SXSW 2010: The Wrap Up

We saw a bunch of bands this past week. Not every set was memorable, but there were more than enough highlights to make the stiff necks and barking feet worth it. Here’s Wednesday, Thursday, Gibbarday, and SXSW’s metal shows, and more. This last post contains our notes, and photos from our intrepid photographers — Ryan Muir, Graeme Flegenheimer, Pooneh Ghana (and her polaroids), and Linda Flores — from Friday and Saturday in Austin. As the news cycle speeds up, it’s difficult to hear groups for the first time at events of this sort, but we did stumble upon a few things. Including things we’d like to forget, a la the disappearance of the taco truck on Red River, the unseasonably cold weather, ice tea-flavored vodka, and that people actually use the term “glow-fi.” That, and plenty of unforgettable things that were far from new, like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and “Hole.”

Yep, that’s some hardcore ’90s referencing happening there. But we turned up to see Courtney Love and her backing band of session players at Stubb’s for SPIN’s day party expecting to mine new punchlines, instead finding ourselves entranced: Courtney’s striated sing-scream still packs something visceral, at least in the (reconstructed) flesh and near the photo pit, and the hits still hit. She opened with the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” dug into actually pretty good new one “Skinny Little Bitch” next; other Nobody’s Daughter cuts included a newer arrangement of “Pacific Coast Highway” and “Samantha” with its “people like you fuck people like me / to try and avoid their suffering,” dedicated to “Trent Reznor, 1994, stick that up your ass.” The set’s last lyric: “Please help me.” Courtney’s offstage exploits can’t help but factor into your reading of her lyrics, but when she’s on it, the exploits become secondary — the shifting ’90s icon is all that’s in focus.

More ’90s with Stone Temple Pilots, who played the hits along with their new stuff at the Austin Convention Center, but holy shit, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Did you forget what jams “Tha Crossroads” and “1st Of Tha Month” were? (jj hasn’t.) You’d also have them indelibly etched in your memory had you attended their Levi’s/FADER Fort closing set; no, no surprise guest followed (to the dismay of those who’d been fed rumors of M.I.A./Jay-Z/J. Timberlake’s presence in Austin), but none was necessary after Bone Thugs, who followed a righteous Sleigh Bells set and live-wire raps from tattooed medicine mixer Yelawolf. One of the most affectionate and party-starting gestures of Bone Thugs’ set had to have been passing out vodka bottles from stage, which is a pretty safe way to ensure a party will be started, even if your blazing cadences and emotionally charged ghetto anthems didn’t happen to be some of the last few decades’ best hip hop output, and the crowd hadn’t been seemingly waiting for them for 5 days.

Speaking of drinks, unlikely “curator” and repeat showcase sponsor Rachael Ray had fancy ones at her showcase, where you could also catch She & Him (the same day we hosted Ben Gibbard), Jakob Dylan, late-night party host Andrew W.K., Dr. Dog, Local Natives, and Ray’s husband’s appropriately titled band the Cringe, among others. There were less ingredients in the drinks at Gorilla Vs. Bears’ Klub Krucial day party where we caught Mountain Man, the Sandwitches, and the pitch-perfect Dum Dum Girls.

Outside High On Fire’s late-night pillaging, the best metal shows took place in small spaces without stages. BrooklynVegan/Crustcake/1000 Knives’ day party in the backlot of Hoeks Death Metal Pizza on Thursday ruled: Beers and mic stands were tossed, fences almost taken down by enthusiastic dancers. Landmine Marathon, fun enough the day before, really rose to the occasion on the back of charismatic frontwoman Grace Perry, who easily moved between fierce growls and pit-instigating antics to sweetly apologizing for kicking some enthusiastic headbanger in the balls. The crusty, more insular Indiana crew Coffinworm offered-up the very definition of heavy. Trash Talk’s frenetic, electricity imploding set (complete with athletic youth crew accompaniment) offered nice contrast to Fucked Up’s performance later that day at the Levi’s/FADER Fort.

Fucked Up’s a fun band, no doubt, but at this point an increasingly safe live band. The group writes more memorable songs than Trash Talk, but the in-person experience falls flat in comparison. Some of it’s the result of performing in larger venues, but you also know the drill: Three guitars, bass, and drums offer a tight backdrop for Damien Abraham’s exploits. We saw a bunch of these at Fader Fort: He smashed a can on his forehead, commented on his weight after removing his shirt, and told the kids to start their own bands. All cool, but his mud bath and group baptismal at SPIN’s Stubbs party was ultimately more satisfying. Deviations are good. As is actual deviance.

The other winning metal event was the Profound Lore/20 Buck Spin Friday showcase at Headunter’s: The Endless Blockade, an especially spacious Salome, Yakuza (yes, complete with saxophone/clarinet), and the recently arrested Liturgy offered some of their best, most transcendent sets to date. The place was packed, stunk like weed, and felt ready to cave in at any second. After moments like this, it’s difficult wandering back to a larger room half-filled with people nodding along to something they’re witnessing from behind their iPhones…

Maybe the biggest metal surprise was how good Savannah’s Black Tusk sounded at the larger Encore on Saturday night: Their recorded material isn’t always very exciting, but live the trio makes great use of those three very different voices (old-school thrash, death, phased) in an attack that sounded like a more macho Kylesa and looked very much like Fenriz and Kerry King teaming up for some southern whoop-ass. (Looking forward to the new album out in May on Relapse.) Conversely, ASG were also fun, but despite excellent guitar hooks, the excellently anthemic Win Us Over’s multi-tracked vocals are missing from the rather thin live show. (Goatwhore felt even flatter at Emo’s Annex on Friday, but it was nice to hear a bit of talk about Satan on a bill packed with Christian metalcore. Difference makes the world go ’round…)

In a massive game of contrasts, the ad hoc Alex Chilton memorial was taking place while YACHT and Major Lazer hosted a huge ad hoc dance party at Cedar Street Courtyard. Psychic City-era YACHT, dressed sharply in tuxedos (Jona in white, backing band in black) and a black dress (Claire L. Evans), the group’s grown up from “See A Penny Pick It Up” to become full-on stage-owning sex symbols. During a brief tech pause/Q&A session an audience member asked Evans about her connection to the Blow.  She said, basically, “nothing.” Same goes for the band in general. Who saw this coming a couple years ago? Live, Major Lazer is the musical equivalent of professional wrestling, but a blonde-mohawked hype man who climbs speakers and a woman who can stand on her head and still booty dance go a long way, Diplo. It was pretty damn cold that night, but a few strategically placed heat lamps and all the awkward dancing warmed things up.

The Chilton Memorial was supposed to be a Big Star reunion until the 59-year-old singer and songwriter died on Wednesday. The band soldiered on regardless as did various guests like Mike Mills, Curt Kirkwood, Evan Dando, M. Ward, John Doe, and Sondre Lerche, who performed his songs.

We only had three pairs of legs down there, so again, a big thanks to our photographers Ryan Muir, Graeme Flegenheimer, Pooneh Ghana, and Linda Flores for running around with us.

‘Til next year.