• My Best Birthday

    17. Jan. 2011, 20:57

    Sun 16 Jan – Andrew Bird

    At the start of the show the audience was issued a stern warning against the use of electronics during the show, which I thoroughly appreciate: “We’re not interested in any of that here… if you just *have* to Twitter something, go outside, and if we catch you texting or taking a picture, you’ll be asked to leave!” Much to everyone’s delight, the surprise opener was Zach Galifianakis, who pitched a few new jokes. Apparently Andrew Bird is pretty good friends with Mr. Galifianakis (also Tim and Eric!) and rented out his place in Venice while working on new material. Alas, I am kicking myself for not riding my bike down to Venice more often last year. It sounds like after a slew of recording in Illinois, the group is now in L.A. to mix and finish production. New album this year? Plskthx.

    According to Galifianakis, Andrew Bird is currently scoring a Ken Burns documentary on bestiality in America. Make of that what you will. :) His set was short, weird, and just a bit cheesy (“I’m getting some feedback up here… not from the audience”) but still pretty funny, considering he was literally up there jotting down notes as he went along.

    Galifianakis then introduced Andrew Bird, who came out bearded, long-haired, wrapped in a huge scarf, looking as lanky as ever. The show lasted nearly two hours. Everything sounded amazing, although maybe that’s due to the fact that the room is fairly small and doesn’t need a whole lot of amplification and I was so close to the stage I could literally hear the clicking of pedals as Andrew Bird built his loops. The show consisted of:

    General introductory talk, fumbling with gear, and wondering aloud, “Hm, ok… now how does this show start?”

    You Woke Me Up

    Nyatiti

    Lazy Projector: a beautiful, somber new tune that Bird described as turning out “per-it-ee good” on record. “If memory serves, then who owns the master? And how do we know who’s projecting this reel?” There’s a bit of an “Armchairs” throwback in here, with “time’s a crooked bow” being one of the lines. This might have been the highlight of the show for me. It made my heart swell with happiness. Yes, I am quite aware of how corny that sounds.

    Why?: a giggle-inducing theatrical performance, as usual. He said he’s trying to “wean” himself off of performing this one so often, but I hope he doesn’t. It’s highly amusing.

    Near Death Experience Experience: a jaunty new song about putting a near death experience “in pill form”, so as to induce appreciation of the everyday.

    Breeding Desperation: another new song, rather tense and tight as is befitting of the title. According to the song’s preamble it’s about bees, genetic engineering, accidental cross-pollination and such, continuing the rather apocalyptic undertones of his last couple of albums. He also mentioned that the music video will be a black-and-white affair with a stark backdrop a la “Every Breath You Take”, where he will play a bee keeper amidst his horn speakers decorated as flowers, perhaps with Zach Galifianakis as a bee and choreography by Baryshnikov. At this point Galifianakis popped his head out from the side the stage and said, “I actually can play that bee, by the way”, to which Andrew Bird replied, “Eh, well we’ll still hold auditions”. Hilarious.

    Carrion Suite

    Eye and Eye/I and I (?), which he performed an early version of at his TED talk.

    Plasticities: very different from the album version. It was preceded by a bit from “Capital I”.

    Headsoak: yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay, I was not expecting this oldie.

    Danse Carribe

    Performed with local musician Simone White on background vocals, which was absolutely lovely. They sound great together:
    Lusitane/Lusitania (?): another new one
    Trials, Troubles, Tribulations (traditional folk song/spiritual)
    Oh, Sister (Dylan cover)

    Encore:
    Orpheus Looks Back (?): apparently it was his first performance of this for an audience, at least in this particular iteration. It started out kind of rocky but ended amazingly.
    The Sifters: this is my favorite track on Fingerlings 4. It sounded beautiful with Simone White and I was so happy to hear it live.

    Scattered throughout were a few screw-ups, casual chit chat as if we were all just hanging out in a giant living room or something, some head scratching, hair mussing, stumbling and tip-toeing. It was a truly entrancing experience to see an artist at his craft, working things out right in front of me. “I learn things [long pause] playing for people. I think I just figured out how to finish that song, so thanks!”

    What a wonderful concert. A good live show is one of the few things in life that is guaranteed to make me happier under any circumstances, and this was one of the best. I’m still reeling a bit from post-concert euphoria. So much happiness, so many wonderful moments. Greatest belated birthday present to myself, ever.
  • So glad to meet you, Angeles.

    18. Okt. 2008, 4:42

    I’ve been listening to Elliott Smith a lot lately. No, I haven’t become depressed and addicted to various illicit substances since moving to L.A., but his work has seemed extra poignant to me as of late. I was upset when he died, but I didn’t exactly “miss” him; I was a just a casual fan, and I didn’t “grow up” to his music like so many of his most devoted did. Yet now, strangely enough, I sort of do miss him. Perhaps it’s partly because he was raised in Texas too and it happens to be just a few days away from the five-year anniversary of his death.

    I think the biggest reason I’ve been thinking of him though is because I’m in this behemoth of a town, where things ended for Elliott Smith, and I can’t think of any other music that so accurately paints the image of the kind of disorientation I’m feeling.

    The slow motion moves me
    The monologue means nothing to me
    Bored in a role, but he can't stop
    Standing up to sit back down
    And lose the one thing found
    Spinning the world like a toy top
    'Til there's a ghost in every town
    Can't make a sound...

    Eyes locked and shining
    Can't you tell me what's happening?
    Why should you want any other
    When you're a world within a world?

    ("Can’t Make A Sound")

    I must have listened to this song dozens of times in the past few days. It’s so lovely and epic, I feel slightly overwhelmed listening to it. I guess I’ve been in a particularly sensitive mood lately, which is kind of awful. I despise feeling sensitive.

    I don’t hate it here, and I’m not unhappy, but I find it very discombobulating and difficult to understand this place. There so much of everything, and there’s a peculiar kind of liveliness and vibrancy to it, yet it still feels rather empty to me. I can’t even describe it. The only words I’ve been able to come up with is that it’s everything and absolutely nothing at once. Maybe I just haven’t gotten my bearings straight yet. Or maybe one of the other grad students in my department was right when he told me L.A. never feels like home; it just feels like you’re visiting.

    L.A.
    Things are never done
    Car's parked in the sun
    Living in the day
    Last night I was about to throw it all away

    ("L.A.")

    Anyone up for a visit to Solutions on Sunset?





    Here's to you, Mr. Smith. Thanks for bringing comfort to thousands of people.
  • Radiohead Ramblings

    24. Mai. 2008, 7:06

    Well, well, so here we are, a week after May 17, 2008, otherwise known as the day when some of the happiest hours of my life occurred (how’s that for hyperbolic?). I saw the only member of my personal Holy Trinity of Rock that is still alive and active perform songs while 16,000+ folks sang along, and it was sublime. Here’s where I get nostalgic, so be forewarned.

    The first Radiohead song I heard where I actually became aware it was this band named Radiohead was “Optimistic”. I was 15 and I heard it on the radio while in the car with one of my parents. I distinctly remember looking down at the radio dial, waiting for the announcer to come back on and tell me what that song was. It was the first and only time I heard “Optimistic” on the radio. Later my sister gave me copies of a few Radiohead albums; I listened to Kid A first (because it had that one song I was familiar with) and quite frankly I just was not ready for it. I was young and silly and didn’t understand it. I suppose Kid A wasn’t the best introductory album for little teenaged me. Later on still, while watching MTV late one night, I saw the video for “Knives Out”. Again, I just wasn’t prepared for that kind of weirdness, although I thought the song was nice. All this changed as I got older of course, and Radiohead is now tied for my all-time favorite band. It was a slow and gradual process, and I didn’t even notice it happening; I never went through a quasi-obsessed phase with Radiohead like I so often did with other bands as a teenager. There was no single moment of revelation, I just found myself thinking one day, “Wow, I really like this band.” And then last Saturday, I found myself whoo-ing and laughing and smiling for 2 hours straight, and it was like I was a giddy 17-year-old again (which, admittedly, wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like it was in some ways). [/nostalgia]

    On to the show. This was my first time seeing Radiohead. After missing their last couple of tours, I was determined to go and have a good seat. So, one night a few months ago I more or less stayed up until morning to wait for the W.A.S.T.E. pre-sale, because no one had any idea what time it would start. About one hour of intermittent dozing and $223 later, I had three tickets. They were in the center section, second row, almost exactly what I wanted (first row would have been better; I’m too short to be able to see in the pit so I didn’t want that). My sister, brother-in-law, and I drove to Houston Friday night. A dreadful search for food upon arrival (in which we became lost and frustrated with the road signs that direct you to approximately nowhere) confirmed our longstanding distaste for Houston (no offense, Houstonites). The next day was a bit better; we visited a few art museums and it raised our spirits. I wanted to see Liars, but the increasingly stagnant traffic as we approached the Woodlands meant that we arrived right after their gear was cleared from the stage. Dubstep (courtesy of Burial, I think, and maybe someone else; not really a fan, personally) was the soundtrack to my building anticipation.

    What can I say? I loved every minute of it. The crowd, at least where we were, was welcoming. The LED lights were gorgeous. The band poured a massive amount of energy into their performance; they looked like they were genuinely happy and having fun. I was nearly delirious in my euphoria, and with so many people singing along to every word... it’s a really powerful feeling that I don’t experience often because I almost never go to shows that large (outdoor festivals aside). I had an amazing view, and the sound was just perfect: loud but not uncomfortably so, clear and warm and I could hear just about everything, even magnificent Jonny’s ondes Martenot at its softest/subtlest. In Rainbows, which has really grown on me over the past few months, sounded great live. “Lucky” was incredible. “Pyramid Song” was heartbreakingly beautiful. “The Gloaming” shed a whole new light on a song I didn’t think was especially standout when listening to it on record. “The National Anthem” made everyone go absolutely bonkers, naturally, and “Optimistic” made me alternately yell in enthusiasm and sigh with nostalgia. Mr. Yorke’s falsetto in “Reckoner” was top-notch and breathtaking. “There There” was the perfect closer for the main set. The encores just left me speechless and dumb. “Climbing Up The Walls”, “Planet Telex”, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, “You And Whose Army?” (with Thom Yorke’s playful, funny, and slightly creepy gaze into the piano-mounted camera), and freaking “Idioteque”! Back to back! Live, on stage! Mere yards in front of me! It was almost too much for me to handle. When all was said and done, the girl behind me clutched her face and yelped, almost incredulously, “Oh my God!” and all I could say was, “I know!” Of course there were a few songs I would have loved to hear, like “Let Down” (one of my favorites; chances were slim to nil on this one though), “Myxomatosis”, “Bangers and Mash”, “Paranoid Android”, “Bulletproof...I Wish I Was”, etc. etc. (fads for whatever, nyuk nyuk), but I wouldn’t have given up or “traded” any of the songs they did play. Really, the only way to get around that sort of minor quibble would be for Radiohead to play nearly their entire catalog, because so much of it is just that good.

    So yeah. Radiohead. I’m convinced they’re one of the best live acts around, and I think few would argue. But there stands that debate: is Radiohead “seminal”? Did they change rock music forever? Or are they overrated, full of themselves, pretentious? Quite frankly, I don’t feel like trying to come up with a solid, well thought-out argument for either case, because I’ve never really analyzed it critically. After seeing them live, my opinion on this issue remains unchanged. I love their albums, but it doesn’t matter to me what effect Radiohead had/has on rock music. I just don’t care. I was 10 when The Bends came out, 12 for OK Computer. I cannot fully evaluate the effect these albums had on the “rock music scene”, because I was alive then but not paying attention. I feel that Radiohead sees themselves in a similar fashion. That is, I get the impression that they don’t contemplate whether or not they’re the revolutionary rock gods that some critics make them out to be and they aren’t constantly trying to outdo themselves; they do what they feel good about. They don’t think about making a “bold statement” about the record industry or trying to dismantle it; they do what they think is appropriate for the moment (Thom Yorke himself said in 2006, before the In Rainbows brouhaha, "I'm not really into the idea of picking an enormous fight now because I think the structure of the music business is in a state of collapse anyway. You might as well just let it get on with it. There's no point in us trying to help. And it makes you sound really arrogant, like, 'Yeah, we're going to mess up the system.' The system's built us.” Jonny Greenwood also said, “It’s more about feeling like it was right for us and feeling bored of what we were doing before.”). They just do their thing, and I like that.

    For whatever reasons, Radiohead became entwined in my memories over the years and weaved itself, every so surreptitiously, into my life. I’m a pretty mild fan compared to the hardcore ones. I don’t know all of their b-sides/unreleased/rarities. I couldn’t tell you how old Thom Yorke is. I couldn't name all of their EPs in chronological order. I don’t know when Jonny Greenwood picked up the ondes Martenot. I don’t love Radiohead with that kind of exuberant, fervent intensity, but they are very near and dear to me in a comfortable and comforting way. I can’t even explain what exactly they mean to me, I can only say that they mean a lot and it is oddly soothing. My first (hopefully of many) Radiohead concert was truly one to remember. A week later, I’m still feeling the exhilarating effects of it. Thanks for making me happy, Radiohead. I appreciate it.
  • It's official.

    14. Mai. 2008, 5:20

    Alas! Alas! It’s the end of an era, for Jonathan Meiburg is leaving Okkervil River. Sniffle.

    Okkervil River is one of my absolute favorite bands. They mean a lot to me for many silly and serious reasons that are too involved (and probably boring) for me to get into here. When I moved to Austin, one of the first local bands I heard folks chatter about was Okkervil River. I listened to a song or two and was immediately put off. It was that voice. So strained, caterwauling and careening up and down, perpetually on the edge of being off key. I couldn’t stand it.

    Then one day, I don’t remember why, I decided to listen to one of their songs entitled “The War Criminal Rises and Speaks”. The first line of the song is “The heart wants to feel. The heart wants to hold”, and I remember thinking, “Oh God… corny!!!” I was prepared to dismiss them again, but I quickly found that these cheesy opening lines were very deceiving. As the song progressed, I was stunned by how incredibly well-crafted, how affecting and powerful the structure of the narrative is. Beginning in the mind of a nameless person, the song touches on the minutiae of everyday life: billboards, furniture, convenience stores. The song changes point-of-view (amazingly, it changes several times in the short span of 5-ish minutes) to describe the eponymous war criminal. We soon learn how the man has struggled to push the memories from decades ago out of his mind, grasping desperately at the mundane minutiae of everyday life in hopes of somehow returning to the sense of normalcy he had before those moments decades ago, moments in which a few atrocious actions destroyed his sense of humanity and, to this day, he cannot understand how could have possibly committed them. The song ends from the point of view of an outside observer, already in the process of forgetting “yesterday’s news”, comfortable in the thought that it could never be him, that he could never do such things, that the war criminal is from another, less civilized era. I sat slack-jawed for a few minutes after the song ended. That was the precise moment where I decided my first impression of the band was completely and utterly wrong. Over the past few years, they have never disappointed me; their concerts are among the best I’ve seen, and putting on one of their albums will always calm me down when I’m feeling frazzled.

    I can’t say that I didn’t see this coming. Mr. Meiburg has done (and is doing) great work with Shearwater (can’t wait for "Rook"). He deserves more recognition and I’m happy for him, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to me. It’s something akin to seeing a couple whom I am good friends with getting a divorce: no matter how amicable the separation is, it’s still sad that they’re no longer together. Cheesy, I know... I apologize for being so incredibly melodramatic. Meiburg's frantic keyboard-pounding, head-shaking, accordion-pumping antics, not to mention those choir boy pipes, will be sorely missed. Still, I'm excited to see what these fine gentlemen come up with next. Misters Sheff and Meiburg, I salute you. Just keep doing what you're doing, and I'll be a happy camper.
  • SXSW 2008 (Finally)

    23. Apr. 2008, 4:00

    SXSW Music 2008

    Now that it’s been more than a month since South by Southwest, I figured I should commit my memories to (e-)paper now or else I’ll never do it. Better late than never I guess, or something.

    There’s very passionate love/hate relationship with SXSW here. The festival has truly ballooned to enormous proportions. Just in the time that I’ve been attending (my first being in 2003), the crowds have seemingly doubled every year. There have always been naysayers, but they have been particularly disgruntled/vocal the past two years. Some of the complaints are completely understandable: the crowd, the traffic, the trash, the local bands that deserve some of the spotlight but are denied showcase spots. Accusations of money-mongering, iron grips on what happens on the fringe of the festival (i.e. the smorgasbord of free, unofficial day shows), and political whatnot have been flying, which in my opinion is just to be expected with something as massive as SXSW. I personally can’t hate an event that brings in over 1,700 bands from all over the world and pumps millions of dollars into the local economy.

    “But, all these lame out-of-towners are crowding our bars/restaurants!!!” Hey, you *live* here. You should know of plenty of other spots that the tourists can’t possibly find.

    “But, the bands suck!!!” Out of 1,700+ bands, I can’t disagree that some of them (probably even most of them) are not going to be the highest caliber, but that’s what plans are for. You don’t go charging into SXSW without plotting out where you’re going and who you’re seeing. If you end up seeing a continuous stream of bands that make you want to gouge your eardrums out, it’s your own fault.

    Anyway, that’s just my opinion. Now, on to the events. One of my best friends, Sal (whom I’ve known since the fifth grade), flew in from California on Tuesday evening and we kicked things off in our “traditional” way: we went to get Thai food. We took it easy in preparation for the next four days of madness.


    Wednesday

    Typically, Wednesdays are rather breezy. The music festival is just starting and most of the industry folks are still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, not yet in a semi-zombie-like state of perpetual hung-overness. The first act I saw was at a day show next to Jo’s Coffee. Lightspeed Champion is the alias of one Devonte Hynes, a young British fellow who used to be in a band ridiculously called Test Icicles. I remember reviewing the Test Icicles album a few years ago for our college radio station and thinking it was absurdly noisy, overwrought, and a tad obnoxious. So imagine my surprise when I heard one of them was going not only going solo, but acoustic. He was accompanied by a violinist, and it was just ok, not particularly stunning. I would continue to see L. Champion, and his silly furry hat fit for the tundra, at very random times for the duration of the festival.

    I did a fair amount of showcase hopping that night, unusual for me on a Wednesday. I saw:

    Wolfkin- The first of several Scandinavian acts I would see. I don’t quite remember what this band from Denmark sounded like (kind of poppy generic rock), but it wasn’t horrible. Then it was...

    Slaraffenland- Another Danish band. I mostly remember there being about 3-5 instruments for every band member and their matching shirts, which had little raindrops sewn on the front. There was a kind of weird, artsy jazz vibe about them (must have been all those brass and woodwind instruments), and I must make a note to myself to check them out more thoroughly when I have a moment. Next up...

    Rupa and The April Fishes- Meh. Kind of boring folky rock, followed by...

    The Nightwatchman- Tom Morello’s solo project. Sal stuck around, but I only stayed for the first song and saw...

    Plastic Constellations- Not quite terrible, but almost. I was only there to see...

    The Mae Shi- Raucous and amusing. I can’t think of anything else to say about them. I then walked to the outside stage and saw...

    The Dodos- Good show. The Dodos consist of only two people, but their sound is quite full. Quite folky, a bit experimental. Next was...

    The Blow- Strange. We didn’t stick around for long because I wanted to see...

    Cadence Weapon- A rapper from our friendly neighbor to the north. I missed him at Fun Fun Fun Fest because of scheduling conflicts, so I had to see him this time. Good rhymes, and with the energy of a 5-year-old on Red Bull to boot. Great way to close out the night.


    Thursday

    We headed downtown for a couple of day shows. After spending an eternity to find parking, we headed to the Free Yr Radio tent to see:

    DeVotchKa- I’ve said enough about Devotchka. If you know me, you know I love them and have seen them play every opportunity that has come my way. Their Romani-bolero-Eastern European rock still makes me smile. It was a short but sweet set. After them...

    Jim Noir- Jim Noir’s Tower of Love was one of my favorite releases of 2006. His 2008 self-titled brings more of the same sunny, electronic-laced pop tunes, which is fine, but not super amazing. Another short but sweet set, filled with happy songs and smirk-inducing British wit.

    We then headed to my friend’s store, La Luz, to catch a bit of her day show and say hello. I saw O’Death, who were, er... kind of jazzy Appalachian hillbilly punk? Anyway, they were wild, and I enjoyed it.

    I then walked a few blocks east to wander South Congress while Sal and Julie hung around La Luz. It was a good decision, because I happened to stumble on some interesting acts. In the parking lot of Home Slice Pizza, I saw:

    No Kids- Just caught two songs. They weren’t great or anything, but they were interesting. Precious indie pop.

    The LK- More Scandinavians (Swedes this time)! I had never heard of these guys before, but I’m glad I stuck around Home Slice. For a group of just two rather pale fellows, they created a pretty textured sound. A bit ambient-electronic, a bit sunny pop, and every so slightly pastiche-musique-concrete-esque. And they were kind of cute to boot. :)

    After the LK’s short set, I walked across the street to Jo’s Coffee. There I caught A.A. Bondy, a southern folk-y sounding fellow who made several non-sensical but funny jokes while little children danced in front of the stage.

    That night, we tried to head downtown a bit early to catch Jens Lekman. We missed most of his set, but I wasn’t too bummed since I got a full dose of Jens goodness last year. He’s still precious and adorable as ever. His anecdotal, hilarious, almost AM Gold-like tunes will always make me smile. Next was...

    Le Loup- I bought The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly last year kind of on a whim, after hearing two songs and seeing it on sale at Waterloo. Le Loup started out as a kind of bedroom project of Sam Simkoff, who more or less recorded the entire thing himself (he was “discovered” on MySpace; how crazy is that?!). It’s gently electronic, almost post-rock-y, with soft echo-y vocals and plinking banjos throughout. It’s ok, but not something I found myself listening to all the time. Now a proper band (and a fairly large one at that, with something like 7 or 8 people), the songs sounded much, much punchier, fuller, and dynamic. I look forward to their second album. Then came...

    dan le sac Vs. Scroobius Pip- Thank you, KEXP, for introducing me to the hilarious, sometimes self-righteous but always witty Dan le Sac (the DJ) vs. Scroobius Pip (the rapper). Scroobius Pip’s rhymes lean toward beat poet territory, and he has a beard fit for a yeshiva. Dan le Sac samples Radiohead. These fellows are poised for widespread hipster-adoration, methinks. Despite the fact that I was surrounded by rather rude and drunk Brits who were annoyingly taller than me, I had a good time. Next up...

    The Weakerthans- The Weakerthans seem to have a mighty strong following, but I’ve never really cared much for their brand of poppy indie rock. It was tolerable though. I was only there to see...

    Devotchka- Yes. Again. This time, with the always lovely Tosca String Quartet. The place was packed to the gills, and after much shuffling about, trying to free myself from the wall of obscenely tall people who insisted on plowing their way through to stand directly in front of me, I found a semi-decent nook. I was crammed into a tiny wedge of space between the door and the stairs, with an endless stream of people going in and out, but the gorgeous swell of strings on “How It Ends” made it all worthwhile. Closing the night was...

    No Age- Sal and I decided to skip out on Billy Bragg (I just couldn’t stand in that space anymore) and walked back to Sixth to see No Age. It was quite empty, which I found rather bizarre. A rock duo with a fairly heavy sound, I wasn’t interested enough to stick around for longer than 10-15 minutes. They were OK though.


    Friday

    We got an early start on Friday so that we could see Devotchka (yes, again) play in the Austin City Limits Studio for a KEXP live broadcast. This is my hands-down favorite place to see a band, as every view is a good one, the sound is impeccable, and the atmosphere is soothing. Too bad it’s not a traditional venue, because I would love to see just a regular old show here. Devotchka was extremely late to start, but I didn’t mind too much, as this was the second-best show I’ve seen from them. The Tosca String Quartet sounded gorgeous in that studio. Just lovely.

    We headed downtown after that and caught the Duke Spirit at the Free Yr Radio tent. They only played two songs due to the singer being a bit sick. Next up was Cadence Weapon (yes, again). He just puts on a good show, so Sal and I were eager to get another dose. He was insanely energetic, and DJ Weasel was such a madman on the turntables, he literally overheated some of his equipment.

    The first show of the night was at St. David’s Church. The downtown churches were added as SXSW music venues two years ago (I think?), but this was the first time I’d actually seen a show there. I saw Volodja Balzalorsky, a violin virtuoso from Slovenia. It was so breathtakingly beautiful, I nearly cried. I am being serious. Moving along...

    The Builders and the Butchers- another alt-country-ish/kind of circusy-vaudevillian-old-timey sounding band that I read about somewhere but can’t remember where. They were OK. We headed to Shakespeare’s Pub to see...

    Liam Finn- And here is where Sal fell in love. :) I saw Liam Finn at my very first SXSW, when he was a young cheeky kid in a band called Betchadupa. Betchadupa was the start of my SXSW “tradition” of picking a band out of the list just because their name is funny/amusing/interesting. At the time, Liam was a spastic, frantic front man who fell off the drum kit at the end of their set. Nowadays, Liam is a spastic, frantic front man who periodically sits behind the drum kit for rhythmic freak-outs while half a dozen effects-laden, freshly-made guitar samples loop on in the background and his music partner. EJ. wails rock ‘n roll style. This was the perfectly stereotypical rock show, jam packed with people, sweltering in the humidity, in a dingy, gritty bar that was rather basement-like (it was, in fact, mostly below ground-level). It was awesome. One of my favorite quotes of SXSW was uttered here: “I'll have a beer and a straight whiskey. And a gay vodka.” Silly Liam. After seeing Crowded House at ACL Fest last year, I can say that Liam shares his father’s top-notch, utterly amusing showmanship. Our yearly Elijah Wood sighting also happened here. Seriously, I don’t understand why I always see this guy. Afterwards came...

    Plants and Animals- I decided to see this Canadian band based on hearing one song of theirs, “Mercy.” I’m not sure what I thought of them. Kind of jammy and jazzy, a bit folksy and bluesy, a little gospelly... basically, all over the place. I’ll have to check out their latest album before I can make some kind of judgment. They were interesting, at least. One of them was dressed like Stevie Ray Vaughn (cowboy hat, poncho). I wonder if he always looks like that or if that was something he put on because he was in Austin. We headed down the street and saw...

    Yves Klein Blue- I remember not liking these dudes much. We left after a song or two to see...

    White Rabbits- I’ve already written about White Rabbits' live shows here. It was a similarly lively set from these fellas, albeit with a much fuller crowd than the last time I saw them. A couple of new songs were played and they were swell. Sal wasn’t too keen on the band, though. Rounding out the night...

    Todd Barry, then Hard ‘n Phirm- The night ended with some comedy, a relaxing time after wandering around downtown. Todd Barry was quite funny, and Hard ‘n Phirm’s (Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman) silly songs and ribbing of generic rock music left me smiling foolishly.



    Saturday

    The last day. Always so bittersweet. Well, I don’t even know if there’s any “sweet”, more like just sad/bitter. By the time Saturday rolls around, I’m a bit tired, but I am in no way ready for the music to stop. Alas, it must come to end, and we always dread the moment when the clock strikes 2:00 AM Sunday morning.

    We first headed to La Luz to see Fiction, a band that a friend/former classmate of mine is in. They had just formed when I met him some three years ago in our “introduction to recording techniques” class (holy moly, was it really three years ago?!), and they’ve really grown in some promising directions and tightened up quite a bit. Kudos to them.

    We headed downtown to catch Liam Finn once more (Sal was well on her way to becoming utterly, utterly smitten). Good pop tunes, impressive looping pedal prowess, crazy on-the-fly song-making... it was a fun performance.

    Next up was a couple of buzz bands that I wanted to check out. Blitzen Trapper are an high-spirited, experimental-ish folksy rock band from Portland. Another band I have somewhat mixed feelings about; I’ll have to listen to Wild Mountain Nation a few more times. Despite the fact that I didn’t quite like their self-titled from last year, I wanted to see A Place to Bury Strangers live. They were loud and heavy, as expected; I enjoyed it more than I did their record, but I’m still not won over.

    In a rather serendipitous turn of events, we saw Kevin Barnes do a short solo performance, though I believe he was scheduled for just a DJ set. He sang a couple of covers and “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse”, and I was a super happy camper. After Mr. Barnes, we saw White Rabbits again. Sal was bored, again. :)

    That night, I split away from the gals for a bit and caught Maki Rinka, a Japanese singer who does lounge-y, jazz-standardy songs in a blue sailor suit and short blond wig. It was a fun show, though the multitude of old Japanophile white guys was slightly creepy.

    I headed over to Maggie Mae’s a bit early to see Jim Noir, as I anticipated a rather large crowd for the night’s headliners (British Sea Power). I caught David Bazan while there. He was “singer-songwriter”-ish (whatever that means), but I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to be honest. As the crowd got bigger and more obnoxious, I decided to leave before Jim Noir even came on (note: I kind of hate Maggie Mae’s; it’s a really fratty joint from my experience, and I try to avoid it when I can). I met up with Julie and Sal to see Liam Finn (yet again! Sal was pretty much in love by this point). This performance was live broadcasted on some cable channel that I can’t recall, and the set was filled with fancy lighting and filming equipment. Next up was my “let’s see them because their name makes me smirk” band for the year, victorian english gentlemens club. Meh. Generic rock. Not terrible, not good. We left fairly soon.

    Our group split up once more and I wandered aimlessly for just a short while. I decided to see the LK again and caught the act before them, Meredith Bragg and The Terminals. I honestly can’t remember what the sounded like. The LK had some technical difficulties but it was a decent show, quite mellow and relaxing. I then headed across the street to see White Shoes and The Couples Company, who started late because Ezra Furman and the Harpoons (another “meh” band) just wouldn’t stop. White Shoes/Couples Co., a retro-y band from Indonesia who make happy ‘70s-Love Boat-like-throw-back tunes, were just precious. The large group of Indonesian kids who came out to see them was wildly enthusiastic and made me giggle. Coincidentally, I met an old classmate of mine there, who actually came with the Indonesian kids (he’s soon to embark on a year-long study-abroad adventure in Indonesia). Good times were had.

    Closing out our SXSW was Z-Trip, followed by MSTRKRFT. Sal met up with me at the venue, and we opted to stand in the balcony instead of joining the sweaty mass of people on the dancefloor below. Fun beats, but we decided to wrap up a tad early. We walked to the garage where I parked my car, and with one last wistful glance out onto bustling Sixth Street, it was over. No more ridiculous absurdity with my friends against a backdrop of wall-to-wall music. Back to work, to the real world (boooo). This was my last SXSW as an Austin resident (for a while, anyway). I shed a small tear inside, but I’ll be damned if I don’t make it back next year for my annual dose of music madness.
  • Misc. Stuff 2007

    18. Jan. 2008, 5:10

    Debuts that caught my attention:

    Le Loup- The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations' Millennium General Assembly

    Attack Formation- We Are Alive In Tune

    Miracle Fortress- Five Roses

    Fiction- You Will Never


    Favorite Songs (In No Particular Order)

    Sunset Rubdown- “Mending of the Gown”

    Patrick Cleandenim- “Days Without Rain”

    Andrew Bird- “Armchairs”

    Les Savy Fav- “The Equestrian”

    Arcade Fire- “Ocean of Noise”

    Beirut- “Nantes”

    Blonde Redhead- “Spring and by Summer Fall”

    Caribou- “Melody Day”

    Jens Lekman- “A Postcard to Nina”

    LCD Soundsystem- “All My Friends”

    Liam Finn- “I’ll Be Lightning”

    Menomena- “Evil Bee”

    The National- “Racing Like a Pro”

    of monteal- “She’s a Rejector”

    Soulsavers- “Revival”

    Okkervil River- “A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene”
    (“I'd like to bear witness to a light that is fine and is filling the cryingest eyes, grace in each face that is making the wastedest, brokenest ones fairly fly, love that is innocent of that old cynical, covetous, cancerous vibe, and a beauty that annihilates all life like it's lived in these nights, holding your hatred tight like a sign that you're right or you're strong.” Lyric of the year. I enjoy the cadence of this; the phrases break in the weirdest spots. Am I the only one that thinks some of Will’s lyrics would make most interesting rap songs? )

    Okkervil River- “John Allyn Smith Sails”

    Patrick Wolf- “Magic Position”

    Richard Hawley- “Tonight the Streets are Ours”

    White Rabbits- “While We Go Dancing”

    Pale Young Gentlemen- My Light, Maria


    Most Non-Favorite Song
    Anything by Jamie T.


    Over-rated, IMHO
    A Place to Bury Strangers- A Place To Bury Strangers
    (There are a couple of good licks in there, but the shear amount of noise piled on top of them is overbearing. I’m not necessarily against lots of noise, but this just felt like constant loud. Loud, loud, loud, all the time, all at one level, hardly any dynamic range. It gave me ear fatigue.)

    Band of Horses- Cease to Begin
    (I listened to this a few times and I can’t recall much of what it sounds like. For me, that is the mark of mediocre album. Better than being a bad album though.)

    Bodies of Water- Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink
    (Ehhh.)

    Yeasayer- All Hour Cymbals
    (Not bad, but a bit too hippity-dippity nu age-y for my tastes.)


    Best Shows

    Okkervil River (with a horn and string section) @ Hogg Auditorium 04/21

    Arcade Fire @ ACL 09/15

    Andrew Bird day show for the Current @ SXSW 03/16
    (I’ve seen Andrew Bird five times this year, and this short but amazingly sweet set was the best.)

    White Rabbits @ Emo’s 08/18
    (Which I wrote about here.)

    Shearwater @ Cactus Café 11/08

    Jens Lekman @ Parish 11/14
    (Jens danced. It was adorable.)

    Blonde Redhead and The National @ Emo’s 09/15

    of Montreal @ Fun Fun Fun Fest 11/03
    (Oh, the glitter, the lights, the lack of lights when a circuit was blown and Kevin Barnes thought that they were being rudely cut off… good times, good times.)

    The Veils @ Crocodile Café 06/27
    (R.I.P. Crocodile.)

    Tacks, the Boy Disaster and The Early Tapes @ La Luz 10/26
    (A large portion of the awesomeness of this show may be attributed to the fact that it was at a very entertaining Halloween party held at my friend’s boutique. That and there were dancing gorillas. Yes, gorillas. There were two.)

    Looking Forward to new stuff from…
    Shearwater
    DeVotchKa
    Wolf Parade
    Grizzly Bear
    Jim Noir
    Massive Attack
    Portishead
    Ghostland Observatory
    The Kills
  • Good Stuff 2007

    18. Jan. 2008, 5:02

    Right then, I realize I'm uber late with this list thing, but, well, here you are.

    The Lucky Seven

    1) The National- Boxer
    For me, this year was full of sneaky music. I mysteriously found myself in love with several albums that I initially dismissed, and there is no better example of this than Boxer. I downloaded the album with no prior knowledge of The National other than previously hearing one song from an acquaintance about a year ago. I came to the band with a fresh ear and empty expectations, an experience that I always enjoy and I kind of wish happened more often. The process went like this, almost literally:
    First listen: “What the hell? This is boring.”
    Second listen: “Eh, it’s kinda alright.”
    Third listen: “Actually, this is kind of… good.”
    Fourth listen: “Actually, this is swell.”
    I still can’t pinpoint what it is exactly that makes this album so great to me. The National have performed some sort of magical alchemy, blending a bunch of plain, simple, some will even say boring components into a wondrous thing that is greater than the sum of the parts. I was first pulled in, so to speak, by Matt Berninger’s voice. I’m a sucker for the deeper registers, and with those low vocals wrapped in the easy, fluid melodies of gentle guitars and piano, punctuated with beautifully crisp and clean percussion, Boxer ever-so-subtly seeped into my brain. Before I even realized what was going on, it became a contender for my best of the year. I rushed out to the record store to find Alligator, and like a geeky fangirl bought Boxer on the day of its release (You hear that? I downloaded the album months ahead of time and was still excited to buy it when it came out. I’m just sayin’.). Perhaps timing was a big part of why this album struck such a chord with me in the end. I graduated last December, and this has truly been the year where I’ve felt like I was supposed to grow up. I got a full-time job, my friends were falling in and out of love, acquaintances were getting married, some even having children, and yet despite all the changes occurring around me I’ve still felt like the same kid. Am I supposed to be responsible, start looking for a husband, want a baby? Even though Berninger’s lyrics are most definitely from the male perspective, I still greatly sympathize/empathize with his sentiments of being totally mystified, sometimes even terrified, with this concept of adulthood. I’ve previously written about Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights being the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. I have a feeling Boxer will be my “immediate post-college” soundtrack.

    2) Andrew Bird- Armchair Apocrypha
    In January I received a largely unintelligible voice message from Hanson. There was a lot of yelling and something about Bird, crying, and awesome… that was enough for me to get the general gist of it. Armchair Apocrypha was pretty much the opposite of Boxer: I became immediately obsessed with it. I won’t lie: I love (love, love) Andrew Bird and so had a predisposition to love this album. Despite the fact that the cool, kooky fiddlings that drew me to him in the first place were noticeably pared back, filled in with more bass and guitar, this is still a distinctly Birdy (and very good) album. I love his whimsical little rhymes that often sound (but usually are not) non-sensical, his upbeat quasi-obsessive-ness with death, destruction, and alienation, his loopy melodies and smooth, almost jazzy voice. They’re still here on Armchair Apocrypha, just more rock-esque and less… I don’t know what you’d call it. Experimental-orchestral-folk-pop-esque? Whatever. The point is, no, it’s not Mysterious Production of Eggs or Weather Systems, but I didn’t want it be, and A. Bird is still at the top of his game. And “Armchairs”? It makes my heart explode every time I hear it.

    3) Okkervil River- The Stage Names
    Yes, I live in Austin. Yes, I love Okkervil River and they are one of my favorite bands (though I actually borderline hated them at first). But no, I didn’t initially expect this album to even be in my top 20, much less this close to the tip-top. To say I was disappointed when I first heard The Stage Names would be an overstatement, but my sentiment was something akin to that. Okkervil River is often a “grower” band to me, but these are the ones that I love most. Sure, I like being blown away by something that’s out-of-this-world, knock-you-over-the-head-it’s-so-innovative-and-new, but I usually find myself more consistently impressed by bands that work with familiar sounds but find subtle, understated ways to work in their unique personalities. A lot of Okkervil River’s songs do not initially stir up wild enthusiasm in me, but over time I keep picking out bits of treasure, a really great arrangement here, an extremely witty line there (and there, and there, and there, aaaand there… I honestly believe that Sheff is one of the best lyricists today), until I’ve gathered a veritable fortune and it fully hits me what an amazing piece of music I’ve had in my hands. The Stage Names is probably the most straight-forward (and rocking) album they’ve done, but that doesn’t mean it’s banal. Though there are a couple of Okkervil’s weaker songs on here, the strength of the others more than make up for it. Okkervil River has never sounded cleaner or tighter, and I think Sheff has written some of his most well-constructed, clever, and funny lyrics. It succeeds in creating vivid, lucid images and characters in my mind, which of course is what makes Okkervil River special to me. The Stage Names impeccably encapsulates this weirdly romantic image I’ve always had of “the Artist.” They are flawed, shabby, probably bitter and with an artificial exterior of cool disenchantment. As annoying as they might be (ok, you’re tormented, I get it), there’s something about their special blend of determination and insanity, the sheer intensity of their love for the art, that’s fascinating and admirable. When the Artist connects to their fans via the fruits of their labor, it’s a truly unique thing.

    4) of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
    Oh, Kevin Barnes… you are so weird and I love you for it. I morbidly giggled over your lines about murderers and rapists surrounding the house and I morbidly giggle at your borderline mental fracturing in a wintery Norway wasteland, because darn it, you make it sound like so much fun. A glittery hyper-pop merry-go-round with disco-funk sensibilities, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? is so chock full of bells and whistles, I was sure that after a few listens I would burn out on it like a bad sugar high. Yet spin after spin, it consistently feels fresh; Barnes’ meticulous, elaborate arrangements prevent it from wearing out and breaking under its own weight. I laughed. I cried. I danced.

    5) Jens Lekman- Night Falls Over Kortedala
    Jens Lekman is adorable. He samples AM-Goldy/doo-woppy songs, sings like he’s a Rat-Packer in training, and writes funny stories about things like sea creatures crawling out of shells and wistful dreams of becoming a hippie named Snowphish. These little anecdotes about mostly banal happenings and common personal thoughts (come on, who hasn’t dreamt of committing insurance fraud, right? Right?) are what make him so precious. I like Jens. My parents like Jens. Given the fact that my parents are quasi-old-fashioned Asian folks that don’t really like a whole like of modern music, I think that says something.

    6) Patrick Wolf- The Magic Position
    Apparently, I just can’t get enough of dudes in glitter. Ziggy-era Bowie, Kevin Barnes, Patrick Wolf… I love ’em. There was a time in 2005 when I was so infatuated with this fellow’s music, even the fact that he has a unicorn tattoo on his chest (seriously, a unicorn!) couldn’t deter me. When The Magic Position came out, with its Candyland cover in such stark contrast to the mostly monochrome colors of albums past, I was a little wary. It’s a change to be sure, but I think Monsieur Wolf has undertaken a tastefully crafted path of growth. He continues his sort of “male version of Kate Bush” trajectory, combining his theatrical vocals with electronic blips, classical touches, and an uncanny knack for catchy tune goodness. But, as the title track implies, there’s a lot less sturm und drang and a lot more, er, major key-ness. Well done, young cub. I eagerly await your children’s choir/metal/whatever the hell you’re planning next album.

    7) White Rabbits- Fort Nightly
    I literally cannot remember where I heard of these fellows, but I’m glad I did. Fort Nightly is certainly grounded in “indie rock” territory, but the healthy doses of ska, calypso, and jangly vaudeville influences, piled on top of some very robust and prominent percussive work (there are two drummers, after all) and a few three-part harmonies, give it just the right amount of distinction to stand out a bit in the crowd. It simultaneously conjures up images of dusty saloons, masquerades under starry skies, and Emo’s. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but there you are. Sing-a-long-able and danceable, it’s music you can party to, but isn't actually party music.


    The Rest of the Best

    8) Blonde Redhead- 23
    (I was under the impression that I found Miss Makino’s and Mr. Pace’s vocals too annoying to truly like Blonde Redhead. Then I listened to this album.)

    9) Menomena- Friend and Foe
    (It took me months to warm up to Menomena. I didn’t really care for any of the songs I heard on the (internet) radio, but then for some bizarre reason I decided to buy the CD on a whim while at Waterloo. Something about driving at night and listening to “Evil Bee” made it click in my head.)

    10) Caribou- Andorra
    (I didn’t care much for The Milk of Human Kindness, but Mr. Snaith really put together something special this time around. So swirling, so dreamy. “Ahhhh…sigh” is how I go in my head when I listen to Andorra. For something so layered and jam-packed with sounds, I find it strangely soothing.)

    11) LCD Soundsystem- Sound Of Silver

    12) Richard Hawley- Lady’s Bridge
    (This was a late-comer to my “best of” scene. I heard “Roll River Roll” on KEXP and thought, “Who is this? Surely, it must be a lovely old song by a contemporary of Roy Orbison.” It wasn’t, but just as well.)

    13) Pale Young Gentlemen- Pale Young Gentlemen
    (Ah, I do love a good surprise! I can’t for the life of me remember how I stumbled across these folks, but they do a great job of satisfying my cravings for show tune-y/vaudeville-esque jams.)

    14) Arcade Fire- Neon Bible
    (Good, but not great. I was hoping for better.)

    15) Radiohead- In Rainbows
    (See above.)

    16) R.D. Burman- A Bollywood Legend: Best of the EMI Years
    (A really solid and even-handed survey of one of Bollywood’s most prolific composers/songwriters. I like disc 1 better than disc 2, but it’s all good.)

    17) Liam Finn- I’ll Be Lightning
    (A bit spotty and slightly indulgent, but this is still an all-around impressive solo debut from Finn the Younger. Betchadupa was fun in a youthfully cheeky sort of way, but as cliché as this sounds, Finn has really matured on this one.)

    18) Spoon- Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

    19) Les Savy Fav- Let’s Stay Friends

    20) Grinderman- Grinderman
    (“Sex vampire! Bite! Raaarrgggghhh!!!” --Nick Cave with the Birthday Party, 1981
    I combed my hair across my head, I sucked in my gut and still she said that she just didn't want to.” --Nick Cave with Grinderman, 2007
    The comedic value of this contrast was just too much for me to resist.)


    Honorable Mentions

    Beirut- Flying Club Cup

    New Pornographers- Challengers

    Handsome Furs- Plague Park

    Patrick Cleandenim- Baby Comes Home
    (OK, so it’s not the most ground-breaking thing in the world… but gosh darn it, it’s so fun it makes me long to sit in a smoky jazz lounge with a martini and cigarette, even though I don’t smoke or drink.)

    Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Double the Fun Fun Fun

    8. Nov. 2007, 4:53

    November 4, 2007: Fun Fun Fun Fest Day 2

    I was far more mobile for day 2. I saw, to varying degrees:

    MothFight
    Cave Singers
    Celebration
    The Saints
    Don Caballero
    Youth Brigade
    I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
    Mates of State
    Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
    Against Me!
    Battles
    Diplo
    Cat Power

    Mothfight, a local band that has been getting a bit of buzz around town, was an interesting act; something of a cross between Animal Collective and Arcade Fire (mostly the former, with a dash of the latter). I only caught the last bit of the Cave Singers set. I saw them at an instore a week or so ago (did they just stay in town or something?); they were very mellow, so seeing them in the festival setting was a bit odd. Celebration were far better than I had expected, thanks in no small part to Katrina Ford's powerful vocals.

    I then wandered over to the "heavier" stage (punk and metal) to see veteran rockers, the Saints. I'm by no means a punk expert; I lean more towards "post-punk" and "post-hardcore" myself, but I do like to indulge on occasion. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, and I enjoyed even more the mix of aging punks, teen punks, and plain normal folk in baseball caps that composed the crowd. After their set, I left to check out Don Caballero, and then went back to the "heavy" stage pretty quickly. I've given it many tries, but I'm just not into math/prog/post/whatever rock. There was a sparsely populated mosh pit going on when I returned to see Youth Brigade. There was a young girl with black and red hair running around, slam dancing with the boys, and I grinned mightily. She then brought what I assume was her little sister in the circle, and they ran around together, laughing. It warmed my heart. Youth Brigade were what I expected: loud, angry, and leftist. Quite amusing.

    I'm not that into I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness, and I relaxed/checked out the merchandise area during their set. I got up close to the stage during Mates of State, but only to get a good spot for Ted Leo. I saw them once during ACL and was kind of bored. They're cute and all, but not my cuppa tea.

    In case you didn't know, Ted Leo is what they call "the man." I'd say that I'm a casual fan of his music (though I am extremely fond of Shake the Sheets), but I love Ted Leo, the person. My introduction to Ted Leo was a couple of years ago, under a tiny tent set up in the parking lot of Sound on Sound Records. It was a cloudy, clammy March afternoon during SXSW, and Mr. Leo was feverish, sniffly, and sick. Despite feeling miserable, he still put on an amazing (and all too short) show. From then on, I couldn't hear Ted Leo without thinking, "Man, that guy's awesome!" Gotta love a conscientious, vegan rocker. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' FFF Fest set was blazing. As cheesy as it sounds, it was just so uplifting to have the whole crowd yelling along, "DO YOU BELIEVE IN SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL? THEN GET UP AND BE IT!!!" They did an amazing rendition of "Little Dawn" transitioning into Daft Punk's "One More Time". It ended with their cover of Chumbawamba's "Rappaport's Testament: I Never Gave Up", lovingly dedicated to J Church's Lance Hahn, who recently passed away. As everyone chanted, "I crawled through the mud, but I never gave up", I was amazed by how palpable the energy was coming from the crowd. What a great show.

    Apparently, Austin loves post-rock. The crowds were pretty huge for Explosions in the Sky (though they are from Austin, and attendance is always huge for them), Don Caballero, and Battles. I just don't understand the infatuation with Battles. I gave them a shot and I remain uninterested. And what's with the drummer having his ride cymbal at arm's length above him? Quite odd. I have nothing against them; no hatred, but I don't think I can ever get into them. Anyway, I left about half-way through their set to see Against Me!, which was the most insane show I've seen in a long time (though I stayed in the back, where it was calmer). People all over the stage, flipping into the crowd, singing into the mic. It ended with a nice, loud singalong, and, like several shows during FFF Fest, the stage was crammed with as many people as possible.

    I wrapped things up with Diplo, where there was also a ton of people on stage. So many, in fact, that I couldn't actually see Diplo. As I was not present during set up, I thought, "Is he even on stage? I can hear him comment from time to time, but there's no telling!" I know the point of attending a DJ set is to dance, but I actually wanted to see him do his thing, to observe a pro at his craft. So I climbed on stage, craned my neck, then climbed on top of a stack of amps and monitors, and there he was, twiddling with this knob, pressing that button, working on this turntable, seemingly doing a dozen things at once. It was pretty fascinating. Then a security guard told me to get off the amps, so I climbed down, danced for a bit, decided that I didn't like being on stage and so hopped back down to dance with the "ground crowd." On the way out, I stuck around for a few minutes at Cat Power's stage. I'm not a fan really, so I listened to her sing "The Greatest" and then left.

    All this, and it's only Fun Fun Fun Fest's second year. I can't wait to see what's in store for 2008.
  • Rest Assured, It's not Just a Clever Name

    7. Nov. 2007, 5:55

    November 3, 2007: Fun Fun Fun Fest Day 1

    So. Yeah. Fun Fun Fun Fest. It was fun. It was a lot of fun actually; like, barrel-of-monkeys-level fun. I liked it more than ACL. There, I said it. Fun Fun Fun Fest is better than ACL. Way to go, Graham Williams/Transmission Entertainment. You set out to create a more intimate festival with more "underground" and local leanings, and you succeeded with flying colors.

    Saturday
    It didn't really hit me how amazing the line-up was for Saturday until I got to Waterloo Park. As I walked in and grabbed a schedule, I thought, "Holy cow, this is absurd. My brain will probably explode from so much audio happiness." I pretty much stayed at one stage the entire day, and with the split-stage setup (a band played on one half of a long stage while another band set up on the other half; I think every festival should do this), I was relentlessly pummeled by great music.

    The day went thusly:
    Zykos
    Brothers and Sisters
    Emma Pollock
    Evangelicals
    White Denim
    Final Fantasy
    Okkervil River
    of Montreal
    New Pornographers
    Girl Talk

    I saw Emma Pollock during SXSW and wasn't too impressed. She and her band sounded much tighter this time around, and I realized that I really like her voice. She doesn't have a huge range or anything, but it's smooth and pleasant and, most importantly for me, not breathy. I hate breathy female vocals. I was pleasantly surprised by Evangelicals, a young and (perhaps predictably) slightly-Flaming Lips-influenced Oklahoma band. I reviewed their album So Gone a while back and didn't find it particularly memorable, but they were very entertaining live.

    Ah, White Denim. Austin's newest rock darlings. This was my second time seeing them, and they poured their little hearts out. It was quite exhausting just watching them as they pounded away on their instruments, yelling and sweating in the freakishly pleasant November sun. They had a decent-sized crowd watching, and I think it's safe to say that White Denim made quite an impression on more than a few folks. No, they're not the most earth-shattering new band out there, but gosh darn it, they sure are fun.

    Final Fantasy was another surprise for me. I admittedly haven't listened to any of Owen Pallett's solo stuff, and my exposure to his live performance is limited to seeing him with Arcade Fire a couple of years ago at ACL. I was very much impressed with his looping prowess and lovely, melodic voice. His stage banter was quite funny, in an oddly decorous way. His set ended with a pair of wonderful covers: "An Actor's Revenge", performed alongside Destroyer himself and a really enthusiastic Cadence Weapon, and Mariah Carey's "Fantasy".

    I can't really say much more about Okkervil River. They're one of my favorite bands and I've blathered on enough about them. This was my fifth or sixth time seeing them, which is probably not a lot compared to other people, but it's a lot for me. Jonathan Meiburg was absent unfortunately (he's busy recording the next Shearwater album, "Rook"; I'm quite excited about that), but they were still fabulous. I spotted Dan Bejar watching from the side of the stage and wondered what kind of fascinating and bizarre conversations might occur between Will Sheff and Mr. Destroyer.

    Of Montreal were, as expected, out of this world. Almost literally. Their set was one of the most hyper and trippy shows I've seen (though admittedly not as insane as the Flaming Lips). A contortionist, a dude in a white leisure-like suit and tiger mask, costume changes, glitter galore, with funky bass lines pounding throughout... it was quite the (well rehearsed, well planned) spectacle. They even blew out a circuit towards the end of the set, knocking out the stage lights, they rocked that hard. At one point, Kevin Barnes introduced a new song by describing it as one of their most provocative/sexy, saying that "softcore porn" is the newest indie trend (or something like that). The song started off, "I'm so tired of sucking dick", and I proceeded to laugh hysterically. This guy turned to me and said, "Oh my God, me too! I can totally empathize!" and started laughing hysterically as well. Kevin Barnes, you so cray-zeh. They ended their show with a cover of "Purple Rain", and it left me smiling like a fool.

    I feel very lucky to have been able to see the "complete set" of the New Pornographers, with both Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Their set consisted mostly of "Twin Cinema" and "Challengers" material, but there were a couple of oldies thrown in there, which elicited much whooping and hollering from the crowd. Suffice it to say, it was great. The harmonies were spot on, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, the crowd was enthusiastic, the stage banter witty. There was even Rice Krispie Treats and flying Lunchables. Awesome. They closed with "The Bleeding Heart Show", which was, dare I say, anthemic. Sorry for being so cliche, but it really was.

    Girl Talk was insane. Gregg Gillis gets so into it, bopping up and down so enthusiastically, that it's easy to see why crowds abandon all caution and go nuts. There was a guy on stage that took off his shirt, swung it around his head, ran it between his legs, the whole Chippendale-nine-yards. It was a really fun set, but I could have done without that. I hate to break it to you man, but La Bare closed months ago.
  • Austin City Limits 2007 Pt. 3: Coasting Down the Home Stretch

    20. Sep. 2007, 6:35

    Sun 16 Sep – Austin City Limits Music Festival 2007

    I had planned to pack in as much as I could on the last day, with an act circled on my schedule for nearly every time block. When it finally arrived though I decided to take it easy, partially because the previous day/night had leached away much of my concert-hopping powers, which had not been adequately replenished. My sister and I headed over to the AMD stage for Yo La Tengo, but soon after we parked it we discovered that we were horribly famished and left in search of food. After refueling, we lounged near the sound booth (deemed "the money spot" by Hanson, a very apt description I must say) for The National. We caught a bit of Yo La Tengo's very rocking (and amazingly loud) set from afar, and a sizable crowd slowly gathered as 1:30 drew near.

    Now, don't take this the wrong way, but Matt Berninger is very, very white. I don't mean to be derisive, just descriptive. He's a very fair man: pale, strawberry blond-ish, light-eyed. I really noticed that the night before, and I was curious how he would be in the bright, hot sunlight of the day. Could he be as intense on a sizzling Texas afternoon as he was in a dark club, without putting his health in danger? It's a silly thought, I know, but I'm something of an excessive worrier about anything and everything. Besides Josh Homme, Mr. Berninger might have been the fairest musician I saw during the festival. But Josh Homme is a giant, towering, Scandinavian-looking man who didn't play directly in the path of those concentrated sunbeams, and Matt Berninger is a skinny indie rocker.

    But I digress. These were very fleeting thoughts, spanning a few seconds and quickly forgotten as soon as the band stepped on stage. Like Blonde Redhead, their set was pretty much identical to their Emo's show. Aside from a few appeals to the clouds for protection and it being "toasty", the band took the heat in stride and was just as riveting as the night before. Mr. Berninger paced and crooned, yelled and strained upward like he was underwater and trying to claw to the surface for air, hopped into the crowd to cheers and applause. The slightly hobbity (I mean that in a good way; they look so sweet and innocent!) Brothers Dessner jittered their heads about as they weaved the melodies. The Devendorfs rounded out as well as anchored the sound, while Padma Newsome once again expertly embellished. Good times indeed.

    We stayed put for DeVotchKa. The last and only time I had seen them before was at SXSW, where they played a sublimely perfect but far too short set at the Velvet Spade (which is now Mohawk). With the cool spring night, glowing moonlight, and gorgeous backdrop of limestone and palms, it was a beautiful dream-like show that stands as one of the best, if not the best, shows I've seen at SXSW. This time around was quite different of course, but still stellar (and longer, huzzah!). While I had originally positioned myself in the shade of the sound booth, I soon decided to move up front with Ruwan and Deepu, partially to get the best view, partially to prove to myself that I'm not yet too old for this sort of thing. I'm very glad I did. It's always fascinating to see truly talented musicians work their magic. Their set was an excellent mix of old and new, spanning from "Supermelodrama" to "Curse Your Little Heart". They played their supremely amazing cover of "Venus in Furs" closer to the "Triple X Tango" version than the "Curse Your Little Heart" version, which I was very very happy about as I think it's far more exciting. There was much clapping, stomping, and swaying in triple meter, cheering for drummer Shawn King as he came forward to play trumpet, and of course, swigs of red wine straight from the bottle. I think it's something of a trademark for them, and it's extremely fitting. I was a happy, happy gal after that. Now, if only they would come back and play a club gig.

    We caught a few minutes of Bloc Party before deciding to take a break and head to Austin Java for an early dinner. It was the first time that I had left the grounds and come back, and I plan on doing it more in the future because it's quite relaxing. After a good meal (in air-conditioned environs), we headed back and waited for Ghostland Observatory. Say what you will about them being overrated. I still say they're an amazing act; they put on one hell of a show, are extremely hard-working, have pretty much done everything by themselves and deserve every bit of success. The crowd was purportedly huge (I couldn't quite make out how far it went back; plus I was too busy dancing), and I was extremely happy for the hometown boys. It was truly a bum-shaking experience at the Blue Room stage, and the lasers and lights just added to the party atmosphere. They're one of the few bands I've seen that work just as well in a huge festival as in a tiny club. Congrats guys. You're officially rock stars.

    The end was nigh upon us, and as we weaved our way through the crowd to see Bob Dylan and subsequently weaved our way out after 10 minutes, I felt extremely content. I later headed to Kerbey Lane to meet up with Julie and Hanson and his posse, and what followed was a laid-back night of hilarity. What might have been my last ACL (for a while at least) was well worth the effort. I had a great time.