Saturday, March 17, 2012

SXSW 2012: DPR's Day Two [Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Built to Spill, Rubblebucket, Maps and Atlases and More]

Posted By on Sat, Mar 17, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Honestly, if you’re a fan of rock ‘n’ roll music and Bruce is on your confirmed agenda, it’s difficult to be anything but thoroughly psyched. Fellow Creamsters Adam Gold, Eric England and I woke up Thursday morning to find that we’d all won the lottery to see Springsteen that night at the W Hotel’s Moody Theater. As far as the rest of the day was concerned, it was all just Bruce’s undercard.

I found myself amid the familiar décor of The Stage for one of Paste’s showcases. Despite their name, Rubblebucket was not, in fact, a Blueshammer-y, classic-rock cover band that plays most of its gigs at a crawfish restaurant. As a matter of fact, they were rather good, with sax-playing frontwoman Annakalmia Traver leading them through a set of world-infused, dense dance pop. Rubblebucket (or Rub-buck, as I’ve taken to calling them) was like Yeasayer in that eclectic-Brooklynite sort of way, but with more sugary vocal melodies — a very feel-good sort of pop, rhythmically tight with a gigantic, blasting horn section and thick bass lines, and a bit like Graceland and Hall and Oates and Thriller all rolled up and presented in a bit of a cutie-pie, hipster-friendly way. They marched around the crowd at the end of their set as a pair of gigantic robot puppets made out with one another. Nice to start the day off with some spectacle.

Outside, We Were Promised Jetpacks (incorrectly announced indoors by some young lady as “We Are Jetpacks”) played to a swarmed crowd. I could barely make out their busy, up-tempo indie rock from where I stood, and thus opted instead to get a decent spot for Blitzen Trapper. As much as I’d like to enjoy the rootsy, alt-country indie rock of BT, it might as well have been Black Crowes to me. It was obviously much more idiosyncratic and wistful than a Crowes set would have been, but I personally have a difficult time getting enthused for alt-country. Anyway, they were really tight with exceptional vocal harmonies.

Back outside, Maps and Atlases were doing their really intricate and brainy indie rock thing — loads of finger-tapping and hammer-ons and syncopation and a great number of things I don’t know the technical terms for (ask a Berklee grad). M&A are very impressive, delivering tunes that are clearly difficult to play well, though they were indeed played well. It’s busy and scatterbrained and smart, and the frontman’s vocals made me think of Sufjan Stevens at times, though less insufferable.

Built to Spill
  • Built to Spill
But I could only catch 15 minutes of Maps, because inside, my personal hero Doug Martsch and his now 20-years-reigning outfit of indie-rock originators, Built to Spill, were set to decimate us. Somehow, I’ve missed B2S each time they’ve come through Nashville, despite the fact that Keep It Like a Secret was perhaps the only completely legit record that I bought in high school and still listen to (other than maybe OK Computer). And lucky me, they played KILAS’ “Time Trap,” not to mention There’s Nothing Wrong With Love’s “Distopian Dream Girl” and another fistful of ’90s classics, with true-to-form three-part guitar hooks and Martch’s Neil Young-gone-college-rock lead vocals. To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy to hear more new material, and while Martsch is known for his rather stoic delivery, no fanboy or fangirl in the room could have possibly been disappointed. Doug was even wearing a shirt with Kurt Vonnegut’s face on it. It’s like he crawled into my brain and awakened the few memories of my college experience that I actually still hold dearly. Thank you, Doug.

Gold and I then, ecstatically, headed over to the W Hotel. We soon discovered that — unlike the vast majority of Bruce appearances — there would in fact be openers. The Low Anthem makes dusty, Mumfordsy, forlorn Americana music that is deeply heartfelt and well-delivered. But it’s difficult for anyone to open for Bruce, obviously, and the Anthem was clearly humbled and deferent to be on the undercard for a living legend. I missed most of Texas legend Alejandro Escovedo’s set, as Gold and I were chatting it up with Nashville natives Jason Moon Wilkins (SoundLand honcho and PUJOL manager) as well as Chris Talbott (Associated Press entertainment writer).

Now, I’m of course going to leave the in-depth analysis of Bruce and the E Street Band’s performance to resident Bruce expert Adam Gold — it was his 16th time seeing The Boss, and his 17th will come tomorrow night in Atlanta. But — seeing as how this was only my second time seeing Bruce (third if you count witnessing at Bonnaroo from afar, which I hardly do) — I can tell you from a much less inside-baseball vantage how it went.

The thing is, if you care anything about where rock music is, has been and is going, then you have to bow down to the altar of Bruce in some form or fashion. From Woody Guthrie tributes (it was the folk singer’s 100th birthday) to appearances from Tom Morello (OK, sure), Jimmy Cliff (“Harder They Come”! Hell yes!) and The Animals’ Eric Burdon (damn it, I just missed that one), it was Springsteen’s trademark rock ‘n’ roll revue. Old ones like “10th Ave.” and new ones like “We Take Care of Our Own” were as enormously emotive (to the point of cheesiness, sure, but that’s the very point) as ever, and delivered with a now 16-piece E Street Band, featuring the late, great Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake standing in on saxophone.

Anyway, Bruce can elicit quite the visceral response from anyone who’s paying any attention and has even the most minuscule excuse for a heart thumping in his or her chest. So I left the Moody Theater drunk as a skunk, with tears in my eyes and my thoughts skewing big-picture — “I must tell her I love her!”, “I want to live a meaningful life!” and so on. I wandered up to The Iron Bear (a gay club on most days) for the Krian Records showcase with hometown road warriors The Ettes, as well as Suckers and VHS or Beta and some other loud, scuzzy rock ‘n’ roll. But honestly, my notes are utter shit, so suffice it to say I was riding high enough to float the 10 blocks back to my hotel, somehow purchasing a mystery empanada along the way, and likely over-tipping like a motherfucker.

So that’s Day Two. Day Three is also already in the bag, but I need to unjumble my thoughts on that one (Spoiler: Merge showcase and Dino Jr.!). We’ll see you again soon.

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