SXSW 2006: Day 3 Wrap-Up, Sensory Underload

Not being a photographer, I have no clue about the ethics of snapping a shot of, say, an alt.country star who's even more gorgeous in person hawking a new CD. Take, for example, Old 97 Rhett Miller signing autographs and promoting his new CD, The Believer (Verve Forecast), at the South By Bookstore in the trade show. He was simply too pretty for me not to steal his soul away with my digital Canon. Upon the camera flash, a miffed fan turned away from his conversation with Miller and gave me a bitchy "Hello?!?" Miller himself was probably miffed. But he showed little sign of it as he admirably turned towards my way. Such is the fate of gorgeous alt.rockers. Observe.

Determined not to repeat the time management failures of Day Two, I pulled a Road Runner through three shows in one hour, all at far-flung locales. The fuddy duddy older crowd couldn't care less about The Klezmatics' radical update of Jewish wedding music at Cedar Street Courthouse and it inevitable soured the bands typically sprightly, typically audacious reclamation project. Bad babysitter Princess Superstar paraded the Elysium stage in costumes ranging from cruel enema nurse to bondage bitch. Not exactly an open range and the shtick quickly wore thin. Plus the Princess has yet to manage the trick of not sounding like you're out of breath while rapping. Best of all was London's (again?) White Rose Movement at Stubb's who rocked harder than their Human League profile would have you believe. With a bass that never said never, it was the dancingest music of the evening.

I made my way back to Fox and Hound for my new obsession Ariel Pink. If AR Kane post-rocked inside a whale's ribcage, Ariel Pink's astonishing show last year at SXSW was Free Willy flopping down upon us.

His songs remember. Fragments of The Left Banke or early Tears For Fears become absurdly echoed memories with uncatalogable muttering and tangential disturbances mucking up the gaps. So what you're hearing is the beautiful confusion of hearing pop music, its embarrassing yearnings, its dashed hopes. "Good Kids Make Bad Grownups" has got to be the most beautiful song in the English language for the illusion it fosters of collapsing Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver trajectories in media—total communication or else sheer inscrutability.

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Curiously, however, this year's show came off as a primer on how to make an Ariel Pink song. The crazy diamond performed alone for the first few numbers and the memory component took over. Or more precisely, the echoey vehicle signifying the memory process swallowed up the contents of the memory itself. The latter was provided by a backup band halfway through which made for twenty minutes of rather conventional pop songs without the swirly remembrances of pop songs past. The last song reminded a colleague of Olivia Newton John's "Physical.' A severe disappointment for the first timers I gushed to but a useful footnote to us lucky souls who caught him last year and choke up to his records.

Getting into the cavernous La Zona Rosa for Sheffield's (finally! Life exists outside London) The Arctic Monkeys proved much easier than I anticipated. Shredding guitar and a hot rhythm section that could brand an "AM" on Franz Ferdinand's scrumptious ass cheeks made for a musically irresistible set. Too bad the crowd was punk ugly, pushing and shoving before a single note was played. And Alex Turner is already getting cranky with his newfound stardom. Unlike Rhett Miller, Turner let us know that he loathes camera flashes and eventually kicked out the photographers from the front of the stage. He dispatched them with a "All of YOU people are vampires" in reference to "Perhaps Vampires is a Bit Strong But . . ."

Not even Simon Reynolds could describe a recent Animal Collective show. So I feel justified not trying too hard here. I will say that their show at Fox and Hound is probably the closest I'll ever get to a classic Krautrock concert (Hawkwind about ten years ago in Milwaukee certainly wasn't it). Motorik motion, ceaseless wall of sound, snippets of requiem heard in the distance, recessed screams—it felt like some sort of unholy pre-industrial ritual. But actually, "ceaseless" is not quite true. At one remarkable point, the wall of sound broke down and there was silence. Whatever organicity had accrued suddenly seemed a sham or at least a construction. A comment on the death of collective rituals? Well, SXSW is nothing but rituals so I prefer to hear it as a useful devaluation, suggesting the necessity of sensory underload.

And from the sidelines, two pics. One of a box and a gorilla hugging after a fight. The other of a singing dog without a permit (the police peacefully broke up this show in the middle of 6th Street).

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