Tuesday, March 19, 2013
SXSW 2013: Wednesday (Part 1)
If I was cynical, I would categorize South By Southwest 2013 as my year of misses. I flew in late Tuesday night, missing what has effectively become the new first day of SXSW. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Savages, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Thee Oh Sees, every event at the Hype Hotel, and a plethora of other wonderful, outstanding bands and showcases were unattainable to me, either due to scheduling or the madness of yet another overcrowd and poorly organized SXSW. Not to mention the amount of sponsorship and advertising, not something in short supply at all during SXSW, felt more pervasive than ever with that stupid, Doritos sponsored monstrosity of a "stage" being as much an eyesore ever and as far removed from the purpose of SXSW as ever.
But I'm not cynical, and these are the same complaints everyone throws at SXSW in some capacity every year. The truth is SXSW was just as crazy, intense, manic, and mind-bendingly fun as it always is. I got to see 33 different bands (35 if you can the two bands twice) within the time span of four days, most of who were stellar or captiviating in some capacity during their poorly soundchecked 30 minutes on stage. Let's see if I can deconstruct everything I went through.
Alex Bleeker & The Freaks @ Red 7
Alex Bleeker and his back-up band The Freaks were an nice ease into the whirlwind of SXSW. He stepped on stage, said a kind and awkward thanks to the crowd for being their so early (it was 12:45 P.M.) and proceeded to play some noodled out indie rock for his set. The light, Real Estate meets Grateful Dead guitar pop of his early work has given way to a Neil Young style of soloing, letting the songs sprawl, like they've spent too much time in the sun. And despite their hippie demeanor, Bleeker and the Freaks were tight as they bended their guitars and jammed out. The set definitely made me more interested in his upcoming new material, even if the set was a bit lackluster in general in the band's ability to grab your attention.
PAWS @ Red 7
PAWS on the other had no problem grabbing a hold of everyone's attention. Three punky snots from Scotland, they managed the usually impossible feat of bringing a SXSW audience closer to the stage, and proceeded to blast the audience with the scuzzy indie rock that they magically yack off '90s radio and imprinted into their record. Despite the 14 hour airplane ride they were bantering about (and how hot Austin was to their currently freezing Scotland), they were still a sonic blast of energy, blasting through their songs like an even more high strung Yuck. People filtered in from outside when they heard the distorted guitars, people pogoed momentarily ,and PAWS made 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon much more enjoyable.
Parenthetical Girls @ Red 7
This is a slight cheat to the SXSW rules considering I had seen them twice before, but there was no way I could pass seeing them again. Parenthetical Girls know how to put on a live show, with frontman Zac Pennington emoting the lyrics with such dramatics, then proceeding to jump on the stage's speakers, running into the crowd, and making such a specticual of himself to go along with the songs. Songs which, sounded pitch perfect as they were crafted by the rest of the band, from the drum boom of "The Privilege", or the blaring, siren like synths of "Young Throats", everything echoed with a professional crispness that is usually lost at SXSW. If there was any complaint to be found, it was how short Parenthetical Girls set was, something remarked on by even Pennington himself. But they just shrugged it off, and closed in their own tiny grandiose way
Wax Idols @ Red 7
Like I mentioned above, I did not get to catch the current post-punk goddess that are Savages when they played SXSW. However, I got to experience the closest possible equivalent when I caught Wax Idols. Heather Fortune and co. were an utter force of nature, four impossibly tight musicians that managed to cram a 10 song set into 30 minutes. The intensity of the band was matched by their songs, a dark and lethal combination of '80s post-punk and goth that pulled almost entirely from their upcoming Discipline & Desire, sounding at times like the byproduct of Bush Tetras if they had listened to the entire of Echo and the Bunnymen discography, in the best way possible. No smiles, almost no words to audience, just song after song of excellent post-punk fury. It was only later that I discovered that Fortune had been suffering from a severe cold during her entire performance, not only rising how impressive their set was, but making what a Wax Idols show at 100% would be like.