Rakim :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
The final day of Austin’s body-taxing SXSW Music Festival kicked off for yours truly with none other than the legendary Rakim
. Anyone into hip-hop knows Rakim is straight up the man, and after his Stubb’s show his stock as a performer went through the roof. Live hip-hop is so often a disappointment, but what Rakim did with a bangin’ ten-piece band was inspiring. There were drums, keys, percussion, turntables, bass, guitars, flutes, and more, all mixing in the warm Austin air as Rakim let it flow smooth and easy. By the time “Paid In Full” emerged there were hands in the air, women gyrating, and sweat pouring everywhere. Towards the end of his set, Rakim pointed at the band as he spoke to the crowd, “This is why we started sampling. We wanted it to sound like this.” The man’s word is golden, and so was this band.
David Dondero :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
Seeking shelter from the sun led me to David Dondero
in a dark, beer-drenched bar known as Room 710
. When folks first hear Dondero they may pick up a heavy Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes
) influence. What these people don’t understand is they have it all backwards – Conor is influenced by Dondero. They both have a shaky, fragile delivery and write deeply personal tales but Dondero was doing it first, something Oberst is happy to confirm. Regardless of the timeline, what Dondero does on stage (and record) is criminally overlooked. The guy lets his heart hang heavy on his sleeve but doesn’t get bogged down in the usual whining “why me” mentality. Instead, Dondero songs like “Rothko Chapel” feature a man expressing his views on religion, art, music, nature and more. Performing for an intimate SXSW crowd, Dondero won over every soul in the bar.
THE JAMBASE SHOWCASE
West Indian Girl :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
This year the JamBase showcase was held at Opal Divine’s Freehouse
and began with West Indian Girl
. By the time this six-piece psychedelic, electro-rock band took the stage there was a line snaking around the corner. Featuring fabulous male-female harmonies, a pulsating, dance-heavy backbeat and spaced out synth jams, West Indian Girl delivered the goods.
The second slot belonged to Electric Apricot, Les Claypool‘s tongue-in-cheek jab at the jam world (think Spinal Tap). Although there is an element of comic relief you wouldn’t know it by the quality of their playing. Sure Les plays drums, goes by the name “Lapdog,” wears tie-die, burns sage and sings about “going to Burning Man” and “opening Chakras” but the music is good enough to recall Traffic and other legendary rock outfits. After watching Electric Apricot one can’t help but be impressed by the versatile bass-man-on-skins. In addition to the music, it’s about time someone addressed the hypocrisy that runs through parts of the jam scene. I’ve always laughed at those dirty “vegan”, extra kynd, uber-hippies hawking crappy E. coli-infested burritos and bumming cigarettes while their dogs lay chained to the car. Leave it to Claypool to pull a movie and rock band out of such chuckle-inducing subject matter.
JJ Grey & MOFRO :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
was scheduled to play our showcase but got snowed in and never made it to Austin. In a last minute swap, the fine folks at SXSW assigned Dark Meat
to fill the void. With what appeared to be 15 people on stage, this massive collective was a wonderful surprise. A swarming horn section washed up against the reed instruments, percussion and large vocal component for drugged-out rock with a punk esthetic and Albert Ayler mentality. Refreshingly original and captivating.
When JJ Grey & MOFRO play you know you’re witnessing the real thing. JJ oozes soul and his revamped band with horns (featuring members of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings for SXSW) is better than ever. Starting off with the title track from the band’s new release, Country Ghetto, their set was hot from the start and never let up. Other songs of note included “War” and a spine tingling “Lochloosa.” Moving from guitar to harmonica to organ, JJ can do it all, but it’s his songs and delivery that make MOFRO special. The only thing we could have asked for at our showcase was more time for MOFRO! It was an honor to host these guys, and we look forward to this band’s continued rise.
Sam Holt – Outformation :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
I’ve been keeping an eye on Outformation
since they got their start in 2004. Having seen guitarist/vocalist Sam Holt
perform with Widespread Panic I knew he could shred but as the band begins to gel one gets the sense that these cats might just make it to that proverbial “next level.” It took a little while for Outformation to find their groove, but once they did it was on. While the vocals and some of the song structures have room to improve, when the instrumental jams started firing it hit hard. Of particular note were the last two songs they played. Looking around folks were absolutely letting loose. In fact, I saw one guy flat out fall over in a “I can’t take anymore” motion. Outformation is a young band with a bright future. I was impressed with their growth and look forward to my next encounter.
Continue reading for more SXSW coverage… FRIDAY 03/16/07
VietNam :: 03.16.07 :: SXSW
The day got underway by sharing a cab with Galactic’s Stanton Moore as we were both in a bit of a rush. He had a show at 3:00, and I had to get to VietNam
. After seeing the band the night before, I was even more impressed with their intimate day show that proved to be more engaging than the previous evening’s rock-out. The mellow setting allowed the songs to breath a bit more, and the actual room sound was superior, which always helps. After a great set closing cover of “Dark End of the Street,” I stepped out back with these Brooklyn-by-way-of-Austin boys to conduct an interview for a forthcoming feature. I enjoyed my time with their music and their points of view. Keep an eye on JamBase for more on VietNam.
Galactic :: 03.16.07 :: SXSW
While rapping with Stanton
in the cab, he impressed upon me his excitement for both his upcoming show at Stubb’s and his band’s new album, both of which feature a slew of hip-hop emcees. Following the interview with VietNam I slid over to Galactic
‘s set. Guests Lyrics Born
, Gift of Gab
, and Boots
from the Coup
made for an upbeat, enjoyable set, though at times it was plagued by sound issues. Live hip-hop with a full band can be a tough thing to pull off but with a few more shows under their belt it appears Galactic should nail this project down.
After Galactic it was time for another local gem that most folks aren’t aware of, Lions. After one song I knew this band would be my find of the day. Playing dirty, lewd, slammin’ hard rock, this quartet brewed up a sweaty good time. It was all sex and cars, loud guitars, and good old 70s cock-rock and roll. Some people have “it.” The lead singer for Lions has this “X-Factor,” and it makes this band thrive. Thrashing around, jumping into the audience, screaming through a megaphone, and generally freaking out, the frontman Matt Drenek makes this band ready for bigger and better things.
Lions :: 03.16.07 :: SXSW
Arriving at the Harp/Yep Roc party just in time for the end of Apples in Stereo
, I was shocked how well their sound translated live. Having enjoyed Apples in Stereo’s new album I was skeptical that the studio-heavy recording would do well on stage. I had grossly underestimated this band. With dissonant spacing, swirling jams, and perfect harmonies, Apples proved to be another strong point in what was turning out to be an incredible day of music.
The first set after the sun went down was My Brightest Diamond. Shara Worden and her three-piece band did a great job filling Antone’s with their unique blend of rock, pop, indie, jazz and more. There were times when the softer vocal arrangements were difficult to comprehend, but when the band kicked-in the songs took flight under Worden’s voice and keyboard work.
The Black Angels :: 03.16.07 :: SXSW
One of the biggest buzz bands of 2007’s SXSW is Austin’s Black Angels
. Having seen them on Wednesday I was hesitant to use my precious time in Austin to see the same band twice, but when it’s this good you just can’t deny it. The fact that this set was at night, in a real venue (Wednesday’s day show was on a make-shift parking lot stage) made it an even stronger showing. Amongst the many intriguing aspects of this band is the hard-to-get-over fact that such a cute blond girl slams the drums for this heavy act. As the music swarmed in a bed of reverb and seizure inducing vibrato, The Black Angels took over Antone’s, converting fans as they screamed through the dark psychedelic tunnels opening up around them.
Closing down Friday night was super-hyped all-star band The Good, The Bad & The Queen at Stubb’s. Featuring London uber-musician Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), African hero and Fela drummer Tony Allen, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Verve guitarist Simon Tong, this is one of the most talked about project of the year. While the songs were great and the playing tight, the majority of the music was too mellow for a late Friday night following hundred beers under the hot sun. There were moments that stuck out, like the double-encore including a string section and a Syrian vocalist, but overall it appears this music would fit better in a hot club than an open-air festival.
Continue reading for Days 1 and 2 of SXSW…
It’s only the second day and Austin is getting blurry. Bands and faces, beers and booze, all run together in the hot sun and beautiful evening air.
Midnight Movies :: 03.15.07 :: SXSW
Day 2 got underway at the Filter
Party where Midnight Movies
played a solid set under the heavy sun. Featuring a great drummer and female singer the band worked a nice electro rock mix that concluded with a cool flute solo from the drummer, who got up from behind her kit and was relieved on the skins by the singer. The band broke me out of my haze and proved to be the shot in the arm I needed to get the day going.
Up next was The Besnard Lakes who stole the day. From the opening notes, spaced out guitars and a sprawling Pink Floyd-meets-the-Beach Boys vibe it was on from the moment these cats plugged in. So many rock bands these days have no patience, Besnard Lakes knows how to let a song develop and then they bring the walls down. Creating that hard-soft dynamic is what often allows a band to drive a point home, and Besnard Lakes understand how to control tempos and deliveries. Toss in a wicked bassist and some of the best male-female vocal harmonies of the weekend and this is perhaps the band from SXSW that I’ll go home talking about.
The Besnard Lakes :: 03.15.07 :: SXSW
There’s been an awful lot of hype around Peter Bjorn and John
and after checking their stripped-down pop-heavy set I can see why folks dig them, but it’s just not all that engaging to a fella like myself. With the sun taking its toll and the band doing little to keep me there, it was time to re-fuel for the night time.
JamBase favorite, Apollo Sunshine, straight killed it! Although their set was rife with technical and sound issues, they went balls-to-the-wall and didn’t let up. With a second guitarist on tour, Quentin Stoltzfus from Mazarin, the Apollo boys destroyed the stage with full-on double-neck guitar meltdowns, country-flavored punk twang, and even some cowbell and mandolin. With time running out the band pulled a huge rock exit, trashing their guitars, tossing them in the air, and walking off stage to adoring fans.
Apollo Sunshine :: 03.15.07 :: SXSW
The plan was to check Rodrigo Y Gabriela over at Stubb’s, but they had to cancel because of visa issues
. Luckily, Apostle of Hustle
played a nice fill-in slot. Stubb’s can be hard to really engage with the music if you aren’t up front, so we stood to the back, sucking down Tecates and listening to a bunch of Canadians take some loose (but accurate) jabs at Bush while pushing their pleasant blend of world-influenced indie rock.
Loudest band of SXSW honors may go to Portland, Oregon’s Danava. These guys bring the walls down and shake fillings from your teeth. This three-piece ’70s throwback went after the Black Sabbath vibe hard. From the vocals to the massive, brain-beating guitars, Danava clearly know what they are doing. As is often the case, when the music focused on the instrumental segments it was particularly impressive.
Apostle of Hustle :: 03.15.07 :: SXSW
A little after midnight it was time for a highly anticipated set by Brooklyn’s VietNam
. Having stirred up quite a buzz with their self-titled full-length debut earlier this year, and the fact that I was interviewing the band the next day, this was one set I made a point to catch. While it took a little while to get all the gears greased up, once they hit the guitars were crashing and the rhythm section kept it pumping forward. However, on record you can hear the nuances, catch the lyrics, get involved with the storyline, but in the bar it’s just heavy, loud blues-soaked rock. That said, it was a solid showing, and more than enough to make one want to see the band again.
We caught a quick glimpse of Do Make Say Think and while we weren’t there long enough to really get our heads around it, their Broken Social Scene vibe – strings and horns and tons of people packing the stage – was definitely enough to inspire a closer listen.
Ghostland Observatory :: 03.15.07 :: SXSW
At this point in the night, after you’ve been drinking all day in the sun, things start to get a little fuzzy. We finally got a cab and made our way to the Playboy Rocks Austin/Charles Attal Party. There was top shelf booze (free of course), a few Playboy Bunnies, and lots of people there for Austin’s own Ghostland Observatory
. This duo features frontman Aaron Behrens
and producer/drummer Thomas Turner
, who create a huge dance party of electro-break rock freak outs. Their defining feature is Behrens’ stage presence. As he bounced around, swinging the microphone overhead you can see a bit of Freddie Mercury in him. The relentless energy of what they do drives the crowd wild, and Ghostland proved a perfect late night ending to Day 2.
Continue reading for Day 1 of SXSW…
It’s that time of year again friends. Sleep deprivation, cans of beer, BBQ, and bands bands bands! That’s right, we’re here at Austin, TX’s annual South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference. Every year in mid-March, Downtown Austin swells beyond capacity as hundreds of bands and just about every person in the Biz converge for a long weekend of madness.
While most festivals are punctuated by big name headliners, the beauty of SXSW is discovering new bands that your friends and co-workers back home have never heard of. While there are big name acts like The Stooges, Spoon, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Interpol and interview panels with the likes of Pete Townshend, Emmylou Harris and David Byrne, the real reason to head to Austin is to dig out the gems that are hiding on make-shift stages, dilapidated bars, and performing at liquor-lubricated daytime parties. Every year there are a few breakouts that receive a huge boost from their SXSW shows. Past years have seen buzz build behind The Decemberists, Bloc Party, and Dr. Dog. Who will this year’s rising stars be?
WEDNESDAY :: 03/14/07
The Black Angels :: 03.14.07 :: SXSW
Making the mad dash from the hotel to Emo’s Annex for IODA’s Opening Day Bash was the best move of the day. Austin’s The Black Angels
5:30 p.m. set was the best music I would hear all day. With that first cold beer in hand and the Angel’s distorted, swarming psychedlia wrapping around my head, I knew I had arrived. Their most striking feature is the Jim Morrison-on-steroids vocals, but the key to their sound is the subtle guitar shifts that are constantly moving under the sloshing, rhythmic sludge. When this band hits, THEY HIT!
Not only was this set the best of the day, it’s going to be tough to beat overall.
The FADER Fort is the coolest venue in town. Every year the fine people from FADER Magazine up the ante, creating a unique area for their showcases. This year is truly over-the-top. With a huge stage, a little covered “fort” area with seats and benches, a DJ booth, and an indoor facility for bloggers and gawkers, these cats know how to throw a party. Unfortunately, the only band I caught was The Boggs. With an un-original, Brit-punk vibe, this three-piece did little to impress. However, the DJ was kicking out some seriously good shit. From Dead Prez and the Shaft soundtrack to The Mars Volta, every cut was a keeper.
MiniPop :: 03.14.07 :: SXSW
If there’s a downside to SXSW it’s the increase in attendance. If you have a badge (which allows you access to all shows) you used to be able to stroll right up to whatever gig you wanted to check out and walk right in. Those days are gone. SXSW has outgrown Austin a bit, and when we wanted to see Beirut
and The Early Years
at Emo’s the line was ridiculous so we moved on.
Arriving at Antone’s, the vibe was far more pleasant and the beers easier to grab. We stayed for a bit of Oakley Hall and The Rosebuds but the next band to really leave an impression would be found around the corner at The Parish II.
Annuals :: 03.14.07 :: SXSW
Hailing from San Francisco, MiniPop
packs a bigger rock sound than their name suggests. With a great drummer and captivating vocalist, this five-piece was a huge surprise. While not reinventing the wheel, they kick out a nice blend of power-pop. (Note to self – and all of you, too – go see MiniPop again
Taking a strong second place for Day 1 was the Annuals. A close-knit, dynamic rock band, these cats put on a great set. The focus is on enthusiastic frontman Adam Baker but this band has lots of layers. At times more than half the band would be wailing away on some sort of percussion, creating a huge rhythmic backbone for the guitars, keys and vocals to climb atop.
At this point it is time to remove myself for the computer and continue the search. Check back for updates, you won’t want to miss tonight’s Playboy Rocks Austin Party…
JamBase | SXSW
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