Alberta, Advantage, The Morning Benders, and Japandroids in quick succession. Yellow Fever was as good as the last time I saw them at Market Hotel: spare, spastically melodic, dark vocal harmonies. I think it would be good if they added a few members to round out their sound, though last time I saw them they were plus one drummer. Rural Alberta Advantage’s drummer was excellent, and helped me piece together exactly what’s exciting on a lot of their album. His quick tempo changes and hard-hitting elevate what would otherwise be just ok songs to another level.
Morning Benders left me with full body shivers. If SXSW is a series of short sets with bands not totally giving their all, a sampling of bands without ever getting the whole thing, Morning Benders stood out starkly amongst their peers. Even after just four songs, it felt like they had played a full show to their own audience. These kids are incredibly musical, and have such patience in their songwriting that’s incredibly striking for people their age. In this case, the hype is 100% deserved. I can only imagine how far their songs can go if they keep at it as they grow older. Japandroids, not making me feel like an unaccomplished grandma, as they are a bit older than the Morning Benders, were a bit different than I’d imagined them to be. Any reader of this blog knows how much I love Post-Nothing. Their weighty, angsty, but youthful lyrics seemed somehow mismatched with the guitarist’s jumping-bean stage demeanor. It’s like they drank a whole lot of Jolt right before going on and couldn’t take a breather even for a second. It was great energy, but something about it didn’t mesh with what I love about their album. Their guitar sound were also less distinct than I’d thought they would be. It’s a heavy noise, but the different effects and tones weren’t articulated in a live setting.
Then, over to the BreakThru Radio showcase to say hello to my friends and catch Drink Up Buttercup’s set. It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of theirs for some time now, and they only get better every time I see them. It’s clear that they have a lot more performing experience now. There’s still that same erratic, over-the-top energy, but it’s channeled into creating a grander, tighter sound. Expect big things from their upcoming album. There’s absolutely no reason why this band isn’t selling out Bowery Ballroom.
Northward, to Charlie’s! I walk into what must be Austin’s biggest gay bar just in time to hear Shannon and the Clams. Also, in Hunx’s Punx, Shannon plays fast-walking bass and has a huge, clear voice that she puts to good use in songs that borrow quite a lot from 1950s doo-wop girl groups. Good garage stuff. Happy Birthday, whom I’d just seen and didn’t like at Mercury Lounge, went next. Again, they did not thrill me. I love “Girls FM.” Their songs are so happy, buoyant, they float along with so many different layers and textures. Live, I just get a mish-mosh of guitars and uninterested vibes from the band themselves. They have some good vocal harmonies, though. Also, there was a different bassist this time around, so perhaps they’re still working things out. Hunx and His Punx rounded out my stay at Charlie’s with a good garage set, highlighted by a few very good singles. “You Don’t Like Rock and Roll” is just a great song no matter how you slice it, and “The Curse of Being Young” was new to me and had an equally good pop hook to it. I really enjoyed this Gorilla vs. Bear/Harlem showcase, and it was nice to see the Harlem dudes presiding over a welcoming party held in a wonderfully queer-friendly space with some very queer-friendly bands.
The night shows are hard after a good long day. I wanted to go see all my favorite Brooklyn bands up at Ms. Bea’s and the Impose party, but I forced myself to check out bands I was less familiar with at Iamsound’s label showcase. It was terribly run with tremendous sound problems, and I only managed to stick it out for half the bands I wanted to see. I walked in on Voices Voices, whose wall of sound I didn’t even bother to take photos of. We Are the World came armed in post-apocalyptic costumes with pre-choreographed modern dances. It was more performance art than music, but the performance art wasn’t good enough to stand on its own and unfortunately neither was the music. Suckers took a torturously long time to set up, especially since they were a band I’d seen before, but eventually redeemed themselves with a particularly rousing version of “Gets Your Body Moving.” Again, another excruciating set-up for Fool’s Gold, but their afro-pop beats were worth the wait. I could have listened to them play “Nadine” all night long, but sadly they only played for twenty-minutes. It was time to get out of there and attempt to flag down a cab home. Now I’m right up to the present, and it’s time to post a whole bunch of photos and then hit the hay- or the air mattress as the case may be. Tomorrow, bands I want to see, regardless of how many times I’ve seen them before.
The Rural Alberta Advantage:
The Morning Benders:
Drink Up Buttercup:
Shannon and the Clams:
Hunx and His Punx:
We Are the World: