Recuperating. I know it’s Monday but, yeah… making progress. There’s still a lot to love about SXSW and most of it centers around the notion of surprise. Last year, I had the opportunity to catch Passion Pit on their rise and it’s strangely gratifying to chart their success. Maybe it’s a weird, paternal thing. This year, however, seemed to be more about those comfortable voices from the past. Witnessing sets by Gordon Gano, Lou Barlow and Superchunk within a couple of days of each other really started to send me into a timetunnel. Highlights…
Free Energy – Paul Sprangers and Scott Wells were in a previous band named Hockey Night, recording songs that sounded like Slanted & Enchanted B-Sides (not an insult). With Free Energy, they’ve clearly infused a whole Adidas duffle bag full of seventies swagger and boogie into the proceedings. Maybe Malkmus should take note.
Carolina Chocolate Drops – A traditional string-band band from Durham. I’m talking banjo-fiddle-kazoo-bones-whiskey-jug traditional. Anything that drives hipsters away, puzzled expressions plastered on faces, is just fine by me.
Okkervil River and Rocky Erickson – Their album isn’t coming out until April but, if the set they performed on Wednesday at the Paste Party is any indication, it’s an inspired and unique collaboration, with Will Sheff and Rocky sharing vocals on new stuff as well as “Two Headed Dog” and “I Walked with a Zombie”.
Miles Kurosky – I knew very little about Beulah when they were around and now I feel like an uninformed moron with no taste. I will now track down The Desert of Shallow Effects and begin to work my way backward. I suggest you do the same.
Japandroids and No Age – One of the unfortunate truisms about working the day show circuit is that you’ll often find yourself in a venue that doesn’t comfortably fit the act. Standing up in your booth, catching furtive glimpses of Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt’s head at the tiny, Arab-themed Red Fez provided a perfect example of that principle. I also caught a glimpse of David Prowse’s head once or twice. All said, it did sound fantastic.
Surfer Blood – I’m far from the hippest cat in the room, but I thought it was odd how many people were talking about Surfer Blood as the “breakout” band of this year. With “Swim” last year, didn’t they arrive already… uh, “broken out”.
Superchunk – My personal highlight, but that’s purely because I’m becoming a decrepit, old geezer. Brought back fond memories of seeing them back in ’92 at the Safari Club in Danbury, CT. When it’s all said and done, “Slack Motherfucker” may become indie rock’s “Freebird”.
The xx – It’s a harsh draw to follow Superchunk’s set, especially when your music works as more of a slow, roiling simmer than an all-out boil-over, and I will come clean to having preconceptions after disliking their debut LP last year, but I really put some effort into liking The xx, I really did. How about this: I didn’t hate them as much live as I do recorded. That’s something.
Sadly, I missed Cymbals Eat Guitars, an apparently awesome and somewhat emotional Auditorium Shores show by Cheap Trick, and the scheduled Big Star gig at Antone’s that became a sad yet joyous tribute to Alex Chilton. Rest in peace, El Goodo.