…And while I’m in a SXSW groove, it’s worth finally getting around to heaping some more praise on Kat Candler’s Hellion. This is the film that started several years ago as a short, but has morphed into a critically-acclaimed observation of Southeast Texas rural/metal/bored youth melancholia starring Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis. Within the swirl of the festivities down here, it’s gone somewhat unnoticed that the film has been picked up for theatrical distribution by Sundance Selects and Kat has been signed by ICM Partners. Couldn’t happen to a better film/filmmaker.
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.
SXSW has come to a close and I’ve discovered that the key to an enjoyable week’s worth of music is saying to hell with the showcases and concentrating on the day parties. Times are tight, and if that means standing in line and chugging free sponsor swill like UV pink lemonade flavored vodka and Rose’s Austin-Jitos, well, so be it. This is what little I remember…
Anathallo – Arcade Fire without the French Canadian pomposity. It’s a joke! C’mon, I love French Canadians… except maybe for Martin Lapointe. I’ve heard that guy’s a dick.
Amanda Palmer – One half of the Dresden Dolls. She was getting a ton of word-of-mouth over the week, but 2pm in an Austin tent are not the best conditions for angry, Brechtian keyboard-pounding.
Black Joe Lewis – I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see the Bar-Kays this week. Catching the Black Joe Lewis set at the Paste Magazine party more than made up for that.
Port O’Brien – A Northern California band whose sound is very familiar. Very familiar. There’s some Band of Horses, a little M. Ward, a dash of Bon Iver… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The Drones – Apparently I typed this at some point later that evening: “why am I liking this?” What I imagine the result would be if Sonic Youth was forced at gunpoint to play classic rock.
Passion Pit – Very fun and very exuberant synth-pop. I appreciate the fact that they all look like guys that would hang out at the computer lab in high school.
Bishop Allen – I had one of those odd time/space slips when catching a chunk of Mutual Appreciation on IFC the night before seeing Bishop Allen. When the fuck did calypso become the new black.
Daniel Johnston – Showed up late and immediately tried the patience of the shuffling throng of hipsters. God bless him… he still knows the basics of a good, catchy pop song.
The Wrens – Another band (along with New Radiant Storm King) that got dumped when Alan Meltzer purchased Grass Records and turned it into a factory for crap. Seeing these guys play live again and hearing rumblings of a new record makes you think that maybe things will get better.
Black Lips – Only Cole Alexander can rock a pancho/pilgrim hat ensemble and make that shit work.
Echo and the Bunnymen – Much like Devo later that evening across town—or even Metallica later on the same stage—no one needs me to describe this to them.
I need to address the Rachel Ray party separately because of the dissonant feelings it arouses. I realize this is the second year in a row she’s hosted a SXSW party and many have already gotten the WTF out of their systems. For starters, The Cringe (her husband’s band) had a prominent spot on the bill. Yes, The Cringe sucks in a way that makes you wince more out of sympathy than animosity but I still think it’s kind of sweet that she enthusiastically champions them on, hoping that her zeal will be contagious. Of course it’s nepotism in its most garish form but I find it hard to hate her for it. Who knows, maybe it’s all that corn syrup from the mojitos still in my bloodstream. Regardless of the personality throwing the party, the Hold Steady and New York Dolls were both predictibly great and the ancho-chicken tacos and mini burgers were tasty. Major quibble: why start the Thermals set and open the doors for a line that literally circles the entire block simultaneously? To serenade the arriving throngs? It’s pretty disconcerting to finally get in only to see gear being packed up.
Eh, there’s always next year.
SXSW is here and I take a perverse enjoyment in the fact that on opening night I went to a screening that had absolutely no connection to the “family tree”. Altamont Now had its Austin homecoming at Beerland on Friday and I’m glad I finally got to see it for myself. A genuine underground success story, it sells itself as a “Gimme Shelter-style rocksploitation”. Unfortunately, it tended to be overly self conscious and the points it belabored were beaten to a fine paste. I don’t know, I’ve always found the exercise of satirizing political dogma to be pretty tedious, primarily because the didactic grandiosity inherent already makes the practice effectively self-satirizing as it is. That said, the film’s high points were high, indeed. There was a nice, absurd, John Waters touch to many scenes, particularly the inexplicable musical interludes, most complete with mic stand and chroma key background. Definitely an entertaining, if over-the-head-hitting, 90 minutes.
Now I’ll need to address my other quandaries with SXSW. Particularly the fact that the film and music portions of the festival overlap late next week… on the “Two Greatest Days of the Sports Year.” I mean, shit yeah, I’m excited to catch The Thermals, Hold Steady and Dinosaur Jr. at some free shows; and I do genuinely want to see Pontypool, It Came From Kuchar and Sorry, Thanks. But it’s March Madness, peoples. The Zags finally look like they’re primed and prepared for a decent tournament showing this year. Heytvelt is playing up to his potential, Matty Bouldin is starting to bear an even more striking resemblance to Dan Dickau and this final run is the reason Pargo came back to Spokane for his senior year.
This is gonna require some prioritizing.