We’ve offered our suggestions as to what bands to see this week, now we shift into the bands we are actually seeing. SXSW has begun in earnest, and is earnestly crowded. We’ll try to cut through the static a bit this week by recapping notable sets and posting up photos from our fleet of photographers. Let’s get started:
The Antlers @ The Parish (Frenchkiss Showcase)
[by Amrit Singh]
This week the Antlers are presenting Austin with material they’ve completed for their first release since recording their 2009 breakout LP Hospice in 2009. They appear to be proud, and eager, to share (the majority of last night’s seven-song set came from the forthcoming Burst Apart). And they ought to be both: a couple of years have lapsed since Peter Silberman recorded his soaring emotional hospital meditations, and the new material indicates the band (now a permanent quartet) has identified its central strengths — ambient atmosphere, cathartic vocals — and is finding ways to both bolster push them to their edges. So the first song was brighter and more danceable than any Antlers you’ve known, but still bright and sorta danceable in a manner suited to a band that just got up from pining by a hospital bed. (Cue palm muted guitars, drums like Larry Mullen in the tastefully restrained parts of a U2 rouser.) Another recalled the sultry, atmospheric R&B touched on by Jeff Buckley’s Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk (indeed, Silberman’s fortified falsetto made that connection). There was confidence in the material, poise onstage — two nice things to see in a week that sees too many bands with no anchor. GRADE: Catch them if you can.
Trash Talk @ Emo’s (Vans Showcase)
[by Brandon Stosuy]
Every time you turn around in Austin, past SXSW heroes Trash Talk’s already halfway through a set. Last night at the Van’s Showcase at Emo’s Main Room, the Sacramento quartet launched an upcoming US tour with OFF! by delivering one of their chaotic, crowd surfing and slamming performances. That photo is illustrative.
OFF! @ Emo’s (Vans Showcase)
[by Graeme Flegenheimer]
OFF! were more more laid back. Keith Morris has a charmingly avuncular approach to telling stories about the good ol’ L.A. days and offering song explanations longer than the songs (i.e. his moving, rambling, moving because it was rambling background info “Jeffery Lee Pierce”) all without turning things into a circle jerk (sorry). When the punk supergroup did finally get to it, their straightforward old-school West Coast sounds managed to take you back to the time Morris had been talking about, even if you weren’t born yet when he quit Black Flag (1979, youngsters).
Bad Brains @ Emo’s (Vans Showcase)
Speaking of history, Morris was clearly excited to be playing before fellow travelers Bad Brains, saying you “never” try to follow the D.C. legends, who made their SXSW debut with “Attitude”: Especially stoic, H.R. remains a mesmerizing frontman for different reasons than the early days, but the set lacked intensity, somehow seemed muffled. Or maybe it was just the second-hand smoke?
Darwin Deez @ Latitude (NME Showcase)
[by Jessica Suarez]
Darwin Deez (and the band that shares his name) are actually from New York, but they were part of this NME showcase because they’ve gotten such great press and toured a lot overseas. I think they’ll get the same attention here once more people can see them. Songs like “Radar Detector” and “Constellations” get a sort of percussive aggressiveness live, and Darwin is a charming frontman. Also, as previously mentioned, they like to break into dance routines between songs, along move that would not be as charming in another band’s setlist. There’s no irony with these guys, either, or at least, no guilt: they played an album all chorus version of “You Can Call Me Al” toward the end of their set. -Jessica
Duran Duran @ Stubb’s (Time Out North America Showcase)
[by Scott Lapatine]
Stubb’s hosted the official kickoff of Duran Duran’s 2011 tour, which was a welcome respite from fly-by-night garage bands that command so much attention this week. Nick Rhodes told Cole in our recent Progress Report, “The shows we play now are much better than the shows we were playing 20 years ago, even though people might not always remember it that way.” And they did gel. The new wave heroes also looked pretty great for guys in their 50s, though they were probably wearing as much makeup as they did during their Fab Five peak. The show kicked off promptly at 12:30 with an energetic “A View To A Kill” and no one could have been disappointed by the rest of the setlist: “Notorious,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Wild Boys,” “Girls On Film,” … mercifully only a few cuts from the new Mark Ronson produced All You Need Is Now. A woman in front of me spent the entire show dancing with a Yoda puppet. Miss you ’80s.
Wolf Gang @ Latitude (NME Showcase)
[by Jessica Suarez]
I walked in after Wolf Gang had just started “Back To Back,” the song that had me first interested in London musician Max McElligott. I loved that song in its original, minimal, slow-burning form, but also once made a mix with the track sped up and reinforced. I learned to like it that way too. Seeing them live, I was happy to see that they kept that 80s romanticism but also had a soaring energy that “Back To Back” doesn’t reveal (their “Lions In Cages” shows it off a bit more). I also loved that they looked the part (multiple members have evocative asymmetrical haircuts and single danging earrings). These New New Romantics were the best way to start off my SXSW experience.
Arson Anthem @ Emos (Vans)
Finalizing the night’s old-school punk vibe, Arson Anthem — Eyehategod vocalist Mike Williams, Phil Anselmo of Pantera on guitar, and Assjack’s Hank Williams III on drums — covered S.O.D. during their particularly sloppy, fun, right for 2AM inside set. Then came the street meat.