You were a little flat at the end of your performance of “Happy Birthday” there, Wolf Violinist
Yawn – Bar 96
The pleasure of Bandcamp comes from the ability to peruse hashtags like “animal collective, avant-pop, beach boys, brian eno, electronic, of montreal, vampire weekend, yeasayer, avant-pop, dreampop, electronic, indie pop, Chicago” and theoretically end up with something that resembles those terms. (Don’t forget “andrew bird” and “beirut,” guys.) The downside is that music by the likes of the infantile Chicago quartet Yawn gets out there too fast. Tongue-wagging tastemakery takes over, and suddenly folks trying to fill out lineup cards at festivals end up latching onto goobers like these guys without seeing them perform.
Yawn’s live act confirms they are a fraud. Thursday’s appearance at Bar 96 showed them engaging in the art of trying as hard as possible to seem like they weren’t trying. Imagine four unremarkable white dudes with unkempt hair having a rehearsal consisting of directions like “can you make your voice crack a little more when you add some unnecessary harmony to the second verse,” or “make sure to introduce that song that obviously isn’t slow as a ‘slow jam.'” Further banter clunkers: “This is Terry Gross and you’re listening to NPR”; “We’re in Austin right now, but let’s imagine we’re in Africa.” Even the guy convulsing and spazzing in place to these diluted ripoffs must have been a paid extra. Such earnest attempts to make flippant music—well, it’s enough to make you… yawn.
On Friday, Samantha Urbani from Brooklyn band Friends did something to a fan he might forever regret. At the S.O.Terik/Filter showcase, beneath a blazing sun, she tattooed him using a safety pin and a lighter. The ink—a crude-looking planet with a ring around it on his right bicep—was modeled after one Urbani on her left middle finger. When pressed, Urbani declined to identify it as a specific planet, despite its similarities to Saturn. “It’s just a planet,” she said. “My own private planet!” She seems annoyed, perhaps because she’d been asked this question many times before. As for her smitten devotee, he can look forward to a lifetime of explaining that he got a shitty tattoo from a member of a early-teens buzz band that he briefly liked with a song called “Friend Crush.”
The ugly, dumb Doritos Jacked Stage—fashioned to look like a giant Doritos vending machine—reminded me that the movie Idiocracy isn’t just a comic farce, it’s also a prophetic nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I love Doritos, but this was a severely stoopid gimmick. Even to me, someone who is fueled by over-the-top idiocy and who adores the crassness of corporate America, the monstrous “venue machine” was like a hotel-sized “fuck you” to the human spirit. The acts weren’t bad—I saw White Denim and Gemma Ray—but treating the place like it was a posh, exclusive place to be was too much. If your stage is a giant vending machine, don’t charge the kids for water, and do give away those comically large bags of chips—or, at least, implode the whole thing as the week’s grand finale.
The Endless Parade of Technical Difficulties – Every venue
Look: Here’s Sharon Van Etten playing at Mohawk with her vocals so submerged as to be inaudible! Here’s Bay Area electronic soundscape-artist Tycho performing to a full crowd at Clive Bar through a P.A. with no sub-bass! Here’s electro-noise duo Peaking Lights standing on the Red 7 stage in despair because they spent their entire set struggling to make, you know, sounds happen! Granted, an event as sprawling as South By Southwest is going to have its problems, but this year, it felt like every other set was marred by some kind of technical issue. It was routine to see artists spending their shows throwing up hand signals to their sound crew, only to get it right just as their timeslot was ending, or to play sets with crucial parts of the music inadudible through the house mix. The blame for this doesn’t lie in any one place, of course: Londoners New Build made a point of saying that their soundman ran shows for LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip and thus knew a thing or two. Even after a barrage of gear-related frustrations, Dan Deacon graciously complimented his sound techs on their work, and implored his audience to thank them as well. (Deacon also gets the prize for making the funniest asides while sorting through the problems.) Still, with as large and expensive and corporate as SXSW has become, tech problems should be the exception, not—as they seemed this year—the rule.
—Ian S. Port
I saw a lot of great hip-hop at SXSW: Nas, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Moe Green, Flatbush Zombies, Kydd, A.Dd+, Sore Losers. SXSW should get credit, especially in the last few years hip-hop booker Matt Sonzala‘s been there, for giving the genre its own pocket where breakout stars can flourish and older acts can get a few reverent nods. I was excited for Lil Wayne’s performance on Thursday, but his set left me feeling a little sticky in the gut, like when you drink Mountain Dew really fast. Oh yeah: Weezy just formed a partnership with the soda giant, and he’s now their spokesman. Got it. (Well, I saw the #DEWeezy fliers.) But he turned his hour-long set, during which he often held a skateboard, into an opportunity to hawk Mountain Dew from every angle, even giving an uplifting monologue about how being a rock star and a skateboarder are the same thing: Sometimes you fall but you always get back up. Then he took a swig of Mountain Dew. Was Extreme Weezy filming a commercial and we were the extras? Yes, that actually was true. Between that and the Music Hall’s head-in-a-trash-can sound, I felt a little #DEWped.
Youth Lagoon – Hotel Vegas
Because there are thousands of performers at SXSW, it’s possible to avoid things you don’t like. But sometimes you can’t. While working on another assignment on Friday, I happened upon Youth Lagoon at the Brooklyn Vegan party and quickly ran out of synonyms for “boring.” It seems cruel to say it was the worst thing I saw last week, because singer-songwriter Trevor Powers is so young (22) and has struggled with anxiety. But from what I saw Friday, “navel-gazing” would have described his set politely. I hope he changes my mind someday.