I keep trying to find a moral in SXSW. The point is to be in a band, and the rest of us are just plebeian followers. Go home and practice your instrument until you can do it yourself. Go home and practice your writing until you become a better critic. Go home and give up because there’s already so very many other people trying to do what you’re trying to do. When it comes down to it, though, I think the fact that SXSW drives home above all is that good music is good. When you’re seeing a band that can transcend the ridiculousness of this week, that’s when everything makes sense.
Mountain Man was the first band of my day at the Gorilla vs. Bear party. Using just voices and an acoustic guitar, they are so different from everything else going on today. Perhaps not all that different from music in years past, but they sound like a nerdy-cool indie a cappella group. But more special. And despite my dislike of a cappella, that’s a really good thing. Bitters played after Mountain Man, and I was thoroughly disappointed. I was expecting unique indie lo-fi (is that already oxymoron?) but instead heard a lame bar band with heavy but derivative riffs. Maybe I need to hear them again, but I was underwhelmed.
I then headed over to Lovejoy’s again (they have the coolest bartenders) for the I Guess I’m Floating party. Le Loup steadily grew on me throughout their grooving set, providing evolving beats and guitar that culminated in pretty fun tunes to dance along to. Brooklyn’s own Beach Fossils played a ramshackley fun set. They get better every time I see them. They’re not quite where they need to be yet, though, and I think this band’s challenge will lie in figuring out how to become more polished without losing their musical delinquent underground feel. I’ve heard lots of good buzz about Javelin and had some expectations for them, and I came away from their set feeling confused. I actually really like some of their songs, very pretty melodies and pop hooks you an sing your teeth into. The performance? Really meh at best. And how could it be more? Singing along to a drum machine just isn’t very interesting. Why do you think Lady Gaga wears all those costumes?
At this point I proceeded over to Ms. Bea’s and caught the tale end of Tearist’s set. Some weird, weird heavy rock that didn’t stick with me too much, but a brash and bold lead singer. I was intrigued by the next band, Gun Outfit, whom I’d never heard of before. I can’t really say how they were because their sound was terrible (vocals were completely inaudible) but I think they might either be really boring or really charming. Definitely want to hear them play again. Then Pearl Harbor, the band I had been waiting for, took to the stage. There’s a lot of factors that bands need to succeed. They need to have the sound, the songwriting talent, that x factor, and the look. Pearl Harbor has the look down, 110%, and maybe the X factor, too. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a band with a better look, in fact. Dressed in turquoises, blues, and acid-wash denim, the band of blondes from California delivered dreamy tunes with jangling guitar riffs. The sound was still fairly screwed up (which, little did I know, was about to become a prevalent theme for the night), but I think they need a little more experience performing before they’ll be able to fully capitalize on that great look of theirs. Still, two out of three isn’t bad, as they say, though one would hope that the music itself should count most of all.
Back to the IGIF party for some serious synth-dance time with Small Black and Washed Out. I still don’t understand the hype, but I’d definitely want them to play if I were hosting a party. I had high, high hopes for Toro Y Moi as I like his album quite a bit, but his sounds and performance both fell flat as he hid behind his laptop cranking out a few tunes.
Back to Ms. Bea’s. It was the Woodsist showcase, and I walked up as Happy Birthday were playing their set. I figured out what it is about them that bothers me. I don’t like that they’re signed to Sub Pop. They have some really great songs. “Girls FM” is cool and quirky and I like it a lot. But because this small band is already on such a big label, their nonchalance comes across as attitude or overcompensation. Maybe this is just in my head, but I feel as if this is a band that could benefit from another year of being road warriors and really honing their craft on their own. Hopefully they still will, but they’re just not there yet. The Beets played a short and sweet set after them. It was strange seeing them in Texas; they’re definitely one of those New York bands that are very much rooted in the hometown scene. I’m not sure the Austin crowd got it, but I thought they were fun as always.
I saw Alex Bleeker and the Freaks for my second time in two days. Despite insane feedback problems, this show was special. Bleeker’s songs transport me back to The Band or Led Zeppelin, when rock was rock and men were men. Mountain Men provided vocals and the lineup was different even than yesterday, which made it feel like an occasion where real music was being played by real musicians. I can’t wait to see Bleeker achieve just as much success with his own project as his other band.
Woods rounded out my evening, overcoming insanely horrible sound problems. There were easily hundreds of people there to see one of our favorite Brooklyn super groups, and I think the sound guy just couldn’t handle it. Todd P. tweeted that he eventually threw up and curled into the fetal position. The feedback issues really were too bad, but Woods played on and did a solid job with their outdoorsy noodly jams. The new songs sounded great, as well. I wanted to stay for Nodzzz, but there was a cab with our name on it across the street, so we hopped in and made it home early. Just early enough to post these photos, and a few MP3s below.
Small Black/Washed Out:
Toro Y Moi:
Alex Bleeker and The Freaks: