SXSW Notes – 2009

I didn’t see and do as much at this year’s South by Southwest festival as I would have liked, but that would be the case if I had all the time and money in the world. I didn’t buy a wristband this year, so I was mostly limited to SXSW free shows, Texas Rock Fest shows, and Red Gorilla Music shows, which was just fine.

The reason I rarely write live reviews is that I don’t like to be too analytical and take notes, mental or otherwise, while watching a show–I prefer to just enjoy the moment. I enjoyed so many moments over the past few days that I can’t possibly remember them all, so these comments will be brief and I know that there are some worthy acts that I saw but haven’t covered.

The best thing I saw on Thursday was Phil Marshall at Spill. As with many shows over the weekend, technical problems cropped up, but they didn’t significantly detract from a good set. I hate to call Phil a singer-songwriter, although he is, because he’s got an accessible sound that the term “singer-songwriter” tends not to conjure in people’s heads. His YouTube availability is limited, so the pasted video is live, solo, and acoustic. I saw him play with his band, and electric. The video captures the spirit pretty well anyway. If you’re interested in more, I direct you to his MySpace page.

Phil Marshall – “Gravity”

Friday I saw a lot of acts, but none of them really registered except for Austin’s own New Disaster, a good metal band with a terrible name. I’d seen them before at the short-lived-but-missed Rock City Ice House, but it was great to see them in the close confines of Headhunters with their devoted fan base and, I would assume, some out-of-towners who got a swift kick to the eardrums.

There is no video worth embedding so I am again forced to point you to MySpace. Note to aspiring musicians: Kindly make it easier for me and others like me to give you a good review and encourage people to listen to your music. Approximately zero people are going to click on the link to your MySpace page, but plenty will click on an embedded video. Thank you.

The best show I saw by someone I’d never heard of was from Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, one of those bands I’d read about that I’ve never checked out. Guess I ought to. He was the first act I saw on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Mohawk, and the vibe was perfect for the exhausted crowd of music lovers. Once again, there isn’t any video to embed that’s worth a damn, so it feels a bit pointless to write much more. Would you music-making folk please work with me here?

The Vivian Girls were a disappointment. I’m not a big fan to begin with–I can enjoy a song on its own but the production on the material I’ve heard makes it all blend together and wear on the eardrums in a hurry when played consecutively. I was hoping that the live environment would be different, and to an extent, it was, and I liked a few of their songs. But when the technical difficulties hit, unlike several other bands who went through the same thing, they just (implicitly) said “fuck it” and left the stage. I had invited Jason, who couldn’t make it for reasons too hilarious to mention here, and I’m glad he didn’t make the drive. It’s a long haul for him and, as he’s a fan, I’m sure he would have been much more disappointed than I was.

I know the Vivian Girls have videos I could embed but I’m going to demonstrate that I can be just as petty as they were and not bother. You can search this blog for Vivian Girls if interested, although I can’t imagine anyone actually doing that after the sales pitch I just gave.

I really needed a nap at this point, but was talked into sticking around for Japan’s Peelander-Z, who are as much performance artists as musicians. The music is sort of a cross between the Ramones and Motörhead, only devoted to topics like steak, mad tigers, and ninja high schools. It makes more sense to simply embed a video than to try to describe the thing in my current exhausted state, so here you go. Me and the Z like our steak the same way (medium rare!).

Peelander-Z -“S.T.E.A.K.”

I finally got my much-needed nap and headed back downtown for more. I was waiting for my crew to tell me where they were, so I wandered into Spill to kill some time because I knew it was free. Glad I did, as I caught Baton Rouge’s We Landed on the Moon! Lead singer Jessica (don’t know her last name) has a great rock voice and stage presence. No studio recordings available, but here’s a pretty good live one.

We Landed on the Moon! – “Rabbit Hole”

Hoping they come to Austin again soon.

For Aspiring Musicians: How to Make a Video for Zero Dollars

  1. Rip song to .WAV file.
  2. Open Windows Movie Maker.
  3. Drag song file into Windows Movie Maker.
  4. Scan album cover art.
  5. Drag cover art scan into Windows Movie Maker.
  6. Save.
  7. Upload to YouTube.

Provided as a public service by On Deaf Ears.

I had to leave We Landed on the Moon! a bit before their set was over to meet up with some friends at the Texas Rock Fest stage. Much as I didn’t want to leave, I’m glad I did because I caught the last couple of songs by Austin’s One-Eyed Doll. Woo-eee! If the rest of the set was half as good as the part I saw, this is an act to watch with one, two, three, or however many eyes you happen to have. Singer and guitarist Kimberly Freeman fronts a tight band loaded with dark metal awesomeness. They’re playing again tonight, their last Austin gig for over a month, so if I’ve got anything left in the tank and can drum up some company, I’m going to go. (I probably don’t have anything left in the tank.)

One-Eyed Doll – “I Love My Little Bus”

The weekend ended about as good as is possible compliments of Marcy Playground, both recommended and attended by my brother. Good call. I only knew them from their one hit, “Sex and Candy,” but it would be wrong to judge them because radio programmers decided not to play other songs. Leader John Wozniak has a wonderful, full-bodied, alt-rock voice perfectly suited to the band’s melodic material, and it was augmented ably by Cedar Street’s tremendous sound system. The band’s cult following was there in force, and, if possible, seemed to be having an even better time than I was. As tired as I was at 2:00 AM Sunday morning when the show was over, I would have stuck around for another hour if they’d been willing and able to play it.

The encore began with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” My eyes should have rolled, because the poor song has been covered to death, but the performance was so good that it made me remember why I loved the song before I got sick of it. Their final number was a heartfelt tribute to our troops overseas, a reminder that there are brave people out there making my hedonistic weekend enjoying First Amendment-protected music in a free country possible. Perfect.

Marcy Playground – “Poppies”

And then I went home and slept for a long time.


One Response to SXSW Notes – 2009

  1. Carol says:

    After experiencing the music of the darling and damaged One Eyed Doll (seriously, how can such a cute, tiny girl make such big noise?) I, too, almost went to that show at Headhunter’s on Sunday night- but settled for listening to their music online.
    I’ll be at their next Austin show, without fail.

    And Marcy Playground- that performance was the best way to close out an outstanding four days of music and street vendor food. “Sex and Candy” is fluff next to some of their other songs. Really looking forward to their next album in July.

    Now time to begin placing bets on who’s coming back for ACL…

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