Sunday, March 17, 2013

SXSW 2013: Saturday

I guess I always figured Austin was just a big college town. But man, it's a serious city. I know, because my legs are really sore. But I didn't realize it until just now. The endorphins really kept me going these past four days. I didn't go to too many shows on the last day of the fest, but I did do some interviews for CHIRP, including Vampire Weekend. So, that counts for a lot, in indie rock anyway. But here's the other stuff I saw.

The Thermals got everybody sweaty at the AV Club showcase at the Mohawk. The Portland trio had the most crowd-surfing I've seen in years. It took me back to high school. Even though all the dudes crowd-surfing looked about 30. Whatever. People had fun, and that's what matters. Yeah, SXSW is a corporate vampire fest, but it's also really really fun.

Baths was the gayest show I saw at the fest. I can't wait to hear his new album. Baths was actually my first podcast interview for CHIRP, so I'll always feel grateful to Will Wiesenfeld. He puts all of his energy into his Akai controller, which made for some good vibes, though not too much dancing. Baths is still just weird enough with the glitchy beats to get a crowd nodding their heads, but that's probably for the best. This the electronic music you listen to first, move to later.

My SXSW ended with Mount Kimbie, and I couldn't have asked for a better closer. They need to tour with The xx again. Set up in the center of a huge warehouse, lights and projections surrounded the band. It was a Boiler Room showcase, so hopefully video of Mount Kimbie's set will be available to watch online very soon. Death Grips, Chief Keef, Lunice, and Baauer all played after them, but I didn't stick around for any of it. The chill of Mount Kimbie just felt too perfect. I called it a week, now look forward to 2014. Now that I've done this once, I don't know how I could live with myself missing it. Go ahead Austin.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

SXSW 2013: Friday

Too many pedicabs. There, that's my criticism of Austin. Otherwise, it is pretty much a cool city. I've been having fun anyway. Here's what I did on Friday.

Started the day with an art installation from Zs at the Museum of Human Achievement. This isn't a museum, it's a warehouse in some hidden nook on Austin's east side. Instead of just playing an iPod between bands like most venues, Zs would fire up their experimental noise behind the stage.

Dustin Wong is an automatic highlight of a day anytime he's around. He's a virtuoso of guitar loops, and you really have to see him play to understand just how amazing he is. He set up in front of the stage so everyone could gather above and around him. Onlookers in front sat politely. Everyone was happier when it was over. The best medicine is a good show.

Then Thurston Moore came in and played some noise. I know Chelsea Light Moving is his new thing, but I don't think that's what this was. This was all noise. I had to take off early though, because the CHIRP sponsored showcase was going.

And there it is. The DC vs. Austin SXSW showcase sponsored by CHIRP. I had to wait in a line outside of Side Bar for 10 minutes before I got in, and the first thing I saw was that weathered banner. We're doing good work around here, folks.
Another one outside. This was Ringo Deathstarr, and they were the right kind of 90s rock. I think this was the only Austin band I've seen all week, but they were fine representatives of their city. I was going back and forth between Hum and MBV, and the tank top was rockin. I'll credit CHIRP.

When it was over I just decided to walk around. Noticed a Why? song playing in a bar (don't even remember which one), so hopped in to catch the last two tracks of their set. Why not? After all, the CHIRP podcast with Yoni is still our most popular interview. I should show Why? as much love as I can for that.

After dinner I made sure to catch LA's Kisses, since this was their only set of the entire fest, and because I'm interviewing them less than 24 hours later. There was probably more enthusiastic dancing here than any other show I've been to so far. A good sign for a band that does not play live very often.

I went to Gypsy Lounge too, Thee Oh Sees played. But, I was hanging out with friends and drinking, so I didn't take a picture. It was Thee Oh Sees, you know how it goes. They get rowdy, the crowd gets rowdy, somebody spills beer on you, somebody kicks you, it's how a Friday night at SXSW should end.

Friday, March 15, 2013

SXSW 2013: Thursday

SXSW is in full effect. Thursday's hits included a stacked showcase at the Flamingo Cantina, an interview with LA's Poolside, and a Foxygen freakout.

It was picturesque, but that's often the intent of Poolside. Their daytime disco got the packed-by-1pm collectively bobbing heads. Over 80 degrees, it really felt like the start of summer. I know it's too early for that, but at least we can think about planting seeds of summer street fests and Millennium Park Mondays though. I interviewed Poolside after their set, so watch CHIRP for an exclusive podcast feature when the weather permits.

While I was interviewing Poolside backstage, I noticed things were unusually quiet. No noise bleed-in at all. Why wasn't Foxygen tearing shit up? Well, lead singer Scott McKenzie was out of his mind again. He would burst into our area and pace back and forth, he didn't interrupt the interview, but I could tell not all was well with him. Apparently as his band waited on stage for 15 minutes for him to come sing the first song, he did things like this, and kicked a stranger out of the bathroom (where he then stayed for nearly 10 minutes). Again, this band is too good for a meltdown this early. I heard that he stormed off the stage early at another showcase later in the evening. You can see him pulling his own hair in the pic above.

After the dust settled, the headliner of Under the Radar afternoon showcase quickly turned out to be the highlight of the fest for me so far. DIIV take special care of their melodies. They execute masterfully, but are not without their raucousness. A dream show for me would be DIIV, Kurt Vile, and Real Estate. Guitar Tour 2013!

Speaking of Real Estate, I heard Ducktails were playing a house show for the Not Not Fun showcase. They didn't play until something like 4am, so I didn't stick around to snap a picture. But Ducktails' new album is one of my favorites of 2013, so I will definitely catch them at the Empty Bottle next month. Other highlights of the showcase included the spooky vibes of Rites Wild (pictured above) and the spacey trip-out psych of Vinyl Williams.

After two days, how had I not seen a DJ set? Bonobo made it worth my wait at the Ninja Tune showcase at Elysium. I felt jealous of him actually. I'd love to DJ an hours worth of Bonobo songs when I DJ. His new tracks are just barely dancy, better for swaying. And this is high praise. No drops. No nonsense. This is as classy of a DJ set you can get.

So being the Ninja Tune showcase, why did Machinedrum play a surprise set after Bonobo? Because he just signed to Ninja Tune. He wasn't listed on the bill, just as a "special guest- NYC" so this was a nice surprise. News be breakin' all week. Up next, the CHIRP sponsored showcase!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

SXSW 2013: Wednesday

It's my first time at SXSW, but I can't say much because my head is already pounding and I want to just get through a blog post.

The first show I saw yesterday was Camper Van Beethoven at the Jr. I actually only did this because Delorean was playing in the adjacent venue, the Main.
This is my ideal fest band. The DJ in me loves this dance music, Delorean can even sound the airhorn between tracks and I'm ok with it. Half of the songs they played were new, which means they'll have a new album out eventually. It was refreshing to get this summery music on an 80 degree day in March. I dread going back to Chicago's winter now.
Whenever I see Robyn Hitchcock on the calendar at the Old Town School of Folk Music, I try to get a giveaway for CHIRP. Our listeners love him, but this was actually the first time I saw him perform live. Just a folk singer and his guitar, basically. But hey, he's earned it at this point.
I was closer to Wild Belle at Haven than I was to any other stage, so of course I take the worst picture. I've been hyping this band a lot lately. I reviewed their album for AV Club, and I got an interview with them for a CHIRP podcast, but this was my first time catching them live. They're a good band. And I kind of want to leave it at that. I did not understand their decision to not play "It's Too Late" though. It's their best song, so I don't know what that could be about.
I could've hung around Haven for Ra Ra Riot and Toro y Moi, but I decided to head over to east Austin for an unofficial Chicago showcase with Summer Girlfriends, Vamos, and Magic Milk at Green House. It was fun lineup on an outdoor stage in a sprawling backyard, but before Magic Milk came on to close out the night, the cops shut it down. But, in defiance, they took their gear inside and played a quick set. Kenny took his pants off, as usual. Word is they'll be playing at an underwear store in downtown Austin this afternoon.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wild Belle review for AV Club

Reggae is the foundation for Wild Belle, but psych-pop, Afrobeat, and blues-rock are the unlikely building blocks that make the band’s Isles a compelling debut. Siblings Natalie and Elliot Bergman gained indie cred thanks to their opening spots on tours with Of Montreal and Toro Y Moi, but Elliot’s prior work in renowned Chicago jazz group NOMO is a hint that Wild Belle might not be just another fleeting buzz band. Isles is a curiously diverse record, but because of all the genre crossover throughout, it’s easier to hear what Isles isn’t rather than pin down what it is.

The deceptively simple island grooves and Jamaican upbeats can disguise Wild Belle’s dynamic compositions to a fault at times. The album’s standout single, “It’s Too Late,” is a midtempo dance-party-starter, but no other track comes close to matching its energy. “When It’s Over” is another strong effort, but it’s also the only track to feature Elliot on lead vocals, and his delivery is a little dry compared to Natalie’s sultry tones. Elliot’s blaring baritone sax is a rousing highlight throughout the album, yet somehow feels underutilized despite its presence on more than half of the tracks.

In spite of how warm and easy the songs are, they’re subtly challenging. Natalie sings about pretty dresses, boys’ lips, and other unapologetically girly things that wouldn’t be out of place on a She & Him album, but when sung over rocksteady rhythms and electric kalimba licks, the focus is drawn deeper into the form. Ultimately, Isles falls somewhere between juvenile and sophisticated, which puts it comfortably in the mystifying realm of American pop.

(published at AVclub)

Friday, March 08, 2013

You Missed Out: Foxygen

(published at Heave Media)

While grocery shopping the other day, I noticed an end display of 'Mega-Stuf Oreos'. I bought a package, and sure enough, there's more sugar-cream sandwiched between those two chocolate cookies than ever before. It might have even been a little too much, but I loved it.

The exact same thing happened last night at Lincoln Hall. Two good bands were sandwiched around something crazy. Unknown Mortal Orchestra was the solid headliner, and Wampire opened the night with a spinning pizza projection, but Foxygen was the performance.

Before I get into Foxygen, here's a quick recap of the other two acts. Wampire was a band of burnouts. Or if not burnouts, guys that wanted you to think they were burnouts. Everyone at the front of the stage wore baggy clothes and dark sunglasses, barely moving as they strummed their jangly-druggy garage rock. I'm anticipating a lot more of this sort of thing at SXSW next week. And later came the drum solos and guitar solos of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It was guy-rock. They are a talented trio, but live they actually come off as orchestrated as their name indicates. But, this was probably because they played after Foxygen, who lived and died by the visceral.

Foxygen was the entirety of rock and roll. Watching it, I didn't see people playing instruments, it felt more like an abstract time warp into every era of every genre. Conjuring up the spirits of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Frank Zappa, The White Stripes, The Stooges, David Bowie, and The Zombies, the band played no covers. Oh, and the guitarist looked exactly like a young Bob Dylan, the drummer a young Petty, and the bassist a young Springsteen. The most unique thing about Foxygen though, is their terrifying singer. From chirping merrily to baroque pop, then switching instantaneously into a scowling monster with his fists flailing in the air, it was a sight to behold. Think Krusty the Clown singing "Break on Through"--and yes, the audience was asking, "what is he on?"

Their stage presence was transcendent. I was consumed by their energy and spontaneity. I didn't know what sound I would hear next, or what emotion the singer would suddenly display. It was fantastic, even when they messed up. After the singer forgot the lyrics to a song, I brushed it off assuming that it very well could have been a part of the show. They were a train off the tracks, but not crashing. Still, Foxygen is a young band, way too young to destroy themselves with drugs. At times I felt nervous that the singer might already be getting too deep into something. But then again, maybe he's just a weirdo. I'll hope to God he's just a weirdo, because I want to go to as many Foxygen shows as I can from this day forward. Foxygen is the Mega-Stuf.