SXSW Friday: The Weekend, Wavves, The Zombies, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, John Hiatt, Richard Thompson
With many of the artists that make SXSW so appealing fleeing before the weekend, Friday usually provides one last chance to catch bands that you’ve missed so far on the theory that you’ll catch them later. On a separate note, the two things I think I’ve enjoyed most when they occur: a lead singer talking to the audience while forgetting that their reverb level is still set to maximal distortion and a set simply ending without fanfare as the band simply puts down their instruments and everyone disperses. The latter is such a corporate way to end a set. There’s also the tall person that parks themselves in front of me and then immediately ignores the band to tweet, text or facey-spacey. But I get that in New York too. Apparently, it’s a universal social skill possessed by crowds in all states.
[Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears Photo by Joan Bowlen for Glide]
The Sam Chase Band entertains the early risers at Red Eyed Fly as part of the After The Gold Rush party which treats the guests to Bloody Marys (and tasty ones at that). With fiddles, banjo and sax, they are reminiscent of a rowdy band that plays the saloon where the villains hang out in a western flick.
Wild Belle bisects their set on the airier outside stage. The siblings from Chicago offer up high quality reggae-inflected, indie pop and with added confidence, the attractive Natalie Bergman has the makings of a fine front woman.
One of the inanities at SXSW is the pre-festival pressure to RSVP for certain day parties. For the most part, it’s a non-sensical endeavor. With a couple exceptions, no one is getting turned away from a free party because they didn’t click on a virtual button two weeks prior. Unsurprisingly, the party host simply wants your e-mail address and demographic information. The Fader Fort holds to the mandatory RSVP policy but allows plus ones and gives deference to badge holders. Another, a bit pretentiously, is SPIN magazine, who unnecessarily complicates the process of coming to their showcase by adhering to the RSVP policy. Quite frankly, if this works to keep you out, it’s a moronic mess; if you get in, it’s a minor inconvenience and a reward to forethought. Either way, SPIN shouldn’t be doing anything that paints them in a bad light. How many times have they gone bankrupt?
Given that I am discussing The Weekend (this would be the good Weekend, with all of its e’s), you can guess where I fall on the previous debate. I am the 1% – well, maybe more like the 19%. As an aside, SPIN is handing out Crispin Natural Hard Apple Cider, which out of a can, has the distinct flavor of Donaghy Estates sparkling wine. With a style best described as upbeat shoegaze, The Weekend’s half-hour set is loud yet extremely captivating. Solid bass, percussive beats, waves of guitar; one of my favorite sets of SXSW 2013.
The Easy Tiger stage is surrounded by walls and high fencing on two sides and a rock wall on the third. Like a low-rent Red Rocks, it captures the sound well. The So So Glos give off a fun, rowdy Beastie Boys vibe – 3 1/2 Jews, almost a Minyan – tearing off one fun neo-punk song after another and possessed with a witty, irreverent attitude. In simpatico with the crowd, they discuss the cool bands they’ve seen over the past couple days. Putting on rally caps, the New York-based band finished their set with an endearingly thrashy ode to the underdog. Great is the band that makes you root for their success.
Wavves benefits the most from the sun moving behind the adjacent building. The patio goes from bake to cool in moments and the change is gloriously palpable. By the way, people who wear loaded backpacks to crowded musical venues are awesome. They should come to New York and ride the 4-5-6 all day long. Oh, the music, Wavves is no longer chillwave, they are now loud and noisy and not as interesting as they used to be. They won’t need to worry though, the Wavves rep alone is going to carry them as far as they can take it.
At HGTV/Paste’s Stages at Sixth, On An On start their set on the patio with a dose of synthy-electronics before bringing it back to something more distinctly European. They have a broad, arena rock sound and the synths carry very well.
Inside, The Zombies have aged enough that they now resemble their moniker. I will leave all Walking Dead jokes at home as it’s just too easy. Nonetheless, The Zombies are a relevant band from the classic rock era and time hasn’t dulled their musical allure. There are at least 500 bands here that would kill for their career. As you would expect, their set consisted of their Brit-pop hits from a previous generation. She’s Not There and Time Of The Season were no brainers but a lengthy rendition of Argent’s Hold Your Head Up served as a nostalgic blast.
[The Zombies photo by @jim_will_gamble]
Scooting over to Red 7, Palma Violets are in high demand. For good reason, a garage band ethic, their show touches on The Clash with a light smattering of The Stooges. There’s much of what they do that’s easily replicable by dozens of other bands but more than those that churn out three chord rock with shouty vocals, Palma Violets have moments of brilliance where the guitar hook or vocals rise above. More than just volume and attitude, Palma Violets have good songs, which will carry a band farther than we like to imagine.
Chvrches, with a V, closes out the Red 7 afternoon with an electronic-synthy dance set that I suspect none of Hidden Track’s readership would enjoy. Although their girlfriends and wives might.
For the nightime session, Ace Reporter, featuring Chris Snyder nee of The States, opens the evening’s showcase. Six years ago, Snyder & The States played the inaugural and sole Earvolution SXSW day party. Snyder is back in Austin with a new project, a new album and a new record label. In 2010, Snyder embarked on a project where he recorded a song every day for a year. The resulting project yielded fruit and Snyder’s insightful and literate mind continues to be an intriguing source of indie rock. We at Earvolution knew what we were doing when we featured Snyder in 2007.
At The Stage at 6th, The Lost Brothers throwback acoustic folk provides a nice counterpoint to the rap group in the main room. Touching on Andy Williams, the two not-really brothers are a compelling duo and work well within the folk motif.
[Lost Brothers photo by Jeffrey Greenblatt]
One of the best parts of SXSW involves checking in on old friends and some of these just happen to be local Austin bands. For your humble narrator, this means seeing what White Denim, Okkervil River and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are up to. With White Denim and Will Sheff taking this year off, Lewis’ set at Antone’s will have to suffice. Playing with a stripped down and casually dressed version of the Honeybears, Lewis blew through an incendiary set of primarily new material. Where Lewis has played the rascally trickster, lyrically and musically, on his past efforts, his new material derives from the back-door blues and he plays them with menace and fury. Tearing through guitar solos like a Jr. Hendrix, Lewis electrified Antone’s with a flat of rock show. As a reminder of his past glory, Lewis finished with Sugarfoot and had a typically stoic SXSW crowd shaking their money-makers.
At The Parish, it’s adult night and John Hiatt needs nothing more than an acoustic guitar to grasp an audience in his thrall. In a change of pace to the reverb-laden or shouted vocals of many of the younger bands, you could actually make out everything Hiatt sang. The Parish’s acoustics are perfect for a solo performer and Hiatt’s voice sounded strong and gritty. His set primarily consisted of new songs that meditate on a life well led and look back over the years. An immensely talented songwriter, Hiatt made sure to include chestnuts like Master Of Disaster and Memphis In The Meantime. One of SXSW’s charms is the ability to see Hiatt in a room this intimate.
[John Hiatt photo by @whitesirenpresents]
The same can be said for Richard Thompson, one of the world’s most underrated guitarists and songwriters. With proper British wit and charm, Thompson began his set by noting, “I love to watch old people standing for acoustic music.” At last night’s set at Antone’s, Thompson played an electric set with a full band. For tonight, he just brought an acoustic guitar and it is truly a treat to watch and hear him play before an audience united in awe. Unlike the folk that has dominated the American musical landscape, the British folk tradition practiced by Thompson focuses on Celtic melodies and relates romantic though oftentimes fatalistic stories. There is none better than Vincent Black Lightning 1952, the song with which he closed the set. With its story of the doomed love between James Adie and Red Molly and the bequest of the titular motorcycle, Thompson tells an emotional tale over the course of what might be the perfect song.
At Mohawk, Parquet Courts play the indoor stage as part of Grand Control Touring’s showcase. The logistics of the inside stage requires everyone to funnel in through one modest entrance at the rear of the concert space. With too many people trying to see the band, the entire passageway became a congested mess with little room to move forward or back. Complicating matters were fans that didn’t grasp the situation and kept pushing forward. At least for me, this clouded the fact that Parquet Court’s set was pretty damn good. A more thorough recitation of the band’s skill will have to wait for a less hectic listening situation.
On the outdoor stage, Chelsea Light Moving, Thurston Moore’s new project, played to a more evenly spaced crowd. Surprisingly, Moore takes his band towards twee sounding chamber pop. Oh wait, that would be silly. As you would expect, CLM takes angular journeys of guitar experimentation with liberal doses of feedback. While I’m not extremely well versed in Sonic Youth, Chelsea Light Moving doesn’t sound like a drastic departure or change in direction for Moore.
[Chelsea Light Moving photo by dr_chit032]
Some exploring leads to Brancho, a zippy little punk trio, at Valhalla and The Specials at Stubbs. The Specials’ heyday was in the late Seventies/early Eighties where they were ahead of the curve with their ska-influenced style. Music has caught up with them and they had a large majority of the modest crowd frenetically dancing.
Zipping back in to Mohawk to catch the last ten minutes of the showcase, I am greeted by an apocalyptic scene. Call me Rinjo, I’ve stumbled into a hardcore show. Trash Talk, from Sacramento, California, has turned the Mohawk Patio into a venue sized demolition derby of moshers. Trash Talk manages to harness naked aggression and unleash it in 30 to 45 second bursts of “song” while the audience rages in a rabid frenzy. (I think its highly doubtful that the mosh pit contained a single badge holder). With an affiliate of the band spitting beer on the crowd, there was spitting, wild stage diving, ferocious slam dancing and an incident that led to security brusquely ushering someone out the door. It made the relatively calm surge before Parquet Courts seem extraordinarily tame in comparison. After a spectacular swan dive into the crowd, lead singer Lee Spielman climbed atop the speakers, perching himself there while the band raged. He then climbed up on the porch balcony and looked like he was steeling himself for something big. To Spielman’s credit, I don’t think there was a single person at Mohawk that thought the set wasn’t going to end with a Superfly From The Top Of The Cage stage dive as well as his immediate hospitalization. After a dramatic pause, he simply stepped over the railing. Set over.