More great thoughts from Kevin Seal at South By Southwest:
My last post went up when SxSW’s music program hit its halfway point, and it’s been a flurry of activity since then. Friday night’s big plays made for an overloaded highlight reel: Dungen (after a transatlantic flight, their drummer still managed to guide those songs with an impossibly light touch and the most subtle of ghost-strokes), the Freak Accident (squealing trumpet, stomping singalong, squiggly synth, Sharrocking guitar — Jello Biafra was standing next to me through their whole set, and he loved it too), Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings (dry, dead-sexy classic soul with a full Stax-bred horn section and a simmering rhythm section), and Neko Case (her lyrics fascinate me — no one else can describe hitting a deer with her car and have the song seep with such a disturbing combination of dread and religion and sticky sensuality).
By Saturday night, I was bleary-eyed and checked out of my hotel room. I had to be at Austin-Bergstrom airport by 5 a.m., so I stretched my calves, did a few jumping jacks, and prepared for a marathon. For this final night, I was ready for flat-out discovery. I wanted to throw myself into unfamiliar music, and be blasted out the other side. Standing still was tending to tire me out, so I vowed to preserve my alertness by continuing to run from club to club.
Hence my short-attention-span Saturday. Hold on, and keep your boots tied.
8:15 Swearing At Motorists: Dayton by way of Berlin. Just a guitar and a drum set, with impassioned singing and lean songwriting. No dead weight or ballast. MZ thought Dave Doughman’s voice sounded like that of Phil Lynott, which made me laugh until I listened a bit more and nodded in agreement.
8:40 Cadence Weapon with DJ Weasel: This was a score. I’d never heard of — much less heard — Cadence Weapon, but MZ was hip to it. Clever, literate, snarky lyrics about playing videogames and other suburban distractions. And my favorite hip-hop tagline of the year: “High-energy beats and raps from Edmonton, Alberta.”
9:05 Rumplestiltskin Grinder: Skullcrushing thrash metal. Shaved-head frontdude was wearing a Municipal Waste shirt, which was community-minded and supportive. Municipal Waste played later on the same bill.
9:25 Richard Swift: This show was sold out, so we stood outside the chain-link fence and listened for a few songs. ’70s-style piano rock that sidesteps a lot of the cheese that the genre sometimes allows. Ever heard Tom Waits’ The Early Years? The songs he did efore he took on the persona of the grizzled, greasy-spoon customer? More like that than, say, Elton John or Ben Folds.
10:00 The Joggers: Wasn’t a great night for these Portlanders, as they were besieged by sound problems. But their angular guitars and multi-man vocals still worked, especially on the straight-to-shuffle-to-straight We’ve Been Talked Down.”
10:30 Lisa Germano: What happened to Lisa Germano? Either she didn’t show, or she played a 28-minute set and packed up. Hmm. Someday, I’ll get to see her in person.
11:00 Martha Wainwright: Great little club called Eternal with a balcony-wrapped upstairs, from which you could watch the band from behind. The bartender said that the BBC had simulcast an unannounced show by the Flaming Lips a few nights earlier. It would have been amazing to see them in such cozy environs.
11:15 Deathray Davies: Garagey, ’60s-based rock. They were doing it well, and I would have stayed were it not for the lure of the competition.
11:25 Lyle Lovett: Quite a contrast to the style-conscious indie rock that abounded. Lyle Lovett was the perfect palate-cleanser. Kudos to the sound engineer at Stubb’s for making that stand-up bass sound so clear and full in a giant outdoor bandshell situation.
12:00 Lady Sovereign: Lady Sov’s Vertically Challenged contained two of my favorite dance-club anthems of the year, and thankfully, she did those two at the top of her set: “Random” (Chorus lyric: “Everybody get random, all gyal dem, all man dem / Everybody get random, just do sumfin random”) and “A Little Bit of Shhh.”
12:30 John Boutte: I stumbled into a jazz bar on my way back from the West side, long enough to hear New Orleans singer Boutte finesse and cradle his last two songs of the night, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. One was a heart-pulverizing cover of Annie Lennox’s “Why,” addressed to the tragedies of his town. Boutte is a nuanced, soft-sell, light-touch soul singer in the tradition of Al Green and Curtis Mayfield.
1:05 Dirty Projectors: Those Boutte ballads left me with a grin on my mug and a tear in my eye. Could have ended the night there. But I pressed on, and I’m glad I did. As soon as I walked into the Habana Calle, the Dirty Projectors split my head open like a melon with a mallet. Just what was needed right then. I had no idea how Dave Longstreth would present this material live, since his albums are either orchestral or cut-and-paste assemblages. As it turns out, the current live incarnation of the Dirty Projectors is a syncopation-obsessed, guitar-driven pop band. Yep, syncopation-obsessed, and beautifully so. Think of the jumpy, wide-eyed offbeats of early Talking Heads and then push it ten times further. With those snaky, burbling, intertwining lines, the songs began to approach the rhythmic density of West African music. Really, though, it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard. After their final encore — the crowd was going nuts for them — I scooped up the chunks of my shattered skull and walked out into the rain.
2:15 Brothers Past: The official SxSW shows had ended, but I still had a few hours to kill before cabbing it to the airport. Our friend Mike from Ultimate Ears encouraged me to hit this afterparty. Free food and drinks until 4 a.m. Good deal. The party was sponsored by a certain taurine-spiked energy drink, so the cocktails were designed with awakeness in mind. On stage, a Philadelphia quartet called the Brothers Past stirred up a trancey combination of electro jam, dubby post-rock, and ambient music that landed somewhere between very early Pink Floyd, “Third Uncle”-era Eno, German prog bands like Can or Faust, and the Rum Diary. If you ever want to stay up all night, swaying and simmering on a taurine narcosis, I’d recommend these guys as your soundtrack. Harmonized lyrics occasionally surfaced, but mainly the band dealt the kind of time-compressing, moment-expanding instrumental music that Sandy Pearlman or Terence McKenna might describe as transcendent.
Speaking of Sandy Pearlman… he came by the Pandora booth and spoke with us for a good long time, and I’m very glad he did. You know that SNL Christopher Walken skit, in which the producer of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” is requesting more cowbell? Sandy Pearlman produced “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” That character is based on Pearlman. Aside from his work with Blue Oyster Cult, he also produced records for the Clash, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Dictators, Dream Syndicate, and Romeo Void. Anyhow, it really brought the week full-circle for me to meet him. He immediately and instinctively understood the philosophy and principles behind Pandora, and his questions cut right to the core of what we do.