SXSW 2006 – A Report, by Jeff G.
Where the author, mildly paranoid of people he works with coming across his retarded online ramblings, opts to say goodbye to his lame, semi-anonymous “punk” name and instead opts for a new, slightly more anonymous nom-de-plume. From here on in, it’s gonna be nothing but talk of hard drug use and banging sluts, I swear.
On paper, SXSW seems like it should suck. I mean it’s basically a souless industry circle jerk with enough angular myspace haircuts to make you want to barf violently for days on end. The site of 6th St. at 1am on Saturday night, with drunks from all imaginable hipster subcultures lurching through the streets is enough to make any self respecting human being want to end it all right then and there. But amidst all of the horribleness, with the right mindset and a bit of organization, you can piece together a pretty fun weekend with a lot of variety, without even buying an official badge or wristband. From obnoxious punk shows at a bar, to mellow psych shows in someone’s living room, there’s a lot of cool shit going on. It’s just up to you to find it.
First band of the fest honours went to The Ponys who put on a fun daytime set outside at Emo’s. It had been a while since I’d seen them, and no doubt they’ve lost a bit of magic ingredient X which made them one of my favourite acts at SXSW a couple of years ago. The new songs didn’t do much for me, but when they played “Virus Human” I was smiles from ear to ear.
Night time brought me to the Hook or Crook showcase where John Schooley One Man Band started things off with some crooning on top of some rockabilly licks that had the ladies dancing but me looking at my watch. The anticipated debut of one man band Haunted George, who apparently doesn’t play out that much, followed. He seemed really nervous, and I heard that he was missing a lot of the equipment he usually plays with, so it wasn’t surprising that his set was rather lacklustre. There were a few moments where he’d drop down some insanely creepy sounding grooves that tapped right in to my brain (and the Lamps cover was rather satisfying and completely unexpected), but overall everything sounded a bit off. I heard he was better the next day, so there ya go.
The Demon’s Claws boys couldn’t make it, so I took off to catch The Time Flys play some cool outdoor venue dug out of a wall of rock, which somehow seemed fitting. I walked in to catch the end of The Cuts’ set who once again did nothing for me, but when The Time Flys hit the stage all was good again. They played most of the hits from the LP and singles, and “Stoner Rock” a guaranteed hit sure to be on their upcoming album. I don’t get the haters of this band (and there were some here, too), as it all sounds good to these ears.
Back to the Jackelope just in time to catch The Rebel, probably the main reason why I decided to fly halfway across the continent to see a bunch of bands. The lineup was Ben Wallers on vocals who alternated between a guitar and a synth, Robert from the Country Teasers on synths and Ben’s wife Sophie on drums. Right from the start to the end I was fucking floored and promised myself that I would try to catch them playing as many sets as I could over the next few days. The dozen or so people watching (about double the crowd for when Haunted George played) seemed into it too.
Cheater Slicks finished the night off and played perhaps the loudest set I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m not uber-obsessed with the band like a lot of people are, but for the first time seeing them, I was satisfied. The drummer got naked a couple of songs in, but after a few minutes it didn’t seem weird at all to be a few feet from a chubby nude guy with his schlong bouncing all over the place. The cops were being particularly fuckwad-ish after the show. Isn’t Austin supposed to be a “liberal” city? Pigs.
With my ears still ringing from the Cheater Slicks, it was off to Beerland to catch a few minutes of The New Fangs who sounded OK. I decided to bail and took a bus to an unknown part of town in search of the Furniture Residence, which turned out to be a quaint house in a quiet, old neighbourhood with bands playing out back in a small wooden shed. These are the random discoveries that make SXSW worthwhile. The bands I wanted to see still weren’t playing for a while, so I headed over to Sound on Sound, a cool record store (the walk took forever) to catch The Young, a one man band in the Jeff Novak mold. The kid seemed sincere and was absolutely vicious in his delivery and his prime choice of covers made for a pretty good set.
After seeing a few minutes of Live Fast Die I took off back to the Furniture Residence where some douchebag was doing some lame, “ironic” electro hip hop that no one seemed interested in. I was hoping to see Indian Jewelry but missed them. Thankfully, Times New Viking were playing next. In the weeks prior to the trip, I had become obsessed with their “Dig Yourself” LP and really had no idea what to expect live. After setting up, the band, who were much younger than I would have guessed, light up a joint, smoked half of it, and gave the rest to the crowd (once again, only about a dozen people), which instantly earned them points in my book. Their short set was split between flawless versions of songs from the LP that had me hooked, and sloppy, awkward songs that seemed half-assed in their delivery (it was probably the pot). The best part was watching the female keyboard player do her genuine yet awkward dance moves, which were also painfully cute.
The Rebel was up next and again had me going for the whole set. They somehow seamlessly went from a disjointed sounding sound check with beeps and whirrs going off all over the place right into the first song without anyone really noticing. Ben was cracking wise throughout. Robert looked like he was possessed while playing his synthesizer and Sophie’s gotta be the world’s best stand up drummer. Whether they were playing songs off of the more recent Rebel albums or re-working Country Teasers songs, everyone watching seemed entranced. Standing in a wooden shed in a tree filled back yard in Texas, mildly buzzed in the middle of the afternoon, is about as good of a setting you could ask for to see The Rebel in action.
The nighttime show was the Goner Records showcase back at Beerland and up first was King Louie who I didn’t really pay attention to for some reason. Was I outside eating overpriced tacos? Who knows. Harlan T Bobo was up next and didn’t really grab my attention, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as some people made him out to be. The Dutch Masters were loud and laid down a punishing set, but the real treat of the night was no doubt The Final Solutions who very well could be the best straight up punk band currently going. Zac’s gotta be one of the best nutso frontmen out there and the band behind him gave it all they got on every song.
After this point, things become a bit hazy. I know I got introduced to Steve McDonald and got all fanboy on him, which was pretty cool. I do remember The Carbonas laying down some pretty solid songs with “Blackout”, “Sick Satisfaction” and “Frothing at the Mouth”. The reports I had heard of “best live band going” didn’t really pan out, but there’s no doubt these guys can pen a catchy tune. The Leather Uppers played next, I guess. I remember yelling “that’s not the Leather Uppers”, even though quite clearly it was. Did I miss much? Probably not. I am an idiot for not remembering Head at all.
The Busy Signals got things started at the ungodly hour of 12:30 at Casino El Camino and proved that a good band is a good band no matter what time they play at. After that it was off to the Shattered showcase which was pound for pound, the strongest lineup of the weekend, for sure. The Rat Traps started things off and were by far the most primal and rudimentary band I saw all week. Jeff freaks out so much when he sings that the tempo of his drumming changes throughout, April has her guitar tuned so it plays a major chord when played open and has a book with sequences of numbers listed for each song which shows what frets to place her index finger over, and Joe, well he’s actually a pretty great guitar player. All together this odd mix somehow works. Surreal site of their set: Thurston Moore standing there bobbing his head to them!
I was pretty excited to see the Angry Angles and all reports saying how solid of a live band they were turned out to be true. The intensity level of the songs was amped up about ten times compared to their records when they played. Everything was faster, louder and more aggressive. Some songs, like “You Call it Love” sounded too fast, and probably could have benefited from a little bit more subtlety, but a song like “Crowds” was just perfect played with that much more force. No “Blockhead” though, which was a shame.
The Carbonas played again (see above) and were followed by Digital Leather who put on one of the best sets of the day. The two synths were joined by Steve and Ryan from Tokyo Electron and the Reatards on guitar and drums, respectively. The singer kept on apologizing for how shitty it sounded, but I thought they were great. While the new album on Shattered doesn’t do as much for me as some of their earlier CD-R’s, the live set was certainly right on the mark. Ryan’s drumming deserves a special mention, as not only was he metronome tight while playing some pretty complex stuff, but he played in a total of four different bands throughout the day!
The Final Solutions played next and once again killed. Tokyo Electron didn’t blow me away like they did the first time I saw them in full band mode, but by this point I think I was getting a little sick of standing in Beerland for hours on end each day. Thankfully, The Reatards were up and I don’t think it matters when or where they play, you just know it’s going to be a good show. Right before they started playing, Jay left the stage to “eat some Snickers” and when he came back he was completely possessed. Hmm. They proceeded to whip up a frenzy, more than any other band I saw all week and left everyone wanting more.
Leaving Beerland as fast as I could, I convinced a pack of friends to go check out Fuck by Fuck Y’All featuring The Rebel once again, but not before stocking up on Sparks for the walk to the Typewriter Museum, a weird outdoor venue/shack with typewriters all over the stage. Standing outside with a few dozen people while the sun was setting, a bit loopy in the head, completely enraptured by every sound coming from the stage was a treat. The Rebel trumped everything else I saw all week by fucking miles. I’m kind of bummed that I missed Roky Erickson, who was playing at the same time (especially since seeing “You’re Going to Miss Me” a fabulous documentary about his life) but I couldn’t have asked for a better set to see, so I can’t really complain.
Walking over to the Long Branch we stopped at a liquor store where the owner didn’t seem to mind that we were loud and drunk with open drinks in hand with an underager in tow. Nice. We killed some time by watching a bit of the set by This Moment in Black History at some outdoor venue, but it was bad, so we pounded some alley Sparks and made our way inside of the Long Branch just in time to see the then unheard Cococomas who completely fucking blew me away. Loud, wild, angry, with great songs to back it all up, they were the surprise of the weekend, by far. The trifecta of The Reatards, into The Rebel, into Cococoma with alley shenanigans between the three was a pretty damn fun stretch.
The Loose Diamonds featured Harlan T. Bobo and King Louie and they played some pretty solid power pop type songs, which was a nice surprise. The Rat Traps played next and were raw as fuck once again. I saw ‘em a few weeks after SXSW and they had tightened up immensely. Too bad they’re already done. Did the Ape Shits play next? They played forever (they’re from Austin) and no one cared. I took the opportunity to head back to the liquor store where I devoured two amazing microwave pizzas. The douchebag at the Long Branch wouldn’t let me and a bunch of other people back in, even though tonnes of people were streaming out the doors. Everyone just walked around to the side door and had no problems. In general, the staff were assholes all night long.
After an eternity the Ape Shits were done and the drunk and surly Headache City started playing. The club was rushing them to finish right from the start and they were clearly distracted by the whole deal. Too bad, as they can be a great live band. Did The Dutch Masters play next? I think so. They were followed by The Feelers who went fucking wild. People were whipping their dinks and beer was flying everywhere. Ah, Texas. The Marked Men finished the night off and had people enraptured with their barrage of hooks coming from all over the place. Me, I was tired and hungry again so we finished off the night at IHOP (what the fuck is “country gravy”?) where our flamboyantly gay waiter was named “Andy Mike”!
Saturday started with the Contaminated showcase back at Beerland, which I was getting pretty sick of. Jeffrey Novak started things off but had some equipment problems. The Blank Its played next and while both bands were good (the Blank Its have so many great unreleased songs that didn’t make it onto the LP) and would have normally knocked me off my feet, after three days of non-stop bands/booze/bands/booze I was pretty tired and being back in Beerland again so early in the day put me in a bad mood. The Tuff Luvs played next and were horribly average. River City Tanlines were much better. The Feelers played a much more controlled set compared to their Friday night show, and I was that much more into it. Human Eye decorated the stage like only they can do with weird shit all over the place and proceeded to play a bunch of new songs. A lot of people were floored, but the new stuff did nothing for me. The songs were really long, and almost prog sounding. Oh well. Thankfully the Gris Gris pulled me out of my daylong funk and had the packed crowd hypnotized with their songs, comprised mostly of material from the first album. I don’t know why this band never did anything for me before this moment. Sometimes I have ass for ears.
The Busy Signals started off the night show and were ridiculously good. The songs from the singles come across even better live and the new songs were just as good (“My Apathy” or whatever the fuck it’s called is still in my head today). They played a cool Protex cover and everyone had a great time staring at Eric’s skinny legs! Live Fast Die were OK, but the complete retardedness of some of the songs on the record didn’t come through live, which was a shame. Angry Angles played even better than they did at the day show which is saying quite a bit. I took off to go see Times New Viking again and once more they were 50/50 between blowing me away and leaving me wanting more. This time their problem wasn’t drug induced, but troubles with equipment. I headed back to the Jackelope to catch Tokyo Electron again, who were urged on by the promoter to keep on playing to kill time, which didn’t help.
Finally, I took off to catch Viva l’American Death Ray Music after hearing for years how great they were live. Maybe they once were, but they certainly aren’t anymore. It was painful. They not only looked ridiculous (the singer had a Captain Kangaroo on fifteen years of crack look going, and I swear the drummer was showing off his shaved chest) but the songs they played were atrocious. I lasted three songs before bailing which is longer than the two friends that were there with me did. I cabbed it back to the hotel, got about an hour’s worth of sleep, then the taxi came to bring us to the airport. It was a fun four days hanging out with new and old friends with mostly good bands playing, only one or two shitty ones, and a handful of fantastic ones. At the end it does all kind of blur together. In retrospect, I probably should have moved around a bit more, checking out a wider variety of acts instead of sticking with the safe bets. And I’m pissed that I missed the Sneaky Pinks.
All pics by Sherry Cardino
PREVIOUS PAGE HOME NEXT PAGE