Ear protection: One of these days we're going to realize just how important it is before we're trying to go to sleep with a monster ringing in our ears. Ah well, fuck it — Wednesday night's six-band metal onslaught at The Muse was worth a little tinnitus! Let us start by saying Across Tundras fucking rule. There's something about their grinding psychedelia-meets-hill-country blues-metal that makes all of the pleasure centers in our acid-fried brain perk up — maybe it's the dueling guitar shredding or maybe it's the Jesus-fish-shaped tambourine. Whatever it is, we like it.
Up next were Junius from Boston, who were pretty much the low point of the night, by which we mean they were only awesome, instead of super-duper awesome. There was something about the singer that reminded us of Bauhaus' Peter Murphy fronting Hum, only way heavier than either of those bands.
Minnesota's Battlefields were another unexpected surprise — we hadn't done our research beforehand, so catching their combination of drone psych and brutal sludge was an unexpected delight. Also eye-opening? That all the out-of-town bands looked like metal dudes — tight pants, black T-shirts, greasy hair — while the Nashville kids all looked like a wayward bowling team or an IT department run amok. It's not a criticism — we happen to live in a poorly-attired glass house ourselves — just an observation that made us kind of chuckle. Battlefields were followed by U.S. Christmas, whose debut album Eat the Low Dogs has been on repeat at Spin HQ for a while now.
The night closed with Black Cobra, whose latest album Chronomega has been ruling our roost all week long. Needless to say, we were amped to see them even after standing around for something like four-and-a-half hours. Cobra drummer Rafael Martinez is a sight to be seen — all power, accuracy and speed without ever being too technical. We'd put that dude toe-to-toe with any drummer in town if we weren't so averse to watching our locals lose. Guitarist Jason Landrian is no slouch either — it was a full-on shredfest of epic power sludge, and we were so glad that we had made it to that point.
For those not blessed enough to make it out to SXSW, there's always the inevitable spill from which to benefit. This weekend was slammed full of acts all over the map making their way back from Austin to their respective homes. For example, we stopped into all-ages DIY mecca Little Hamilton Friday night to catch Shellshag on their journey back to Brooklyn.
We walked into find a set by local '60s fetishists The Looking Glass already in progress. Backed by trip-endicular DIY visuals using oil, water, food coloring and an overhead projector, The Looking Glass strummed through washed-out, open-ended psych-surf instrumentals, drenched in reverb and punctuated by heavily sustained and delectably dirty fuzz tones. It reminded us that there was once a time when the idea of extending a song into jammy free-form territory wasn't such a dreadful thing: When Looking Glass' jams pass the normally sensible four-minute mark, it feels more like their groove is just hitting its stride rather than a bunch of wankery. In stark contrast, the unruly, eponymous punk trio Cy Barkley kicked and screamed through five or six fast, loud and riotous increments of anthemic second wave-style hardcore complete with an old-school mosh pit. We dug it immensely.
It wasn't even 10:30, and an ample crowd watched the main attraction. Composed of one old-school indie rocker bro on the electric guitar, and one equally old school indie-rocker lass on a standing three-piece drum kit, Shellshag are a bona fide relic of the Gen X era, unscathed by the trends and void of all the contrived and forcedly "meaningful" pretenses of modern indie-rock bands. The two kick it easy, breezy and carefree with hook-laden pop gems that are too slow to be punk, too lazy to be power pop and too DIY to be what we've come to know as indie rock. In 1994, this would have been standard fare alongside acts like The Breeders, Superchunk, and Guided by Voices, but outside their decade of origin, they're both an anomaly and a breath of fresh air.
The evening closed out with Heavy Cream, who rolled out the sloppy, three-chord, girl-powered Ramones-core routine we've come to expect, making for a pretty damn fine evening of entertainment, especially considering it only cost us three bucks.
The last time we caught Joanna Newsom was 2006. Ys had just come out, and Newsom wooed a small crowd of above-the-curve hipsters with a handful of fresh harp jams. Now, with Newsom fresh off a gig at Big Ears Fest and a mammoth third album, we were curious what her then-meager cult looked like now. We straggled into Mercy Lounge Sunday night just as Newsom was finishing her first song. There, we discovered a sea of bearded folkies sitting cross-legged on the floor, all the way from the foot of the stage to the bathrooms in back.
There's a popular conception about Joanna Newsom that you either hate her or love her. We fall somewhere in the middle: We'll spin a J-New record from time to time, but a little goes a long way. At least we thought we fell somewhere in the middle — over the course of an hour and a half, we might have moved a little closer to that second group. Newsom rolled through 10 songs, mostly from Have One on Me, with the exception of setlist cornerstones like "The Book of Right-On," "Monkey & Bear." The new songs dispense with the Baroque heaviness of Ys, instead opting for a warmer sound akin to Southern folk.
Newsom's strength lies more in her composition and arrangement than her voice. Even stripped down so that she and a handful of multi-instrumentalists can tackle them, her songs have a sort of clever power to them that's hard to resist. If Newsom wasn't supported by that safety net of top-notch musicians, the whole thing might be liable to fall apart, but it was, if nothing else, one of the best-sounding shows we've ever been to — a welcome change from '06, when Newsom chastised some overly chatty sound guys.
By the time Newsom & Co. finished "Good Intentions Paving Company," song eight of 10, we all gave up on this sitting business and stood — much to the chagrin of all the short people in the place. We've got to admit, we kinda missed it when it was gone. The docility sparked by a crowd of seated super-fans made the atmosphere of the joint homier than the average rock show. Even if it stood in the way of us and our beer, we're definitely pro-sitting when we can get away with it.
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