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Festival Review and Photos: South By Southwest – Wednesday, March 14, 2011 – Austin, TX



Photos by Rob Hakimian

Day two of South By Southwest was mostly spent at the Beauty Bar for Consequence of Sound’s showcase, which was one of the most well put together lineups of the festival that I’ve seen, since it had a consistent theme of bands that fuckin’ rock. The poor Beauty Bar though, with the capacity surely exceeded by the mid-afternoon and people traipsing back and forth between the indoor and outdoor stages, and I saw at least two bands spitting on the walls and rug on the indoor stage (I won’t name the culprits). But, hell, this is a music festival right?! We’re here to rock!

Rob Hakimian

The Henry Clay People

Although I didn’t write about it yesterday, the actual first band that we saw at this year’s SXSW was The Henry Clay People, but they were playing a stripped down show in a hot dog restaurant. At the Consequence of Sound show, however, it was full steam ahead with their aggressive pop punk. Brothers Joey and Andy Siara were play fighting and the admission from the elder brother (Joey) that he loves his younger brother “more than anything in the world” rung truer than ever. Joey’s Craig Finn-like delivery added urgency to their sound, but moreover it was a purely fun, topped off by a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.”

Rob Hakimian



Mikal Cronin

If anyone was disappointed by Mikal Cronin’s tardiness, those frustrations would have been quickly vanquished as he and his band (which included Ty Segall on guitar) tore through a string of songs from his recent self-titled album. “Apathy” was played early in the set which was one hell of a way to wake people up, and the following landslide of garage rock will have undoubtedly knocked anyone from their early afternoon hangovers. The one advantage of having songs so short is that even when you’re late you can still play a whole bunch, and that’s what Cronin and co. did, not wasting a single second.

Rob Hakimian



Bleached

Bleached play a lot of shows around Los Angeles, and they’re playing a ton of shows at this year’s SXSW – sensibly, as their star is certainly on the rise, and if the quality of their performances across the week are as good as yesterday’s then a lot of people will be leaving Austin buzzing about them. The girls played loud, as they always do, but the pop hooks of their songs were not lost in the fuzz due to Jessica and Jennifer Clavin’s impressively powerful vocals which managed to remain both on top of the guitars and in tune. Bleached undoubtedly provided the most non-fuss, down-to-business set of the day, while remaining true to the pure enjoyment of playing music, which resulted in a mighty impressive set.

Rob Hakimian



The Men

I guess the theme of today was technical difficulty. The problem with millions of bands sharing the same stage – setting up and breaking down one right after another – is there’s not much time to fine-tune the sound to each group’s liking and what the audience gets is often times questionable at best. The Men ran into a great deal of trouble late in their set, but the psych bomber outfit’s energy was so willfully explosive that what would have most likely ruined a lesser band’s show only brought the freakout rage to its knees, fist to the sky. The band played a smattering of tracks from their new record, Open Your Heart, sticking to the three-chord plunges rather than numbers like “Candy” or long-former “Oscillation”. Though a slide was taken to a guitar at one point. I should also note SXSW crowds have been oddly docile for most bands like The Men who might do with some pushing and shoving. The Beauty Bar had turned into an anchovy tin at this point though, so it might have been out of practicality more than anything. The latter songs in the set suffered from globs of feedback emanating from guitarist Nick Chiericozzi’s amp, which had otherwise been a bit allusive, his leads barely peaking out behind the teeth-gritted onslaught. Yet, despite all the caveats, The Men still played one one of the best sets I’ve seen this week.

Will Ryan




Titus Andronicus

I heard more than a few people at the Beauty Bar whispering about the absence of Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles’ (now iconic?) beard. Apparently it went with that electrocution accident he had some months ago. This was my first time seeing Titus and I think I can imagine what the beard might have added to Stickles’ stage presence. Before most songs he’d introduce each with a little bit of knowing pretension, which the beard might have matched in an older-than-his-years-crank kind of way. In any case, any type of pretension that otherwise might derail an audience’s enjoyment by perhaps getting them to acknowledge a band’s existence beyond their penchant for riffing is always welcome. I did actually enjoy the sort of passively confrontational, almost-jibes-but-still-of-importance introductions Stickles gave each song. A) Because I kind of love what The Monitor is about and B) because the crowd reactions are interesting to note. Most of Stickles’ words found some muted chuckles, a shout out to Nietzsche was met with a boo, the set’s introduction of “Now for some songs that acknowledge our complicity” got a “So deep, man!”

The group played a half dozen songs, only one of which wasn’t new. Apparently we’re not getting a third album from the New Jersey band for a while (though a 7″ split is out soon), but the new songs do sound excellent and as Titus Andronicus- y as ever. The band lined the stage with three guitars and a bass, but kept the riffs tight and away from absolutely pulverizing, instead milking the combative hooks and Stickles’ rasping vocals. The one The Monitor track they did play was “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”. Stickles’ slowed the song’s centerpiece singalong to a drunken shamble as he jokingly starred at his fretboard to make sure he was strumming the right notes, causing the crowd singing along to haltingly guess when the next few lyrics might arrive. Just another poke. Titus is a great live act. The band themselves, including Stickles’ punky cheekiness, have an unbridled go-for-broke energy. And their music is rousing in a kind of all-for-one type of way that plays incredibly well to crowds, especially when they know the songs by heart. By the time we got to the chant of “You will always be a loser” at the end of “No Future Part Three” everyone seemed on board enough in the sentiment to unite in the name of uncoolness.

Will Ryan




Cloud Nothings

It’s a little disconcerting seeing an artist playing while bearing the double X marks on his hands of an underager, but it’s that youth that fuels Dylan Baldi’s music and I’m sure it infected the majority of the beer-swilling crowd in attendance too. As the final act at Consequence of Sound’s show they had the unenviable task of following on from Titus Andronics, The Men and more, but fortunately they got to play the outside stage with sun eking in and illuminating the glistening pop punk. Fans of Cloud Nothings’ first album may have been disappointed that nothing was played from it, but it wouldn’t have worked alongside muscular tracks like “No Future/No Past” and slick tracks like “Stay Useless.” I would have expected them to have saved the colossal “Wasted Days” for the conclusion of their set, but instead they tore the house down mid-set, with Baldi on his knees knob-twiddling while the rest of the band continued to shred. Their youth meant that passion was a given in their set, but the professionalism and tightness was somewhat unexpected, and certainly a welcome surprise from Cloud Nothings.

Rob Hakimian



All in the Golden Afternoon

Having spent the afternoon seeing well-established bands of whom I was previously well-aware, I felt it was time to go see something unheard of. The Lomography store was having a showcase of lesser-known local acts which sounded like a nice opportunity. The first act on display was a male-female duo called All in the Golden Afternoon who played a pleasant, simplistic kind of atmospheric pop. The male portion of the group, Carlos, played cavernous guitar while Rachel played a few different instruments from simple guitar to the whimsical Omnichord. Overall their sound wavered between the relaxed retro pop of Still Corners and some of Sonic Youth’s quieter moments.

Rob Hakimian



James Hervey

My notes for James Hervey’s set simply say “music to browse cameras by,” but that seems a little harsh. The recent Austin transplant played an acoustic set that was pleasant, if nothing else. He managed to pull off the fashion faux-pas of wearing “double denim” (denim jeans and a denim jacket), but he also managed the even harder feat of remaining entertaining while being just one man and an acoustic guitar. Although his songs were a bit too Jack Johnson-y for my taste, his charm carried the songs, and his between song chatter endeared him to the crowd. The highlight of the set was undoubtedly his cover of Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” – now if only he could make his own songs somewhere near that quality he could be a superstar. (Which is something that could be said of pretty much every artist in existence, so I don’t know why I made that point.)

Rob Hakimian



d’Eon, Mirror Mirror, and Sleep ∞ Over (Dummy XO Showcase)

The Dummy XO showcase at Barbarella was kind of a wash. At least the first couple of acts, which I managed to catch before heading over to the Ghostly International tent. It continues the theme of ravaged-by-tech-issues I mentioned earlier. d’Eon opened the spot with a bit of bedroom R&B. But the first problem was the lack of a stereo cable, which stopped the set before it started. Another musician came to the rescue with the right equipment and the place got rolling. Then the mix was such that much of d’Eon’s set sounded distant and hollow despite the Canadian’s sincere performance behind a couple of synthesizers and a MIDI pad. The d’Eon instrumental bridges were wrapped up in a little virtuoso keyboard playing, which could have been sort of amazing if they’d been audible. The vocals were especially hazy. I might have chalked this up to the artist if not for the the acts that followed. Mirror Mirror needed a bass player. They locked into a more gothic and aggressive (yet muted) sort of take on Bear In Heaven’s krauty synth pop, adding wild motorik drumming behind darkened synths and spectral guitar. But much of their sound lacked punch and unity without any sort of significant bottom. Sleep ∞ Over was another bedroom crooner casualty of Barbarella’s vacant sound setup. It didn’t help that singer Stefanie Franciotti’s vocals were wrapped in impenetrable swaths of gritty reverb, almost completely consuming the warbling synth melodies. By the time a saxophone player joined her on stage, I might have thought someone had accidentally tripped into the boards, mistakenly turning the house music back on it was so asynchronous. I wish I could have stayed for Pure X and Blondes, but I was afraid Barbarella’s shoddy audio might bog down those sets as well.

Will Ryan



Shigeto

We arrived at the Ghostly International showcase near the beginning of Zach Sanginaw aka Shigeto’s set. The Michigan-born producer was in full crowd-hype mode, busy behind his laptop and MIDI pad delivering his percussive, bass grinding glitch-hop. It’s often hard for a laptop-bound act to have much stage presence, but Shigeto was partial to bodily animating his productions, giving the crowd something to watch if they weren’t dancing. He also had a drum set ominously sitting next to him as his fingers tore into the pad, which he finally sat down to when things flipped over to his more glimmering ambient minded sonics. And, hey, Shigeto is pretty good at drumming. Really good, in fact. The set turned into a sprawl of drum & bass as Sanginaw’s fill heavy jazz breaks tore past the slowly languishing chimes and synths. It was pretty fricking awesome. The producer bounced between the drums and pad a couple times, but the beats remained seamless. The set even descended into an extended drum solo at one point, the Ghostly crowd vocally egging Shigeto on like we were watching some jazz great of yesteryear go to town.

Will Ryan




Tycho

I honestly hadn’t given much thought to how a Tycho live show would be, but if you had asked me to guess I would have said it would be one guy behind a table twiddling some knobs, which is fine, but not exactly the most thrilling of experiences. I was surprised to see a three-man band take to the stage, and my surprise turned to delight as their set unfolded in one of the most stunning aural arrays I’ve seen for a little while. In his review of Tycho’s last album, Dive, our own Erik Burg described it as “the race track play rug to your totally badass collection of hot wheels when you were a kid… the essential device for sparking imagination” – something that I only truly understood upon the concluding two tracks of Tycho’s set, wherein their expansive sound felt like it totally rejuvenated my mind, which was blissful as we were approaching my 13th hour of being out on the streets of Austin for the day.

Rob Hakimian




Matthew Dear

I sadly wasn’t able to get pictures of Matthew Dear’s set at Ghostly International, which is probably a crime and I should be fired or something, but I’ll have to make due. I honestly had no idea how much Dear is positioning his eponymous moniker as a full on pop act. The mic stands were wrapped in red and white roses, the backing band wore matching suits, and Dear looked like a leathered up version of a 50s idol. The lineup went like this: trumpet player, bassist, two drummers, Dear swapping between electronics and guitar, and a stage littered with pedals and gear like a child’s playroom. When the band started playing I was almost unsure if I’d arrived at the right show. The new music is still dancey as all hell, which the occupants of Club Deville and I can attest first hand, but Matthew Dear has transformed into a psychedelic disco rock pop band or something and Dear himself is the Bowie-esque frontman. The songs’ choruses seemed to plume up into apocalyptic levels of energy, the trumpet spiraling up between a thick sub-bass haze and rhythmic ceremonial drumming while Dear and company chanted in unison. It was a pure id spectacle and the first set I completely forgot about all the SXSW birthed aches and pains. The last thing I’ll say is, as not the biggest fan of Black City, Beams is now, easily, my most anticipated album of 2012.

Will Ryan

Kindness

After Tycho I left the Ghostly International showcase in an attempt to go check out Django Django, but unfortunately the line was out the door and unmoving. I decided to go across the street to check out Kindness; Purity Ring were set to play afterwards and I thought if there was any kind of consistency in the lineup then I should like them. It turns out there wasn’t any kind of consistency, as what unfolded before me was a soul/funk performance including backing singers and all. This isn’t the kind of music I generally listen to, but I’d be hard pressed to say I didn’t enjoy it – particularly the bassist who looked out of place with the rest of the band since he was noticeably older and not dressed as smartly as the rest of his troup, but damn did he bring the funk. The highlight of the set for an indie kid like me was undoubtedly their soul reimagining of The Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party,” but it was nice to see a show that was a little more polished than most of the bar room rock that I’ve seen so far.

Rob Hakimian

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