Monday, March 31, 2008

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals to Kick Off Sun Studio Sessions

It's no secret that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are one of Earvolution's favorite bands. So, it was a great personal thrill for the band to agree to appear as the first act to tape a performance for the Sun Studio Sessions, a project I've been working on for the past few months.

In case you don't know, Sun Studio is the legendary room where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin' Wolf and many others recorded their very first hits. U2 fans will remember Bono and crew going there to record Angel of Harlem

As expected, the Nocturnals were fantastic. They played several tunes that are not on their normal set list and even finished a new song there and wrote a brand new one during the taping. All of that is on camera so you'll get to see some very cool exclusive footage from the band very soon.

The Sessions will begin airing regular "webisodes" on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting next week, April 7th. But, you can check out a sample webisode here now.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Allman Brothers Band Postpone The Beacon Residency

The Allman Brothers Band broke from tradition by moving their traditional March residency at New York City's Beacon Theater to May. April showers won't bring May power chords as the ABB announced that they must postpone their annual residency and cancel their appearance at their Wanee Festival. Gregg Allman is still recovering from his recent battle with Hepatitis C and there are concerns he won't be fit for the demanding 15 show run.

For now, the Beacon shows haven't been cancelled and new dates should be announced sometime in the future. No announcement has been made as to whether tickets purchased for the May residency will be honored or whether there will be refunds and a subsequent resale.

Free Dr. Peppers For Chinese Democracy

Credit Dr. Pepper for coming up with one of the more skillful marketing ideas in the modern era, their best since David Naughton crooned "I'm a Pepper. You're a Pepper." The non-traditional cola has offered to give everyone - except Slash and Buckethead - a free Dr. Pepper if Axl Rose will release Chinese Democracy.

Being the magnanimous guy that he is, Axl agreed to share his free soda with Buckethead. After all, he did appear on the album . . . and Dr. Pepper does go well with KFC.

Savvy move by Dr. Pepper. What's next? Free 2-liters if J.D. Salinger writes another book? Six packs for all if O.J. finds the real killers?

So c'mon Axl, wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Witch: Casting a Spell

Witch

Paralyzed****

Tee Pee Records

By: Rinjo Njori

Has Queens of the Stone Age become too alternative even for you? Do you feel the Desert scene has been hijacked by the southern fried leanings of Super Heavy Goat Ass? The latest from Dead Meadow more boring than you expected? Or just realistic enough to realize your closer to liking Brian Wilson's Smile than Boris' new record of the same name? Where can the average "alterna-kid" looking to indulge his inner metal head these days? The answer is Witch.

Childhood friends J Mascis and Kyle Thomas indulged their inner Dave Grohl and formed Witch in 2005. To "up the metal credibility quotient" they recruited avant folk scenesters Asa Irons and Dave Sweetapple from Feathers. The result was traditional Sabbath with their own blend of QOTSA/Dead Meadow style stoner rock. Sure they probably didn't appeal to the Southern Lord Army and got dismissed by the fans in and around the Palm Desert scene, but these New England boys put out a fantastic genre album that no one could have seen coming. After all wasn't Mascis a dinosaur and who were those other guys?

Paralyzed arrives in 2008 with a lot more expectations. Did they go all Sunn ))))OOOO and go the "3 minute per note" route flushed with feedback? Do they jump back to into more familiar territory with a retreat to alternative rock? Luckily Paralyzed finds some creative middle ground. Building on the successes (see "Isadora" and "Hand of Glory) on "Old Trap Line", trying out some "NWOBHM"-style metal with "Eye", or finding a happy medium between the Replacements and early Nirvana on "Disappear". More importantly they shorten the running time and tack on two extra tracks.

"Eye" kick starts the momentum on Paralyzed. Dave Sweetapple might not be Steve Harris. Kyle Thomas and Asa Irons are technically (literally) not in the same league with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. J Mascis resembles Clive Burr on his worst day. Still, this under produced, pulse pounding song can't help but draw from Number of the Beast­-era Iron Maiden. The bass lines are quick and clean, the guitars neatly layered together, and some primal drums make this song too short for it's own good. "Space God" uses similar guitar riffs but fills out the sound at a slower pace without ceding the intricacies of Nebula or earlier efforts by Dead Meadow. "1000 MPH" immediately recalls "100 Degrees" from Kyuss Welcome to Sky Valley. This might not be fair comparison, but the songs are similar in title and feel.

Though never reaching the intensity of the Kyuss classic, Witch is able to find their groove. Sweetapple's bass fits nicely with Mascis' give and take drums. Asa Irons kicks it into overdrive with a crisp solo. The nasal vocal delivery of Kyle Thomas still remains closer to Dead Meadow's David Simon and is essentially light years, or a million miles, from Jon Garcia. "Gone", "Sweet Sue", and "Old Trap Line" bridge Witch's sound from their self titled release to their sophomore effort. Yet there is less effort on the bottom end and each note doesn't have to go as far as it did on their debut. "Disappear" might be the only track that feels out of place. Lacking the heaviness and the bite of metal it feels like a strange marriage between Bleach-era Nirvana and pre-Let It Be Replacements. The track also serves as an unintentional conduit between the more 80s leaning metal songs that fill out the front end of the album, than the more firmly grounded 70s styled songs that close out Paralyzed. About the closest Witch come to a misstep is "Sweet Sue" which on the wrong day could easily sound like a ballad. Witch has established that at the least they are not a ballad band. The band has wisely dispatched with the overt nods to mystical imagery. "Seer" and "Soul on Fire" from their debut might be replaced with the equally bizarre but more accessible "Eye" and "Space God", but the feel of the band no longer relies heavily on it's association with all that is heavy and gloomy. Even if the George A. Romero inspired album cover art does it's best to dispel that notion.

Mascis, Thomas, Sweetapple and Irons don't reinvent the wheel on their sophomore outing with Witch. Like most other artists they successfully build on the strengths of their previous effort. Nor do they take for granted that this isn't their day job. "Eye" and "Dissappear", most notably, might pull heavily from influences that were discarded on purpose the first time around. Everyone knows Maiden, The Mats, and Nirvana. Creatively it made sense to reintroduce Sabbath and all the good things that most people missed when Queens of the Stone Age broke in the late 90s. They are also not foolish enough to think that they have fully explored their heavy side by sticking with that formula. Paralyzed quickly establishes a nice middle ground for those who are way past Era Vulgaris but not quite ready to smile with the wacky Boris.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Schultz By Southwest II: Earvolution Returns To Austin

By: David Schultz
Photos of Jason Collett and Shout Out Out Out Out by: Justin Ward

Tuesday, March 11

I am on the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center standing in what might loosely be called a line waiting to get my music badge for the 2008 South By Southwest Music Festival. In a microcosm, it has taken me about 10 minutes to get to this point, mostly from having walked into the wrong entrance to the ACC and then wandering around the spacious building looking for the registration area. In the macro view, it has taken me almost three years to reach this point. I am about to become Earvolution’s first official participant in a SXSW Festival, putting our site alongside Rolling Stone, Bowery Presents and Stereogum as member entities of the event; albeit an anonymous one as my super-late online registration came after the deadline for inclusion in all of the promotional materials.

At last year’s festival, which featured Earvolution’s first SXSW Showcase, I traversed Austin without a badge or wristband, a cheaper but riskier alternative to the laminate access pass. With some forethought, there wasn’t a tremendous problem getting to see good music but after watching legions of folks traipse all over the downtown area, floating carelessly from show to show, it was time to see how the other half lived. If going without a badge was a rebellious act establishing my untrammeled indie-cred, then this year shall be known as the year that I officially sold out.

After taking one of the worst photos in the history of SXSW, I am handed a badge that will get me into any SXSW event, capacity permitting. I am also given a swag bag that weighs about 10 pounds and is loaded with magazines, CDs, chewing gum and a Sgt. Rock action figure depicting an army grunt rocking an electric guitar. I immediately put my badge around my neck: I am proud and excited to have my status symbol that gets me into everything while being simultaneously petrified that I may somehow lose it if its out of my sight for more than five seconds. Despite the fact that it will open no doors until the next day, I wear it with an inflated sense of self-importance, coveting it like Gollum in a dank cave. At least I know where it is at all times. I trust my roommate for the week, Live Music Blog’s Justin Ward, so I’ll take it off when I go to sleep. He has his own, he won’t need my precious.

On this day, SXSW is in the process of shifting its focus from Interactive technology to music. With a few more conferences and seminars to go, the ACC is littered with people pounding away on their laptops. Every couch, chair and seat on the floor has someone working their Dell, Thinkpad or something made by Apple. It looks like one of those staged movie scenes of wartime carnage; well, if the soldiers were still alive and possessed wireless modems. Everyone looks slightly sleep deprived and the Starbucks concession is thriving. While Justin blends in with the laptop brigade, I sift through my mountain of swag in an attempt to lighten my load. We end up talking to a filmmaker (I believe his name was Michael Fix) whose movie The Marconi Brothers has had a couple well-received screenings as part of the SXSW Film Festival. He’s managed bands in the past and is quite familiar with the music end of the event. We get a different take on the festival, hearing a bit about what it’s like from the artist’s side. We debate the merits of playing for a “corporate” or “industry” audience and whether playing Austin during this week truly boosts an artist’s profile or helps their career. Like most of these debates, no definitive answers are reached.

Even though the festivities don’t start until tomorrow afternoon, I peruse the Austin Chronicle to see what’s going on in town tonight and discover that My Morning Jacket and Yo La Tengo will be playing at The Parish. Apparently wristbands for the event were handed out over the past couple days at Waterloo Records and even though it seems unlikely The Parish won’t be mobbed, Justin and I decide to make a late afternoon stop over to the club and check out the scene. The doors and windows of The Parish are plastered with placards making it clear that badges and wristbands have no value at this show, a SXSW equivalent of “long haired freaky people need not apply.” We inquire inside about what we need to do to get into the show but the bartenders are relatively clueless. While Justin works his laptop to see if we can learn anything online, we meet one MMJ’s tech guys and we start to pick his brain for ideas. He lets us know that the wristbands from Waterloo are long gone and he’s having trouble even getting the SXSW volunteers into the show. We try to work the press angle; he laughs at us. He also proves to be quite honest, finding my attempt to bribe him highly comical.

Moving to the Iron Cactus for a couple drinks, we end up sitting next to Ambrose, a Los Angeles based musician, who’s playing a couple unofficial shows at The Blind Pig. He has the look of a musician, yet he’s scavengering seats like the rest of us. Seeing him rounding up chairs for his band/entourage, I offer him the one that I have been resting my feet on. He graciously accepts it and promptly uses it to store his bags. After learning that I am down here as “press,” I get a copy of his CD Who Is Mandy Moon? We idly chat for a bit and he seems entirely unamused by our tale of trying to get into The Parish. I think he senses that there’s no chance I’m going to come see him play this week. Realizing he’s definitely thinking this, I wonder if it will increase the chance that I may go. I am overthinking this to a high degree. As it turns out I didn’t go see Ambrose. Possibly a mistake though: I did listen to Who Is Mandy Moon? and it’s a pretty good collection of post-hair band hard rock This is what I get for thinking.

The line outside The Parish is an impressive site, stretching all the way down to Seventh Street. Mourning the inability to see My Morning Jacket, I duck into various venues to check out what else is going on. Of note, I catch about 20 minutes of Lily Electric, a thrashy yet melodic group from Germany. After guitarist Tobias Mynborg announces that it’s either the band’s first time in Austin or the United States (or both), the Austin crowd teaches them a couple things about playing America or possibly just SXSW. After each song, the appreciative audience bombards the band with requests like, “What’s your name?” and “Who are you?” until they comply. Moving along Sixth Street, I catch a snippet of a solo guitarist playing an adequate version of “Under The Bridge” and find a subpar band led by a high-pitched singer whose voice sounded like it should have been coming from the female guitar player. I wonder if I shouldn’t have walked in the other direction where White Denim was playing Emo’s. The answer to that question will turn out to be, “hell yes I should have.” Plus, have no fear, the annoying italics gimmick stops here.

Wednesday, March 12

It begins. The first stop of the festival is Mohawk, a deceptively large venue on the corner of Red River Street and 10th Avenue. At first blush, Mohawk seems quite modest, a good sized patio with an outdoor stage setup and an indoors concert space which could pass for any of the basement venues on New York City’s Lower East Side. Once you start exploring and trek up the stairs near the back of the patio, you find a large stone deck with chairs and tables and a few couches arranged tacky lawn outing style. Rising above that is an even larger outdoor deck offering a grand view of the patio stage and a prime spot for VIPs to congregate. Extremely open while having an undercurrent of exclusivity; Mohawk’s edifice is the perfect metaphor for SXSW.

Anathallo, a menagerie of musicians from Chicago are playing on the outdoor stage as we enter. Benefiting greatly from the Arcade Fire’s popularity, Anathallo has a ton of people on stage doing a bunch of different things on a bunch of different instruments. They aren’t the reason for the trip this far north. That awaits us inside. A Place To Bury Strangers, who are playing an astounding number of sets this week, are setting up on the indoors stage, preparing to test the limits of the modestly-proportioned space. Submerging Oliver Ackermann’s vocals into a vat of distortion, APTBS provided a nice little wake up call for the early-afternoon crowd. The drone and feedback of Ackermann’s guitar seemed a little out of synch with the brilliant sunshine flooding in through the back room’s few windows but otherwise everything else clicked. Brooklyn’s loudest band does live up to their billing with Jonathan Smith (“Jono MOFO”) playing simple but forceful bass lines and drummer Jay Space pounding out a weighty beat, they slowly ratchet the sound up to jet plane levels, leaving the stage with the feedback still ringing in the speakers.

Along with Yeasayer, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver, Jens Lekman and White Williams, A Place To Bury Strangers will be one more ubiquitous acts at this year’s SXSW. You would think that it would be easy to catch a set or two from a band that’s seemingly playing everywhere. You would be wrong. The lines that seem to form around any of the performances, especially at the day parties, are disconcerting and often a fatal detriment to getting inside and catch the music. While some of the bands playing down here are amongst the most hyped in the country, it doesn’t mean that everyone playing Austin as part of the Festival has people talking about them. On the other end of the spectrum, Daryl Hall (sans Oates) and Hanson of MMMBop fame make appearances on SXSW stages over the course of the week.

After a set from The Forms that includes Nirvana’s “All Apologies,” a cover being a rarity at most SXSW events, Jukebox The Ghost take the outdoor stage. Ben Thornewill’s bouncy keyboards melodies give songs like “Good Day” and “Hold It In” a vaguely poppy feel that even spreads into their prog-rock inspired, three-part opus about the end of the world. Thornewill’s overly precious affectations also contribute to the lightweight image of the band. An animated performer, he accentuates many of the songs by rolling his eyes, making faces or using any other expressive gesture at his disposal. Hardly a distraction, I didn’t find his antics all too endearing. My opinion wasn’t shared by the large number of women that had come to see the Washington, D.C. based trio. One of the ladies requested a song that definitely took Thornewill by surprise, causing him to exclaim, “Where did you come from? How do you even know of this song?” When the fan persisted, a flattered Thornewill demurred playing the song, explaining with a grin, “They’ll cancel all our other gigs this week.” Not one to disappoint, he promised to play an acoustic version of the song for the fan out on the sidewalk when they were finished. I didn’t stick around to see if Jukebox played a private show for the fan but I would be shocked if they didn’t. They hardly seemed like the kind of band to make hollow promises.

Our small crew, which included Live Music Blog’s Justin, Mitch (“The Union Forever”) and Sam (“Drymount”), moved towards Sixth Street, stopping in at Emo’s Lounge, which one year ago played host to Earvolution’s Wednesday afternoon day party. Even though we enter during a set break, the lounge is practically empty and I take some pride in the fact that Earvolution’s party had Emo’s much more populated at this time last year. As we wait for Jason Collett’s set to start across the street, Shapes Have Fangs come on stage. Were this 1965, these guys might be superstars as their garage band, souped-up 50s style rockers would have played well in that era. However, in 2008, we try to figure out how we can leave without hurting the band’s feelings.

On Emo’s outdoor stage, the Annex, Jason Collett stood out for relying on songs rather than a sound. With the sun angled behind him, Collett and his band played in near silhouette, adding a nice visual component to the set. Opening with a wonderful rendition of “Roll On Oblivion,” Collett revved up a bunch of laid-back Keith Richards style guitar licks while giving a taste of the wildly entertaining music the Arts & Crafts label has putting out for the past few years. In his modest plaid shirt, Collett looked like he may have just stepped off the Austin streets; once on stage, he was one of the event’s more accomplished and refined performers. Collett’s set, featuring material from his recently released Here’s To Being Here, including a slinky and sultry version of “Charlyn, Angel of Kensington,” was all to short, leaving the crowd wanting more.

In The Commitments, Roddy Doyle inserts a joke about the most effective spot to put the “!” in the band name And And And. (The dispute is whether it should go after the second or third And). This pops into my head after we are drawn into The Beauty Bar by the electronic dance beats coming from within and find Shout Out Out Out Out packed onto the corner stage. This bunch of Canadians needed no extraneous punctuation, much less one that would draw comparisons to !!!, who would form a great double bill with the SO4. The dazzling sunshine filling the room was as asynchronous to the Shout Outs as it was to A Place To Bury Strangers’ daytime set. With two drummers kicking out the clubland style beat and the synthesizers working double duty, Shout Out Out Out Out’s set would have better suited for 4:00 am not 4:00 pm. It didn’t seem to matter one iota to the band, their lead singer danced around and played as if it was a sweaty dance club and everyone’s drugs had just kicked in. Having missed the first half of their set, Justin asks one of the Outs when they’re playing again. As it’s SXSW, you don’t have to wait long. “We’re playing across the street in 10 minutes.”

We cross a different street to catch The Spinto Band at the Creekside Lounge, which as its name suggests abuts a creek. Uncharacteristic of a SXSW event, this one is running well behind schedule and by the time the Spintos take the stage, they are encroaching on dinner time. Even though they worked a Beatles thing with band members sharing a mike and shaking their shaggy hair while they sang backing vocals, they didn’t seem to offer anything unique. The next day I would learn a term for this from a Brit at the Cedar Street Courtyard.

After seeing a dreadful Van Morrison performance at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, I vowed that I would never pay to see him ever again. Morrison required his audience to arrive at 7:30 sharp so that he could subject them to a miserable opening act, cut off alcohol service once he took the stage and then played a one hour set that ignored his sizable and treasured back catalog. It was an insult to his fans that had paid dearly to see Morrison and he unfairly left them feeling betrayed and bewildered. Far from young, far from fresh and far from indie, Morrison’s appearance at La Zona Rosa stood out from the rest of the pack. Seeing as I had a badge, there didn’t seem to be much to lose by going to see the Celtic crooner. Playing before a packed house, Morrison made no reference to Moondance nor did he come close to venturing into the slipstream. To the contrary, he played selections from his upcoming album, Keep It Simple, as well as a couple county tunes from Pay The Devil. His set-up and stage show are throwbacks to an earlier era of showmanship and his traditional arrangements and devotion to standards are far from hip. About the only thing punk about Morrison is his crusty, disputatious attitude. Since it was SXSW, Morrison’s penchant for omitting his classics and playing his new material wasn’t as notable or egregious. However, I doubt that a change of venue would have affected the set list one bit.

On my way back towards the downtown area, I pause to sit in Republic Square. Despite the fact that the weather was quite nice, the park was eerily empty. After a couple minutes, it became clear why no one would spend their evening at Republic Square. Camped on every branch of every tree within the one block square was at least one black bird and they were all cawing and squawking and creating one of the loudest cacophonies I have ever heard. It was something out of a Hitchcock movie. After hearing this, the disconcerting sound of these birds became much more noticeable amidst Austin’s white noise.

An uninspiring couple songs from Longwave has me thinking my trip to Emo’s will be a short one. That is until I get sucked in to a set by a duo calling themselves Free Blood. John, Free Blood’s ostensible leader, oozes charisma and bears a close resemblance to Ben Affleck. His partner in crime, Madeline, looks like Bruce Willis’ French girlfriend in Pulp Fiction. Backed by a tape machine, John danced, rapped in a sing-song fashion, leapt into the crowd and brought a guy on stage to act as a mike stand while he played acoustic guitar. When not singing backing vocals, Madeline danced and watched on adoringly. To close the show, the two slow danced to their heavy electronic recorded dance beats. Either Free Blood was the most moronic, insipid thing I’ve ever seen or these two are a pair of geniuses. It is more than a week later and I still haven’t a clue. I will say this: they stopped me from leaving Emo’s; kept me there for more than 20 minutes and I am relatively sure that I was highly entertained.

Like most of Austin, I plan on ending Wednesday night at Stubbs Amphitheater for R.E.M. In order to avoid any “capacity” issues, I meet the Live Music Blog crew over there around 10:00 p.m. The Papercranes put on a disappointing set as did Dead Confederate. The outdoor stage seemed like a perfect venue for Dead Confederate’s epic-style of rock. However, the Athens, Georgia rockers failed to attain the majestic heights they were aiming for. Dead Confederate were one of the bands I was looking most forward to being blown away by and perhaps I set my expectations too high for this relatively young band. Nearly all the songs started in a morass of verbiage and reverberating guitars and took a while to gel into something cohesive. Once it did all come together, it was pretty fantastic and the songs would finish remarkably strong. It had the effect of a boxer who finishes a round with a flurry of activity and steals it on the judge’s scorecards. Dead Confederate won this fight but didn’t do it as impressively as I would have liked. I’m looking forward to seeing them in a smaller venue where I imagine they will be absolutely fantastic.

Sometime after midnight, R.E.M. finally takes the stage and for more than an hour and a half reestablished themselves as one of the most outspoken and politically relevant American bands. Acknowledging that everyone would love nothing more than a set full of classics from their college years, Michael Stipe appeared somewhat apologetic when introducing a number of the songs from their upcoming album, Accelerate, pointing out that they were short. They were also really good, especially “Houston,” in which he takes former First Lady Barbara Bush to task for suggesting the lower classes of New Orleans’ 9th Ward made out quite well as a result of being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. After a day of watching young bands (and Van Morrison), the experience of Peter Buck and Mike Mills was evident and even though he tends to be a bit preachy, Stipe’s skills as a frontman are unparalleled by anyone not named Bono or Springsteen. With NPR broadcasting the show, Stipe made use of his access to the public airwaves, discoursing on current events with the seriousness that can only be mustered by the devoutly righteous before flashing a playful grin and being as playful as a small child. Amidst the newer material, R.E.M. worked in classics like “Fall On Me,” “Drive” and “Walk Unafraid” before finishing the night with “Man On The Moon.” Given that it’s an election year and R.E.M. has new music to promote, it’s surprising that they’ll be spending the summer touring Europe.

Thursday, March 13

Lou Reed served as this year’s keynote speaker; a curious choice as the increasingly cantankerous legend and an open mike leave a lot of room for something to go wrong. Rather than address the crowd with prepared remarks, Reed served as the subject for an interview conducted by record producer Hal Willner, who produced Berlin, the album Reed resurrected, more than 30 years after its original release, and is currently the subject of a concert documentary, which was screened at SXSW. The apparently promising selection of Willner to moderate the discussion proved illusory as he seemed unprepared to lead Reed through any portion of his address. With Reed relying on Willner to guide the discussion, the early portions of his address were disjointed.

The former Velvet Underground leader used the opening portion of his keynote speech to hawk and screen Julian Schnabel’s recently produced film of his live performance of Berlin. After showing “Men Of Good Fortune,” Reed began to answer the questions posed to him in a deliberate and succinct manner. He would pause during his responses, apparently having concluded his thoughts, only to continue after a second or two oblivious to the awkward break of the conversation. Willner led Reed through an exchange on the general scorn heaped upon Berlin when it was originally released, discussed the complexity and depth of his lyrics and prodded him into a recitation of a portion of “Rock Minuet.” He also drifted into areas befitting a SXSW keynote speaker; Reed is disheartened by the proliferation of technology in the record industry, bemoaning that we’re getting more efficient at making things sound terrible and he’s adamant in his recommendation to unsigned artists that they refuse to sign away their publishing. “Just don’t do it,” he said in his own perfunctory manner. “Say NO!”

A poet of the streets, Reed had kind words for the punk rock of today, noting that he’s always impressed with art that lays itself bare before an audience. He still admires the power of rock and roll and recognizes it as one of the few outlets for emotional creativity. SXSW doesn’t lack for those type of artists and when asked who he admires amongst today’s musicians, he cited Dr. Dog, Holy Fuck and Joan As Policewoman. (Although in fairness, he did call them Dr. Dog, Holy Shit and Jane As Policewoman).

With Lou’s occasionally puzzling words still rattling around in my brain, I proceed towards Mohawk for British Sea Power. The group, who unironically is from England, gets the indie-rock guitar fuzz going quickly and builds from there. They also adopt the Arcade Fire philosophy of liberally including horns and strings and don’t shy away from creating a raucous mess. To close one of the songs, Phil Sumner blasted his trumpet directly into one of the guitars producing an oddly compelling range of distorted feedback.

If incorporating Arcade Fire elements into the stage show was one of this year’s evolving trends, the other was the insane proliferation of guitar and drums duos. In displaying a wide variety of what can be done with an essentially simple formula, all such duos had one thing in common: they made you salivate over what Jack White could do with a better drummer. At the Mohawk, No Age, a reckless pair from Los Angeles, California, provided one of the freshest adaptations of the concept. For the most part, their set consisted of short busts of hardcore, encapsulating a furious barrage into one or two minute nuggets. The brevity of most of the songs didn’t evince a lack of creativity or daring. When guitarist Randy Randall is so inclined, he can work some intriguing guitar riffs as well as pull of some daring stunts. Near the end of the set, Randall jumped up onto the speakers on stage left, unleashing a guitar solo from a precarious, unsecured perch about 10-12 feet above the ground. While the speakers shook from his weight as well as the ferocious guitar solo, drummer Dean Spunt took to hitting anything but the drums with his sticks, mostly playing the Rhapsody banner that adorned the back of the outdoor stage. Just when it looked like Randall was going to attempt the most ill-advised stage dive in the festival’s history, he made his way down and No Age finished without hurting themselves. The energy and speed of No Age’s performance was the perfect example of the ethos espoused by Lou Reed only hours earlier. The old guy may be a bit cranky but he does know his stuff.

Retracing my steps from the day before, I return to Emo’s Lounge where one part of the Brooklyn Vegan party is in full swing. Team Robespierre, a feisty little outfit from, where else, Brooklyn, opts against using Emo’s spacious stage and sets up in the well between the stage and lounge area. Essentially playing in the round, the five-piece seem to have more energy than song structure. The singer and the guitarist played amidst the small crowd, bouncing furiously while the drummer and keyboard player faced up at them from the well. Their setup proved interesting as they fed off each more than they would have had they played from the stage, working up a serious sweat over the course of their half-hour set. If you aren’t swayed by Team Robespierre’s furious onslaught of punk and rhythmic hardcore, you will be moved by their conviction.

Leaving Emo’s, I proceed west down Sixth Street to The Parish for the NPR Showcase to catch Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend. As the show also featured Bon Iver, Jens Lekman, AA Bondy and the Shout Out Louds, I was not alone in thinking this would be the mid-afternoon performance of choice. The line outside The Parish would have been the longest of the day were it not for the crowd Motorhead and Napalm Death brought to Stubbs. Say what you will about indie-hipster bands from Brooklyn, when it comes down to it: Lemmy Rules.

The frustration mounts while waiting to get into The Parish. Especially when I get some good-natured ribbing from people in line about the present uselessness of my badge. I know how they feel, though. It’s easy to lob criticism at SXSW for being a self-congratulatory, corporate boondoggle with artists, publicists and executives hustling and striving to create the biggest buzz they can. All you have to do is observe the increasingly large number of people wearing invitational badges long before or after a party has occurred. It’s not enough to have a pass to the SPIN party. Oh no, everyone must know you were invited. Whether you actually went and saw Vampire Weekend is irrelevant. There is another demographic in this music universe that seems criminally underrepresented: music fans. For us, SXSW is Disneyland. For the music obsessive, this is a chance to be surrounded by people who are just like you.

As Yeasayer’s time slot approaches, we are told that we aren’t getting in to the show. The Parish is filled to capacity and no one is expected to be leaving with the two hottest SXSW attractions about to hit the stage.

Right about this time, Mitch walks by and we make our way down Sixth Street in search of something that catches our ear. We find it in the form of Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves. I can only surmise that Reed is called The Paperboy because he looks young enough that it could be his day job. He has an old soul though and his blues based act comes directly from the Sam Cooke, Otis Redding school of soul singing. Undeniably, Reed knows how to belt out a song. With every band trying to stand out by doing something innovative and inventive, Reed’s old-school stage show rises above by being faithful to the spirit of soul music. To put it more concisely: The Paperboy delivered.

We move over to the Cedar Street Courtyard for a little sun with our music and arrive at the Filter party in the middle of The Duke Spirit’s set. Working her Debbie Harry style, Liela Moss has the crowd braving sunstroke to catch them playing songs from Neptune, their upcoming album. In chatting with one of the Brits who are over for the showcase, I learn some British terms for describing new bands. My favorite being the delightfully Eddie Izzardish “indie-schmindie” which describes a band that will likely never be more than darlings of the indie-music scene. The other term I am taught is “shouty,” which adequately describes Be Your Own Pet. These kids may hail from Nashville but there’s nothing country about them. Fronted by the sassy Jemina Pearl Abegg, Be Your Own Pet has the precocious attitude you would expect from a young, snotty bunch of punks that are confident in their ability to play kick ass rock and roll. Oddly, the ruder or more incorrigible they tried to be, the more it seemed endearingly appropriate. “Look dear, the punk singer soiled the rug. How delightfully droll.” Definitely not indie-schmindie.

Sadly, the Lou Reed tribute at the FADER Fort was not to be. It did occur and from all accounts was fantastic, memorable and included a performance by the guest of honor, I just couldn’t get inside to see it in person. With a half block line just to get your RSVP wristband that would allow you to stand in a separate block and a half long line to get in, it didn’t make sense to even try. Our suspicions were confirmed when we finally coaxed our prospects out of a congenial security guard. “No chance in hell.” Doh!

The line at Emo’s Annex to catch Holy Fuck was likewise untenable so I walked across the street to Emo’s proper to see if there was anything interesting going on. The acoustic duo on the inside stage proved unenthralling so I moved outside. Ooh, James Woods found a piece of candy cause that's tapes ‘n tapes on stage. Looking a lot scruffier since the last time I’d seen them, the Minnesota indie-darlings of yesterday (possibly indie-schmindie?) played many songs from Walk It Off. Their new album has a grittier feel to it than the technically precise The Loon. Then again, judging from the fuzzy tones of “Insistor,” their rawer sound may have been more a result of a questionable sound mix than a conscious shift of musical direction. Regardless, they sounded great.

Tonight’s plan of attack for the evening showcases is extremely simple: The Whigs, Yo La Tengo and My Morning Jacket at the Austin Music Hall. The refurbished music hall is essentially a stone structure both inside and out, it’s functional but not warm or inviting once you get inside. Having badges, Justin and I waltz past the 50-60 people in line bearing wristbands or waiting to buy tickets. Despite having a wristband, Sam is waiting for us inside when we arrive at the relatively empty arena. Last year, I pondered whether you could see everything you wanted to see at SXSW with a wristband and a little forethought. Sam seems to be proving that theory true as he has been with me at every major event.

The Whigs' opening set was everything I had hoped Dead Confederate’s Stubbs set would have been. (An extremely unfair and subjective assessment, I know). Parker Gispert, Tim Deaux and Julian Dorio hit the proper mix of aural assault, impassioned play and owning the moment. Making the most of their opportunity to appear on NPR, who were simulcasting the show, The Whigs played most of their current album Mission Control and had the crowd head bobbing along to a heavy rendition of “Right Hand On My Heart.” When Gispert and Deaux finished the set huddled and crouched over by Dorio’s drum kit, it was less stage theatrics and more an effort to wring everything out of the last song. The Whigs’ set was amongst my favorite of the week.

With Yo La Tengo comes a confession: as a New York based writer with presumably good taste in music, it seems accepted that I should not only be familiar with Yo La Tengo but that I should be well versed in all things involving Ira Kaplan and his band. Until they took the Austin Music Hall stage, I not only couldn’t have picked Kaplan out of a lineup, I’d never heard one note of Yo La Tengo music. Truly my loss; this is one innovative band and there’s a seriousness to them that I had vastly underestimated. Georgia Hubley and James McNew switched off occasionally between bass and drums with Hubley remaining behind the kit for the majority of the set. Their melodic pieces were enjoyable but it was the avant-garde, Sonic Youth style explorations that provided the envelope pushing thrills. To finish the set, Kaplan thrust his guitar away from him into the speaker generating oceans of feedback. This is not your teenager-friendly pop band.

The night’s unparalleled headliner, My Morning Jacket, is working on a whole other level from every other band in Austin this week. Where most artists use SXSW to secure a foothold, establish a name or substantiate their hype, Jim James and My Morning Jacket are auditioning for the role of rock and roll megastars. Flat out, Jim James is a rock star. Next to Michael Stipe, no one else at this Festival is as compelling as James. Everything he does, from his plodding giant steps to winking at a cute girl in the front row (yes, I was that close, have I mentioned how great SXSW is?) takes on added weight cause it’s Jim James doing it. My Morning Jacket previewed some songs from their forthcoming Evil Urges but the heart of the show was Z, whose songs take on epic proportions once they’re worked out live. The delightfully glib “Off The Record”” turns into a jam-heavy fiesta and “Gideon is as enthralling as any other song in the classic rock pantheon, propelled along by Patrick Hallahan’s concussive, rumbling drumming. Their new material proved interesting and if the songs debuted in Austin are any indication, it might be slightly heavier and slightly experimental. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Jim James is the next great rock star and My Morning Jacket is poised to be the most significant and influential band of this decade. In the old days, My Morning Jacket would be regularly appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone. Thank God David Fricke is still there or else they might be pulled in favor of Miley Cyrus.

Throughout the night, The Whigs, Yo La Tengo and My Morning Jacket heaped praise upon National Public Radio and in doing so helped NPR pull off one of the more impressive slights of hand. Corporate sponsorship of an event populated by a large number of free thinkers who rail against the stifling corporate influence and branding that pervades the music industry is a double-edged sword. NPR managed to affiliate themselves with the largest shows – My Morning Jacket, R.E.M. - and put on an uber-exclusive day party which left hundreds of people out in the street and still received lavish praise and applause with every mention of their name. It’s good to be in public radio these days. Without any repercussions whatsoever, NPR attached their name to every major event and every buzzworthy act in Austin and nary was a negative word spoken. If Clear Channel had done the same thing, they would have been crucified for trying to enhance their credibility and spread their brand by attaching their name to these artists. For now, it seems that NPR can do no wrong.

Friday, March 14

The Black Keys feature prominently at the Village Voice’s day party at La Zona Rosa with people streaming out of the 90 degree heat to catch Ohio’s minimalist take on the guitar and drums configuration. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney put on a breathtaking display, generating more sound than it seems two guys can realistically create. If they really are amenable to helping resuscitate Rod Stewart’s career, the increasingly irrelevant singer would be off his rocker to turn them down. Auerbach, his long hair covering his face, moved back and forth between quick bass leads and powerful guitar riffs, playing them in such quick proximity to each other that they seemed to emerge simultaneously. Working in the milieu of distorted blues, Auerbach’s “double duty” guitar work is as much fun to watch as it is to listen to and comes the closest to The White Stripes sound that has become the template for the guitar/drums combo.

Heat is an issue today as the temperature shoots into the low 90s. Oddly, it is cooler inside the packed La Zona Rosa than it is outside. I make my way all the way across town to the Web 2.0 party at The Palm Door, a meeting hall style venue on Sabine and Fourth that’s slightly off of SXSW’s beaten path. Walking in, I hear Donald Cummings, the lead singer of The Virgins, announce that they have one more song. It’s not the last time I’ll hear him announce this today and it’s a shame, The Virgins are a great little band and while the comparisons to The Strokes may distort expectations of what they sound like, it’s not unfair to mention them in the same sentence as their fellow New Yorkers.

AA Bondy plays a short set to a much smaller crowd than he had just 24 hours ago at the NPR showcase. His quiet stage demeanor and intimate songs aren’t a perfect match for a day party. It’s sort of like bringing a slightly more gregarious Ray Lamontagne into a barbeque and asking him to entertain while the kegs are being changed. Bondy’s warmth and sincerity are quite compelling and ideally suited towards smaller, more intimate venues where attention can be focused squarely on the talented singer. As for The Palm Room, Bondy played a fine set that simply didn’t match the time or place.

In the sweltering heat, half of O’Death takes the stage sans shirts and one, fiddler Bob Pycior, plays without his shoes. One thing becomes clear, this is a band that should remain clothed. However, it does enhance the psychedelic-hillbilly motif of the band’s Appalachian-style mountain music. By working Pycior’s electric fiddle and Gabe Darling’s electric ukulele (something you don’t see too often) into their mix, O’Death goes farther into the backwoods than others have gone before. Naturally, the band hails from Queens, New York. If the Brit from the Filter party was at this show, I’m sure he would have a neat little term for O’Death’s music. In the interim, I’ll just describe it as psycho-billy rock that out alts the whole alt-country genre.

I hustle over to Mohawk where the Hot Freaks party is in full effect. Hosted by forward-thinking and forward-looking blogs that include My Old Kentucky Blog, Aquarium Drunkard, Gorilla vs. Bear and Largehearted Boy, there was no worry that the music would be anything but fantastic. Arriving near the end of the Friday afternoon showcase, I commit an egregious breach of SXSW etiquette and cut an enormous line waiting to get in and see British Sea Power on the outdoor stage. Having caught the indie-lads on this same stage the day before, I end up going upstairs and meeting some of the bloggers who are organizing the event. Contrary to what the general perception of bloggers may be, these guys aren’t anti-social, pasty-white, 20-year-old kids blogging out of their parents’ basement. Not only were Dodge (MOKB) and the Drunkard extremely nice and gracious gentlemen, they explode the geeky blogger mystique to shreds. Hell, they even have wives.

After the set, I end up next to one of the British Sea Power guys (I think it was Yan) who has taken advantage of the rare down time to sit and relax in the shade. Like many bands, BSP has been running an intense gauntlet of shows, moving from stage to stage and playing a similar set twice sometimes three times a day, if they are lucky. He seems to be enjoying his respite. Of course, I ruin it by going up and saying hello.

I make it to the Bowery Presents showcase at The Cedar Door just in time to hear The Virgins announce for the second time today that this will be their last song. After The Little Ones play a nice little set that has a slight world-beat tinge to it, Rogue Wave puts forth an absolutely killer set featuring current material from Asleep At Heaven’s Gate, an excellent version of “Bird On A Wire” (an original, not a Leonard Cohen cover) and an appearance by Matthew Caws of Nada Surf. In one sense, Caws sit-in wasn’t a surprise as Rogue Wave and Nada Surf have toured together in the past. On the other, a sit-in, a staple of any jamband festival gathering, is a SXSW rarity. Time is at a premium and while the focus is placed on putting on the best 40-45 minutes possible, it’s geared towards showcasing the band and not giving the audience a memorable concert moment. Rogue Wave and Caws managed to accomplish both in one fell swoop. Frontman Zach Rogue seemed to sense as much: at the close of the last song, he instinctively pumped his fist in the air, a rare burst of honest emotion for a well-played SXSW set.

Justin, Mitch and I make the difficult decision of leaving The Cedar Door and an upcoming set by Dr. Dog, to hustle over to Bourbon Rocks for The Helio Sequence. Another guitar and drums duo, Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel are as different from the blues-soaked riffs of The Black Keys as they are from the hardcore bursts of No Age. The pair from the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon to be exact, adopt a slightly new wave approach; Weikel skillfully sets a beat that complements Summers’ slick and polished playing while grooving enough to get the audience moving their hips. On stage, the pair pack more of a punch than they do on the Eighties-derived Keep Your Eyes Ahead, primarily because they leave the synths at home. Even when stripped bare of modern technology, The Helio Sequence don’t get in your face, they entice you into what they’re doing.

Despite digging what The Helios were doing, Mitch and I cut out 20 minutes into their set to catch the White Rabbits at Club de Ville. Although all their promo material designates them as hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Gregory Roberts introduces the band as hailing from Columbia, Missouri. Factually correct, as the band formed at the University of Missouri-Columbia, it was hard to figure out why one of Brooklyn’s more accessible exports would separate themselves from the County of Kings. Perhaps the Rabbits took note that every band claims the now-hip New York borough as their home regardless of how tenuous the connection may be. It now seems that if 5 guys from Iowa, North Carolina or even Zaire form a band and the bass player’s grandmother grew up in Park Slope, their publicist will tout them as an indie-band from Brooklyn. Regardless of origin, the White Rabbits play a slightly uneven set of indie-pop with the high spots reaching lofty realms. The Rabbits have a knack for creating catchy, substantive rhythms that are far from lightweight. Their skill for crafting lasting hooks is very much on display in “The Plot” and “Kid On My Shoulders,” whose melodies will rattle around in your brain long after the last note. The Rabbits may be lumped in with the indie-rock bands but they have the capacity to evolve far beyond indie-schmindie.

White Denim, one of the more talked about bands at this year’s SXSW, finishes out the night at Club de Ville, combining with the White Rabbits to create an indie-rock version of Puff Daddy’s White Party. The Austin based trio of guitarist James Petralli, bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block have been blowing people away over the past few days and have become a destination band for anyone not familiar with the local scene. When I got off the plane four days ago, I had never heard of White Denim; by the end of their set, I wanted to own everything they had ever recorded. Such is SXSW and such is the awesomeness of this band. White Denim distills everything that is great about the blues and garage style rock and roll, strips it down and condenses it into its purest essence and offers it up in highly concentrated doses. At Club de Ville, Petralli broke a string in the middle of their second song and announced that they would then try to play every song they knew that didn’t require him to use the string. If they sound that good with 5 strings, I can only imagine it gets better with 6. At the time, I thought nothing could top White Denim.

I was wrong.

I’m not sure where the myth began that rap and hip-hop doesn’t translate in a live setting. Frankly, I’m probably responsible for spreading such nonsense amongst my friends. After seeing the last 20 minutes of Pharrell and N.E.R.D. at Stubbs Amphitheater, I had every preconception I’ve ever had about the genre completely destroyed and I can no longer subscribe to the notion that hip-hop is solely a studio creation; it simply isn’t. Anyone who says so just hasn’t experienced it. I am woefully unqualified to interpret what I saw and heard after being drawn into Stubbs by the thumping beat that reverberated up and down Red River Street. I’m not sure what the majority of the 40 or 50 people on stage were actually doing – most of them seemed to just be standing there – and I’m pretty sure Clipse and his crew were part of the mass of people. The rhythm section which had a pair of drummers working furiously were as loud and tight as any band in Texas this week and the energy coming of the stage was off the charts in its electricity. My only other experience at anything like this was a Run D.M.C. show in Ann Arbor, Michigan that was horrific in its execution and delivery. My, things have changed. I can’t say I completely understand why I dug this so much; I only know that I did.

Saturday, March 15

It’s Day 2 of the Hot Freaks party and once again I am at Mohawk. It’s not as sweltering as yesterday but it is still toasty and by the end of the day my face will be a nice shade of red. I am present for Film School’s early set but my attention is split in several different directions and although I like what I hear, I don’t catch the full effect of what they’re doing. I am able to give much more attention to Bodies of Water at Club de Ville.

On their Secretly Canadian debut, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, David Metcalf, Kyle Gladden, Meredith Metcalf and Jessie Conklin put forth a set of gorgeous songs that owe as much of a debt to the Arcade Fire as to the Velvet Underground. Replete with soaring melodies and complicated choral harmonies, Bodies of Water succeed in their grandiose vision of epic music. At Club de Ville, they tend to skew towards the Velvet Underground more than anything else with Metcalf and Gladden showing a fine proficiency for finding finely edgy grooves. In stripping away the strings and horns, Bodies of Water play what’s at the heart of their songs and lay bare the interesting arrangements and melodies that should fuel their career for years to come. When they break into the four-part harmonies that blend the group together into one powerful voice, they marshal the strength to be found in unity and on songs like “We Are Co-Existors” hit gospel-like heights. In the coda of “These Are The Eyes,” which closed their set, the women set themselves as counterpoint to the men and they left the crowd wanting more after one final glorious vocal barrage.

Over at Bourbon Rocks, The Dodos put yet another spin on the guitar and drums formula. Instead of prowling the stage like most of his counterparts, guitartist Meric Long opts to sit calmly on a stool in front of drummer Logan Kroeber while coaxing a variety of intriguing guitar riffs out of an acoustic guitar. Even when he breaks out the distortion on his electric guitar, there’s an artistic finesse to what he’s playing. Unlike the other duos that bombard the audience with sound, The Dodos were overwhelming in their tranquility and held the crowd’s rapt attention. One of the more interesting songs saw Long find the right droning note on a horn, lock it into a loop and then use it as the bass line for the ensuing number. It was arty, eclectic and creative; it was also quite possibly the definition of indie-schmindie.

The second biggest surprise of the week (after White Denim) awaited me on Bourbon Rocks’ patio: Built For The Sea. Fronted by the adorable Lia Rose, Built For The Sea is the indie-rock equivalent to Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. Rose moved between her keyboards and guitar, working nicely off of the prodigious wall of indie-fuzz being produced by Jon Latimer, Daniel McKenzie and Eric Kuhn. Their self-titled 2006 debut album doesn’t give you any idea of how effective this quartet is as a live band, coming nowhere near displaying BFTS’s sonic heft. Had I heard the album before seeing them, I don’t think I would have bothered to catch their set. Either they had to dull their sound down for the studio or BFTS has made phenomenal strides over the last two years. My explanation of Built For The Sea isn’t going to do justice to their live sound, which truly was captivating. I’ll just leave it that this is one of the bands I’m looking most forward to seeing again.

The Hot Freaks showcase at Club de Ville ends with a lively set from Swedish songstress Lykke Li, who winsomely bounces her way through some pop-minded songs that would put Britney and her progeny (artistic, not literal, I’ve got nothing against her two little future therapy patients) to shame. In getting back to Mohawk, there’s time to hear one song from The Islands and it seems to be an old one as they introduce it by saying that this is what they used to sound like. In the couple hours before the nighttime showcases begin, I aimlessly wend my way through the back streets of Austin. In spending most of the week on the main drags, it’s easy to avoid walking down the many side streets that are the city’s vital arteries. The back alleys are overrun with tour vans and are populated with musicians loading and unloading their gear and carrying instruments back and forth. In seeing the relatively unglamorous side of SXSW, I feel like I’ve looked behind the wizard’s curtain and got an unfiltered glimpse of the drudgery that makes up the underbelly of SXSW and is likely an all-to-typical a scene for any up-and-coming band. It’s much more fun to imagine that everything is all groupies and craft services.

In contrast, when I drop into the Lucky Lounge, where France’s Neimo is holding court, I realize that I am in an honest-to-God nightclub . . . and in my shorts and linen shirt, I am seriously underdressed. Sitting at one of the cocktail tables with Earvolution’s own Jeff Davidson, I take my shoes off like I’ve been raised in a trailer and start rubbing my sore feet. As I gaze around the glitzy surroundings, it dawns on me that I’ve spent the last four days standing in tented parking lots and canopied patios watching shows on all sorts of makeshift stages. Austin’s music scene is certainly vibrant but it must be quite different when the band playing an early afternoon set isn’t being courted, scouted and wooed by all sorts of music industry personnel.

Along with Jeff, I’m able to catch a portion of a sound marred set by The Teenage Prayers at the After The Jump showcase at Lamberts Patio. I bail early in order to trek over to St. David’s Church for M. Ward and Jim James’ highly anticipated acoustic show. A half hour before Ward is scheduled to perform, a line has snaked around the church’s parking lot with nearly 100 people curling around behind me within ten minutes. A meek security guard combats the problem by telling everyone that they aren’t going to get in, even with a badge. The problem is, no one can hear him and the line keeps growing. Finally, he finds a pair and gets it across to everyone that St. David’s is filled and no one else will be let in, not even if you’re coming to make a pre-Easter confession. Someone does ask if they’ll be let in if people inside leave. “Yeah,” the guard says mockingly. “Like anyone’s going to leave this.” Excellent point, sir.

Disappointing as it was to get turned away from the show despite having a ridiculously expensive badge that should open all SXSW doors, I do get a definitive answer to the debate over whether a wristband, a firm plan of action and savvy intuition is just as valuable as this laminate hanging from my neck. While heading down Red River Street, I learn that Sam, who you may recall has opted for just a wristband, is inside St. David’s Church, having arrived at the start of the show to see Jacob Golden at 8:00 p.m. By showing up a half hour earlier than everyone else, Sam and his wristband trumped at least 500, possibly 1,000 badge holders. Debate settled; wristbands and a brain triumph.

Plan B for the night involves Okkervil River playing for the hometown crowd at Stubbs Amphitheater. Their brief set turns out to have a melancholy undercurrent as Will Sheff announces that this show will be guitarist Brian Cassidy’s last with the band. Graciously, Cassidy is given an ample opportunity to perform: he takes a little extra time to solo on “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” and puts a little added relish into closing “Until It Kick” with his final guitar solo. Even though they tried to focus on Cassidy, Sheff remains the focal point and artistic heart of any Okkervil River show. His soulful offering of “A Girl In Port” only served to emphasize the fact that he is the indispensable cog in the band’s future endeavors.

Instead of being entranced by Jim James, I become enamored with Ra Ra Riot at Emo’s Annex. Regrouping after the untimely death of drummer Jim Pike, the upstate New York band are getting back to what they do best, high-tempo, intricately arranged, hip-shaking danceable indie-rock. On stage, there’s a manic energy to the band that simply can’t be captured in the studio. Like their name might suggest, Ra Ra Riot are one fun band. Plus, their female string section of cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller, who play sleek, futuristically designed string instruments, are easy on the eyes. There’s nothing sexier than a girl who can rock a cello and none moreso than Lawn, who does it while standing up and dancing along with lead singer Wesley Miles while she plays. Given that criteria, Lawn may very well be the sexiest woman at SXSW.

On a side note, last year I had a very funny running joke about Halestorm following me around SXSW that was edited out of Schultz By Southwest. [Ed. Note. It wasn’t as funny as Schultz thought]. This year, The Virgins and I seem to end up at the same place at the same time with astonishing frequency. Unfortunately, I keep getting there at the very end of their set. When I get a chance to meet one of them after the Ra Ra Riot set, one during which Wesley Miles conspicuously wore a Virgins T-shirt, I mention that I keep getting to their sets for the last song. The response, “Dude, you’re good. That’s our best one.” If The Virgins are paying attention to all the nice things being said about them, they aren’t letting any of it show.

At a late night singer-songwriter showcase organized by Jen Alpert, California extrovert Ray Don stole the show with an audacious set. With Jay Nash and Matthew Cox and all the other artists on the show pitching in on backing vocals, Ray Don, clad solely in overalls, belted out a salacious ode to oral sex worthy of the great John Valby. When he dropped trou halfway through the song, vaulted on to the bar and finished the song in his star spangled briefs, it reached the level of astounding stupidity or stupendous genius. Like Free Blood, the jury’s still out on this one. Don followed up the stunt by picking his guitar back up and finishing the set in his skivvies. As his back was to a gigantic set of open windows, he literally stopped many pedestrians in their tracks. It may not have been the most erudite moment of SXSW but it was one of its funniest.

It was always going to end here at The Tap Room at Six with Wooden Shjips. The oddly spelled band sounds like a marriage between what the 21st Century Doors should have sounded like and what the Velvet Underground actually did sound like. In the high-ceilinged tap room, the heavily distorted, seriously psychedelic Shjips needed only a smoky haze to create a scene ripped out of the Sixties. You can’t help but think Ken Kesey would have loved this San Francisco quartet. Everything about this band pulses and throbs with its own intergalactic synchronicity; it’s as if the audience had been surreptitiously dosed and everyone’s peaking at the same time. On each song, bassist Dusty Jermier and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin locked into a deeply hypnotic vibe giving organist Nash Whalen and guitarist Ripley Johnson wide latitude to add their own acid-drenched frills. Bookended with A Place To Bury Strangers, whose Wednesday afternoon set seems like it took place months ago, the Shjips put a perfect psychedelic cap on a four day oversaturation of music.

Sunday, March 16

My voice is hoarse, there is a faint ringing in my ears that should hopefully go away soon, the soles of my feet are howling with pain and tender to the touch and my legs don’t quite work right. I am sleep deprived, I haven’t had a proper meal in 4 days and I just don’t feel quite right. I also can’t wait until SXSW 2009.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pawnshop Roses New EP: Versions

The Pawnshop Roses have had a great evolution over the past year from a killer Philadelphia bar band to one now poised to break onto the national live music scene. In 2007, Pawnshop saw their name appear very high in the Home Grown Radio music charts, get favorable reviews on key sites like Pop Matters and Americana UK, open for national powers Robert Randolph and the Family Band, record at the legendary Sun Studio and develop a growing following for their live shows.

Tonight the band will preview material from their new EP weeks before the national release. The EP includes the Sun Studio tracks and tracks featuring Jason Crosby and Lenesha Randolph of the Family Band. The show is upstairs at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia with doors opening at 9pm. Cover charge includes an EP!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Grace Potter & Warren Haynes To Host 7th Annual Jammys

After a one year hiatus, the Jammy Awards are returning to New York City on May 7. Tickets for the show, which will return to Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theater, go on sale Thursday, March 20th (this afternoon). This year's co-hosts will be Warren Haynes, the hardest working man in rock and roll today, and Grace Potter, the coolest chick currently walking the planet. For now, the only other announcement concerning the show is that Phish will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, joining such past recipients as Steve Winwood, The Grateful Dead, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Frank Zappa. You may now commence rumormongering as to who will show up and accept and whether they will bring their instruments with them.

Presented by Relix Magazine, jambands.com and Peter Shapiro, the Jammys are known for mixing diverse artists together for once-in-a-lifetime pairings. In 2006, Peter Frampton memorably teamed up with Guster and Martin Sexton for a fantastic version of "Do You Feel Like We Do" and Bela Fleck & The Flecktones jammed with piano legend McCoy Tyner and tap dancer Savion Glover. In years past, Travis Tritt has shared the stage with the Disco Biscuits, Particle has backed The B-52s and Umphrey's McGee was hip enough to be square with Huey Lewis.

The show is always a highlight of the New York concert season so if you are in the vicinity, treat yourself and come to the show.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SXSW Spotlight: DC Does Texas

Texans,like many Americans, are always saying how much they don't like Washington DC. Well, that sentiment will likely be limited to politics after next week. Washington DC will be well represented in Texas during the SXSW music fest, particularly at the Digital Freedom Foundation's "DC Does Texas" showcase at Austin's Cream Vintage (Guadalupe Location) on March 13, 2008 from 12pm-7pm.

The band's more than ably representing the nation's capitol music scene include Georgie Smith (Saddle Creek ), who you may have caught recently on Conan, These United States, Jukebox the Ghost, Le Loup (Sub Pop), Middle Distance Runner, Pash (Exotic Fever), Exit Clov, and Samantha Murphy.

Hats off to DFF for putting together a sweet lineup. If you're in Austin, you'll want to stop in and see that good things actually can come from inside the beltway!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Free Black Crowes Mp3

The Black Crowes new record Warpaint is out today and they are kind enough to share a free mp3 download of "Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution." The new single entered the Mediabase Rock Chart at #10 this week and tonight is the big "one night only" show at Fillmore East in NYC where they will be joined by Luther Dickinson to perform the new album in its entirety.

Daughters is classic Black Crowes and one that shows that despite all the line up changes the Robinsons and crew can still put out some good old fashioned rock and roll. Download it now here: Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution Mp3

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Faith Based Initiative: Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood At Madison Square Garden

By: David Schultz

From the moment Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton took the stage together this past July at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago, Illinois, visions of a Blind Faith reunion started dancing like sugarplums in the heads of Baby Boomers everywhere. For those coming into the game a bit late, once upon a time (i.e. 1969), Clapton and Winwood partnered up with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Ric Grech to form Blind Faith, one of the first supergroups of the modern rock era. The post-Cream project burned brightly but quietly dissolved after a brief U.S. tour in support of their one self-titled album. Over the next 40 years, classic rock radio would help keep Blind Faith’s legacy alive and “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Presence Of The Lord” would sporadically appear in various forms as part of Clapton and Winwood’s live shows.

Last week, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood headlined three shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, returning to the venue where Blind Faith made their first U.S. concert appearance on July 12, 1969. For those who fancy reunions, Winwood and Clapton faithfully played many of their old band’s songs, including a marvelous rendition of “Can’t Find My Way Home.” However, without Ginger Baker or Grech, who passed away in 1990, this wasn’t Blind Faith and neither Clapton nor Winwood seemed inclined to pass themselves off as such. To the contrary, these shows had the feel of two musicians, whose careers have crossed paths on many occasions, finding a reason to play some old songs for an appreciative audience and make a boatload of cash in the process. The dream team of Clapton and Winwood was hardly a bargain: even before the ticket scalpers . . . er, brokers got their hands on them, tickets were officially listed for as high as $254. Putting aside the debate as to whether any concert is worth such a steep price (e.g. Led Zeppelin reunion); in this case, Clapton and Winwood didn’t disappoint.

The three Madison Square Garden shows varied slightly from night to night and the fact that Clapton, Winwood, bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Ian Thomas and keyboardist Chris Stainton wore the same outfits each night might indicate that a video release of the event might be in the works. Their set list held few surprises with many of the songs from their recent Crossroads set and their performance at the 1973 Rainbow Concert finding their way onto the Garden stage. Undoubtedly, the music was solid and it’s hard to downplay the distinct thrill of seeing Winwood and Clapton join forces on songs like “Little Wing” and “Cocaine,” but in the whole their polished performance was more professional than inspired musicianship. Fortunately, when you are as accomplished as these two though, that can easily carry a show for nearly three hours.

Once the boy genius of the Spencer Davis Group, it’s easy to forget that Winwood, who turns 60 later this year, is only a couple years younger than Clapton. If you were unfamiliar with their pedigrees, the professorial looking Clapton and the slightly gaunt Winwood hardly looked like rock and roll royalty. If they didn’t dress the part, they offered subtle reminders of their significant contributions, touching upon all phases of both superstars’ lengthy careers. In addition to mining their respective solo efforts, they also delved into the songbooks of Derek & The Dominos (“Tell The Truth”), Traffic (“Glad,” “Pearly Queen”) and of course, the impetus for much of the evening’s excitement, Blind Faith.

Winwood spent nearly half the show playing the guitar. Despite considerable chops, he never challenged the mighty Slow Hand and the two traded complementary licks rather than engage in any clash of the classic rock titans. They enhanced each other’s 80s material to great effect. On “Forever Man,” Winwood filled out Clapton’s rocker, adding vocals and powerful organ fills and Clapton returned the favor on Winwood’s often overlooked track from Back In The High Life, “Split Decision,” with a couple expertly crafted guitar solos. It was when they stepped into their old roles as master purveyors of English blues, especially on Blind Faith’s “Had To Cry Today” and “Sleeping In The Ground,” that the music rose to another level. One of the night’s more inspired efforts was their cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child.” During an extended run through the electric blues standard, Winwood and Clapton skillfully reverted back to their roots and offered revelatory interpretations of the blues.

On the Blind Faith numbers, Ian Thomas had the thankless role of trying to reproduce Ginger Baker’s mammoth drum bursts. Given Baker’s mythic stature, it’s unlikely there’s anything Thomas could’ve done to avoid coming up on the weak side of the unfair comparisons with the usually unintelligible drummer. Likewise, Chris Stainton left the heavy lifting on the keyboards to the star of the show, waiting until Winwood was playing guitar to make his presence felt.

If there was anything close to a star turn, it took place just past the halfway point of the show. On Thursday night’s show, Clapton took the stage alone with an acoustic guitar and slipped into his Robert Johnson master bluesman mode for an understated rendition of “Kind Hearted Woman.” In contrast, Winwood’s use of the Hammond B3 on his solo take on Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind,” overwhelmed the delicateness of the song while simultaneously giving it a magisterial aura.

Clapton’s presence altered Winwood’s customary delivery of Traffic songs that have long been part of his solo shows. “Glad,” which normally seesaws between Winwood’s jaunty melody and the jazzy response from the rest of the band, turned into a more communal effort. Before it segued into a gritty cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well . . . Alright,” Clapton offered a different take on the Traffic classic giving it a bluesier feel, leaving his own indelible mark on the song. The biggest difference occurred during their encore of “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Winwood generally needs no assistance to blow the doors off any arena when he plays the tune but in deference to his esteemed colleague shared the guitar leads. The song is so intimately ingrained into Winwood’s psyche; it marked the only time during the evening that his guitar skills reigned supreme as even Clapton couldn’t surpass Winwood on this one song. It was a fine way to end the evening but knowing what it could have been, it felt somewhat incomplete.

At the present time, there aren’t any plans for Clapton and Winwood to take this show on the road or expand the lineup to include Ginger Baker. You never know though, sometimes Blind Faith gets rewarded.

Mp3s, News and Notes

The Iraq war is not only front and center in the Democratic primary, it is also the subject of a new film focusing on an injured Iraq war veteran called Body of War that features original music by Eddie Vedder. In addition to Vedder, the soundtrack includes cuts from Ben Harper, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, The Nightwatchman and many more.

Bobby Bare Jr. is hitting the road in support of his new record The Longest Meow (mp3 below). Bare received some help on his new effort from, among others, Carl Broemel and Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket and reportedly tracked all 11 cuts in a single long day in Nashville. Bare will take the new tunes on the road next week for some solo dates and then join Son Volt for a couple weeks in April.

Just call Joss Stone the Chicken Whisperer. In a new ad for Peta, the sexy songstress touts her vegetarian bona fides and love of chickens, the un-cooked kind. Speaking fondly of a feathered friend, Stone is quoted as saying "“The chickens were so adorable and really comfortable. I think one of them started to fall asleep in my arms. So sweet!” Almost makes me feel guilty about the rotisserie Perdue I had for dinner - almost.

MP3s:
Bobby Bare Jr.: The Heart Bionic
Nada Surf: See These Bones
Dr. Dog: A Long Time Ago
Apostle of Hustle: National Anthem of Nowhere (Spoon Remix)
Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles: The Day We Met (live)
Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles: Lord Only Knows (live)
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Tae Parade
Donna Jean and the Tricksters: All I Gotta Say

James McMurty has a new record coming out next month. His Just Us Kids hits stores April 15. To celebrate, James' peeps are posting new tracks on his MySpace every Tuesday, where you can also get a free download of "Cheney's Toy." Yes, James continues his political themes on the new record - after all, 'tis the season.

Rock, Country and Rap Backs Obama

Legendary country singer Kris Kristofferson has endorsed Barack Obama. While he's no super delegate, Kristofferson does articulate the way many are feeling these days: ""I believe in Barack Obama like I believed in the Kennedys," Kristofferson said. "In the months before his death, John Kennedy pointed out that while we could not agree on their choice of government, there was much in the history of Russian people we could admire in terms of personal courage in the World War and artistic and scientific achievement. It's this spirit of finding common ground and working things out through dialogue and diplomacy that the world needs so desperately today at this critical point in our history. This is the hope that Obama inspires." Strong words from the Texas born singer who served in the Army as an Airborne Ranger helicopter pilot.

But, Kristofferson isn't alone in his musical support for the Illinois Senator.
Mr. Obama has indie rockers the Arcade Fire in his corner. The now Montreal based band swung into Ohio yesterday to play at an Obama Rally. The New York Times reported that aides to Senator Clinton tried to distract from the support by incorrectly stating the band is Canadian. Of course, Arcade Fire die hards know that singer Win Butler is originally from The Woodlands, Texas. No word on whether the Fire will deploy to the Lone Star state where Obama seems to be trending toward a victory on Tuesday.

Some rap world heavyweights are also backing Barack. Will.I.Am and Russell Simmons are both supporting Obama as well. Will.I.Am has a new Obama inspired video, We Are The Ones, that includes cameos from Macy Gray, Jessica Alba and the Black Eyed Peas. Simmons says he was inspired by Obama's "unprecedented, national movement comprised of people from all ethnic, racial, political, social and economic backgrounds." The breadth of musical support from multiple genres is emblematic of the phenomena Simmons describes.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!