Saturday, March 19, 2011

SXSW - Day 2; High Highs And Lows


While gigs that fall outside the official SxSW jurisdiction tend to be where you find more left-of-centre bands, it's also where you experience schedules not being kept to and slapdash set-ups. While this Friday in Austin is plagued with missing bands because of unofficial gigs not keeping to schedule, the day also begins with some disappointing soundbleed at a non-SxSW gig at Betsy's Bar. NY band High Highs (who included an expat Aus amongst their numbers) struggle in the back room against the overflow of live music from the front room. High Highs play a quiet, thoughtful form of indie pop (not too far from the likes of Lotus Eaters) but they play on unperturbed, ending on a simple but stunning note with their shimmering single 'Open Season'.

Determination to see if Tune-Yards really can be as good as everyone says (coz the recordings don't quite convince) means a half-hour wait in line outside the Other Records party on the lush lawns of the French Legation Museum). Then it's another half-hour-plus wait as electronic pin-up boy James Blake drags his set out. He sounds like Paul Young - that's not healthy. But Tune-Yards are worth the wait as they launch into Onoesque, ESG-influenced arty funk track to open with. While their percussion-fuelled cuts are more enchanting than their freaky folk forays, it makes for a pleasant afternoon in the sun.

Hardly Art (Sub Pop imprint) talent Colleen Green is nothing short of astounding on stage at Red 7. Tiny and unassuming looking, she lets loose with buzzing riffs and wry lyrics. It all comes together best for the Ramones-inspired 'I Wanna Be Degraded'. Punx leader Hunx watches close to front of stage - Green has received the nod from the garage queen.

Witnessing Chilean singer/multi-instrumentalist Gepe at Prague is nothing short of a religious experience. His unpretensious mix of folk and lo-fi electro is romantic and joyous. Gepe had this basement-rammed crowd swooning by set's end and received the loudest calls for an encore heard so far this SxSW. And while the encore was disallowed (definitely an official SxSW gig), for the English-only speakers in the room we at least learnt that his glorious song 'Por La Ventana', translates as "By The Window'.

Checking out Toro Y Moi's set of psyched-out Balearica at Klub Krucial was cut short due to venue's sweatbox atmospheric - but it at least suited the Moi mood. And a visit to locals Ringo Deathstarr at Easy Tiger was also cut short but that was due to their shitness. Their sub-JAMC fuzz and bad singing could have almost been bearable if it wasn't for tantrum about bad equipment. And the homophobic, "Surely there's someone out there who sells amps? Give me an amp, fag" was a sure sign too much time had been wasted on them already.

At Latitude 30, the air was heavy with industry expectations for UK buzz band Esben & The Witch. But they delivered their primal goth musings by the Virgin Prune-ful. Bleak melodies, squalling vocals and raucous drumming - with the drums somehow ending up in the audience for the night's closing song - filled the room and scared the bejesus out of non-believers.

New Orleans mod-touched indie outfit Generationals have all the songs that one-hipster-wonders Foster The People don't have. The songs are catchy and crisp. The look is study hall geek. The live show at Mi Casa Cantina is sweaty and rapturous. They prove there is far more to them than 'When They Fight, They Fight' (as heard on that car insurance ad), although live that song is BIG singa/jumpalong fave. Closing with the ridiculously alluring 'Trust', it's hard not to head off towards the freeways of Austin wishing that SxSW official gigs weren't so strict on times afterall.

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