You can always tell the specter of South by Southwest is looming over us when random Pitchforkable indie bands start trickling into town on their way to Austin. We arrived on Elliston Place and waded through a sea of metalcore fans outside Exit/In, expecting to cross the street catch and catch And The Relatives laying down some Pavement-style jams. Burned again by The End's MySpace page, we were instead witness to a somewhat crippled Flora Shakespeare.
The band struggled through a semi-acoustic set, missing a legit drummer, a piano and the bassist's shoes. They would've been better off ditching the percussion entirely instead of leaving it in the hands of a guy who admits he's not a drummer. But not by much. We got the feeling Flora Shakespeare might be a good band in another context, but this wasn't it.
We wanted to pay attention to Mon Khmer, we really did -- the minimalist brooding space-rock we peeped on their MySpace was interesting enough to get us out our door and into The End's at a reasonable hour, but we hadn't counted on the drunken disturbance that awaited. Midway through the band's first song, a fellow who was clearly blitzed out of his mind lumbered onto the floor and held our attention hostage. The crowd backed up a good 10 feet to give him and his one-man slow-motion mosh-pit dance moves some space. He occasionally lurched into the audience to pull someone into a clumsy waltz before slumping onto the edge of the stage to catch a second wind. By the time Mon Khmer was closing their set with a surprisingly spot-on cover of "Do It Again" by Steely Dan, three bystanders were carrying the dude out the door and we realized we had basically missed Mon Khmer's whole show. Sorry, dudes.
On the other hand, we're still trying to feel out the new De Novo Dahl. There are glimmers of the in-your-face pop hooks of the old band, and their inclusion of "Be Your Man" in their sets is a welcome reminder of the past. But with three keyboards (two keyboards and an omnichord, whatever), three guitars, two drummers and a lone bassist, you could literally draw a line down the middle of the stage and come out with two full bands. The songs sound good, for sure, but we wonder if they really need that much force.
After frontman Joel J. Dahl broke a string on the first song, the band filled the time with a description of their Full Deck Project -- 54 songs released weekly for a year -- which sounds like a lot of work. We've always known De Novo Dahl to be an ambitious band, and we hope they find their footing as the rock music Voltron that Joel described them as in last month's "10 artists to watch" cover story, because nine is a lot of robot lions to join together.