I know it’s Monday and that all of these performances happened on Saturday, but I never went to sleep that night, so it’s as if this post isn’t late. Saturday brought freezing cold weather and drizzly rain to Austin, and it admittedly put a damper on everything. After a miserable morning, I managed to obtain some extra clothes and rallied, for what was undoubtedly one of the craziest, most fun nights ever.
The day was supposed to start off with me checking out Smith Westerns and Let’s Wrestle at Mess With Texas, but their equipment was rained on and Gwar was taking a really long time to soundcheck, so everything was backed up. Rather than wait around, I ran up to Red Eyed Fly to see Blair’s set. (I saw a lot of bands I’d already seen Saturday, but all of them were just as good the second, third, or tenth time around, so I feel justified. Plus, I was a bit burnt out on taking photos, so apologies if these are a tad sub-par.) Buy Blair’s album Die Young right now. Her pop-tinged tunes are going to take her places, and her set I caught at SX was even better than the one I’d seen at Pianos. I only managed to see three songs, but they sounded very rocking, very tight, and were downright pleasant, which is something you don’t always get a lot of these days amongst all the lo-fi garage.
I went to Mess With Texas again, but still no luck. I was worried about frostbite, so I escaped to Ms. Bea’s and happened upon a singer-songwriter, Cheyenne Mize. I accidentally tried to steal one of her cds (I was absolutely mortified; it looked like they were giving them away!), but thought that she had a beautiful voice that went very well with her quiet, sad songs. She plays with Ben Sollee and Daneil Martin Moore quite often and is on tour with them now. If you’re a fan of quiet singer/songwriters I would definitely recommend her. A lovely cold-morning surprise.
Back down to Mess With Texas for a very cold Smith Westerns set. Jay Reatard’s ex-bassist was there watching, as evidenced by his hair in the photo below. Smith Westerns are a wonderful young rock band. The stage was a bit too big for them, but their swagger is reminiscent of bands that I didn’t think there were any of left, and I love that they just ooze sex appeal. I’m not sure how we arrived at this point, but it’s actually refreshing to hear a band just singing about girls, wearing leather jackets, and tossing their hair back as they play scuzzy solos. Their sound is simple, but well-honed, and I can’t wait to hear the new songs they played on record. If Morning Benders are the young virtuosos, then Smith Westerns are their evil twin punks. And I guess that makes Surfer Blood the brightly colored second cousins who I just don’t like quite as much.
After waiting around slightly too long for Let’s Wrestle, I gave up and headed back to Ms. Bea’s. Bobby Birdman was just setting up, then proceeded to sing karaoke with a live drummer. Actually, sometime he was just dancing along to pre-recorded vocals. The man has a very charming way about him, but there’s so little to the live performance that it’s really rather dull. I was relieved to see that Vivian Girls were setting up next, specially for a quiet, stripped-down set. I’ve never felt all that positively about Viv Girls, though never that negatively either, but this was a heart-grabbing performance. Asking everyone to sit on the floor, they quietly played through a few of their tunes, with an emphasis on vocals. They sounded raw and stunning. It gave me a better handle on where they’re coming from songwriting-wise, and was actually one of the most enjoyable sets I saw all week. I waited around for Tyvek, excited to hear their hard-rocking tunes, but was disappointed. Just a loud, hard band that was not particularly memorable.
I hadn’t been to Fader Fort at all yet, and wasn’t too stoked about the thought of standing outside at Ms. Bea’s, so I headed down to Fader Fort with my friend. I saw Dum Dum Girls, Washed Out with Small Black (again), Real Estate, and Sleigh Bells. Not the best lineup of new music for me to write about on this blog, nor was I in the best position to take photos, but I was having fun. Fader fort is cool and infuriating at the same time, a good place to relax with mostly good bands, but irritating in the indie-cool vibe they are clearly trying so hard to project. Dum Dum Girls were exactly the same as they were at Mercury Lounge, but they filled the festival atmosphere and huge stage surprisingly well. Washed Out is fun to dance to, but still not my cup of tea. Real Estate were as dreamily relaxed as ever, and looked much more comfortable, if not a bit tired, in front of a large audience than they did at Brooklyn Bowl. Sleigh Bells, also fun to dance to, sometimes have interesting melodic lines and a nice, heavy guitar sound, but also left me feeling electronically unsatisfied.
I intended to wait around for Fader’s special Saturday night guest, but after Twitter rumors seemed to indicate that no one not already on the schedule was going to show up, I high-tailed it over to local dive bar, Club Primos. I walked into a very heavy set from a metal band, and waited for recent Best New Music recipients Fang Island. I’d meant to post about them after hearing them on I Guess I’m Floating, but I procrastinated on it and now I’m kicking myself. Especially because their live show is so fun. Huge, intricate guitar solos and fast tempos paired with a few great hooks and memorable lyrics makes this RISD band stand out from the crowd. Did non-lo-fi make a comeback at this SXSW? That’s definitely not a useful framework for looking at music, but if we’re going to talk that way, yes, yes it did.
We stuck around and hung out for a bit and watched another metal band. Club Primos was great- a refreshing break from all the beaten-path SXSW venues. It was only $2 for a tallboy of PBR, and you got the impression that the confused looking locals slumped at the end of the bar were irritated that they had jacked up the prices just for SXSW. I felt a bit bad for invading their bar, but it looked like both SXSWers and locals were having a good, amused time together for the most part.
Then, we were whisked away further into East Austin in my friend’s friend car to a house party. Apparently, this is a house that puts on shows once every two months or so, but does as much as they can during SXSW. We were there to see Eastern Sea, who turned out to be one of the great surprises of the whole week. Lots of guitars, and brass, and keyboard, playing in this magical little East Austin house, they were full of good-band-who-hasn’t-broken-yet energy with surprisingly tight arrangements. The band floats along with a familiar, home is where the heart is energy, that’s supported by down-to-Earth vocals. They don’t sound like Conor Oberst or Bright Eyes, but they have that same sort of “we’re from the middle of the country and this is the kind of music we’re playing whether or not it’s popular” vibe to them that I really like. They sound like they fall in love a lot. Hopefully they’ll tour to NYC soon.
Ending SXSW at a house party watching a great local band was probably the best night a girl could ask for. I saw 57 different bands in Austin, some of them more than once, many of them very, very good. I have a lot more photos and videos to share, though I’m not quite sure how I’ll do that yet. I’ll probably put up more content from SXSW for the rest of the week, hopefully in a way that best lets you discover some new music. In the meantime, more photos and MP3s below.
Smith Westerns (and Stephen Pope’s hair):
Dum Dum Girls:
Small Black/Washed Out: