SXSW: Aponik’s Day One…

Category: Blog — @ 12:50 pm March 19, 2009

I’m headed to the airport. Don’t let this be the last thing I ever write (if you know what I mean). Chris Aponik sends his Day One comments, below. Chris is known more as a garage band guy (his love of Brimstone Howl is legendary), but you wouldn’t know it judging from the bands he saw yesterday, many of which I’ll (hopefully) be seeing this week. Unlike Chris, I’ve done little planning or RSVP-ing. I hope it doesn’t end up biting me in the ass.

Day One in Austin is in the books and it seems destined to be the lightest of the four main days of SXSW. Still, I was able to knock three must-see acts off my list. Only one of them disappointed.

It was a day of running around and quickly remembering how to get places. The best way to do SXSW seems to let the day show schedule fall into place on the fly, as you zip up and down Sixth Street. The night shows I try to plan a little more, charting out the most desirable options and making sure I’m not passing on anything I’ll not have another chance to see.

Even before Wednesday kicked off, I had spent some time in a downtown club. That Tuesday night show featured a horde of San Francisco SXSW bands and Detroit’s Tyvek. The stand-out was the Oh Sees, the current project of Coachwhips mastermind John Dwyer. It’s still a lo-fi affair, but there’s a tighter, matured pop craftmanship going into the Oh Sees than any of Dwyer’s past projects. But Dwyer still moves like a madman and keeps the pace quick. The Fresh & Only brought a different rock ‘n’ roll experience with a Southern-sounding heap of guitar rock.

Wednesday brought surprises both in surpassed expectations and slight disappointments. Credit Wavves, Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the Heartless Bastards for bringing more to the table than what was asked. Heartless Bastards soared on the backs on their newest album The Mountain. Those songs, delivered by a cohesive, energetic band, gave singer Erika Wennerstrom a chance to send out spinal cord chills down backs. It’s when her simple songs melded blues rock muscle to her inner alt.country chanteuse that made the set. One quibble: the band’s older material stills hews close to forgettable blues bar band territory.

Wavves succeeded with just the right sense of how to mess up a good pop song. The two-piece band ably writes updated slices of surf rock and ’60s pop, but it’s when you hear just how beautifully they sit inside the band’s bowl of lo-fi garage racket that really amazes. Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s achievement isn’t as surprising, but it’s certainly stuck in my head. The Brooklyn dream-pop revivalists made a strong case for not being written off as a shoegaze tribute. That’s because there’s an indelible, unforgettable quality about the band’s simple, fuzzy pop songs, especially with the singer’s twee vocal delivery.

Unfortunately, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears bore the disappointment label. Lewis’ two recent Lost Highway releases reveal a new player on the retro soul/funk scene. The cleanliness of those recordings carry over, with a sound that goes for replication instead of reinvention. The only thing different from those old soul singers is that Lewis saddles himself with guitar playing, when he should be sweating like James Brown.

All in all, it was a busy day with a few bands getting left in my dust after a few songs. Here’s the final tally.

Addictive: Oh Sees, Heartless Bastards, Wavves, Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Memorable: Fresh & Onlys, Tyvek, Psychedelic Horseshit, Dikes of Holland, Phenomenal Handclap Band, Thomas Function, Vetiver
Listenable: Anathallo, Greg Laswell, Port O’Brien, Black Joe Lewis, Cut Off Your Hands, Peter Bjorn & John
Soon to be Forgotten: Maus Haus, Laryatta, Loney Dear, Themselves, Fol-chen, Porcelain, Young Love, Lovely Sparrows

See you in Austin.

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