SXSW Friday: Featuring James Blake, Odd Future, Esben & The Witch, Jamie Woon, Mount Kimbie
Click on for some thoughts and sights from a very busy Friday in Austin. Tonight’s the last night here, so if you need some guidance please refer to our list of must-see bands, or our favorite moments from Wednesday and Thursday. And if you’re looking for a way to close out your SXSW, come to our LAST NIGHT party: Das Racist, Owen Pallett, Puro Instinct, Cults, and Gold Panda. Doors are at 11PM and the drinks are free all night so please get there as early as possible. It is going to be a madhouse. We want you to get in.
Click on, this is a fun one:
James Blake @ French Legation (Other Music/Dig For Fire)
Reviewed from the vantage point of a person with no vantage point: The rolling greens outside of French Legation are an idyllic place to stretch out and break free from Austin’s beer-soaked bars, sit on the grass, take in some music. The problem is that these greens are indeed rolling, and declining, making it nearly impossible to get a clear view of the main “stage” if you are trying to see a seated James Blake and aren’t as tall as him. (Dude’s stretched.) Instead I took the set as an experiment, letting his music be as faceless in concert as his dubstep predecessors have been on record. The results: Waves of sub-bass and pert rim-clicks still filling and cutting the air, overhearing remarks about how Bon Iver-ish some of those plaintively autotuned vocal moments can be, overhearing a great many clumsy descriptions of “dubstep.” This is spacious and patient music for music halls more than elegant back yards, but people seemed happy enough to say “I was there.”
Odd Future @ FADER Fiat Fort
Some of their apparent danger may have evaporated in the light of Funny Or Die videos and Adult Swim pilots, but the shrewd youths of Odd Future continue to hone in on the elements that make them an onstage thrill: disregard for property, stage diving, contorted faces, sprints around stage, a love for chaos, Tyler’s eyeballs. So mics are thrown in the air, other bands’ backline cymbals smacked and knocked over to the extremely apparent displeasure of the stage crew, Tyler threatens jumping into the front rows of photographers feet-first because of how much he hates them taking his picture (RIGHT). SONG HIGHLIGHTS: “French,” “Yonkers,” The Creator’s a cappella, leaving stage to the ever-absent Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl.” BEST MOMENT: Tyler apparently giving a side-staged (and head-bobbing) James Blake a thumbs up, which was a nice little consummation of 2011 meme-step.
Esben & The Witch @ Latitude 30
Esben & The Witch might be my favorite set of the festival so far, if only because they meticulously insert drama into every aspect of their show. The lights were turned down before they got on the small stage at Latitude 30, and they began without introducing themselves. There’s something attractive and selfish about that, just like there’s something attractive and selfish about the way they perform, with their backs toward the audience, heads down, hair covering their faces. They focused only on themselves and on each other, locking into rhythms (a single drum or cymbal or pounded guitar strings) and startling, beautiful a cappellas. For their finale guitarist Daniel Copeman dropped his guitar and ran through the audience to bang a drum, while singer/bassist Rachel Davies played a single cymbal, which she also dropped). The stage was battered when they left. It was an exit fit for their entrance.
Jamie Woon @ PureVolume House (Hype Machine)
The Jamesie trifecta (Woon, Blake, xx) are a SXSW trend piece in the making. Catching as many of them this week as possible has been necessary due diligence for dubstep dilettantes and the more savvy alike. I looked forward to Woon’s set last night as he brings a singer’s sensibility (and smoothly soulful croon) to the table, which had me hopeful for a particularly compelling live show. Unfortunately it wasn’t what he brought, but what he’d taken away, that was most notable: Burial’s smart electronic production was replaced for live arrangements by a band consisting of a drummer and two dudes with laptops, guitars, and basses. Instead of sharp beats there were limp (and often meandering) jazz/funky smoothed out grooves. Woon’s voice is powerful inside an artful electronic context, but it couldn’t save the band’s sagging vamps. Then again, this set was at 2:45AM, so we can forgive most anything that sags by that time of night.
J Mascis @ Austin Convention Center
The ACC’s dark and quiet Radio Day Stage was a fine venue for Mascis’ sleepy acoustic set. Folks were even passed out on complimentary oversized pillows toward the back of the auditorium. The Dinosaur frontman performed tracks from his just released solo LP Several Shades Of Why, effortlessly nailing the blistering solos that made him guitar hero of post-hardcore college rock. Preceding new one “Not Enough” was an unexpected cover of Edie Brickell’s “Circle Of Friends.” On tour with Dino in the late ’80s, he explained, Murph hogged the van cassette deck with Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars — after thirty plays the song “started to sound good.”
Mount Kimbie @ PureVolume House (Hype Machine)
This was more like it. The two Mount Kimbie kids also had a guitar, and a snare with a cymbal, but these beats were created live with a drum machine and sample pads, every element of their visceral electronics rendered in real time and restoring some life to the night air. Rapper Chris Young jumped onstage for an awkward but energizing moment. Mount Kimbie was seemingly unphased; their focus throughout was on the beats and their supplemental ambient textures, and it paid.
Yuck @ Kiss & Fly (Noisey.com)
“Yuck make me smile” – A tossed off review of the set I was watching that was misheard as a late-night come-on. If you had a penny for every time the words “Dinosaur Jr,” “Pavement,” or “Sonic Youth” are mentioned at a Yuck show you could afford the finest ’90s vintage fuzz pedal. If you could write songs as perfectly reverent yet irresistibly fresh sounding as “Get Away” and “The Wall” and Gen X-cathartic as “Rubber” you’d have played one of my favorite sets of this festival. There’s nothing wrong with wearing your older brother’s clothes if they fit you perfectly.
Hunx & His Punx @ Red7 (Sub Pop)
The cavernous big room at Red7 was sweltering for Hunx & His Punx. I doubt Hunx would be wearing much clothing either way (though he was wearing a very warm looking hat) for his set. I wasn’t able to see his entire set, but I appreciated the snarl of “You Don’t Like Rock ‘N’ Roll” and new (and, according to Hunx, his favorite) song “Bad Boy.” Nearly every vowel came with a stretched “w” inserted for extra coy brattiness.
Theophilus London @ La Zona Rosa (Green Label Sound)
Theophilus London knows how to get an audience on his side. One of his methods: dressing like a hip Indiana Jones, leaning (or jumping) into the crowd for emphasis. Another, and possibly best method for getting people on your side: throwing money at your crowd. He did the latter during “Gurls, Girls, Money,” where he punctuated that last word with handfuls of dollar bills. Sometimes it took more than money, though. Before he sang his Sara Quin duet (her vocals came from the record for this show) “Why Even Try,” he asked the ladies to say “Awww.” But he wasn’t satisfied; he said they replied as if he “…put [his] finger in your butt.” The second “awww” was better, as if he didn’t put his finger in your butt, I guess. I think London kept the ladies on his side by playing a remixed version of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” and encouraging everyone to sing along. Then secured the entire audience by ending with a brief tribute to Nate Dogg, playing his appearance in “Smoke Weed Everyday,” — specifically, the part where he sings “….smoke weed every day.”
Ariel Pink @ Kiss & Fly (Noisey.com)
Of course Ariel was wonderful, of course he had a congregation of indie rock notables sidestage for his set. The most surprising thing about Ariel’s set (besides Dam Funk’s quick jump onstage) was his puncuality. I spent the night calling him Ariel Pinktual. Yes, you may groan.
Cough/KEN mode/Magrudergrind/Gaza/Wormrot @ Lovejoy’s (Brooklyn Vegan/1000 Knives)
There was a long (long) line and too many people at Dirty Dog, the large downtown space where I caught Howl, Red Fang, Weedeater, Kylesa, and Crowbar as part of the Metalliance 2011 Tour. The venue clearly oversold tickets — at one point bouncers removed tables (including the ones belonging to all the bands’ merch folks) so they could cram more people against the non-functioning Big Buck Hunter. It was a long day. Between the weirdness of the venue itself and all the voice-stealing secondhand smoke (cigarettes, not weed, weirdly), I decided I couldn’t make it through Helmet to Saint Vitus. Not a big deal: The bands I caught were fun, especially ready-for-classic-rock-radio (sorta) Oregon quartet Red Fang (whose Murder The Mountains I’ve had on repeat over the last few weeks) and Weedeater (whose vocalist/bassist “Dixie” Dave Collins should have his own sitcom). That, and I liked counting the bald spots and reading the patches on old-time metal dudes’ jackets.
My favorite sets of the day came via the afternoon/early evening Brooklyn Vegan/1000 Knives metal showcase at the smaller, less cramped Lovejoy’s (complete with Black Metal beer, chairs if you feel like using them, and a kind, friendly bartender). It housed plenty of inspired moments: Salt Lake City’s Gaza and their “he is never coming back” gang vocals, the massive and endlessly heavy lurch of Virginia sludge/doom quartet Cough, Magrudergrind’s collegiate pit baiting. But recommended Winnipeg metallic noise-rock trio KEN mode and Singapore grinders Wormrot were the standouts, both for the paired, clean simplicity of their (very) different angles/reads on extreme music. (Both also have excellent, mesmerizing drummers that make me wish I had better hand/mind coordination.)
KEN Mode’s Venerable is one of 2011’s best records; live, due in part to Jesse Matthewson’s wild eyes (and Gira hat), the songs take on an even more vicious intensity. A friend of mine said he can’t get behind their motivational lyrics — “Life’s too short for second best” — but I’ve always the impulse to reject/squash laziness and these sorts of will-to-power riffs are appreciated. As was the ramshackle pit inspired by Wormrot, who tore into songs from Abuse and earlier plus some new ones. Highlight: After much cheering and howling from the crowd, Wormrot plugged-in for a two-song encore that lasted about a minute and a half.