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SXSW Day 1: Old scenesters, young whips and Nintendo power.


Austin's a fucking meh-ess this morning: the asphalt's all sticky with spilled Shiner Bock; Red Bull cans are stubbed out like butts all over the place; and the gutters are alive with the sound of psyched grackles pecking up dew-damp pizza crusts. One thing that's not all over the streets: people. For a few scant hours each morning, South-by makes a ghost town out of Austin--albeit one with plenty of trash cans. It's a little stretch of calm between big boozy storm systems--and last night's was a doozy.

FULL SXSW COVERAGE: Boston band buzz, Twitter feeds, video, blogs at ThePhoenix.com/SXSW

I rolled into Austin after a 2 1/2 hour drive through the bluebonnets from Houston (tip: you can save $300 doing this), and after a couple hours of standard SXSW processing (badge, big bag of useless promo shit, Fader Fort wristband, inaugural taco/margarita), I decided to get right into it. If you've never been to a SXSW, "it" means a mile long din of thousands of people, hundreds of bands, dozens of bars and a few confused leathery street cowboys, for whom this overwhelming influx of poofy-haired aspiring and actual Brooklynites must surely be some swallows-coming-back-to-Capistrano type shit: They bring with them the promise of spring, and most likely a fuckload of easily bummed cigarettes. The sound of SXSW is unlike anything else I've ever heard anywhere: Death metal spills from a pizza place service window; a squawking wah-wah fit crows from a rooftop funk showcase; a waify bearded dude busks in the middle of the street;  blues, doom, reggae, rap, roots, and random indie rockage all melds into a barreling thunder of smashed-up contexts; up in the higher frequncies, flecks of ringtones and text alerts mix with birdsongs--a/k/a O.G. twitters.


 My predetermined goal this time around was to see as many brand new baby bands as I could-- so naturally, when I heard that The Van Pelt (my favorite band of 1996) were playing a day show at the Wave, I was on it like Goorin hats on 90% of the guys here. The scene at the Wave was kind of like any given Friday night at Brownie's in the 90s (though Brownies didn't have any faux palm trees). Class of '96 in the house. Chris Leo and Co. borrowed gear from D.C.'s Edie Sedgwick and rolled effortlessly through 30 minutes of 30+ indie-rock gold. They played everything off of Sultans of Sentiment that we had ever forgotten we loved so hard: it was all twinkling guitars, passive wallflower basslines, crisp frill-free drums and Leo's ever-present chatterboxy, which he strayed from only to attempt high notes that were no longer his to hit. The assembled gave not a shit, clutching their bag straps and letting their muscle memories direct the lurchy in-place nondancing that was all the rage back then. Leo noted that the band had with them a trove of first-pressing vinyl and CDs: "Oh and if you buy them on CD, you can see how much the record stores marked them down before finally sending them back to us." It was hard not to feel a little bit like remainders ourselves.

Fortunately, memory lane was just an on-ramp. Through the rest of the afternoon, I caught a downright lovable set from Amherst teen force Who Shot Hollywood? at Maggie Mae's, moving several women squealing "THEY ARE SO CUTE!" as they bopped through a half-hour set of goofball pop with way more sophistication than you might expect from kids not old enough to drive their van. (I'll have a little chat with them for you later this week.)

Downstairs and nextdoor, the most tenacious indie-pop band in Brooklyn, The Besties, were dragging their gear on stage like they weren't in the middle of a grueling 7-weeker. No one yelled "SO CUTE," because "cute" doesn't quite do it. Whereas most indie-pop bands are the musical equivalent of Gummi Bears, the Besties are more like getting sandblasted with sugar.

After some pulled pork tacos (marry me Stubb's) I bummed a ride to the old Salvation Army on South Lamar for the DataPop party--which, for a venue two miles outside of downtown, was jam-packed. "Free drinks" meant "free Red Bull" to the temporary chagrin of kids who had already had 10 Red Bulls that day.

The DataPop/chiptune movement (whereby jamz are constructed from assorted bits of 8-bit audio shrapnel culled from hacked GameBoys, old Nintendos and other defunct systems) might seem nichey like ColecoVision, but the range of acts demonstrated some wild range. 8Bk OK weaved crusty/elegant versions of Broadway showtunes from Little Shop of Horrors to Jesus Christ Superstar ("I've always wanted to say this: This song is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I hope you like it."). Not since A Boy and His Blob have gayness and Nintendo come so seamlessly together.


The crowd tightened into a hot, crushing throng when NYC's Anamanaguchi took the stage: a four-piece (actual) band-band with a sweetly yammering NES console as their center (sort of an ersatz vocalist at times). For anyone who loves Trans Am's heavily analog heyday, Anamanaguchi could be a real homewrecker: pummeling, brutish and charging, but totally a'glimmer with primal zigzags of Mega-Mannish melody and simmering electronic textures. See this band immediately (start with our video).

 

After Anamanaguchi's last notes, Corpus Christi's IAYD emerged in the center of the crowd at a rickety table, shouting into a jacked-up phone receiver: "If you're looking at the stage, you're looking the wrong way. I'm over here!" It took the assembled all of five second to recalibrate themselves into Girl Talk mode and crowd the table. IAYD set was not the griddy, tailored fare you might expect from a the duo of hacked GameBoy casings he spent his set thumbing: It was a roaring, hideous, infectious, mindless, rapturous, caveman technosplosion that sent us all into fits. If chiptunery ever seemed cold or inhuman, IAYDs set flipped it right into hot and downright alien. When a futzed cable dropped the room into brief silence, he fingered his connections, tugged plugs, and glanced desperately toward the soundman until it inexplicably came rushing back through the speakers. (If that didn't work, he might have tried just blowing into the cartridge.)

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