River City ~ Dispatches from Austin

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pinback in... Denton?

I hadn't been to Denton in years. But I was spending the weekend in Dallas anyway.. and that nebula of cosmic wondersounds known as Pinback were playing a bar called Hailey's in the little college town just north of the Metroplex. So I grabbed a couple of friends, and we hit the road.

I've seen Pinback several times, beginning with a legendary show at SXSW a couple of years ago that cemented their presence in my mind, and in my cd collection. Since then, I've seen a couple of other shows by these indie-mood-pop-math-rockers (sorry - couldn't help it), and they amounted to 'pretty good' and 'kind of inspiring.' But nothing transcendental. Which was frustrating, because knowing these guys, and the kinds of songs they write and the sounds they produce, you get the feeling that any point in time shared with them could suddenly become one of those moments.

And after leaving the two-hour show - fighting through a driving rain on the way back to Dallas - I had a broad smile on my face, and a ringing in my ears. This was really the Pinback show I've been waiting and hoping for since the SXSW set that started my obsession. The sound was full and enveloping, the crowd was enthusiastic, and the harmonizing front men, Rob Crowe and Zach Smith, sounded incredible on the mic.

They mostly played songs off of their new album, 'Summer in Abaddon.' So fans who aren't into the new stuff might not be so into this tour. While filling the set with 'SIA' songs doesn't leave much room for surprises, they played a long show and there were certainly some solid older favorites out there. Rob and Zach opened the show by themselves with "Versailles," a haunting, gorgeous melody.. followed by "Tres.." from their acclaimed second full-length, "Blue Screen Life." Both slow, mellow tunes really hypnotized the crowd before Pinback dove into the rockers.
Most of the old hits like "Penelope" and "Tripoli" were there... in the same arrangements they've been playing live for a couple years. And I'll say that most of the SIA songs were played in style very close to the album. Normally, this might be a little disappointing.. but in this case, it was still wholly engaging, because it was amazing to hear them bring such a full, lush sound to the stage. I wouldn't have thought they, or anyone, could recreate all of the texture of SIA in a live format, and do it so well.

It was LOUD. Hailey's is a small venue.. we were in a very shallow room, and eardrums were rattling.. to that point that it hurts for awhile, until you don't feel anything but a dull throb. But as loud as it was, it was still crystal clear, smooth and defined. I know they were having trouble with the monitors, and their were some mic problems. But it wasn't anything that dragged the showdown; All in all, everything sounded great. Thanks, Pinback, for making my return to Denton a wholly worthwhile endeavor.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Aftermath

I've pretty much recovered from South by Southwest, but I've purposely done absolutely nothing interesting since then. Just to kind of wipe the slate clean, I suppose. It's still the concert season, so I'll try to check some bands out in the coming weeks and post a few reviews here.

Thank you to those of you who read my SXSW experiences, and dropped me an email. I want to invite anyone to submit your own reviews, or plug your band and some upcoming shows (probably best if you just send Austin shows for now, to keep things sane). This blog is actually getting a few hits, so you might pick up a few more people to come see your gig.

I just read that pinback is coming to Emo's on May 14. Emo's tends to eat bands that I like. They've eaten pinback before, as a matter of fact - I watched a show plagued by sound troubles and all around bad acoustics a year ago, hoping against hope that they would come to the Parish or some other venue. Nothing against Emo's - it just doesn't fit their sound. So I'll have to decide whether to suck it up and give it one more chance. Guess I've got a while to think about it.

Until next time, keep watching the skies!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

South by Southweary

This is the last of a series of articles written for PROGRESSIONSESSION (http://prosession.blogspot.com ) chronicling the writer's experiences at the 2005 South by Southwest music festival.

For my last night of South by Southwest, I got a little more rootsy. And very frugal. I caught free shows at Longbranch and Trophy’s, and paid $5 to see the Weary Boys at Ego’s. Can’t beat that.

I watched Steve Stubblefield, front man for the Starlings TN, at Longbranch. He played an acoustic set, switching between his guitar and a dulcimer, on which he was quite competent. Stubblefield hails from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and he represented the southern rock sound well enough. His voice and style made him a ringer for Steve Earle… and man, could he drink. Whiskey and a beer, another whiskey and a beer, throughout his performance… I think he was pretty well wrecked by the end of his set, but he held it together admirably. He even got some help from some enthusiastic audience members who wandered in and sang backup in an impromptu, blues/gospel song called “Forbidden Fruit Makes a Sticky Jam” – or something like that. All in all, he is an affable fellow who gave an enjoyable performance.

Trophy’s continued the GoGirlsMusic extravaganza, where they have been showcasing women-led bands on two stages since Wednesday. I listened to the more-or-less “straight-ahead rock” stylings of the Ginger & Sarah Band, from Austin. They sounded good, flexing some rock ‘n roll muscle, even if the road they were on seems to have been traveled countless times before. But the crowd enjoyed the up-tempo music and Ginger’s powerful voice.

The James Ryder Band was playing at Ego’s when I showed up. You can’t beat the musical selections, including Neil Young’s “Helpless” and Little Feat’s “Willin’.” But – and this might not be very fair – Ryder just started to annoy the heck out of me. His banter with the crowd was pseudo-confrontational, in a playful way, but it went on and on and I kept wondering if they were going to play another song.

The Weary Boys finally came on. These guys are so talented it hurts. Actually it did hurt a little – I’ve never in my life had my eardrums ringing after a bluegrass show. Okay, they’re not bluegrass, they’re rock – more in the style of the Band than anything else, but with the fiddle and the stand-up bass going apeshit on stage, it’s a frenetic, exciting country hoe-down that would give your grandma a heart attack. And Ego’s is small, small, small – so the band was loud, loud, loud. Fully plugged in and peeling the paint off the walls. But I’m not complaining. The Weary Boys are a great live act, and you should go see them any chance you get.

So it’s all over now. In a smoky back room somewhere, the South by Southwest fat cats are counting their money rolls, high-fiveing each other and licking their chops in anticipation of raising the wristband price another $10-$20 next year. But hey, they brought it all here, so I should cut ‘em some slack. It was a good party.

I want to leave you with one last thing to think about. If you’re wondering how to get your band on the bill at SXSW, have you ever considered recording a 52-hour song? That appears to be this guy’s ticket. Aye Chihuahua…http://2005.sxsw.com/music/showcases/band/17683.html

Broke Down Engine

This is the fourth in a series of articles written for PROGRESSIONSESSION (http://prosession.blogspot.com ) chronicling the writer's experiences at the 2005 South by Southwest music festival.

Today is effectively the last day of South by Southwest. And I've spent most of the day in bed. How did this come about, you ask?

I left work early yesterday, rushed downtown and things were falling into place beautifully. A parking space opened up right in front of me on 5th Street (unbelievable!).. I wandered into a free show at Emo's, with the Frames on stage. They sounded great. Four guitars, electric fiddle, and a group of guys whose enthusiasm for performing was palpable. The sun was shining, the day was lovely. Calexico was coming up next. I decided to toast my good fortune with a beer. And then another. And... well, you get the idea. Hours later, at the end of the night, it's a wonder that I didn't climb onstage and pull my pants down, or some similar outrageousness. Who knows, maybe I did. Judging from my all-day hangover, my brain probably shut down early on, and my body began posting eviction notices in a desperate attempt to rid itself of the self-destructive parasite that is me.

I'm an experienced drinker. How could I let it come to this?

It's because SXSW is a party. Everything changes. Downtown Austin doesn't even feel like the same place. Between the tour buses, throngs of people, wristbands, badges... it feels a bit like some musical theme park. And as such, it's easy to lose track of time and location. I closed the night out at Longbranch Inn, where I saw the Immediate again (and they rocked - again) as well as a few various Brit bands on "Feed the Limeys barbecue" night.

But the afternoon show by Calexico was the pinnacle of the day. What looked to be an unfolding disaster (sound problems) ended in a wondrous performance. Their southwestern/spanish-villa /desert journey/Mexican border-fueled rock 'n roll style was bringing people in off the street and from emo's back room.. yes, those surly punksters all hiding in the shadows, they crept in to see what the party was all about. Beautiful. And free... Take that, South by Southwest fat cats! All the money I saved on a wristband allowed me to pour enough booze into my veins that now, I've missed almost all of Saturday.

And with that in mind, I'm going to cut this short and head on back to the party. Must do it... "For the blog..." - I will carry that chant into the early morning hours.

An Immediate Shot of Adrenalin

This is the third in a series of articles written for PROGRESSIONSESSION (http://prosession.blogspot.com ) chronicling the writer's experiences at the 2005 South by Southwest music festival.

Last night, a band calling themselves the Immediate threw down the gauntlet - and served notice that they were in Texas to kick some serious ass. Hailing from Dublin, they put on a thrilling set that left the crowd at Soho Lounge sweating, a little bit unnerved, and cheering for more.

The intense rockers brought to mind the White Stripes with a little of the Strokes and other bands in this vein, but they were surprisingly original, given the territory they were navigating. Or conquering. I’m convinced now that stage presence isn’t learned – it’s innate. If you ain’t got it, sorry.. But if you do, all you have to do is stand there and it oozes. These guys look like they are barely old enough to buy alcohol in Texas (...but who am I to judge? That’s a different story...) yet they commanded the crowd’s attention and projected a rock-n-roll bravado that often sets the great bands apart from the good ones at SXSW every year.

Three different band members took their turn at lead vocals, and one of them looked like a cross between Beck and a young (and slim) Van Morrison. When he seemed to go into convulsions, and then jumped off the stage to dance in the crowd, the audience just kind of gave him room and watched him with a mix of enthusiasm and nervousness. But this wasn’t some uncontrolled riot.. It was tight and intense - while the music was unpredictable, at times dreamy and at others angry and raging.

I asked them for a cd after the show. “We don’t really have anything out yet,” the drummer said. Unbelievable. I’m going to follow them to Longbranch Inn tonight to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. But I know it wasn’t. If you ever see these guys on a bill in your town, go get rocked.

You can listen their sample here: http://2005.sxsw.com/music/showcases/band/16481.html
It's good, but bear in mind that it doesn’t do the live show justice.

South By St. Patrick’s Day

I eschewed the usual crush of trying to get into one of the Irish pubs in town.. and instead went to the Ireland rock-n-roll showcase at Soho Lounge. I had no problem getting in, and was able to wander right up to the stage as I watched several bands from Dublin, and one from Limerick. Seemed like a good way to celebrate St. Patty’s while all the pricks were out waiting to get into B.D. McScratchy’s (or wherever the hell they decided to congregate), just so that they could wait another thirty minutes to get a damn Guinness. I strolled right up to the bar, ordered two Guinness for good measure, and got down to business. I rock.

I eschewed the usual crush of trying to get into one of the Irish pubs in town.. and instead went to the Ireland rock-n-roll showcase at Soho Lounge. I had no problem getting in, and was able to wander right up to the stage as I watched several bands from Dublin, and one from Limerick. Seemed like a good way to celebrate St. Patty’s while all the pricks were out waiting to get into B.D. McScratchy’s (or wherever the hell they decided to congregate), just so that they could wait another thirty minutes to get a damn Guinness. I strolled right up to the bar, ordered two Guinness for good measure, and got down to business. I rock.

It was hard not to like Bell X1, but I tried. When the singer announced, in his thick Irish accent, that “this song is on the OC soundtrack,” I was nonplussed. The alternative-rock template song was actually perfect for a scene on such a show, with the lyrics of yearning and tortured love and yaddy yadda.. but he regained some respect when he explained that he’s never actually seen the show himself – but that he heard the song was played during the scene in which “the two girls kiss.” The way he said it, almost embarrassed or confused about the whole situation, was rather endearing and I decided to give them a chance. The other songs rocked a little bit more, with some nice keyboard and harmonica sounds rolled in, and I can say Bell X1 sounds at least as good as anything on the mainstream “alt-rock” radio stations. In fact, they sound better - you get the feeling they are in that phase just before being molded by the industry execs, who no doubt are already carving up this delicate cut of radio meat in their minds.. drooling at the thought.. “Come on lad, we’ll make ye a star!”

MonoBand was in this same vein, except a little bit moreso. They seem to have packaged themselves up for the big turkey carving, and I suspect they would love to have an OC gig. They sounded fine enough – a full, lush sound, but I felt a bit like I was at a VH1 shoot. They were just a bit too pretty, too perfect – the lead singer, from England, and his big, starcrossed eyes; his counterpart, a woman from Sweden who was just too over the top with the seductive looks and “come-on” sultriness. Their voices matched the appearance. Great voices, but just a little too much of that “Third Eye Blind” (or insert alternative rock band here) ‘over-singing.’ No doubt, some people will love these guys.

The big deviation of the night was the Things, a nutty punk band whose singer came out in black eyeshadow, black lipstick, and a psychotic expression that was well-suited to the band’s in-your-face pageantry. At times he bellowed like Elvis before launching back into a screaming tirade. His leather get-up and crazy makeup was just a bit too much “Rocky Horror” for me.

I’d met a girl before the Things took the stage, and we chatted a bit about SXSW and toasted St. Patty’s day and the music ahead. Now, halfway through this manic assault, she pulled me aside and said, “I’m gonna go catch the rest of another show somewhere.” But I couldn’t follow. I’d paid my cover, and without a wristband, I didn’t have the option of popping in and out of venues. As I watched her leave, I looked down at my naked wrist… and said to myself, "curse you, South by Southwest fat cats!"

My back is killing me this morning. There is a free show at Emo’s today.. Calexico will be there at some point during the afternoon. So long suckers, I’ve got to go find a parking place. We’ll see if I last until the evening..

South by Southwednesday

This is the second in a series of articles written for PROGRESSIONSESSION (http://prosession.blogspot.com ) chronicling the writer's experiences at the 2005 South by Southwest music festival.

I think they should open South By Southwest in a fashion similar to the Olympics. Have the bands parade down 6th Street with a flag or a banner, with crowds gathered to cheer and wave. But to make it exciting, at the end of the street there will be someone with a bullhorn, screaming: “Now go find a venue! Go find a venue!!” The musicians will scramble, equipment in tow, around downtown Austin in a frantic effort to find an open stage. Brawling would ensue.

It could be a FOX special: “A thousand bands. One hundred clubs. Twenty four hours.”

It was unseasonably cold last night, in fact the temperature dropped close to freezing. But judging from how far away I had to park, the chilly weather didn’t deter anyone. I camped out at a place called the Velvet Spade, which I remember as Caucus Club (but it has gone through many other identity changes in between). Tonight, I indulged a serious indie-mood-rock jones. Dour, hip-looking bands playing serious music. But for the most part, I heard some great sounds. I consider my first night of SXSW a rousing success.

The club had two stages, which I’ve decided is the only way to go – pay one cover, choose between two bands at any given time. The sound was great inside, and I arrived just in time to hear Aero Wave, whose SXSW write up promises “beats that are sure to satisfy every manic depressive's musical needs.” But the mellow, pulsing sound proved contagious from the start, building into a hum of energy that they never quite opened the lid on. And it was all the better, Aero Wave’s music is based more in anticipation than any kind of pressure-relieving explosion. I was entranced by the music and quite taken with singer, with her denim jacket, jet black hair and bizarre habit of chewing gum throughout the entire set. The gum didn’t seem to affect her singing at all. She had soft voice that floated in and out of the music perfectly.

And after the show, she gave me a cd. Score… Aero Wave was listed as being from New York, but their drummer explained that really only Leslie was from NYC, and most of them were from Austin. I decided not to pry for details. Another show was getting started.

Dead Whale Tide cranked the intensity up a notch, with a full sound and searing guitars that reminded me of Built to Spill and similar bands. The trouble lay in the howling vocals that didn’t always seem to match where the music was headed. I still enjoyed their show – the band was tight, and the crowd loved it. They had good stage presence and threw in a lot of breaks and tempo changes to keep the songs interesting. In the end, though, I took a break and went to check out the patio.

Palaxy Tracks, from Chicago, actually won my heart through the single provided on the web site. You can listen to “Speech with Animals” here: http://2005.sxsw.com/music/showcases/band/18238.html
The man and wife tale of the song is typical of their poignant storytelling - even if it might be a bit odd at times. In one tune, the singer croons “I want you to find me a daughter.. I’m sure that I’ll learn to love her,” adding – and I can’t remember the exact line - that “30 to one, I’m not at all normal.” But often the songs are delivered in a subtle, somewhat detached third-person sense, and delivered by a lovely voice without any hint of pretension or self-indulgence. I’m not sure if Palaxy Tracks would be engaging for a full-length show, the low-key melodies start to numb the listener after awhile.. but for a SXSW showcase, they filled their space well.

I was planning to head out, but everyone I ran into insisted I stay for the Octopus Project. I’m really wanting to write something about tentacles here.. but I’ll skip it. There’s no time to put ink to those thoughts! The Austin-based experimental-instrumental trio had a hypnotic sound driven by keyboards and guitar. The songs were fully-formed with engaging, atmospheric melodies. Up on the patio, they sounded excellent. Unfortunately, when I went downstairs for a minute, I broke free of their magnetic field, realized how tired I was, and that was that. It was off to the car at that point.

I’ll skip my review of the band that I walked into that was wailing away, with crazy shirtless guy (but dog tags.. you bet he had dog tags..) trying to spur on the crowd. It wasn’t really catching. And the crowd itself, inside and outside the bar, that was so nice and polite it was scary. I was only bumped into once, which was followed by a prompt, “pardon me.” What is rock in roll coming to?

All in all, a fulfilling night, and at a reasonable cover charge.. no wristband required. Take that, South by Southwest fat cats! Booya!

No promises that I’ll come back with anything coherent from tonight – it’s St. Patty’s Day, after all. Have fun wherever you are.

On the Eve of Disruption

This is the first of a series of articles written for PROGRESSIONSESSION (http://prosession.blogspot.com/) chronicling the writer's experiences at the 2005 South by Southwest music festival.

Greetings from Austin, where the city prepares for the invasion of more than 1,300 bands from across the world for South By Southwest. Everything will change over the next four days. Traffic will become weird (ever sit in rush hour at midnight?). Lunch breaks will become "concert breaks," and work hours in general will be random and meaningless. Many people will be drunk. Many ear drums rattled. And the only thing flowing more profusely than the music and alcohol will be cash. This is an orgasmic time for local bars, restaurants, hotels, musicians, street vendors, and the homeless.

Oh, at $130 a pop (at the most recent selling price), I declined to buy a wristband. I'll do things the way I've done them the last few years... by running up and down the streets seeing where I can get in, and paying close attention to whether the sounds coming out of those buildings are more like rock n' roll and less like cats being strangled. But I'm optimistic. SXSW is a lot of fun, and one will usually be lucky enough to catch more good shows than bad. And some of them are free. And sometimes the beer is free!

Life is good. It is all about who you know, or who you can convince that you are important enough to be invited to their private gig, no strings attached. If Scott Patterson - local schmo needs to become "Scott Patterson - Columbia Records talent scout" for a week, I think God will forgive me. After all, the business cards I ordered special for this occasion came in today. On the back of the card is a listing of the types of beer I prefer, as well as a check box that says "Weed: (yes) or (no)."

It's checked "yes."

So I'll plan to give y'all the 'outside scoop' so to speak. From the guy without the wristband, who is low on cash, and has no plan whatsoever yet of where to go, or who to see. I wouldn't have it any other way. So as we all await the glorious dawn that, like some redneck shooting a rifle into the air, will signal "GO!" for SXSW, entertain yourselves by looking over the bands and schedule. Send me recommendations. And if you know someone in a band who happens to be here, ask them to invite me to their party. http://2005.sxsw.com/music/showcases/date/2005-03-16.html

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wow, this place has been vacant for quite a long time. It wasn't getting a lot of readers, and we decided to pursue other interests. But the fact that the site still exists, just as we left it, is rather amazing. That fact alone makes it deserving of a comeback!

We'll begin by posting my impressions of South by Southwest 2005... a limited perspective to be sure, but hopefully you'll enjoy it. Please feel free to post any comments or suggestions.

-The Janitor.

Monday, October 21, 2002

This web site is currently under construction.

Monday, August 19, 2002

After having weeks to digest the new Flaming Lips album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, we are ready to weigh in with one more opinion. After all, doesn't one of the most anticipated albums of the year deserve one more Johnny-come-lately review that amounts to no more than that voice in the back of the assembly hall hollering "yes, me too!" — long after the conversation has turned elsewhere?

Ahem. The Lips have become the standard bearers of "Geek Rock." Like They Might be Giants, Primus and Cake, the Lips are playing music for everyone but inspired by the nerdy, somewhat sarcastic hipster who first taught you how to dress weird and be proud of it. The songs are at turns funny, solemn, reflective, annoying, and interesting. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots feels like something you're supposed to outgrow, like Nintendo. But, like Nintendo, the album is still cool. It's like, you know, a paradox?

The opening song, "Fight Test," is infectious and really a lot of fun. Some speaker-rattling bass drives a sonic, video-pinball style song, which has an interesting twist - we've heard the melody before. In some ways, it's unbelievable that it is so obvious (and weird). That's right, the New York Post called them out for borrowing an entire melody from… Cat Stevens. They didn't name the song, but don't think too hard about it. It involves a father and a son (and no mention of a fight test).

Elsewhere on Yoshimi, The Lips tackle the heady problem of robots becoming human: Another robot learns to be/something more than a machine… and our mortality: All We Have is Now. The title track is wonderfully catchy, and sounds like a video game, even with some "hey-hey" thrown in for karate chop action. It's funky and its got style, which pretty much holds true for the entire album.

There is nothing life changing here, and all of the "album of the year" talk was premature and unnecessary. The Flaming Lips delivered in their patented unpredictable way, and it leaves us with an interesting album that will still feel fresh 20 years from now. So, if you've been sitting around for the past couple months wondering about it, pick it up now. It will awaken the geek in you that wants to go back to waking up late, getting high and playing video games. It will remind you that work sucks and getting old is a drag. Whenever you get bummed out that your car insurance costs too much, you can break out the Lips to give you some perspective:

Do you realize we're floating in space
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round


In other news, Los Lobos confirmed for an already packed bill at the Austin City Limits Festival (see below). Our understanding is that the schedule will be posted on Sept. 1, and that's when we try to really make sense out of what could be a chaotic situation. Two days, six stages, and more than 50 bands will make for a hectic weekend where some tough decisions might have to be made. Are you prepared? Can you handle it? Are you ready for the football??

Monday, July 22, 2002

STOP THE PRESSES.

Wilco, the Jayhawks, Ryan Adams, Patti Griffin, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Gillian Welch, G-Love & Special Sauce, and more than 50 other bands will descend on Zilker Park in Austin at the end of September for the 15 Acres of Music Festival. Even trip-hippie troubadors the String Cheese Incident will be playing as the music echoes off of six stages in the heart of Austin. Two days, $35. How about the rumors that Los Lobos might confirm soon? Is there any excuse for missing this extravaganza? If you are not in Zilker Park on Sept. 28-29, you'd better have a damn good excuse.

The town has been buzzing since the (tentative) lineup was announced just last week. You can bet there will be changes, but hopefully only for the better. Most of the key performers seem pretty solid and we doubt anyone of note will pull out. Instead, we can only get our suntan lotion, beer cooler and wide-brimmed hat ready and see who else might join the bill. Some things are worth waiting for.

News of the Jayhawks coming to town is well-received, especially after hearing New York rumors of them throwing in the towel. Sure, we saw them in Austin a few months ago in one of the best shows ever experienced (and certainly in the top five for the year), but they are now a trio and their fate always seems to be hanging delicately in the balance. Happily, more positive reports have them recording a new album - and to see them on the bill in Austin just makes the weekend all the more sweet.

Just two months to wait… see if you can stand it. For more info about the festival, click here.