Monday, March 21, 2011

SXSW - Day 3; Losing Sleep


When a day starts with Edwyn Collins and ends witnessing raw New Orleans bounce at "Austin's only gay nightclub", even the inbetween disappointments (and there were many) can't seem that bad. To see Collins perform feels like the greatest privilege - he suffered a near-fatal cerebral hemorrhage in 2005 - and his booming baritone manages to warm the cold atmosphere of the convention room he's playing today. The band performs seated, and drummerless. Collins' is still unable to use the right side of his body and when talking inbetween songs has to carefully annunciate his words in a sing-song style. It has hard for this not to inform the emotion of the proceedings. But it does. And it is hard not to be wiping away tears as he sings the words of his classic Orange Juice hit, "Rip it up and start again" ('Rip It Up'). Collins has done just that and the new songs that he is 'starting again' with are the best of his solo career. 'Losing Sleep' and 'What Is My Role?' are as potent here in acoustic form as they are on the Losing Sleep album. This set has the affect of making you wonder 'WHY THE FUCK IS THE WORLD NOT GETTING THIS?'. But perhaps that's not what Collins is about. He ends the set with his 1994 hit 'A Girl Like You'. Collins leaves the stage to a standing ovation.

Today is the Australian showcase at Maggie Mae's, beginning with the notorious Aussie BBQ (which tours the US this time every year). Brisbane's Sampology finds that he has explain his VJing set to the newbies here but they are soon getting it. However there's little dancing here as most are transfixed by his visuals which run the gamut - from Kermit The Frog to Kenny "Fucken" Powers and even some Little Shop Of Horrors. Impressive both in style and the lack of copyright lawsuits so far. The band getting a lot of the Aus buzz is DZDeathrays, the powerthrash pop duo make a huge, exhilarating noise, it's hard not to take notice. The highlight of the locals though is Wolf & Cub. Although rumours ran rampant not long ago of an imminent split, what we saw here was a band on a career high. The band have fleshed out their sound and are now exploring an almost Primal Screamesque element to their post-angular rock'n'roll. It sits well with their twin-drummer pummeling. A definite SxSW highlight. Across at ND, Sydney's The Holidays are another playing a career best. Their glistening guitar pop is now sounding immaculate onstage and their touring percussionist is adding a groove that hopefully finds him a permanent Holidayer.

It's about now that the day's series of disappointments unfold. Comedian Donald Glover cancels, with the audience only informed after sitting through an hour of warm-up folk (not entirely disastrous though, as that number includes the vicious Amy Shewmer); schedule delays/clashes mean missing Kurt Vile, Death From Above 1978, Mount Kimbie and Big Freedia; and Canada's Grimes does not live up to all the hype (just another baby doll voice over some lo-fi electronica).

Back on track, at the Red Eyed Fly there's Exene Cervenka. The former member of US band X (who reformed and toured the States last year) has honed her storytelling and guitar playing ways into a rootsy country style that is as arresting as her work with her influential punk buddies. A less succesful icon outing is Yoko Ono at Elysium. Desite her rare performance including son Sean with members of Deerhoof and Wilco, it's a case of the event overwhelming the music. The gig is rammed with douchebags, aging LA/NY scenesters who look like their faces fell off twenty years ago but who still rudely, and loudly, demand attention (they all claim to be friends of 'John'). An 'official' photographer fires a laser at anyone daring to take photos of the gig, an act so douche-like itself that people who were obeying the 'No photos' notice originally begin taking photos in defiance. So Ono's wails to an contemporary soundtrack were mainly going unnoticed. This gig was just for folks who no doubt will be boasting for years that they were there. [If someone ever makes that boast to you, ask them what songs she played. Bet they can't tell you.]

But the night doesn't end on that sour note. Across town at Kiss & Fly there is raw-as-fuck bounce to be heard. The audience hangs off every one of Vockah Redu sexual commands and party calls as his dancers shake more than their money makers and their non-money-makers. It's frenetic shit and light years more innovative than anything Ono and her Plastic supergroup were messing with.

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.

Friday, March 18, 2011

SXSW - Day 1; The Austin Strikes Back


The first song I hear upon arrival in the US (playing in a cab outside LAX) is Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows'. That's gotta be a good sign. Less than 24 hours later, it's the Ghost Room and HBO have chosen Austin's SxSW, the world's biggest music conference/festival as the place to launch the new season of their New Orleans musical/drama Treme. Not only does it begin with one of the show's signature second line celebrations (which goes a little awry at the end as someone is knocked down by a car) but inside the Orleansesque Ghost Room we are immersed in the jazz keys of Henry Butler. There are no Treme cast to be seen but stepping outside, there's Mark Boone Junior, star of US biker series Sons Of Anarchy... he looks just as scary off screen as he does in the show - note: doesn't look like asking for an autograph is a good idea.

A long trek east from Austin's CBD (past the long lines into the Fader party) and the Thrasher party is in full swing at the Scoot Inn. While skaters do their skatey thing on a ramp in one outdoor area, hardcore bands entertain those doing non-skatey things in another outdoor area. But it's what's inside the dank, dark bar inside that interests most. "I wanna fuck every skater out there," pants queer indie icon Hunx, leader of the Hunx & His Punx pack. The crowd screams encouragement - Hunx ignores them, he's already moved on to shaking up a warm beer and spraying across those of us in the front rows. Yep, Hunx... guaranteed to leave you sticky. As Hunx powers through his anthems 'Cruising' and 'Hey Rocky', the room is over-heating. "How many songs do we have to do?" Hunx asks nobody in particular. "Ten!"... "No. Fucken. Way." But with the help of this all-girl edition of His Punx, Hunx delivers a more-than-satisfying set of lo-fi girl group fun.

But there's no escaping the Scoot sauna room as Nashville garage duo Jeff The Brotherhood enter the stage next. JTB do that wondrous thing where two folk make the kinda noise that you'd expect from at least twice that amount of folk onstage. The sheer energy as they tear through cuts like 'U Got The Look' is just too hard to resist and some old style moshing breaks out upfront. The moshing only stops to make a path for one of the Brotherhood to make a run to bar for a bar-top guitar solo. All hail the Brotherhood. Back in town, in fact, at the heart of the festival in the convention centre, local indie psych outfit White Denim work hard to win a tough room of 'industry types' sitting back with that 'come on, prove yourself' vibe dripping off them. White Denim prove themselves. A dash through a blur of bands follows before the night's most looked-forward-too moment, Nite Jewel at the Bat Bar in Austin's main music venue strip, 6th Street. The LA team DO NOT disappoint and their wonky disco stylings are captivating. Love is experienced in this room.

Over at Emo's, The Kills played a stripped down (yes, it's possible to strip their minimal rock further), no nonsense set (none of those usual Kills dramas played out tonight) of new material. The audience is torn between those loudly bitching about the changes in direction and those of us ready to order the new album Blood Pressures now. Following a trail of winklepickers and 'taches leads to the 'it' gig of the night, Gayngs at Mohawk. Suspicions of this Minneapolis indie supergroup (on record this collection of blue-eye soul boys from Bon Iver and the likes sounded a tad ironic) subside by the time the ten-piece hit their achingly beautiful take on Godley & Creme's 'Cry'. Eventually, after a parade of guest vocalists that includes Har Mar Superstar, the crowd aren't just eating out of their hands, they are sucking the sweat of their fingertips. It ends with all the boys on stage getting their tops off (surprisingly not Har Mar - the man usually leading onstage strips) and a giant lovefest breaks out as Gayngs kiss, hug and generally touch each other for the night's finale.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Take It Personal (Covers)


Now 'Good Vibrations' was already an overplayed song, but let's not forget that at the time of it's release it was the most expensive single ever produced... and literally blew people's minds.

The Good Guys.

NO LOVE to the advertising executives who thought it would be a top idea to add a choroegraphed dance routine and change the lyrics to help sell cheap fridges.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Ryat Act

Fronted by Christina Ryat, the Ryat project was a solo concern when it began in 2006 but in 2009 she roped in multi-instrumentalist Tim Conley. Together they specialise in deformed rhythms and off-kilter melodies that can be just as Moloko as it is The Creatures at times. The pair have just released the album Avant which features the seriously conking 'Superficial Friction'. They are also intending to release a reworked version, Avant Gold Remixed, in April - with remixes by Mikronesia and DJ Statik. The pair's pedigree has found them working with a varied lot of esteemed muso-types, including King Britt, DJ Logic, Bernie Worrell (of Material and Funkadelic fame) and Mike Watt (Minutemen, Stooges, J Mascis + The Fog, Ciccone Youth, etc). A recent collaboration with Taylor ("son of Bobby") McFerrin was released on Brainfeeder (home to Flying Lotus, Mr Oizo and The Gaslamp Killer) and their track 'A Place In My Heart' appeared on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Bubblers comp last year.
Ryat - 'Superficial Friction'

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rockin' Rune

Formerly of the much overlooked '90s house team Those Norwegians (the act originally included Torbjorn Brundtland, later of Royksopp) and part of Meanderthals (with Idjut Boys), Rune Lindbaek has released a neat set of beardy disco cuts/edits/bootlegs. The Discofil Desperados Presents Rune Lindbaek album (through Discofil) delivers some of the Nordic DJ/producer's favourite balearic rarities/weirdness. Of special note is the prog funk grunter 'Disco Jock'.