Just to give you a clue of how I exhausted I was on the last day of SXSW (most folks choose the last official day, Sunday, as their date of departure), I opted for a 90-minute disco nap over my current favorite live act, Seattle’s United State of Electronica, who managed two unofficial SXSW shows in two completely different locales in about three hours. I caught them twice at SXSW last year (one show official, the other not) and once back in September here in Austin again. Apparently, they could not line up an official SXSW showcase this year. For shame!
U.S.E. are a rock-n-disco collective who trade clubland sophistication for a vaguely hippie/Doobies vibe. With a drum machine bangin’ on alongside a carbon-based drummer and the most uncliqueish assortment of musicians since Sly & the Family Stone, their live shows possess such euphoric transformative properties that newcomers become recharged absolutely. For instance, heterosexual men have been known to discover what a coffee service is the very next day after a U.S.E. show. The self-titled 2004 debut album misses this intensity somewhat. But you’ve been warned—miss their next gig and your life will be emptier than ours. A party band to end all party bands, U.S.E. shall achieve world (or at least SXSW 2007—hint! hint!) domination.
With garlic cheese grits, mustard greens, pumpkin bread and BBQ pork ribs in my belly, I waddled over to The Parish for London’s Hot Chip at the busy (and bizzy) Astralwerks extravaganza. Hot Chip remind me of an ancient Depeche Mode concert (with Talk Talk before they went all post-rock) I taped off of Nickelodeon (!). The visual impact (see photo below) was practically identical—four lads each behind a synthesizer and in the process of becoming sexy motherfuckers. The Modes probably had prettier material to start with. But once Alexis Taylor took off his (probably purposely) hideous glasses, you could see him all drugged-up and rockerish twenty years hence a la Dave Gahan.
It’s an old new wave tactic—maximize the geekiness now to maximize the sexiness later (potentially for the masses). And Taylor delivered big time in that area, kicking off the evening in a ridiculous sweatshirt covered in colorful little animals. Christ, your mom might have found it a bit much, opting instead for the simple duck in a bathrobe stating “I hate Mondays” over a cup of morning coffee. When the chips got too hot, he took off the sweatshirt to reveal an even more ridiculous panda bear tank top. And when Joe Goddard couldn’t stand the heat, off came the cardigan and out came our tongues at his wimpy, sweaty chest, another obvious component to the new wave tactic. Come on—no performer takes off his shirt solely because of the heat. It automatically ups the sexiness factor and Goddard knows this (even though you couldn’t see it on his business-like visage). Sheesh—even Jonathan Richman knows this by now.
On disc, their squirrely tunes and weaker-than-need-be vocals mean to seduce you with a disaffection that safeguards them from rejection. But live, they unquestionably earned the “hot” in their name. Wilson and Goddard beat up various percussive instruments as if tribal house never went out of fashion. And they could construct breaks with the best of them. When Goddard rode one with a Hammond B-3-esque solo, someone in the room was getting lad that night (most likely Goddard).
All the good rock critics (Keith Harris, Jason Gross) could be found at Opal Divine’s Freehouse for Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver’s new band Wussy, pictured below. As befits a band that thinks a yellow cotton dress leads to a sexy motherfuckerhood, they were the most meat and potatoes act I caught this year. And as usual, the relative rootsiness went down like those yummy BBQ pork ribs after so much posing (both good and bad). Riding the catchiest record of his career, Cleaver seemed at ease with the achievement. He poked fun at Indiana Jones hat and took jokes about his John Popper-like frame in stride.
Ended the evening (and the festival) at La Zona Rosa for the Lady Sovereign show. (Hint to anyone planning on attending SXSW 2007: La Zona Rosa is a huge venue and it was quite easy for even paying fans to get into the buzzy Arctic Monkeys and the Lady Sovereign shows.) London’s Lady Sovereign is currently riding the greatest single of the year, the breathless grime-ska wake-up call “Public Warning,” which closed a fantastic show. The grime translated well live, courtesy of a gorgeous DJ who looked like a taller, male version of the Lady, and Sovereign somehow radiated a mixture of bratty and inviting. Unlike the more insular Arctic Monkeys who stomp on the ground of their kinetic little piece of land, Sovereign wants to open out on a much bigger expanse. So every audience dis was righted with a “I’m just playin’ with ya” and every boast was tempered with self-deprecating comments on her stinky feet.
And now, some brief awards.
Best show: Gil Mantera’s Party Dream
Worst show: Ah, not even their mothers have heard of them so why bother?
Pairs of long pants worn: Zero
Rock critics seen: 4
Gyros eaten: 1
Best flyer headline: “Souls have no synthesizers.”
Best Freudian slip (mine—I meant to say “Tums”): “Cappuccino-flavored cum.”
Best piece of advice (from queenly hotdog vendor in a Johnny Cash flipping you off t-shirt): “If you ain’t livin’ life on the edge, you’re takin’ up too much goddamned space!”
Best artist comment (from Hot Chip after rapturous applause for a song that will be released in June): “We do need to eat.”