Monday, March 23, 2009

SXSW - 5 Awesomely Random Austin Highlights

HAVING MICACHU & THE SHAPES POSE FOR US AFTER A CORKER SHOWCASE THE NIGHT BEFORE (As reported on Day 3: "Cute as buttons, the playful Brit trio steal sound ideas from ‘90s dance and churn it into chirpy leftfield pop."
HUNX & HIS STRIPTEASE AT QUEERLAND (Apologeez for the poor quality but just had to share)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

SXSW - Day 4; Couldn't Escape If I Wanted To

In the last day of SxSW musical activities it’s the final chance to catch any acts that have continually fallen off your ‘must catch’ schedule in the preceding week due to time table clashes, missed buses, sore feet, getting lost, getting too drunk, etc. It’s all about quality not quantity in these closing moments. First up it’s an in-store at Waterloo Records where NY’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are earning their festival buzz reputation with an impressive set of indie-flecked nu gaze (still allowed to use that term?). Then, at the Mess With Texas massive open-to-the-public, all-ages, free party in Waterloo Park, the week’s most impressive line-up is underway. After The Bronx finish scaring the native fauna (and stirring up a swarm of wasps that has descended upon the area) two more of the fest’s buzziest bands impress. On stage, Cali lads Crystal Antlers appear far less intense than their prog-heavy recordings would lead you to expect, live their compositions breathe with soulful percussion, psych guitar and garage rock keys – appropriately, an aroma of dope drifts through the crowd on the spring breeze. And following one of the quickest change-overs ever, The Soft Pack appear. Now, this is the way to end the week. The post-mod quartet from San Diego give a nod to Husker Du and rip through a smart set of the week’s catchiest tunes, ending with what many would say could be the festival’s theme – 'Parasites'. Time to go home.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

SXSW - Day 3; Austin's All Right If You Like...


As a new day dawns so does a new realisation – the best SxSW action doesn’t necessarily happen in the downtown area around the festival’s convention centre. In the centre of Austin a SxSW virgin is initially astounded to find that block after block of 6th Street is closed for the four days that music takes over the town. It is gob-smackingly amazing to see an entire city’s traffic re-routed for music fans. Pub after pub, bar after bar, venue after venue, cafe after café, empty block after empty block, street corner after street corner - every millimetre plays host to music entertainment. Then on the outskirts and in the convention centre there are bigger gigs (tonight it was Metallica… or so I’m told) and industry forums (“Catch Jarvis Cocker with a whiteboard!”). But it doesn’t end there. Start strolling away from the city centre and you discover the inner suburban streets have also given way to music: car parks, backyards, stores, church grounds and bus stops are all used to stage gigs featuring local and/or visiting talent.

It was in this spirit that today I dared to venture beyond the CBD (Central Badged District – official festival participants take out a mortgage to get a coded passport that is their entry into anything officially SxSW (those who can prove they are local are afforded the opportunity to purchase a less expensive wristband that also allows doors to open). A long wait for cabs meant sharing taxis. This lead to the first swag of the day as folk from Blackland Records got on board with us and slipped us three releases of their’s. I mention this coz they were nice enough to split the fare!

Just off Cesar Chavez I found the Okay Mountain Gallery hidden behind a piñata-bedecked frontage. Within was the man who was top of the must-see list for this trip – Benjy Ferree. His Leaving The Nest album is one of the greats. His music has brought me so much joy in recent times that I half expected him to be sixty foot tall and bringing dead kittens back to life while steering tornadoes away from towns. The Great Ferree is a mix of indie troubadour in The Apartments kinda way and classic country folk in a Hank Williams sorta style. Today, accompanied by the suave Drew Mills, he supplied a simple acoustic (in that plugged-in way) set of sweet melodies and, most importantly, whistling (like a bird… not a like a Peter, Bjorn or John – not that’s anything wrong with that kinda whistling). And, like a nerd, after the gig I cornered them, drooled on their lapels, discussed Nick Cave and forced them to look happy to be photographed with me. Next time a tornado miraculously misses your town remember to give thanks to Ferree.

Next stop: Queerland. If you are familiar with the filthy faggy antics of Oakland’s Gravy Train!!!! (if Wikipedia says their has to be four exclamation marks, who am I to argue?) then the lure of a solo project from band member Hunx is too much. Hunx & His Punx do NOT disappoint. Before the band even starts today’s set Hunx can be seen on stage applying lipstick to his band members who are also shedding street clothes for their varying degrees of showtime near-nakedness. As an audience member shrieks, “He was wearing those undies yesterday”, you pretty much can guess where this one’s going… Gay garage rock has never sounded so good. Nor has it ever been stripped, flipped and quipped so inelegantly. And where else do you get to glance away from the stage for a second only to look back and see a pair of fish-netted legs appearing where the singer’s face was just seconds ago? (If you have an answer to this question please send the address…)

And there’s only one direction to go after that. It’s off to see The Homosexuals at Ms Bea’s, found to the far east of the festival centre. This tiny bar is the real deal – nothing but beer served here and a sprawling backyard/carpark (the actual bar interior is but a speck in this space) plays host to the best party of the day. A relaxed mix of punks, students, music nerds, hipsters and creaking old men don’t give a fuck that the band schedule is way behind – unlike the military precision of the gig timetables in town. But thankfully the times are awry coz it means I get to experience the Brazilian boogie of Sao Paulo’s answer to The Rolling Stones – Garotas Suecas. It seriously seemed like the whole neighbourhood dropped in to dance – actually, what do the neighbours make of all this mayhem?

Then Britain’s original punx The Homosexuals take the floor. It begins with a sermon (no mount) about the band’s place in punk history – they were first but hold no grudges to those who walked away with the notoriety (to prove there is no malice a Sex Pistol lyric is slipped in and a Stranglers lick sneaks by later). They cum to preach love not hate. And jeez, these guys aren’t just still ripping music a new arsehole, they rip it a new vagina, a new cock hole, a new nasal cavity and a new colostomy hole! They can quote Chaucer, smash out mad beats and scream their lungs out… in the most delightful way. They are also one of most musically adept acts around - these guys jump from funky arrangements to jagged melodies as if to say, “hell, isn’t it meant to be that easy?”. At one stage their bass player swaps from drumstick to bottle to pound his instrument with while the rest of the band hover round the drum kit and somehow all seem to be swirling in frenzied circle as lips are cut, guitarists are electrocuted and bass drums are jumped on. It’s no wonder people are hanging from trees to get a view of this. Jeez this gig is fucking joyous, I hang at the party even though most of the following acts weren’t on “the list” for the day.

Only the promise of an appearance by Moistboyz (is there a theme building here?) even further into this suburban area, at the Long Branch Inn, can eventually lure me away (along with the fact that I’m pretty sure someone threw a bottle at me… a Guy Sebastian fan must have snuck in – see yesterday’s comments). So the day ends with balls-to-the-wall rock – which you expect from a band featuring Nick Oliveri, a Butthole Surfer and a Ween. Can only head even further into the burbs after that…

Friday, March 20, 2009

SXSW - Day 2; Texas Fever

The problem with sleeping in during SxSW is that for every hour you snooze you miss approximately 200 bands. True. So, with 1900 acts playing at this year’s festival, you may feel like you’ve wasted quality gigging time by rolling out of bed, hunting down a bus-stop, crawling into town on public transport surrounded by feral punks (and their dog) and then hopping it to the Aus showcase only to be confronted by Guy Sebastian. Holy hell. Lesson learned: no more sleeping in.

Normally it’s hard to run in the stifling Austin spring heat but the dash away from this ex-Idol putting the arse into soul was easily done. The doors to the Dirty Dog Bar sprang open to welcome me into the arms of Hollywood crazy Juliette Lewis and her new band Juliette & The New Romantiques – here, Lewis takes on the role of rock star Juliette. Lewis plays it well: one-part psycho; one-part Cherie Currie; one-part Hollywood crazy-turned-rock-star. And when the gig is over the band haul their own gear… except Lewis, she immediately flees backstage (not sure if she packed her own mic up first or not).

Headlining over the New Romantiques were UK metallic punkers Gallows. Frontman Frank Carter moves straight into high-octane mode. He is the new king of punk – it’s just that us peasants need to catch up. Pissed off with the small size of the audience (which he also describes as “eighty percent industry wankers”), Carter takes the show off stage and into the crowd. He clears a stage-size space on the floor by racing back and forth, mic stand dangerously in tow – fans know to move back fast. Songs crank out ferociously as Carter relocates all the Gallows, bar drummer Lee Barratt (he remains alone on stage), to play between the stage and the front bar. Audience mingle with band; heads bang; thumbs break (or so Carter claims); band members dispute (Carter doesn’t want to play a song but his brother insists); cameras flash non-stop. Gallows know how to get premium coverage even when numbers are low.

A quick stop back at The Pita Pit (see yesterday’s entry) for a bite and dining inside is one of The Matches who asks if I’m from Australia… I run. Perhaps the t-shirt with “Australia” emblazoned across it was the giveaway. Out on the street Oakland lad Steve Taylor has gathered a crowd playing organ in the middle of the road (but not ‘middle-of-the-road’) with just a drummer accompanying him – a nice jazzy jam distraction before being KB’d at Emo’s Annex where the Gig Of The Night is kickin’ off (Little Boots and NASA are playing there later) so bottom-of-the-bill Micachu (& The Shapes) is (are) viewed from outside the containment area. Cute as buttons, the playful Brit trio steal sound ideas from ‘90s dance and churn it into chirpy leftfield pop. And, oops, people begin to form a line behind me mistakenly believing my not-good-enough-to-get-in position is the queue for entry… sorry.

Back to the Aus showcase at Friends, now in evening mode, and Sydney rock’n’roll duo The Fumes are doing their garagey thing, showing Texans, and other international visitors, that Mr Sebastian is not best on offer from Down Under. Phew. Next door at BD Riley’s it’s time for Swiss foursome Choo Choo to be officially deemed Highlight Of The Day. Their perky new wave power pop more than makes up for later arriving at The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart gig and finding it sold out. Lesson #2: Get to bed early, try again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW - Day 1; Something Grows In Texas


It felt very Texan to cut my arm on a cactus upon arrival at the Austin hotel that will be home for the duration of SxSW. But it’s okay, the arm survived. By morning (Wednesday, day one of the SxSW festival’s music component) there was barely a scratch to show from the cactus attack but let’s just say that it must have been the reason for the disorientation that caused the inability to find venue one of the day and miss The Homosexuals… ah well, the old punkers are playing again during the fest. However, it meant there was time to find food and the closest place not boasting cheese melted on everything was The Pita Pit (what is this American obsession to put that nuke-orange cheddar on EVERYTHING?). What was found there was what everyone had promised about SxSW… an unexpected musical treat. Coz not only were there good wraps in the Pit but here also was my first band of the day; a band that I hadn’t circled on the schedule but blew me away nonetheless. Here were sweet country harmonies from three sisters of Goodlettsville, Tennessee (though they introduced themselves as being from Nashville – maybe it’s close by…), The Lewis Sisters. Today they were accompanied by drummer Tom Strother, drum kit-less but keeping time on a cajon. A quaint start to proceedings and one CD purchased.

Having had time to scour local street rag The Austin Chronicle as well as consult maps and timetables, the next gig on the circled schedule was easily located at The Dog And Duck. Taking place here was a performance by cult ‘80s Irish pre-grungers That Petrol Emotion. Featuring two ex-members of legendary punk outfit The Undertones, the band reunited last year having split in ’94. None of their spit’n’fire has been lost and their politically-revved lyrics seemed perversely apt to these shaky economic climes. And “hit” 'Big Decision' is still as ridiculously catchy as it ever was. Best of all, you could buy TPE buttons from the band themselves after the show…

Spotting fellow Melbots T-Rek and Infusion on the streets of Austin was inspiration enough to see what fellow Melburnians My Disco could do to this Texfest. Intense as ever, the unassuming-looking but unforgivingly-intense musicians wound up the Soho Lounge with a barrage of rib-crushing tones. It must have been good as one of uber-hip heavies Atreyu sidled up to ask who was playing and gave them the thumbs-up. However, I was too slow to get a pic of me posing with the certified rock star before he slipped away to get closer to the front. Bah.

One of the Top 100 buzzzzzzz bandzzzzzzz of the night was Parenthetical Girls. They were playing the YouTube party, of course. At the appropriately-named Beauty Bar (wall-to-wall cool cats and hip hombres), a bit of confusion led to waiting for the Girls in the front bar rather than in the backyard… Thankfully, this brought about unexpected musical treat #2 for the day: Rafter. This San Diego band are freakin’ wonderful. Funkily-structured wonky disco – with the best use of vocoder since Fox’s 'S-s-single Bed'. It’s love – four Rafter CD’s purchased.

After Rafter, it was time for gettin’ Girls out the back. Was it just tonight or do Parenthetical Girls’ live hipster troubadour wailings seem rather more twee than their cute recorded equivalents? Ah well, the room was packed so my presence wouldn’t be missed slipping out to the front again where Indiana’s DM Stith was holding a smaller audience entranced with his nubluze meanderings. Ah, thank you, Mr Stith (or however you prefer to be addressed) as now my day ends as quaintly as it began.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Loin Brothers - Death Mix

smell the coconut oil"Two men in their mid-to-late twenties were brutally mauled by a tiger at Sydney's Taronga Zoo late last night. It is believed the pair, who police have identified as members of the '70s tribute/comedy band "Loin Brothers", had attempted to photograph themselves in the tiger enclosure. Police are as yet unsure how the duo managed to scale the 2.6 metre fence surrounding the enclosure. A blood-stained photo of magicians Siegfried & Roy, with their white Bengal tiger, found at the scene is believed to be the inspiration for the tragic event. Police are continuing with their investigation."

'Death Mix' by Loin Brothers (direct link)

Monsuier Erotique - 'Handsome Stud' unreleased
Babe Ruth - 'The Mexican (Loin Edit)' unreleased
Frederic Sinful - 'Crater Sand' (Discograph)
It's A Fine Line - 'Woman (A Makhnovshchina Repo.)' (History Clock)
Loin Brothers - 'Heavy Helmet (Radio Edit)' (Future Classic)
Willy DeVille - 'Heat of the Moment' (CBS)
Mark Almond - 'Riding Free' (EMI)

Loin Brothers' debut 12" 'Heavy Helmet' is out now on Future Classic.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Les Savy Francisco

So I was sitting in my motel room in Canada (yep, I'm taking a long route to SxSW in Austin from Australia) and, like everyone else in North America, I've been watching Jimmy Fallon stumble through his first week hosting Late Night - luckily he has recruited The Roots as his house band coz that makes it worth returning for). Anyway, after Late Show on came Last Call With Carson Daly where he spent a half-hour showcasing the Noise Pop Festival in San Francisco - hailing crap hoppers NASA as the festival highlight. Bah - just coz NASA are well-connected and can pull MIA and Tom Waits onto their debut recording doesn't make them good, let alone the highlight of the festival. It just so happened that I stumbled onto the festival last weekend and there is no doubt that alt.punkers Les Savy Fav playing at the Mezzanine were the highlight. Not only did the singer get up to all his usual ADD antics (taping himself to an audience member, surfing an armchair down steps, etc) - pictured above balancing off a banister right above my head - but their songs have matured into adventurous melodic shakedowns that are odds with the screaming vocals as often as they are perfectly placed. Pffft - compared to that NASA are just two boffins being boring behind some dinky toys.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Neighbourhood Watch - Harmon

Harmon has just released a brand new EP called 'Trees'. A follow-up to 2007's 'Grass EP', this new EP is already one of my favourites of 2009. Five tracks of psyched-out jazz/funk.

Harmon feat Victoria Jones - 'Thunderstorm' (zshare link)

If you're in Melbourne, you can buy 'Trees' from Hear NOW and Northside Records. Otherwise, head on over to Harmon's website and grab a copy.

A man of many talents... Harmon has also just dropped a new club track ('Breakdancer') on his MySpace player, and a new club single ('Get Up') with Paz on Freakshow Disco Productions. Phew*.