Thursday, March 23, 2006

Taking cover, calling it quits

With the festival receding fast in the rearview, the Austin Chronicle wrapped up 99.99 percent of its coverage this week. I managed to squeeze a final review into the mix, covering the Pretenders Saturday night showcase at Stubb's. To read why the Pretenders still matter click here -- which marks this as the last of my entries for the time being.

(Chrissie Hynde, left, courtesy Mary Sledd.)

But before I go, check out thesel postings of showcases, or at least songs from SXSW showcases at You Tube; there are plenty more from shows and panels alike. Now, I don't know the legality of all this, but the following seemed worth spreading the word on. First up, Nickel Creek -- a band I regret having missed. Their latest CD Why Should the Fire Die? is the best sort of New Grass, alt-rock amalgam.

Here NC performs Britney Spears' "Toxic"(careful, that's the real deal vid). The cover is better than you would think. It actually makes the song sound like music.

Here's what I had to say about the disc in my festival preview: "Leaving the ubiquitous taint of "O Brother" in the dust, Nickel Creek plunges ahead with a sound more reminiscent of Coldplay or Nirvana Unplugged than Ralph Stanley. Though this So-Cal trio disdains drums for the most part, their latest, Why Should the Fire Die? (Sugar Hill), has a dark, rhythmic undertow. Clever covers remain a live staple, but the originals grow stronger every outing."

Last, but certainly not least, I also uncovered this video of fuzzy punk rawk Flaming Lips covering Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" during one of the bands two "secret" showcases last week. I missed both. Bastards!

Okay, that's it. Thanks for sharing this adventure. I'm outie....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A day late, a dollar short

Looking over the wreckage of the past week, the thing that sticks out is how much great music I missed. But with a thousand-plus bands playing over a mere four nights, of course, there's little I could have done.

Thankfully, there are a few resources at my disposal to continue swinging, and keep everybody entertained. I direct you to some of the in-studio performances that took place during SXSW at our local KUT public radio station (don't bother listening to anything other than these archives at KUT this week, since they are having another infernal fundraiser -- and, yes, I am a member). Among others, they've got live cuts from British singer Beth Orton, an underappreciated talent who has a voice to match her powerful lyrics, female Outlaw Jessie Colter, who is Waylon Jennings' widow and the mother of Shooter, and my man Billy "Mr. Sexuality" Bragg, who has a humble voice but an intelligence and integrity that impresses me everytime I come across the guy. You might remember Bragg hooking up with a little outfit called Wilco on some Woody Guthrie tunes for the Mermaid Sessions.

With Real Player, you can hear Orton, Colter, and Bragg.

Then there's the small matter of the following dispatch from the Dengue Fever show at Caribbean Lights that I hyped the other week. My editor Raoul at the Chronicle killed the review, having doubled-up the assignment (and as punishment, because I blew another assignment, which I'm too shamefaced to discuss, but will admit). Anyways, Dengue Fever, which can be heard here at KUT, did not live up to the hype:

"For fans of global pop, the chance to catch Dengue Fever capping a public-radio sponsored showcase helmed by The World’s Marco Werman was supposed to be a special treat. Unfortunately, the LA-based sextet, fronted by the strong-lunged if petite Cambodian singer Ch’hom Nimol, did not seem to be firing on all cylinders; especially in contrast to set-up man Lenine, whose band of Brazilian sparkplugs threatened to set the stage afire. Singing in her native Khmer, Nimol sounded fine, but she looked distracted during the late set, and never really connected with her audience. The band worked hard – in the case of bassist Senon Williams, perhaps too hard – to pick up the slack, laying down the swinging Bollywood-meets-Ennio Morricone dance-psych Dengue Fever is known for. They tackled “Sni Bong,” from last year’s album Escape from Dragon House, and “Lost in Laos” off their debut. David Ralicke on sax added a ska bounce in places, and fans of Indian music might have detected an Asha Bosle lilt to Nimol’s vocals on “Flowers,” a Cambodian movie number from the late ‘60s. Most impressive was seeing band leader/guitarist Zac Holtzman, a California homeboy, take a turn singing in Khmer. But keeping with Dengue Fever’s overall performance, he was efficient without being inspirational. Shortly thereafter, without much ado, the night came to an end."

If still inclined, you can hear Dengue Fever on KUT here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sweepin' the streets, playin' for keeps

It's Monday, and the Austinites have already retaken the Austin nights. But for those in the know -- who, honestly, seem to be few and far between -- there will be a few final posts to wrap up SXSW 2006. Today, let me present a trio of discoveries: Austin's own inimitable Octopus Project; Chicago-based dance-rock outfit Ok Go; and Canada's retro folk-punkers Pink Mountaintops.

These bands hold little in common other than that I had never heard of any of them before the festival started, and they may just turn out to be some of the best music I heard all week. I caught Octopus Project on the street just as the grinning, flip-haired mistress of the band, one Yvonne Lambert, traded her keys for a theramin, wiggling her fingers and punching space around the device to raise a range of electronic sounds over punchy drums and driving guitars. Call it DIY electronica, or just call it cool. Way cool. Click the MP3s for "The Adjuster" and "Music is Happiness."

My hit on OK Go results from my wonkery, since it was only the amusing observations of the DC-raised lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash at a panel on musician activism that made me curious about what initially seemed another skronky, po-mo, dance band -- especially since they share Franz Ferdinand's producer. Speaking of politics, Kulash observed, "Nobody wants to listen to a bunch of dry bullshit." OK Go backs that up in spades. Plus, any band that's willing to tangle with crappy, old MTV gets marks in my book. The homegrown vid for a "A Million Ways" from their new album Oh No has made my day. Click on the bottom bar or on the arrow to play in this frame.

Founded by Stephen McBean of Vancouver, BC, the Pink Mountaintops represents a sort of newer, gentler flipside to some of McBean's other endeavors. The Mountaintops still rock, but rather than aim to shake the molars out of your teeth with speed, the band relies on a rootsy, ambient sound born of some deep subterranean garage. I managed to sit for most of their show until my headcold forced me into retreat (to save energy for a show-stopping set by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders). The dirgy, infectious "New Drug Queens" offers a taste of what McBean and company were serving on the corner of 6th and Red River Saturday night. As always, keep yer ears open.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Day four: downtown low down break down

Sleep deprivation sets in as the year's festivities begin to wind down. Three AM, three nights running, and I've enjoyed all the music I could and then some. I got a fever now -- and I don't mean dengue; although the Dengue Fever set on Thursday was good delirium (see previous post: Touch me, I'm sick). I mean a cold has set in. But psychic delerium first set in two days ago, when I witnessed the mad antics of Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz, a Ukranian gypsy punk (pictured here at the Warped Tour, courtesy Hutz and his allies literally climbed the rafters at the apex of his band's late show Thursday night/Friday morning at the longtime alt-music venue Emo's. Ain't nothing like a pair of sequined-purple shorts and a Freddie Mercury mustache to put the action back in an act. Click MySpace to sample Gogol Bordello; here's a profile from the BBC.

Reviews and previews for acts such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Beth Orton and Ben Taylor (JT's kid) can be found in the Chronicle. Click the links for stories. And one more for good luck. As Ian McCulloch sang in front of maybe 5,000 fans on Thursday, "Won't you come on down to my rescue."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Canadian Pornographers light up the night

As of yesterday, SXSW 2006 Music is officially underway, and the biggest bang so far has been the New Pornographers, who rocked the outdoor amphitheater at Stubb's with a bevy of cuts off the band's recent Twin Cinema. Happily, the lovely Neko Case (right) was on hand for a little tambourine tapping -- and to add her considerable vocal talents to leading Pornographer AC Newman's swirling, 70's inflected compositions. This rocking Vancouver band has been around for almost 10 years, now, and its Americana-tinged power pop soared on "Use It" and the titular "Twin Cinema" (both Real Player). But before the show ended, I had to run to my next showcase.... Just like Neko, who plays Antone's at 1 am Friday, it looks like I'll be running hard all week.

Meanwhile, dedicated Oko-philes can check the dueling disc reviews -- The Double, a band previewed last week, and leading lady kd lang at the Austin Chronicle website. The Double plays a midnight concert tonite at Club DeVille on Red River -- with any luck I'll be there. kd lang holds an interview session at 2:45 pm today.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Strange cats deserve heavy petting

The harmonic strains of weirdness emanating from Baltimore's Animal Collective may provide a sonic hideaway from the British Invasion 2.0 that seems to be shaping up at this year's SXSW.

You'll have to get beyond the self-conscious monikers of the bandmates: Geologist, Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Deakin. But the sound is something else; on the recent album Feels (plenty of listenable links here) from the Brighton-based FatCat Records the sometimes Beatlesque, sometimes abstracted choruses of AC's nonsensical songs gets good play. As opposed to rising UK stars Arctic Monkeys and the Editors, nevermind oldies but goodies such as Echo and the Bunnymen and Morrissey, also scheduled to appear this week, Animal Collective manages to make rolling in the grass and rolling grass seem all the more natural. Playing Friday, March 17, at the Fox and Hound at 12:40 am (which is actually 3/18).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hooray for Jon Dee Graham

If there were any justice in the Texas music bidness, Jon Dee Graham would not be some obscure Austin musician leftover from the heyday of the so-called New Sincerity movement (viz. Alejandro Escovedo). He's a product of Southwest Texas, and was a potent force in the little known ATX punk scene of the '70s. Since the late '90s, Jon Dee has released a string of discs, each one better than the last. His trademark growl, and evocative songwriting makes Graham a latter day hero worth your time. His last disc, The Great Battle, earned postive notes from Rolling Stone and others; the forthcoming Full might just establish him as something other than just a No Depression sweetheart.

Listen to cuts here and here.

JDG plays the Austin Chronicle music awards on Wednesday (tomorrow), March 15; Thursday, March 16, he plays a media party with Escovedo, and at midnight takes the stage at the Whiskey Bar on West Fifth.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Checking in, checking it out

Going on a weeklong hiatus to escape the urban malaise myself by visitin' the Lower Rio Grande Valley here in Tejas with dear old Dad. Those of you that can't get enough SXSW sounds, however, are welcome to check out the SXSW Player (when the page opens, click on the icon) or check out the music vids and downloads Yaris Band Buddy. These official-type links should provide plenty of entertainment til I get back.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Straight outta Brooklyn: CYHSY vs. The Double

In 2005, the year of the podcast, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was tipped as the buzz band for the tech-set. There are problems with this take, not the least of which is that it was their self-titled, self-pressed, no-label CD that put CYHSY on everybody’s lips. In other words, it was a disc, a real thing in time and space, that led to their breakout, and not a cyberspace effort – although, as detailed by NPR (listening link), the blogosphere helped push them over the edge. Not to bite the proverbial hand that feeds me, but CYHSA is pretty much the exact sort of slightly overwrought indie pop that you’d expect to turn up on public radio.

Nonetheless, they have attracted massive ink from the Pitchfork Nation, and the band's David Byrne-marries-Johnny Marr hybrid reportedly captured David Bowie’s interest (although I suspect it’s the fact that they mention him in “Over and Over Again” that perked up Mr. Bowie). There’s some curious stuff going on with CYHSY, but to avoid sounding like the hordes of fanboys and girls, I’ll leave it to others to describe.

Here's an mp3 for their tune "Tidal Wave." Click it, and submit your own description in the comments. But before we quit, let me share with you an insider tip:

Pay attention to Brooklyn-based The Double, which snarls and rocks and tumbles like New York's answer to My Morning Jacket, one of my faves from the past 12 months. In the place of the Jacket’s groovy Southern stomp, the Double behind leading bassist/singer David Greenhill picks up where downtown kings like Sonic Youth and Television left off. The songs on the band’s Matador debut Loose in the Air soar like Icarus, come crashing down, and rise again like Lazarus. It’s scary and fun, but not exactly music for the masses.

It is, however, new and different, and that’s what I’m looking for these days. Here's a little video delight for the intrigued: "Idiocy" (directed by Matt Goldman; photo credit Wesley Law).

During SXSW, The Double plays Club de Ville on Thurday, March 16, at midnight. Later on that same night, I think, CYHSY plays at Eternal on Sixth Street at 1 am; but they've got lots of appearances.

For those still desiring more of my musical inkspots, click here.