SXSW 2014: Charles’ Artifacts and Anecdotes (abridged) SXSW 2014: Charles’ Artifacts and Anecdotes (abridged)

sxsw

My week in Austin started with a car crash and ended with a cinnamon bun and in between there was the 2014 SXSW Music Conference.

It was fun. It was awkward. It was drunk. There were Germans and half-naked strangers. Pork and drugs and freakouts and no sleep until sweet home came calling. And the further I step away from the melee, the more I realize that the great narrative I’d anticipated coming into this year climaxed way before the whole mess began and that, my friends, is a tale best told some other gray Sunday.

And, so rather than muddy you with the frustrations of a family man, aging below you’ll find the best descriptions I could muster of the bands I’d seen each day by day by stinking day with a little bit of italics thrown in at the beginning to clue you in to who was where and when and just a little bit of what was happening then.

Rockit.

Day 0

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My dad wrecks the car but everyone is okay. Matt meets me for beers and some terrible, terrible band whose name escapes me and then some but departs before the evening turns endless. I am survived to Lightsey by Ben, Carlo and the Germans. We find Sean Berry, shirtless and snoring. More beer.

Windhand

I don’t know anything about this band except they have their own beer and released a split on Relapse (I think). That’s a new thing in metal now. Pig Destroyer had a beer, so will Locktender soon enough. I’d like to think that GWAR started the trend but I’m pretty sure it was Maiden.

The band is okay. Southern doom fried, female fronted groove something or other. I was yenning for something crusty and epically devastated to get my mind of things. I don’t get it. My neck is stiffening and my camera’s being a bitch. I dislike Windhand immensely but its not Windhand’s fault. I came to this party wishing I could kick myself in the dick.

Sannhet

A trio with Philly roots and a strong allegiance to St. Vitus (the best goddamn metal joint in Brooklyn if not NYC whole and proper), Sannhet plays the rusted black instrumental post rogue wave of implied mental violence all the Kierkegaard kids are kicking with these days behind a storm of warmth and light delays.

The monolith dreams electric, lets static, dies irate.

Kylesa

I suppose it has been a couple years since I first heard these kids rasp the crust punk sludge magnet and in that time they’ve gone from rough tumble house show war mongers to a bunch of dudes repping the drab Georgian stoner psych under the shadow of mecha broliners like Baroness and Mastodon.

Only they’ve got a girl.

Gnaw

Full disclosure: I know the dude who does the noise racket for this band. His name is Jun and he’s real good friends with Carl, the Red who I know from my advertising days. The “singer” looks familiar too. Not because Khanate but because he was an editor at Perceptional.

Anyway, Gnaw make antimusic for the marginalized man. Metal, I guess but more kin to the crackling of concrete. A little like what eddies in the head of a glue sniffer learning to love his own body for lunch meat.

Day 1

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Open with my first Texas hangover. First real day of SXSW. I think I almost got in a fight last night…in bed. The boys get their credentials and Carlo and I go east. We meet Maggie Boyd. Her and the boys take on The Fader Fort. Big Freedia blows minds, breaks hearts, changes lives. The Germans love twerk. I learn inappropriate sexual idioms for steam punk bartenders and then there were the girls from Missouri. We find Matt. We lose German Mike. B L A C K I E gives me a hug and my t-shirt. We find German Mike and cheat death by minutes. We ride the bus. We text our loved ones. Sleep comes uneasy.

The Front Bottoms

I hate this name like the plague and the indie folk punkapop they play where the words are so pointed and effacing I fear I’m the one whose gone tone deaf from all sooty bootstraps of my DNA but goddamn if they crowd doesn’t love them. It seems everyone here knows every word to every one of their songs and however crass I may prefer my punk rock to split, I can’t deny the loyal joy this band elicits is totally fucking infectious.

Craig Finn agrees. He thanks the singer.

Also, the beer is free.

The Soft White Sixties

Never again.

Young Fathers

I am a stranger to hip hop and she is no friend to me on account of my basic arrhythmic disposition but to lump Young Fathers into the same sonic habitat that coddles Young Jeezy (being an artist, at random) does a tremendous disservice to the power and prestige this band elicits. Yes, they rhyme and harmonize but their pulse comes from a raw bass drum pounded blind and earnest and their ambience is analog noise. Their voices and presence echo such a red-eyed potency as to leave even the bravest of men feeling awestruck and impotent.

Proud stoics on the edge of nihilism, they left me imagining a world where the KLF might have been fronted by Idris Elba and goddamn if we wouldn’t all be better for it.

Creative Adult

And, yes, we’re still playing the boredom angle. The power of punk filtered through the post Cale guitar school of rapid, vapid intellectual ennui. Tuning in = burning out. I want to say there’s some Flipper anathema in there but it’s masked by the daylight.

Perhaps it’s just more apparent?

I guess I should’ve expected as much or would have had I remembered to spend as much time on the B Side of Dead Air. It’s just that title track was so fucking RIGHTEOUS!

Bleeding Rainbow

It’s nice to see a band at SXSW actually appear as if they’re doing the right thing by their lives. Like, they knew they were in for a hell ride when they booked the death trip to Texas but they’re a young band ready to (and worthy of a) break in a big, big way and Austin’s just what you have to do and it’s pretty cool to know people will go out of their way just to see you.

I thought their new record was pretty damn good but live these kids fucking rule. Fast, fun and “OOOOOOOOH!” furious without drowning their pop sensitivities.

Though not totally comparable, I need you to know that Bleeding Rainbow is SO much better than The Thermals.

Seriously…enough with that fucking band, already.

Wrekmeister Harmonies

There aren’t many shows I’ll see or have seen at SXSW that I can categorize as beautiful, let alone moving but I suppose that’s because I fear sonic intimacy in this course.

And I can’t say, really, why I’m making an exception for Wrekmeister Harmonies (maybe it’s Thrill Jockey) but I am and so I sit and I breathe and I watch a grey man with a scraggly beard transgress the desert with his guitar and hum and howl and I believe that in his heart rests the comfort that comes once the terror submits to the quieted will.

In time.

I really wish Ben was here for this.

B L A C K I E

B L A C K I E is B L A C K I E is B L A C K I E is B L A C K I E is B L A C K I E and B L A C K I E is the schism between man and id, amplified and blind to the consequence of the being of this experience.

Shedding/shredding the trappings of the past. A threat in every breath, promising deliverance.

Or, as I told the Missouri Girls, “It’s transcendent. Just a dude in his underwear screaming and noise.”

Audacity

I tried to see this band three times last year and failed on every occasion. They’re some Burger Records bangers from Fullerton (Jesus, really?) who kick out jams before the fashion drunks stink up the joint.

Party people for cheap beer and broken sunglasses and we’re all only here by happy and lazy accident and it’s pretty fucking fun and fantastic.

Day 2

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Head off on a special invitation to Willie Nelson’s ranch. Heartbreaker’s Banquet. Third annual, I guess but the first one for Ben and me. I was reluctant, but Ben reminded me not to be a dick. It’s a long bus ride to nowhere, slowly. We make friends with young girls and a middle aged man all of whom we’ll spend alongside in a day overindulging in free beer and moonshine. We forget to eat. We forget about water. German Mike gets a tattoo of a Lone Star Tall Boy. We see pics. I am furious. Bands play. Night comes mercifully. We make friends on the way home with vodka. Everyone gets in their underwear and jumps in the hot tub. The Germans come home with Max, Carlo and I meet Jenny. Life is funny. This is Texas.

The Felice Brothers

Ben tells me their name like I know and enjoy them but I don’t and though their music is fine back porch spiked lemonade time, it’s early yet and I’m not clued in enough to be excited.

Too much daylight for gentle men on such a big stage.

Solid anyway.

Lucius

I love Lucius.

I love Lucius so much they were one of the ONLY bands I was determined to see on my Texas excursion so its no small privilege to be soaking them in here and now because their retrophonic American 60s swing bop sound is just the kind of thing that needs to happen in this broad haven for drunks and lovers aligned.

Their sound is pointed, impeccable, joyous. Accentuated by round after round of percussion, harmonic perfection. They really are the sound I want to be at the cocktail party where I make a million with a wink and a winning grin.

You know, when I grow up.

J. Roddy

This band IS Maximilian. At least, the man is. Urban cowboy wrangle the old rope blues from the bottom of the whiskey barrel. Cocaine hopes and sunglass succulence. This ain’t outlaw country but it is a dumb luck party so throw out your crutches and come get some good fucked, son.

Shovels and Rope

The man plays the drums and the woman strums and sometimes they swap but their hearts play loud and true throughout as they sing the songs like old lovers known so well you could wed the soot under their fingernails and not dare bother God with permission.

Turns out their name is taken from that of an old murder ballad record but there’s no death to be found in between. Just the good old grinning boot stomp and swinging like a long frog on a tambourine.

Only a whole lot pretty and just a little bit mean.

Willie Nelson

Holy shit, it’s Willie Nelson.

Day 3

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Setbacks. An 8am hot tub emergency. Real hungover from real good ideas with adult beverages and Ben takes Carlo and Jenny real early to get free tacos from Spin. I soak the ache with the Germans and Max, coffee and bacon. Post. Shake. Meet Jonathan Dwyer at some point and he suggest I eat some pizza. I don’t. The city loses Ben and Carlo early. Home by midnight, I think. Drink beer and teach Jenny and The Germans the unspeakable pleasures of being Christeene.

Pampers

I’m at the Castle Face records showcase at Hotel Vegas waiting to see something happen when I hear a grumpy, gurgling noise coming from inside. I go in and get blasted right the fuck out of my wet brain with some amphetamine wrecked garage lizard swill played Midwest batshit crazy pants, flaming (though actually from NYC, thank fuck for me). Real men, playing real rock and roll. Dirty and hard and balls deep in the wall. Tired and sweating and raging right here and now for the pleasure of being a Midnight Cowboy Selby ingénue or, you know, because that’s just how they fucking do.

Yvette

Noise rock has no place in the daylight because everyone with a little sunshine on their face would rather letting the Vitamin D do it’s business to their internal circuitry (for sexing) than listening to two Brooklyn dudes do the slink and clang protected contempt dance under a tent.

And I can’t really blame them because Yvette should be smoldered in suffocating volumes above the grey back leather ranks but they still pull of the mean pulverizing machinations that make them one of the more promising agit tanks to stroll out of the borough in years.

VIDEO (Ed. Note: Thanks for the tip, Beer Land)

Who doesn’t love a young man in black suede fringe spewing venom from such crooked teeth? Righteous hate is only wasted with age.

Trash Talk

Have you gone too see Trash Talk yet? GO FUCKING SEE TRASH TALK ALREADY!

Skate rats bringing the hate fuck back to hardcore, the band played this gig IN FRONT of Beer Land, unannounced (formally) to make up for some previous all ages gig that got busted up by the cops. It is mayhem, of course. Bodies, fists and beer cans flying. Not a riot, though which – admittedly – is something of a surprise especially when two ATV cops showed up after twelve minutes to shut the shit down…and then some bike cops…some horse cops…cop cars…and then the chief of fucking police makes his way, unamused, through the last of the mass of surly teens and bloodthirsty shutterbuggers.

There’s even a circle pit around a bike rack.

Everyone lives.

Legendary.

Tony Molina

I feel like this kid is sixteen and has written three songs a day since he was eight. He’s actually something of a total metal lick and shredder masquerading as a punk rock beach pop go getter. Good shit. A little lifeless but crazy adept fun likely more adamant in a sea of like-minded fawn pogo-a-gogos.

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz ratchets up some serious guitar heroics live but they do so in a somnambulistic haze. Watching them is like watching your crazy talented and endlessly charming friend be so much better than you at everything without him giving a rat’s ass about practice or presence or…ARGH!

I hate this band for not needing to break a sweat but they’re solid as hell.

Destruction Unit

Holy FUCK!

The only psych I can tolerate is that of the desert meth biker death trip variety. Fuck the peace and love. Up the black-eyed chaos company. Some surrealist prison suicide shit. Ghost kisses and strychnine whispers. You ARE freaking out man and you goddamn well deserve it so grind your teeth and split your skin and get free with the swelling wreckage, the six string violence, the TRUTH of Destruction Unit or sleep easy in the abyss.

Perfect Pussy

There were few bands that swelled with as much buzz as Perfect Pussy which is great for the Syracuse pop nee punk noise crew (they played Pitchfork and NPR parties) but which left me a little speculative. I heard the singer say her throat was shot but I can’t tell from the whirling howls and battery delivered with the quick and frustrated determination of band raised in collapse.

I heard that later in the night, the bass player threw his instrument off a bridge to punctuate the end of their new startling era.

Amen to implosions, my friend.

Day 4

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Jenny, Carlo and Ben go for BBQ early with our Willie Nelson friend. Max and I eat something terrible. The Germans depart for Dallas. I find free oysters and new friends. Quick beers with Tijuana Panthers. Lazy daze and, at some point, there was a gun-toting, redneck parade. We call it early, missing Talib and Christeene. We eat burritos and pizza. Ben and I sip bourbon easy into the AM and all is well.

DZ Deathrays

This Aussie duo is a blast first thumping booze blues pleasure cruise whose new material is so much more dense and pleasant than the ruddy gas masking of their full-length debut. I am sweating oddly and profusely and I’m a little bit pissed that they don’t play “The Mess Up” because that song is one of the best things to happen in the last ten years of blurry red rock regret but whatever and oh well.

I’ll never hear “Death Vally ‘69” live either.

Prides

Have I mentioned that I love Glasgow? Because I fucking love Glasgow. I might not love it if I spent more than one day on a punk rock acoustical journey through the torpid streets of England but who gives a shit? Prides is great. Big heart like Big Country (Scottish, yes but different) and synth pop thumping love and deliverance. Earnestness is a symptom of the human condition we’ve been kicking under the couch since the US Festival and that’s a damn shame, man.

Cerebral Ballzy

The singer pisses on the wall next to the Port-a-Potties just before the gig starts because he can, I suppose and though there will ALWAYS be that GG part of me that adores how a certain determined crust subset of the young punks thrives on the scum of Skull by Skull Now’s latent ephemera, I am a little less than impressed.

In fact, I kinda want to kick this kid’s ass.

Fortunately Cerebral Ballzy are a killer fucking band with mammoth fucking riffs and doe-eyed kicks to the pricks of their venerated predecessors. I bet they’re a riot by night.

Marijuana Deathsquads

“Fuck a bunch of Dum Dum Girls.”

“Agreed.”

I have no idea how many people are actually in Marijuana Deathsquads but today I count seven (including two drummers) and they play a dark barrage of tweedled knobs, primal mores and pitch-shifted lunacy. It’s complicated but inviting like a drum circle on the backfield at MIT.

It’s different, at least and that’s sure saying something for this orgy of cattle caws and disorient machines.

Landlady

Were it not for Sean Hallarman at Big Hassle, I would have never given a thought to watching some dude from Man Man’s new band play Brooklyn swingout weirdo hippie tropical art rock at the tail end of my Texas time but that motherfucker was persistent and so I took them in and I have to say they were seriously goddamn outstanding.

That Man Man man (I think his name is Adam) is crazy charismatic. Singing, howling and engaging the crowd to come closer and be one with him and the band that seems to swell exponentially as the set progresses until it all ends welcome and warm as a frayed old sweater.

Ben comes just as the set ends and I spend the next twenty minutes informing him how BAD he just fucked up.

Clouds Become Your Hands

Our Willie Nelson friend says, “If you can’t make it good, you might as well make it weird.”

I say, “This band is so bad, my dick might LITERALLY die.”



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