Village Voice SXSW Showcase
Red Eyed Fly, Austin
Saturday, March 17
Better than: Drinking green beer on Sixth Street.
During South by Southwest, musicians, industry folks, and people who want to have a particularly music-filled spring break head to Austin in order to soak in the less-threatening March sun and sift through hundreds of sets played at any open space that can fit people and an amp. The Voice returned to the capital city for an 18-band showcase at Red Eyed Fly, just a couple blocks from Sixth Street. The bar, which has indoor and outdoor stages, was beginning to show its SXSW wear and tear; incense burned inside in an effort to cover up the week long build-up of stale liquids.
Inside, the shoeless Dustin Wong fiddled with at least five pedals. Sitting down the entire set, the restless guitarist was all over his fretboard, occasionally adding chants and shouts to his intergalactic ambiance. Outside, Austin’s The Young laid down their straightforward rock and roll. The quartet started playing the Red River circuit in 2005 and in 2010 released their first full-length, Voyagers of Legend, in 2010 on Brooklyn’s Mexican Summer; the quartet’s next album comes out on Matador in May. The band was one of the few local acts generating what could be referred to as “buzz” during the week, thanks to some around the SXSW circuit with flawless performances to back it up.
NYC’s Amen Dunes, all clad in different variations on the “white t-shirt and jeans” look, played inside. The trio started as the solo project of lead singer Damon McMahon in 2006 and has since then released a full-length on the New York label Sacred Bones. Their psych-drenched drone is simultaneously smooth and heavy, with relentless percussion driving each movement. The keyboardist, who also doubled as a guitarist at times, jammed so hard at one point that he knocked over one of his synths; thanks to the band’s overall vibe, though, that mishap sounded like it was supposed to happen. Psychic Ills, who have also released material on Sacred Bones, played a hazy set that seemed short, but only because each song seemed to be a continuation of the last.
The Los Angeles band Bleached, fronted by the Clavin sisters (ex-Mika Miko), have recently added a bassist to their live mix, making their harmonies more on point and more powerful. Bleached took the idea of SXSW-as-marathon to heart—the Voice showcase was the band’s 12th of the week—but they didn’t show any signs of strain or slowing down as they started their set ten minutes early. And they still had one more show later that night. Class Actress was bursting with energy from the get-go. Lead singer Elizabeth Harper let the crowd gathered around the outside stage had a smile on her face the whole time, which only added to the loose, backyard-barbecue appeal of her group’s minimal electropop.
Nashville’s R. Stevie Moore started off as a one-man band, recording his own material on reel-to-reel tape decks in the basement of his parents’ home. It wasn’t until 2011 that Moore augmented his sound with a live band and embarked on his first tour. He plucked songs from his wide-ranging discography, which early on took cues from country and jazz and later added punk and new wave accoutrements. Moore reads his lyrics (they’re on a music stand in front of him), and at times his emphatic delivery reminded me of a reverend giving a particularly spirited sermon to an enraptured audience. But he flipped his clip-on sunglasses down when he got vulnerable and sang about curing a broken heart. What was most evident from Moore’s set was the idea that even in the compressed space of SXSW, an artist’s music doesn’t have to be delivered in one uniform aesthetic; it can grab from different eras and borrow from ancestors located all over the musical map and still make an impact.
Critical bias: Finally watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
Overheard: “Is that free… chapstick?”
Random notebook dump: I wonder if Wong would perform better wearing those FiveFingers shoes runners wear?