SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Yukon Blonde

I tried to catch buzz band Broken Bells doing an impromptu 1:00 PM set in the Red River Street garage that was hosted by AOL Music, but the line was too damn long. I wandered up the street to see what was happening at the Mohawk, one of Austin’s finest smaller clubs. This was where I made my first surprise discovery, in the form of Yukon Blonde. The Vancouver-based quartet were rocking a vibrant sound on the outdoor stage that recalled My Morning Jacket and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Three-part harmonies elevated the tunes further and it was clear this band had both excellent musicianship and strong songwriting skills. A powerful jam at the end of their set brought things to a rousing conclusion before the appreciative audience.

yukon blonde

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 4: Neither Wind Nor Rain…

The weather took a decided turn for the worse in the middle of the night when a big rainstorm hit town. Festival-goers were spared precipitation on Saturday, but the temperature dropped into the 50s and it was cold and windy throughout the day. It felt more like a late-autumn afternoon in the Midwest than Spring Equinox in Austin, but the chilly conditions would not stop SXSW music fans from getting their fill on the final day of the conference/festival.

The big highlight of Saturday afternoon was Rachel Ray’s day party at Stubbs BBQ, which required a special invite. The general RSVP line was going nowhere, but thank goodness a friend had an extra pass. Free margaritas and bloody Marys were served along with chicken quesadillas and meatball sandwiches. Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring the dazzling Neko Case) played a strong set that had a sound not unlike some of the recent work of Jakob’s dad – slow-burning blues and Americana sprinkled with the Tex-Mex flavor. Case’s backing vocals added an extra element to raise the songs higher for what sounds like some of the younger Dylan’s best work.

Street Sweeper Social Club stole the show though with an incendiary set that provided a needed infusion of heat to the chilly conditions. Tom Morello, Boots Riley and company rocked a heavy sound with a definite Rage kind of vibe that had people bouncing. This was one of the best sets of the week.

She & Him closed out the party with a strong set of their own. Zooey Deschanel sounded great, especially with the Chapin Sisters appearing as guest to harmonize with her. M.Ward led the able band, which even rocked out a deep jam at the end.

Getting indoors became the next imperative and there was a large crowd inside Lovejoys, one of Austin’s best dive bars. They had music too, of course, with Middle Distance Runner rocking a heavy sound. The guitarist even pulled one of Tom Morello’s slide guitar tricks. Caitlin Krisko & the Broadcast followed with a bluesier sound, with the charismatic blonde frontwoman belting out some powerful tunes, while a conga player helped provided polyrthythms.

After a break to eat some dinner and catch some March Madness (how about those Northern Iowa Panthers), it was over to Spill on 6th Street where Antennas Up were showcasing at 8 pm. The Kansas City band has a funky sound accented by some trippy synth samples. They’re clearly into the space vibe with astronaut helmets that were donned during one tune, and Space Invaders stickers on the drum kit.

The highlight of the early evening was the redemptive 9:00 set from the Watson Twins at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. The venue is an actual church with amazing acoustics. Combining this with an evening headliner slot had a dramatic effect on the Twins, with this set highlighting their dynamic sound in a way that their Friday day party set could not. They still didn’t play anything off their first album, but the new tunes sparkled in a new light in this setting.

The 10:00 hour fell flat for a variety of reasons, but Dengue Fever stepped up with an 11:00 set at Emo’s main to get things rocking again. Cambodian vocalist Chom Nimol started off the set wearing a hoodie and skullcap, but she and the band quickly heated things up with their groovy sound, causing Nimol to strip off layers until she was just wearing a pretty blue dress.

Then it was over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a great SXSW finale with Pretty Lights, who blew up the joint with their funky beats and trippy sounds. The Colorado duo’s spectacular light show provided a dazzling accompaniment to the dance party which went right up until 2 am.

Much more on the past four days coming in my wrap-up report within the next 24 hours…

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 3: Heavy Hitters

It was another day of highlights, many of them provided by female rockers who are out in force at SXSW 2010, which is great to see. But the day started with a great panel featuring Robbie Krieger of the Doors (fresh off his electrifying sit-in with Stone Temple Pilots the previous night). “When You’re Strange” featured Krieger and the current Doors manager discussing the upcoming feature-length documentary on the band that sounds like it will be amazing, with direction from Tom DiCillo and narration from the great Johnny Depp.

Over at the Belmont on West 6th Street, things were running behind schedule at the Paste/Sugar Hill Records/Vanguard Records day party, which enabled me to discover Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. This bluesy gal looks like a cross between Sarah Silverman and Amy Winehouse, but she rocks! I liked her set better than that of the Watson Twins, the act I went to see. These girls are fab, but their new album is just plain disappointing compared to their great first album. The ladies still sound great, but the new tunes just don’t have the rich, melodic hooks of their debut, Fire Songs.

I caught up with Sass Jordan at the Canadian Blast party at Paradise on East 6th Street, where free enchiladas with rice and beans were served. She only had two acoustic guitarists with her instead of a whole band, but she sounded fabulous on strong material from her new album as well as her early ’90s hits “Make You a Believer ” and “High Road Easy.”

Then it was around the corner to Rusty Spurs, where Grace Potter & the Nocturnals followed up their stellar Thursday night set at Antone’s with another powerhouse set that rocked a packed crowd. Bassist Catherine Popper continued to show why she should win an award for best new addition to a band, while Potter won over a number of new fans with her sultry blues power.

Then it was over to Stubbs BBQ, where Metric warmed up the stage for semi-secret headliners Muse before a jammed house. The power-pop rockers threw down a heartfelt and well-received set that showed they can deliver the goods live. Muse then hit the stage at 10 pm and rocked the house in a triumphant set that was worthy of filling the slot occupied last year by Metallica. The Brit prog-rockers demonstrated a Metallica influence that they mixed up with Radiohead, Queen and Smashing Pumpkins for a sound that was intense. The laser light show was also spectacular, an arena rock spectacle in an intimate setting.

San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma were rocking it at Buffalo Billiards in the 11 pm hour, highlighted by a guest sit-in from none other than Cherie Currie of the Runaways for a charged rendition of “Cherry Bomb” that thrilled the assembled. Guitarist/singer Nina Diaz has a presence that just owned the room and this Tex-Mex grunge trio showed that they are just getting better and better.

There were many options in the midnight hour and 1:00 hours, but I passed on the easy path and fought my way into the Dirty Dog Bar for Hole’s late night set. It’s amazing that the fire marshal didn’t come and shut it down, this little bar was jammed well over capacity. The likes of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey made the scene, watching from the side of the stage. It was a claustrophobic clusterfuck until about 20 minutes into the set, when some people gave up and elbow room was finally achieved. The band rocked but Courtney Love’s voice was shot, which she blamed on playing so late when she’s a chain smoker. Maybe it’s time to cut back on the smokes, doll. She chastised her guitarist for playing too loud, and at the end she said it was her worst show ever. But tunes like “Malibu,” “Doll Parts,” “Gold Dust Woman” and some of the new stuff sounded strong. Someone just needs to take better care of herself, but it looks like that’s not going to happen.

Rain threatens Day Four on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the masses respond as the outdoor shows could become less attractive…

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 2: Upping the Ante

AUSTIN – I sacrificed an extra hour of sleep to make it out for what was scheduled as an 11:35 am day party set from Sass Jordan, the sensational Canadian blues rock goddess that seems like she’d be more from a place like Austin. But the stage at the club had collapsed and they had to move to another venue, pushing their set back to 12:20 pm. I told Sass I’d catch one of her other two shows, because I had a moral imperative to catch the 12:30 pm panel on “Music and The Revolution,” featuring ex-Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, Country Joe McDonald, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Kent State 1970 massacre survivor Alan Canfora. This was an amazing panel that I will report on in-depth in my SXSW wrap-up next week (along with more on all the following bands.)

Then there was a great panel on the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ seminal jazz-rock masterpiece, Bitches Brew. More on that next week as well. The 1969-70 revolutionary rock magic was clearly in the air…

After a quick lunch it was over to the Jambase Treehouse Party at Cheers Shot Bar on 6th Street, up on the roof deck. Very nice setting for Red Cortez, a band out of Los Angeles that are pals and tourmates with the Airborne Toxic Event. They have an edgier sound, but clearly some of that same soulful, tuneful indie-rock thing that has long been brewing in LA’s Silverlake district.

The Mother Hips from San Francisco rocked it next, throwing down a hot set of their rich, melodic and bluesy sound. Paul Hoagland even brought his 12-string custom Hamer bass, and did it ever sound great out in the sun in the 5 o’clock hour. I was originally planning to stick around to see a couple more bands, but some gear issues had pushed it all back a half hour. I rode my trusty Trek 800 over to Threadgills to meet a friend, where we also heard a bit of Austin legend Roky Erickson, from the 13th Floor Elevators. Classic sounds…

Then it was over to Auditorium Shores, where LA’s Ozomatli was headlining the free outdoor fest by Town Lake. The band entertained a huge audience, driving the crowd into a frenzy with a “Masters of Puppets” tease during one funky bluesy jam (recalling Metallica’s electrifying semi-secret performance at Stubbs during SXSW 2009.)

From there it was over to the Austin Music Hall for Stone Temple Pilots, who threw down a true headlining set of 90 minutes that featured some strong new material and just kept getting better. The peak was during the encore when Robbie Krieger of the Doors joined the band for “Roadhouse Blues”! Absolutely epic SXSW moment that seriously raised the bar for the rest of the weekend. Krieger tore it up.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals were up to the task afterward at Antone’s, throwing down a captivating 75-minute set that went right up til 2 am, also featuring very strong material from their impending new album. At least three tunes went into sick jams catalyzed by the fantastic bass skills of new Nocturnal (and former Cardinal of Ryan Adams), Catherine Popper. The two of these gals were just dynamite and a hoped-for cover of “White Rabbit” did indeed materialize (they play it on the soundtrack for the new “Alice in Wonderland” flick), a great match on the evening with “Roadhouse Blues.”

Now I have to go find out when Potter & Co are playing tomorrow and try to get some sleep!

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 1: It Begins

The music world converged on Austin, Texas today for what is generally viewed as the biggest, bestest music industry event in the world. The thing that makes SXSW so unique is that you not only know you’re going to see some great bands you’ve had your eye on, but you’re also going to discover some great new bands. There are so many playing all over town all day for four straight days, so you can’t help but just stumble upon some cool new sounds.

This was the case early on when the line to try and see Broken Bells’ 1:00pm Red River garage show was too long to get in. I wandered over to the Mohawk up the street and there was a band throwing down a strong sound with some Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibes, and some of that My Morning Jacket kind of vibe. It was Yukon Blonde from Vancouver BC. Good stuff.

The line at the Forcefield PR/Terrorbird Media day party at Red 7 was also way too long, so again I wandered up the street and heard some Beatles coming out of Jaime’s Spanish Village, a Mexican restaurant across the street from Stubbs BBQ. It has a small patio where The Eggmen where dishing out the Beatles tunes, which sounded great on a warm sunny afternoon. It was a rotating lineup, with seven musicians up there for great readings of “I’m Only Sleeping,” “Fixing a Hole,” “From Me to You” and “All You Need is Love.”

I waited in a crazy 45-minute line to get into the Levis/Fader Fort, because I wanted to see Philadelphia band Free Energy. The band’s studio stuff sounds amazing, but it was too bad they didn’t seem able to match it live. They have great gear, great looks and a great name, but something in the musicianship seemed lacking. Maybe I’ll give them another shot on Friday. The venue was pimped out though, dubbed by one fan as “a funhouse for hipsters.”

Walking past the Independent up the street, I heard the call of a bluesy sound, the Maldives from Seattle were rocking out, also with a Crazy Horse vibe, and maybe some Ryan Adams & the Cardinals influence. The Canadian Blast tent outside by the registrants lounge closed out with Plants and Animals, who blended reverb-y vocals with a cool groove to close their set. Austin’s own Strange Boys packed Emo’s Jr for an 8:00 set of their retro ’60s-style garage rock. There were moments, but I don’t think it was really my thing.

Jonneine Zapata out of Los Angeles caught my attention first with her name and then with her powerful voice at the Red Eyed Fly. This is a great little venue with nice outdoor stage where Zapata and her band rocked the stage with a powerful bluesy sound that recalled Concrete Blonde.

Here We Go Magic packed Club Deville for a 9:00 set. The sound was excellent although the songs kept seeming like they were building up to something that never came. They were doing something right though, as the indie rock crowd seemed to dig it.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tore up the stage at Stubbs BBQ, with the great band throwing down ’60s and ’70s-influenced funk behind the soul queen. This was the first major highlight of the day.

I caught up with Broken Bells when they followed Jones at Stubbs and James Mercer of The Shins led the band through a collection of tunes that sounded pretty Shins-y, with maybe more synth and less guitar. But when they added some more guitar toward the end, it was even better.

I bailed waiting for Spoon at Stubbs to go back to Emos main for Nas & Damian Marley. Mixing the hip-hop with the reggae was a slamming formula for the really packed crowd, who loved every minute. This is the new duo to watch out for in 2010, what a great set! It was all too brief though, leaving me able to catch the end of Spoon’s set. These guys confuse me. They play three songs in a row that are kind of blah, and then just when you’re about ready to give up on them they throw down a great rocker. Then they play two or three more blah, than some dope groove. Strange formula.

Compared to last year, this first day was so-so at first, picking up toward the end. Things looked primed to pick up tomorrow though, stay tuned…

  

Related Posts