South by Southwest 2011 Music recap, Part I: The Headliners

“There’s music everywhere you go, all the time, which is just a beautiful thing.”

The 25th anniversary edition of the South by Southwest Music Conference & Festival went down in Austin, Texas this month and it was one to remember. The festival once again featured everything from semi-secret shows by arena-level headliners to all the latest “buzz” bands, to ’80s favorites looking to make a comeback. This wide mix of talent is exactly what makes SXSW so unique. With somewhere around 2,000 bands playing at roughly 200 venues over five nights, it was pretty much heaven on Earth for live music junkies.

The festival keeps growing in attendance every year, so the urban chaos factor has been increasing too, leading NPR to describe the massive city-wide party as seeming like “one big crowded bar.” It did have that vibe at times, but isn’t that kind of fun? Indeed, it is. Traffic often did look like a nightmare (you gotta have a bike, people) and there were a couple unruly incidents this year. But if you’re a party professional, there’s really nowhere you can have a better time, not to mention being able to mix business with pleasure if you’re a music industry pro. It’s the influx of party amateurs that threatens to mess up a good thing.

Two incidents exemplified this: the gate crashing at Auditorium Shores when the free show by the Strokes on Thursday had filled to its 20,000 capacity, and the mini-riot that took place at the Beauty Bar on Saturday night after it had filled to capacity for Death From Above 1979, who were billed only as “special guest.” But there’s just no excuse for such behavior. There’s only, like, 200 other shows going on at any given time; if your first choice is filled to capacity, then go see someone else, This is why planning is key – you always want to have two or three potential choices in any given time slot, because you never know when your top show will either be at capacity or across town from where you’ve wound up and don’t really care to travel to at that moment.

Bringing or renting a bike is key. A bike also allows you to zip back and forth to have maximum flexibility to see your most preferred shows. It’s simple Vulcan logic. The other great thing about having so many choices is that SXSW can mean so many different things to so many different music fans. It’s all out there, as every genre is represented. You can focus on one or sample them all like the massive musical buffet that SXSW is. If you’re not having a great time, you’re just not trying. Here follows one Gen-X rock ‘n’ roller’s musical menu, broken down into headliners, other evening showcases and day parties.

The Headliners

Foo Fighters, Stubb’s BBQ

SXSW Music has traditionally run from Wednesday through Saturday. But this year they decided to add some showcases on Tuesday evening as well. Yet there seemed to be something missing compared to the past two years. There was no blank spot in the Friday night lineup at Stubbs BBQ for a semi-secret arena level headliner (which turned out to be Metallica in 2009 and Muse in 2010.)

But then something stood out on the Tuesday schedule for SXSW Film – the world premiere of The Foo Fighters’ new rockumentary “Back and Forth” at the Paramount Theater, with the program stating that Music badges were good for admission to the screening. Then word came down through a local music blog’s Facebook page early on Tuesday – a Stubbs employee said the the Foo Fighters would be playing a “secret” show at Stubbs that night. Was it invite-only, or would which badges would gain admittance? This was unclear. But applying Vulcan logic, it was easy to conjure a likely scenario – if you attended the film, you would get into the show at Stubbs, because wouldn’t it just make sense to play the show for the people who were big enough fans to attend the film premiere?


Read the rest after the jump...

Mini-Mansions: Mini-Mansions


RIYL: The Beatles 1967-1969, Donovan, Fountains of Wayne

Mini-Mansions is the side-project of Michael Shuman, the latest bass player in the revolving door line-up that makes up Queens of the Stone Age. But don’t pick up his side-project group’s self-titled debut expecting stoner metal from the school of Josh Homme. Instead, expect some Sgt. Pepper/White Album-era Beatles tunes – and nothing else.

Mini-Mansions have a very psychedelic and ethereal sound, about as far away from the metal Shuman is known for as you can get. The only reminder of his main group’s genre is the slight creepy and menacing sound that occasionally sneaks its way in, thanks to the oddly threatening yet still appealing vocals of Shuman.

Its hard to say that much else about Mini Mansions. They sound so much like the Beatles that if you tried to pass off some of the tracks, such as the brilliantly-titled “Crime of the Season,” as long-lost Beatles tunes, some people would probably believe you. They’re not trying to show they’re influenced by the Beatles, nor are they even trying to do a pastiche of the fab four – these guys are straight-up mimicking the Beatles. They get credit for being ballsy, that’s for sure. But when I literally mistook a portion of album standout “Kiddie Hypnogogia” for the chorus of “She’s So Heavy,” I realized that perhaps they’re taking the whole thing a little bit too far. Does it sound good? Sure. It sounds like the Beatles after all, but there’s not much to it, especially since every track not only sounds just like the Beatles, but a very specific era of the Beatles. It wouldn’t have hurt for them to throw some Revolver or Rubber Soul in there for variety’s sake. (Ipecac Recordings 2010)

Mini-Mansions MySpace Page

  

21st Century Breakdown: The iDecade: Michael Fortes’ Ten “Best” Albums of the Aughts

As the aughts draw to a close… who cares? Seriously, who really does care? Does it mean the same to you as it does to me? I ask because this is what I see:

The span of time between the years 2000 and 2009 was like no decade that came before in that, given the rapid and ever more sophisticated advances in technology, we’ve been able to create our own very unique cultural experiences. There may be no “i” in “team” or “us” or “together,” but “i” creeped into our TV viewing experiences (TiVo), our telephones (the iPhone), our computers (how about the iMac?), and – most significantly – the way we listen to music (iTunes, the iPod, etc.), which is arguably where many of our personalized media experiences began in the first place. Which is great, on one level. If we only want to hear what we want to hear at the moment that we want, we can have that experience for relatively little money, at any time we please.

But on the other hand, what was threatening to become reality pretty much happened in the ’00s – we collectively eliminated the possibility of there ever being another Beatles, Elvis Presely or Michael Jackson, someone that most of us can all agree on. Given that Michael left us mid-way through the last year of the decade, we have effectively lost our last great pop culture figure, and even he was vulnerable to the pressures of our shape-shifting culture. The one album of all original material he released this decade (2001’s Invincible) was not only one of his poorest sellers, it also sucked way more often than it didn’t. Granted, we still have two Beatles left, but even Paul McCartney hasn’t been able to produce an album that could unite all of his old and young fans the way his work with the Beatles continues to do.

Which brings us to the album itself. It’s not completely dead, and will always have a place so long as musicians think of themselves as artists and still revel in the joy of creating a cohesive work of art. But let’s face it – fewer people are buying albums (on CD, that is – digital download sales and even sales of vinyl records continue to increase, though not nearly enough to offset the decline in CD purchases). And that translates to fewer people who can come together to agree on which ones are great, and which ones are best forgotten. And fewer people to care.

Having said all that, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, I present to you my picks for ten best albums of the decade, in no particular order. These are albums that, for one reason or another, connected me to many, many different people over the past ten years, all of whom mean something to me. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you will be someday.

Doves – Lost Souls (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia (2008)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Ambulance LTD – LP (2004)
Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (2007)

  

Them Crooked Vultures: Them Crooked Vultures


RIYL: Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana

Ever since Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri parted ways, Queens of the Stone Age have been missing a certain “oomph.” It hardly seemed right to continue with the name anyway, since the dynamic between Josh and Nick was a big part of what made that band so great in the first place.

For now, anyway, Josh is putting the Queens name aside, even though Them Crooked Vultures could have easily been called a Queens record simply by virtue of the fact that Songs for the Deaf drummer Dave Grohl is providing TCV’s undulating rhythms. And although Josh is the dominant voice and guitarist of Them Crooked Vultures, to say that he is outweighed by the mere presence of his bandmates – bassist John Paul Jones and drummer Dave Grohl – is an understatement. But make no mistake, Them Crooked Vultures is very much a Josh Homme record. All the raunch and sleaze he brings to Queens of the Stone Age is here (sample double entendre: “Don’t hold it against me, unless it gets hard,” from “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I”), as is that magical de-wussified angst he does so well (see “Bandoliers,” an awesomely rockin’ breakup song if there ever was one).

But what distinguishes TCV from Queens is ultimately that rock-solid, locked-in rhythm section created by Jones and Grohl. Yes, at times it does kind of recall the groove of the groovingest Led Zeppelin, and Josh will occasionally match that with some Zep-like riffage. And though most of the songs are worthy of the musicians playing them, the record starts to drag towards the end… just like the last two Queens records. But this is a small complaint in light of the fact that John Paul Jones is playing in a kick-ass rock band once again, Dave Grohl is back behind the drum kit where he belongs, and Josh Homme is showing no signs of slowing down. Rarely does a “supergroup” get much better than this. (Interscope 2009)

Them Crooked Vultures MySpace page

  

New supergroup Them Cooked Vultures to tour

Crooked

To my knowledge, the very first legitimate “supergroup” in rock and roll was Blind Faith, a band that included Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech. Then came CSN(Y), the Traveling Wilburys, and a few others that aren’t coming to mind. I’m not going to list the members’ credentials from these groups — that would take hours. Let’s just say if you’ve never heard of anyone from the Traveling Wilburys, I don’t know how you can physically perform the tasks of everyday life.

Anyway, I’ve been largely underwhelmed by the supergroups of this century. Bands like Velvet Revolver, the Transplants, Zwan, and Chickenfoot have, for my taste, never recorded anything interesting enough that confirms their collective talents. Well, a new supergroup has decided to enter the fold, and rather than dish out some lackluster effort, they actually seem intent on creating some solid music. They’re called Them Crooked Vultures and the outfit consists of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). As a dedicated listener of the 70s, John Paul Jones makes this band worthwhile. The band has been surprising audiences at European festivals but has yet to play a show in America. Soon, that will all change, as they’ve announced their new tour dates.

The band’s just-announced nine-date U.S. jaunt kicks October 1 with a pair of gigs in Austin, TX, including a set for Austin City Limits. The rockers will hit major Midwest and East Coast cities like Detroit and Boston before touring the UK in December, but, sadly, will skip New York and the entire West Coast. Let’s hope this brief run is just the beginning!

Them Crooked Vultures Tour Dates: 10/1, Austin, TX (Stubb’s)
10/2, Austin, TX (Austin City Limits Festival)
10/5, Nashville, TN (War Memorial)
10/6, Columbus, OH (LC Pavilion)
10/8, Detroit, MI (The Fillmore)
10/9, Toronto, Ontario (The Sound Academy)
10/11, Boston, MA (House of Blues)
10/12, Philadelphia, PA (The Electric Factory)
10/14, Washington, DC (930 Club)
12/10: Plymouth, UK (Pavilions)

12/11: Portsmouth, UK (Guildhall)

12/13: Blackpool, UK (Empress Ballroom)

12/14: Birmingham, UK (O2 Academy)

12/15: Edinburgh, UK (O2 Academy)

12/17: London, UK (HMV Hammersmith Apollo)

I’m not sure why California isn’t getting any love, but I’m sure they’ll get around to it. Their first album, Deserve the Future, is due out sometime next year.

  

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