19 March 2008

sxsw roundup pt. 3: i'm not that into music

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started off (musically) where thursday had ended - with billy bragg, this time doing a quick three-song set for live broadcast on "free yr radio," though i'm still not sure what that is despite the considerable amount of time i spent in contact with their promotional machinery. this time nava was even awake. there was a delicious soundcheck tease of "to have and have not," and maybe something else, but the set was mostly a repeat of two new songs he'd done last night - the not-quite-xtc-ish "farmboy" and the allegedly title-less clash one - and some of the same stories to boot, but he did treat us with an awesome "waiting for the great leap forward," which he introduced as a sing-along despite then changing nearly every line from the recorded version, including some special "sxsw exclusive" versions. good man good man. oh yeah, we also heard/saw she & him (m. ward and zooey deschanel) play there, though we were mostly too busy making buttons to notice. (i made robyn and jens buttons.)

and then we saw jens! (lekman). well, first peter moren, of björn & john sxsw ubiquity fame. was cute - he did one pb+j song, "paris 2004" - but also just kind of odd as a solo performer. he just walked off stage towards the end of his last song. was hoping for a full-band lekman set, but he just had one female accompanist (on bongos) instead of five. that turned out to be just fine though, making it a little more intimate and off-the-cuff feeling. he's just as charismatic and endearing a performer as bragg is, maybe even more so, and his banter feels less stagy and scripted - he tells the same stories over and over too of course, but he at least acknowledges it, in the unmistakably jonathan richman-esque self-dialogue intro to "postcard to nina" ("tell that story just one more time, jens." besides "nina," he did most of the highlights from kortedala (though not my faves, "shirin" and, what i was really hoping for, "your arms around me,") as well as "black cab" and the so-so "hammer hill." best part, maybe, was the sparse, kalimba-accompanied arthur russell cover ("a little lost"), though bobby didn't like it. but the set list is really beside the point, since just watching him smile to himself is as subtly thrilling as about anything you could hope hear.

had promised nava we'd take it easy on the music, or at least the rushing-around, for the afternoon, so after finishing up our semi-free beers and failing to win shoes playing washers (?) there at club de ville we headed to a parking garage cross-town to see about getting some ice cream and swimming pool action. of course. well turned out the ice cream cost and the pool line was daunting, so we stayed in the shade and played some shuffleboard - five games of it in fact, of three rounds each, which was enough to convince them we deserved free shoes even though we couldn't quite squeak out three wins in a row (even playing against bobby who was attempting to throw his games.) the vaunted santogold was also playing in the parking lot (as well as szwerogold), but we didn't really pay any attention to her, so i can't comment on that.

it was a pretty low-key evening musically as well, though i did bop around a bit at the beginning - catching five or six songs from jeff hanson (including my hands-down favorite, "this time it will"), whose impossibly high, frail, angelic voice (sadly, no match for the bar conversation and street noise wafting into emo's iv) makes for a pretty unsettling disconnect with his fairly pedestrian, quite burly, decidedly non-female physical presence; a couple extended jams from kelley stoltz, who may have some decent pop writing chops (i wouldn't know, as they weren't on display in the last ten-fifteen minutes of his set) but isn't quite good enough to justify so much aimless rocking out, harmonica-slide or no; and a perplexing tune or two from the ruby suns, who dressed like frolicking hippy schoolchildren (basically, like my twelve-year-old self - complete with flowing tie-dye shirts and a plastic bone necklace - n.b. the photo above is actually from a different show), acted like they hadn't quite grasped the concept of performing for an audience, and played as though they could have used a few more band members, multitasking instruments and sometimes switching mid-song for no apparent reason. well, i'll withhold judgment until i hear the record, i guess.

i'm ready to pass judgment, however, on the ballyhooed MGMT, whose 10pm set at stubb's was probably the most disappointing of the acts i was somewhat actively anticipating. actually i guess my expectations weren't too high, since the album had so far failed to excite me much. in fairness, i think the sound was pretty poorly mixed, as you could barely hear the keyboard parts (which are definitely the group's strongest point), but they seemed pretty content being a parody of a big-hair arena rock band (this must have been one of the biggest crowds they'd ever played to.) they seemed so young up there, like a bunch of play-acting kids - which is all well and good, but the songs just didn't seem to be there. "time to pretend" and "electric feel," pretty much the only songs i recognized, sounded good enough, but the wankery:melody ratio everywhere else was way off-balance. and they pointedly, it seemed to me, didn't play their best song, "kids," which would have gone a long way to appeasing me (since i was more or less counting on it as pay off for a hard hour or standing on my feet.) on the other hand, the beer-swigging dudes in front of me said the band was awesome, so what do i know?

from there we hedged our bets and lost out both at getting into dr. dog/tapes and tapes (way-long line) and a-trak/cool kids (could maybe have made it, but not in time to be worth it), though i did run into aaron of inflight rock band/throw me the statue. anyway, we made sure to be at pangaea early enough to avoid the rush for robyn that, as far as i could tell, never quite materialized. like amy phillips, we rolled into the (creepily glitzy) club just as the vines were hammering out a clueless cover of "ms. jackson" that after a minute came of less as painful than just plain hilarious. then they yammered something about just wanting to make a lot of money and get all the girls, played one final song (whether it was one of their hits i really couldn't tell ya), during which at one point the lead singer sort of fell over or threw himself into the drum set or something. and you know, i've gotta say i like their style of rocking out a lot more than i like mgmt's - at least it's got some pop, some pep, some rhythmic propulsion, and the songs are short.

but whatever. we were there for robyn, robyn robyn robyn. mmhm. they futzed around with her equipment for a long time, and then she started playing. not sure if the tech issues had truly been fixed - it sounded okay mostly though her vox were too quiet (in her monitor too, after several requests), and one on song ("handle me"?) the bass was suddenly chest-shakingly intense, but she still seemed kinda distracted and annoyed about it, or about something. yeah, robyn's a total pro, and she still put on a great show and got everybody riled up and smiled up, and i'm sure if there were any doubters there they were converted, so in that sense she did what she came there for, but it still seemed like a shamefully badly organized affair. this was her only showcase (though she also played at an invite-only day party in cedar street where apparently she had to do much of the set without the electronics, and at the perez hilton party - i wonder how well the tech worked there), and they couldn't even get her to soundcheck properly or figure out in advance how to make her (seemingly quite involved) setup work?

eh, i know i'm just spoiled for having gotten to see her at her first u.s. gig in new york, but there was strikingly little of the mutual warmth and magic that marked that show here - she barely talked to us, for one thing. no major changes to the set list either, though the mid-set covers medley was pretty nice, including not just "push it" and "sexual eruption" but a few more too that i can't think of now, though the latter was definitely the highlight, as she reworded it: "i'm gonna take my time...i'm gonna get mine before he gets his." i did notice that "dream on" was on the set list, but they cut it due to time constraints (presumably.) too bad... i know, i shouldn't complain, right?

the night was not quite over: we bundled up our energy and headed a little ways away to the blender magazine party, a decidedly hip affair that was going down in a warehouse in an unassuming residential area. the free drinks (pineapple vanilla vodka) and assorted schwag were nice enough, but what we really went for was the dance party, and although the notoriously reserved sxsw crowd did take a little warming up, they did eventually get into it. as well they better damn well should have, considering who was rocking the decks: diplo (philly's own!) and a-trak (maybe my fave dj, both live and on the stellar dirty south dance mixtape), trying out a one-time-only (?) experiment of switching back and forth after one track apiece. i quickly lost track of who was playing what, and it really didn't matter, as it all flowed gorgeously, with plenty of my own favorites getting aired (notably lrd's "jacques your body," stone roses' "fools' gold," de la soul's "saturdays," missy's "pass the dutch") along with lots more i didn't recognize. sadly, this party too had to be cut short, ending at 4am, maybe an hour and fifteen after d and a had taken the stage (and by which point they'd been joined by, in addition to the pottymouthed emcee blaqqstar, kid sister and a host of others whose relevance it was difficult to gauge.) damn. good to shake it with those guys.

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