The word went out at midnight Saturday that the Maha Festival’s mainstage headliner this year will be Spoon — quite an improvement over Dashboard Confessional. Spoon seems to prove the organizers’ intent to not only make this festival a big crowd draw, but to do it using relevant touring bands rather than the usual County Fair Circuit nostalgia acts. There’s a whole process that went behind the selection, which I’ll get into later. Needless to say, they’re not stopping at Spoon, nor could they if they hope to fill Lewis & Clark Landing.
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Director David Miller tapped Tim Kasher to write the score for his new film, My Suicide, which is described as “a ‘self-inflicted comedy’ about the oft-twisted relationship between modern youth and digital media,” whatever that means. In this interview in Pedestrian, Miller calls the score “just really haunting and beautiful, and the music is really key.” Miller goes on to say that he’s “making a movie called Help Wanted Nights that (Tim Kasher) is going to direct based on a script he wrote while he produced and recorded the album. And the plan is to do a tour, possibly with Saddle Creek, where we don’t mix the music to the movie and The Good Life plays live to the movie as we’re touring.” Sounds pretty cool…
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I received more than a few comments about my SXSW coverage that was published in this week’s issue of The Reader. I had one guy ask me if I had a good time in Austin, he couldn’t tell by reading the story. I liked everything about SXSW this year except for the accompanying illness that I suffered all last week and into this past weekend, an illness that I’m just beginning to recover from. Anyway, for posterity’s sake, here’s what was published in The Reader — a condensed version of the blog entries from those three days. If you read the blog daily, then you’ve already seen this in another form. I’ll be compiling those entries into one story with photos sometime in the near future…
From Bear Hands to Big Star
SXSW: 33 Bands in 2 1/2 Days
South by Southwest is an endurance test; a sick “music challenge” drenched in alcohol and hot-link sausages and ear-splitting noise. It is pavement and dirt. It is the constant stank of bad ditch weed and cigarette smoke, stale beer and urinal cakes, and plenty of hippy-style BO. It is 10,000 people walking in the wrong direction, looking for something that they just can’t seem to find. I make it sound like agony, not a vacation (which, for me, it sort of was). But for indie music fans it is the ultimate kid-in-a-candy-store daydream, a chance to stand in the glass-box money machine, grabbing at dollar bills, but dropping more than you can hold. SXSW is all around you; SXSW is everywhere. And if you don’t pay attention, you will miss it before it’s over.
The festival invites a sort of ADD behavior, because all the bars on 6th St. are nearby (for the most part). That close proximity encourages impatience. SXSW allows you to easily cast aside a band’s live performance after only three songs (or fewer) rather than stick it out for the whole set because, in the back of your mind, there’s always something better going on somewhere.
I was only there two and a half days, but saw 32 bands, which was more than enough. Here’s the scorecard, at two sentences (or fewer) per band.
Fucked Up — Gritty punk provided by a fat, bearded screamer who spent the set balanced on a railing that divided the Beerland “patio” from the mob, his pants falling down his ass. So overdriven, you could only hear the roar of guitar and fat-guy’s distorted rants.
Tobacco — The frontman for Black Moth Super Rainbow created fuzz-kill thick-beat synth noise with blown-out, distorted vocals and electric guitar. Unbelievably funky and fun, with deep psychedelic overtones, this is drug music for the millennial nation.
The Blind Shake — The Minneapolis punk trio played loud and tight in a room half the size of O’Leaver’s, but their music didn’t grab me.
The Silos — A break from chaos, their flavor of alt-country/folk has influenced a lot of bands in the ’80s, ’90s and today. and though they’ve all gone gray, they haven’t lost a thing.
Besnard Lakes — Loud, theatrical, boring.
Pomegranates — Cute Cincinnati band played modern indie power pop in a style that you’ll recognize from the usual suspects (Tokyo Police Club, Vampire Weekend) — big back-beat, jump-dance stuff.
The Mynabirds — The Saddle Creek Records showcase only drew around 75 people, which was something of a surprise. No matter — Laura Burhenn and company played their shimmery style of indie folk with arena panache.
Saint Motel — An LA band that sounded like they came from El Lay — flat, one-dimensional pop rock with zero depth, as vacuous as its blond headed frontman.
She Wants Revenge — Dancey, darkwave post-punk with a great throbbing beat, nice chopping rhythm guitar, but thin vocals. Frontman Justin Warfield sounds better on record, as does this band, which was trying to get the crowd into it, and failing.
Camper Van Beethoven — Classic ’80s band hasn’t lost its touch, though its brand of world ska hasn’t aged well.
We Were Promised Jetpacks — This Scottish band takes the indie youth-dance vibe and jumpstarts it with the necessary Cure guitar drone and an extra helping of Cursive howling. Derivative.
Nicole Atkins –She’s been compared to Jenny Lewis; instead, she’s a run-of-the-mill “adult alternative” blues singer trying to channel Janis Joplin and/or Chrissie Hynde, but sounding more like a wounded Sheryl Crow.
Sondre Lerche — The super-skinny, witty blond Viking played a gorgeous guitar with a showtune lilt, like an indie version of Michael Bublé.
Holly Miranda — Lush music played with an air of ennui. Translated: She mailed it in.
The Living Sisters — Gorgeous layered harmonies drove old-fashioned, sometimes cheesy ballads. Still, better than…
The Watson Twins — Last seen with Jenny Lewis, now taking a stab at indie rock and failing. I liked them better when their clothes matched.
It’s True — Frontman Adam Hawkins, wearing a blue-cloud bandana, let it all go, flipping off his nerd glasses sometime during the second or third song, while the rest of the band also rose to the occasion. Just ask the crowd inside — and outside — the club.
Twin Tigers — The Athens four-piece specialized in soaring indie rock, with an undercurrent of shoegaze and an extra helping of Jesus and Mary Chain.
Cocoon — The singer/songwriter played sweet solo acoustic ballads under the stars up on the deck, while down below, his quiet set was about to be blown to bits by…
Little Brazil — In front of around 50, their set was as good as any I’ve seen, even though guitarist Greg Edds looked like a ski bum with his foot in a giant black boot/cast. I left before the mayhem began.
Quasi — The trio, featuring Sam Coomes, ex-wife Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss on drums and Malkmus/Jick Joanna Bolme on bass, kicked out a set of rough-hewn indie rock songs that was decadently loud.
Bear Hands — Yet another one of those Cure-inspired acts with a frontman whose voice mimics Robert Smith. Still, their music is a big step above the usual cadre of indie dance bands, with a thicker, heavier, and slightly darker sound that I found entrancing.
Crystal Antlers — The Long Beach five-piece that has received dollops of love from Pitchfork over the years unveiled a set of all-new material that lacked anything resembling a solid melody.
Les Savy Fav — Balding giant Tim Harrington was in rare form, climbing atop amp stacks to mess with the stage lighting rigs, eventually turning off all the floods, leaving the tent in darkness.
Cococoma and Wes Coleman — Two bands who played at Beerland as part of The Goner Records showcase — garage rock at its finest inside in a concrete bunker.
The Boxer Rebellion — Their style was reminiscent of mid-career U2, thanks to a frontman whose voice was a dead ringer for Bono’s. Too bad the band didn’t have U2’s melodies, or charm.
Frightened Rabbit — Winner of the Most Loved Band of SXSW, they’re on the verge of something — with music that blends indie, adult alternative and Van Morrison in a way that will please any crowd. Now watch them explode
UUVVWWZ — Frontwoman Teal Gardner looked like she was having a good time despite playing to a crowd of around 30 outside in frigid cold, fighting a north wind that blew directly in her face.
Finally, the highlight of the trip: The Alex Chilton memorial concert with Big Star held on the last evening of SXSW. I felt lucky to even get into it. The crowd was mostly grizzled veterans and old-school journalists who still took notes with pencil on notepad. Lots of gray hair, and lots of somber faces in a crowd still mourning Chilton’s death on March 17.
Before Jon Auer, Jody Stephens and Ken Stringfellow — the surviving members of Big Star — hit the stage, a friend of The Chiltons read a letter by Alex’s wife, Laura, where she talked about her husband and how he lived his life, his favorite music (highlighting how much he loved working with The Cramps and The Gories), and his “direct” way of communicating. It was a sweet remembrance.
Then came the music — a greatest hits package that included “September Gurls,” “The Ballad of el Goodo,” “Don’t Lie to Me” and “Thirteen” from #1 Record / Radio City, and “Thank You Friends,” “Big Black Car” “Jesus Christ” and “For You” from Sister Lovers/Third (but no “Holocaust,” which I guess was appropriate). The all-star cast of special guests who performed with Big Star included Curt Kirkwood, Chris Stamey, M Ward, Chuck Prophet, John Doe, Mike Mills, Sondre Lerche, Evan Dando, Susan Cowsill, The Watson Twin and fellow original Big Star member Andy Hummel.
Big Star by themselves sounded amazing. Auer handled most of the vocals (when a guest wasn’t on stage) with Stringfellow chiming in here and there. There’s nothing more to say, other than it was a special night that went on past 2 a.m. It’s the kind of moment that you hope to experience at SXSW — but not under these circumstances. Chilton really was a genius. He wrote and performed some of the most influential pop music of the last half of the last century. The concert was a fitting tribute to his musical legacy. And I can’t think of a better way to cap off my time in Austin.
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