Also, I nearly burned my eyeball out of my head using a hydrogen peroxide-based contact solution that I didn’t realize was hydrogen peroxide-based. I think Gold thought I was having a stroke. Picture of the damage — plus my thoughts on Raphael Saadiq, Jason Isbell, Duran Duran, Smith Westerns, OFF!, Miniature Tigers, The Dodos, Times New Viking and plenty more — after the jump.
Our flight in was with the indomitable Mike “Grimey” Grimes of Grimey’s and The Basement, who’s the ideal kick-starter of party vibes, so long as your party consists mostly of whiskey on the rocks, spilling your drink and clowning on the flight attendants. Once on the ground, Gold and I managed to make it to the back end of the Panache Party at Scoot Inn. We heard one song from PUJOL and immediately spotted Turbo Fruits, Marissa from Screaming Females, TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone and Ashley Spurgeon’s little boyfriend, Aziz Ansari. Sets from Bare Wires and Thee Oh Sees were respectively vibrant and far-out. Solid, urgent, sweaty garage rock to kick things off.
Anyhow, recovering and rolling out, we headed toward the Chicken Ranch Showcase at Elysium. We first caught the Squirrel Nut Zipperous, Tom Waitsian sounds of Mr. Lewis and the Funeral 5, who sound like … I’d say a pork-pie hat and a shot of Fireball at 2 in the afternoon. They were followed by Chicken Ranch labelmates and longtime Nashville garage-rockers The Clutters, who were using what appeared to be a one-off organist, and played that funky, cowbell-riddled new one of theirs.Seth was there, too — where I caught a set from an especially talented young lady who happens to be my roommate, plus another set from baby-faced Jason Isbell (who was playing sans his 400 Unit). Amanda Shires was on fiddle, however, and the two sounded gorgeous together. On the back patio, Theory 8 honcho Aaron Hartley was doling out pearls of mildly cynical, mostly tongue-in-cheek wisdom regarding the music industry and just how taxing but necessary the prospect of playing SXSW is for young artists. “If you want to be a better person in life,” said he, “this is the worst place to be.” Our chat was cut short by the thumping sounds of some electroclash-y hipster-hop drifting over the fence from the next-door venue, Barbarella. Turns out it was the Rye-Rye-ish, Nicki Minaj-y young MC Dominique Young Unique, whose backing band consisted of two keyboard players — one of whom looked an awful lot like Alexis Arquette’s character from The Wedding Singer. “Show My Ass” was a standout number, if only for the hilarious contrast it provided: Nashville’s The Civil Wars were playing an earnest, harmony-laden version of “You Are My Sunshine” inside, and thus an inadvertent live mash-up — which I’m going to call “You Are My Ass”/“Show My Sunshine” — was born.
After that came some upscale dining at Spaghetti Warehouse with Adam Gold — don’t eat there unless you’d like your server to inappropriately try to lure you to some sort of bobo comic-book convention 15 miles away — and a set from Tristen and her Ringers at The Phoenix. Tristen’s a friend, so it would be inappropriate for me to wax critical regarding her performance. I will say, however, the addition of Chris Scruggs on drums was a pleasant one. At that point, some Cream Teamers split off to catch Bad Brains — definitely a respectable call.
An evening showcase at the outdoor Stubb’s stage was the highlight I’d been waiting for all day. Sound was surprisingly disappointing — only volume-wise — but Smith Westerns are still the glam-cribbing youngsters I thoroughly enjoyed watching at The End a couple months back. They’re much more practiced these days, however, as they were all Harrison-y lead guitar parts, shimmering instrumentation and casual indifference, sans the false starts and jittery looseness.
Being asked to step aside so Duran Duran could access the stage was certainly a “high” point — not that I’m saying I was, but if one were especially blazed as the crowd parted to make way for Simon Le Bon, it would probably be a singularly bizarre thing to witness. Anyhow, Raphael Saadiq was, as per usual, a stellar showman, with a world-class neo-soul backing band that’s worth seeing on any occasion. That said, the crowd seemed relatively unfamiliar with the tunes and anxious for some epic synthpop. To be fair, the night did in fact belong to Duran Duran, and the second Le Bon began singing the opening strains of “A View to Kill,” fortysomethings and irony-embracing hipsters alike were all too happy to dance into the fire, as it were. Honestly, I was shocked at just how impressed I was with Le Bon’s spot-on, unwavering vocals, and while I sometimes consider how frustrating it must be for an established pop band to have to hear requests for the same tune over and over again for decades on end, I don’t feel too bad for them: These dudes know people are always going to absolutely lose their shit over “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and that has to feel pretty satisfying. “Notorious” was delightful, as well, but I was particularly surprised not to hear “Rio.” Anyhow, late-night Wednesday also saw a set from Gold’s old pals Rooney back at Barbarella — Rooney quite clearly love both The Cars and Weezer, which is mostly OK by me.
My St. Patty’s commenced with a long haul over to Pitchfork’s #OFFLINE showcase, which I entered toward the close of The Fresh and Onlys’ set — they doled out some verby but tight pop tunes delivered through a psychedelic filter — which was followed by The Dodos. The Dodos, whose percussive, transfixing psychedelic folk has always tickled my fancy, played a set riddled with dexterous finger-picking and superb vocal melodies. Times New Viking, on the other hand, were considerably duller than anything else I saw. While I’ve enjoyed some TNV tunes in the past, I found their live show to be loose and muddled, with unimpressive doubled vocal melodies and a general aesthetic something like if Mates of State were less cloying, but also less rehearsed and naturally talented.
Now, I may not be the sort to listen to Los Angeles hardcore punk on any given day, but OFF! — featuring Black Flag/Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris plus a trio of fellow American punk legends — was an absolutely invigorating treat. Morris was positively O.G. and political, his band was ferociously tight — Their drummer? The dude in the Neu! shirt? Absolutely SICK — and their performance was the most special thing going on Thursday afternoon, especially considering the fact that OFF! debuted at last year’s SXSW. You can and should read Steve's thoughts on J. Mascis, as I couldn't have put any of that better myself. We were there to pay our respects, but in the end, without the other Dino boys, Mascis noodling on an acoustic guitar just sounds like a 45-year-old stoner noodling on an acoustic guitar.
The rest of Thursday was mostly personally disappointing, as I crossed the river with Steve and Gold for The Strokes, but missed The Strokes. (Gold soldiered on through the Third World-esque gate-crash scene and will report on their set later.) I also missed Wu Tang and Yelawolf at the Village Voice showcase Steve mentioned, opting instead to wander toward Red River Street. (I actually saw Yela skating TWICE yesterday.) At this point, Google Maps told me I'd walked somewhere in the vicinity of four miles in a matter of hours, and I stumbled into Emo's sheerly for a place to stop walking. There I happened to hear a San Franciscan outfit called The Magic Bullets, who performed lithe indie pop with a frontman who appeared to be going for a sunnier, more gleeful take on Morrissey or Ian Curtis.
I had a minor personal triumph, however, come midnight. Though I trekked to Lambert's with my girlfriend and a couple of buddies in order to see Miniature Tigers, we soon discovered it was wristbands and badges only, and my compatriots had none. Mildly delirious and willing to try anything, I discovered a service entrance to the upstairs/venue portion of the building, where my badge-less companions were able to enter without hassle. Sure, we had to sit through the perfectly vanilla sounds of The Rocketboys — yes, the band that used to be Homer Hickham and the Rocketboys, who befriended you on MySpace in 2004 — but we received a happy ending from Brooklyn's Miniature Tigers, whose Fortress I counted among my Top Three records of 2010. Yes, I embarrassed myself mildly by slobbering all over their frontman and more or less begging him to play Nashville, but Mini Tigers' psychedelic, disjointed and marvelously melodically enrapturing tunes were all worth it. And yes, they wrote part of Fortress while on mushrooms. (Hey, it works for PJ and the Bear, amirite?)
Late night meant back to Emo's for a set from adopted Nashvillians The Greenhornes. Richie Ghostfinger, Doug Clutters and plenty more solid Music City bros were there, Lone Stars in hand, feasting on the beastly rhythm section of The 'Hornes. I have notes from their performance here in front of me, but they appear to say something along the lines of "Keeler's Vistalites greenan awsom, lik them! Lol, no realllly iz like Sonics or MC5 ifay weree prettier. Y'know watti mean!" So, take from that what you will.
I have vague memories of falling asleep while watching Backdraft with Gold as Taylor from Rooney slept on our floor, and today has mostly been recovery day, as I prep to enter the fray once again. Wish me luck. I'll report back shortly.