18 March 2008

sxsw roundup pt. 1: the cough alliance
(is an anagram of the el guincho canal)

just got back from awesome austin, tx, where i rocked my second annual (so far) south by southwest, this time taking in upwards of forty artists (catching about 36 full or nearly-full sets) over four very full days. most of it spent with three superlative companions: my ever-endearing once-and-future roomie, consummate host and itunes playlist compositor par excellence matthew "dominic" stangoni; my irrepressible, hilary-hatin' cousin bobby "billy bob" gravity, on a long-deserved (and semi-stealthy) furlough after a year of barackin' around the clock; and my tolerant super-trooper of a nap-happy music-appreciation gal navacado rockswild sxswergold. i'd say it was a blur - four days of biking helter-skelter around downtown, eating tacos, imbibing giveaway drinkproduct, spraying on sunscreen, waiting in lines (tho not nearly so much as last year, since thanks to the almighty, er mostly-mighty wristbands), receiving hand-stamps from bouncers, to no evident purpose, coughing up an impressive reserve of phlegm left over from the sickness i'd mercifully all-but-overcome by the start of the festival, and eventually, after many sole-sacrificing hours of standing and dancing and watching and standing and dancing, driving back home, two-to-a-seatbelt, and crashing out on matthew's futon to recuperate from between, roughly, 4am or so until around noon. yeah...it'll be a blur soon enough.

but for the moment it's still plenty vivid; i've still got the logic-puzzle information overload of venue names, cross-streets, set times, rsvp statuses, and reshuffling priorities buzzing around my mental circuitry, i've still got the sense-memory of colors, tastes and sounds, the as-yet-unanecdotified remembrance of recountable occurences, the post-party debrief detail-recall of setlists and banter. so i better jot something down here before it all goes fuzzy. i'll do what i can to mediate between narrative chronicling and merciful brevity:

got into town. fine texas welcome in the form of bobby's leftover brisket and ribs from smitty's. wi-fi-netted our lists of show picks at the green muse for as long as my itchy eyes could take, then took semi-respite in the form of a yoga class (led by nicolette of sxsw 07 fame yay!) at their multi-purpose non-church friendlychristian meeting space, mosaic - which was good except i had to give up towards the end. matt and i picked up our wristbands and some goodflow 'n kombucha, but that's about all i was good for that day, so we retreated to his apartment for green chile tamales and an early bedtime. just as oh well since we hadn't been able to secure tix to the free yo la/my morning show that night. (matt did sneak out to see a certain bald four-letter celebrity dj.)

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got to red-eyed fly a bit late for the explorer's club, definitely too late for the free bloody marys (which were probably gone by 11:03 am), but enjoyed the sunshine, promo neon-pink MGMT shoelaces, and a couple numbers from a tweedy/petty-alike, tom freund, who sang first w/ just stand-up bass and an older drummer who kept dropping his sticks, then with gtr+bass and a different drummer who seemed to possibly not have had any sticks in the first place. took a bit of a reconnaisance jaunt around town, picking up "vip" "laminates" at the pure volume ranch (right next door to where aberfeldy were not gonna be playing that night after all boo hoo boo hoo) and wristbands for the fort, listening from without as the whip whipped it good within. then to emo's where we heard the final song from the raveonettes (purty sweet) and then finally got our first proper set of sxsw08: the mae shi.

actually i almost forgot about them and said it was why? which isn't to say the shi were forgettable - they were fun and young and punky and shambly and had cute stage antics (canvas parachute - no apes and androids tho) and were a decent substitute for not managing to catch no age again later on in the week. but why? were just top-notch. it was great to hear some almost-favorites from elephant eyelash (tracks 1-3, if i'm not mistaken), but maybe even greater getting to take a first-stab at parsing yoni's new beat-leet floetry live, before i get around to grokking their new record i didn't even know existed (which would turn out to be a recurring theme of the week.) vibes as part of the drumset = clutch.

the blow seemed a bit flustered and bewildered; she whined about her short set time and kvetched about the posturing of sxsw attendees in a way that was meant as a performance schtick - complete with play-along "bingo card" - but came off as uncomfortably honest in a not-quite-intentional way. so khaela wasn't quite on top of her game (she dropped quite a few lines too) but she's still plenty charming and too refreshingly down-to-earth to want to acknowledge as 'quirky.' and her songs are great.

we hung around at emo's for the free popsicles (they were out of pistachio and coconut so i settled for watermelon) and caught el guincho, a mildly manic, muppety-looking spaniard who hammered away at a single drum that awesomely matched his bright red pants. (not to mention the scarlet macaw on his album cover.) there were more sounds emanating from the couple of boxes and gadgets on his slapdash table, and he would occasionally sing along with his looped vocal samples, but the combined effect was pretty unidentifiable - discernably spanish with vaguely cha-cha-style grooves and looped flamenco-like exhortations, but far from traditional in any sense, not even as electronic dance music (which, ultimately, is how you'd have to classify it, if you'd have to.) really fun, reminiscent of animal collective in ways that didn't actually annoy me (which is impressive) and basically great semi-abstract background music for a summery technicolor rave.

that was the end of wednesday: day, and instead of taking the conventional breather before wednesday: night, bobby and i strode across town to try our luck at getting into the van morrison gig. we got in probably two or three songs into the set, though to tell you the truth it was pretty tough to distinguish one song from another. i could only understand at most a quarter of what van was singing, though just about every song seemed to have something to do with trains. anyway, there's no denying it was him - that voice was unmistakable from the moment we walked through the room, even if standing (still) there on the stage he could have passed for any number of the portly be-hatted older denizens of the crowd that were preventing us from really getting a good look at him. eh, it was nice enough to listen to. i've never been a big van fan, but it's still kind of cool to have seen him, even if we did wait in vain for "and it stoned me" or indeed anything recognizable from the three or so albums of his i've ended up with regardless.

seeing freezepop was a bit of a time-filler but i'm glad we did, as they were very enjoyably goofy and amateurish, and there was even a sizable crowd that was fairly amped up about them (and prague is a pretty nice club.) they looked pretty ridiculous/cool, with their two (2) keytars and liz enthusiasm's hot pink dress, but they didn't seem to be especially technically proficient. (one of the guys joked that they couldn't play "less talk more rock" - their guitar hero 'hit' - live because it was too fast, and judging from their performance of it i don't think he was actually joking.) was nice to hear some older stuff too - "boys on film" cover and "stakeout" (from the album of theirs i first heard via a random unlabelled cd-r found somewhere.) oh yeah, they closed with a cover of "the final countdown," which i didn't even know.

just after that set, nava arrived in town, earlier than anticipated, and we bummed around a little in search of the next activity. peeked into the k records showcase, but set times were changed around so mahjonng weren't on then and saturday looks good to me weren't either because i guess they cancelled, so it was this guy city center who said it was his second ever show (the first was at cmj) and it was kind of cool but too noisy for the navi so we walked up the street to see jeffrey lewis instead. and the jitters, as he apparently calls his drummer and bassist and the funny woman who played pennywhistle and a tiny little casio keyboard. happily we caught most of "will oldham williamsburg horror" or whatever that song is called, which was great, and the rest of his set was real fun too (we must have missed the first half of it though), including one of his crass covers and a "film" (with picture book accompaniment) called "creeping brain" that nava said was her favorite part of the festival and was definitely a highlight for me too. gotta remember to see jeff more often - he's definitely awesome live even if his records don't quite do it.

stuck around too for kaki king, whose set veered all over the place from bluesy/folky acoustic picking to straight-up indie rock to mathy/jazzy/proggy muscular post-rock/classical. undeniably impressive musicianship (especially the super sick acoustic guitar v. drums battle in the last song) and often lovely-sounding but a little too willfully eclectic (and the songs not quite interesting enough) to quite gel as a whole.

we were pretty tired by now - it was only day one after all, we hadn't got our stamina up yet - so we only stood for the first fifteen minutes or so of lindstrøm's set at the thirsty nickel (and only danced for a subset of that - hans-peter took his time with transitions, leaving us hanging in space for quite a while between beatdrops), then retreated to sit down in the back of the club, where i somewhat disengagedly watched the beginning of one of the jackass movies, muted, on the bar tv, while lindstrøm's hazy, swirly grooves washed over me - quite a surreal, disconnected experience.

soon enough it was time for a final slog across town and up a little hill to karma, the off-the-beaten-path venue for the first sxsw appearance about which i was truly excited: the tough alliance. they fulfilled expectations perhaps too fully, and turned out to be just as obstreperous, impertinent, and iconoclastic as you could anticipate, deliberately subverting concert conventions by showing up late (maybe not deliberate, but unconventional by sxsw standards) and "playing" a six-songs-short set that pretty much consisted of them mugging, 'dancing,' and generally goofing around on stage, only occasionally even bothering to lip-sync, in front of projected videos of dolphins, waves and carnival dancers, while their records played. it was actually pretty intense. the one dude mostly just kind of stands there with his mouth open and his arms in the air, shaking spasmodically. one of them took apart a mic stand and started banging the pieces together. at one point (when there were strings in the music) one of them mimed playing a violin with a mic stand and microphone as a bow. they didn't talk at all, though they did acknowledge the small but enthusiastic audience in their dancing, coming down into the crowd and pulling somebody on stage at one point. actually, one of the nicest things about it was the (pre-recorded) transitions between the songs, which flowed very smoothly. the whole set was taken from the new school, in album order (songs 1-4 plus "neo-violence") except for "silly crimes" added in the number three slot. was it a disappointment? perhaps, frankly, but only in the ways that i more or less expected. if it was another group, i wouldn't mind so much that they're more interested in inscrutable performance art that deconstructs the very underlying concepts of "performance" than they are in just putting on a good show, but their music is just so damn good that it kind of hurts to see it, in a sense, mocked and dismissed by its very creators. at least it was great to dance to... (and yeah, i'd go to another tta show in a second, just to hear the music.)

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