In an attempt to save all of my thoughts and general commentary on the events of SXSW 2009 for a singular post (due up this Thursday), I’m going to first provide a show-by-show account of everything I happened to see during my three days in Austin. Today, I’ll be presenting material from Thursday, March 19th, while Tuesday will cover Friday, March 20th, and Wednesday will address Saturday, March 21st. In the end, I hope to show that I had a good time and that I accomplished my goal of seeing both bands I hadn’t heard before and those that I was quite anxious to see.
New Religion (12:30pm)
This was a quirky bloghouse duo that bounced about with all of the hipster joy that comes from singing through voice modulators and performing fuzzy beats on three synthesizers. According to the tall, lanky member of the group, this was the band’s second show ever and you could tell – the two danced about like they were in their practice space working on new material and didn’t know how to get the thin crowd involved in what they were doing. Musically, they weren’t doing anything truly new, but it was a vaguely interesting, lo-fi twist on contemporary electro-pop.
The Wheel (1:15pm)
While folk singers can seem to be a dime-a-dozen at times, what was most enjoyable about this gentleman’s set is that he had a great set of rock pipes and refused to sound like a generic sad-sack, sappy-ass, acoustic-guitar-playing schmuck busking on a street corner. I would like to hear more from this guy.
The Donkeys (1:45pm)
Having reviewed this San Diego band’s most recent record, I was aware of the band’s beach pop vibe, but I was pleasantly surprised at how effectively the quartet delivered that sound in a live setting. It was a light, airy, friendly, and fun set, right down to the funny banter between the drummer and the crowd, including this gem: “We’ve never been to SXSW before. There are certainly a lot of guys with beards and beer bellies here.”
Bishop Allen (2:15pm)
The tent was absolutely packed for this buzzing Brooklyn quintet and their natty hipster attire. At once, they were upbeat and fun, but also seemed to have one general sound that they ride for an entire set, as jangly guitars, xylophones, and voices rose as one. It was all too cute (and a bit hollow) for my tastes.
Au Revoir Simone (2:45pm)
Speaking of things that are too insanely cute for me, I had a chance to see these three lovely ladies, with their identical immaculate coifs, perform their brand of dreamy synth pop. At one point, my girlfriend stated, “I’m surprised you like them. They seem much too precious for your tastes.” In one sense, she’s absolutely correct, but it’s hard to deny the charm of such a demurely classy act.
Daniel Johnston with Hymns (3:15pm)
As could have been predicted, the grounds swelled to near capacity for Daniel Johnston’s set. Singing off sheet music on a music stand, he was backed by at times by Hymns (an energetic indie/alt-country band) or a lone compatriot on acoustic guitar, while occasionally playing guitar himself. Though he would at times shake incessantly while grabbing hold of the microphone stand, Johnston kept the excited crowd enraptured through the entirety of his time on stage.
These Arms Are Snakes (3:45pm)
I was supremely intrigued by this band’s proggy, postcore rock: a curious mixture of Abe Vigoda, Trail Of Dead, and spacey stoner rock. Maybe it was the syncopated drumming that kept the pace moving from song to song, but I would like to hear more from TAAS.
The Wrens (4:15pm)
This was a supremely entertaining set, as four gents from New Jersey ran about the stage pell-mell performing a unique version of poppy post-punk flavored with Brit rock tendencies. The band came to have a good time and continually cajoled the crowd into dancing, moving, or doing something in response to the music on stage. It’s always great to see this kind of energy at a rock show.
The Mae Shi (5:30pm)
Performing to a crowd of industry types at what was obviously a swank Austin club when SXSW isn’t in town, this kinetic outfit from Los Angeles put on a show that could easily be defined as “rock as performance art” that is NOT full of itself. Brash and loud indie rock, supplemented by keys and dance-y rhythms, was the name of the game, including fun-filled Man Man-type antics that would make Danny Elfman proud.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (6:15pm)
Though this highly hyped quartet played a heap of shows at SXSW 2009, I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to see if the band’s live set would fulfill any expectations I had after reviewing their debut full-length. Suffice to say that this group lived up to the hype and so much more as they blazed through a thirty-minute set filled with glorious fuzzy pop melodies and late ‘80s aesthetic. Supported by a sturdy, driving, no-nonsense rhythm section, the keyboards and guitars ably carried the chord progressions as the vocalists supplied syrupy tones and melancholy moods. Most notably (at least to me), while the guitar player/lead singer pulled off the tire-college-kid-bemoaning-his-stock-in-life look, his face lit up with joy every time a smile formed on his lips. These kids obviously love making music and their set this Thursday was a pleasure to behold.
I was curious as to how this gothy, gloomy, electo-pop duo was going to be able to recreate their studio project in a live setting, but they pulled it off rather well. The quasi-militant (TV On The Radio-styled) bass and beats hit harder than I had expected, which provided an excellent contrast to the ladies’ ethereal vocals. I do expect that this would have been a better set to see at night in a club where dancing might possibly could have occurred. My sentiment about the band in general is that it seems to be the ultimate in hipster dance music – the beats and song construction seem impervious to traditional dance movements; thus, in sync with kids who want to stand around in fashionable attire and chat while listening to hip music, instead of actually dancing. I certainly did dig the music – Eurythmics meets Bjork meets Bauhaus meets dubstep – but it might be so immediate, trendy, and hipster-approved that it has no lasting power.