Saturday, March 21, 2009

SXSW '09 - Day Three (Friday)

Day three was about redemption and legends. We've got a lot to pack into our last day, so I'm going to keep this to some quick hits. You can get the live play-by-play over at the Twitter feed here. But first...

We saw Metallica.

The worst kept rumor of the week was that the band might be playing at the Guitar Hero sponsored showcase. The scene around Stubbs was madness, with several semis, throngs of people filling nearby parking garages and lots of security. Not entirely my thing, but I guess my answer to the question "Would you walk across the street to see Metallica play a club show for free?" is "yes".

They were muscular and aggressive, playing favs like "One" and "Whiplash". Truly one of my most memorable SXSW moments.

Here's the other stuff we saw in mini-reviews:

New York Dolls: The night's other legends were playing a late night gig which was also too much to pass up. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain still deliver both the style and big tasty slabs of glam rock.

The High Dials: Had actually planned to spend the evening at Little Steven's Underground Garage showcase. But the venue was undersized for the crowd, the music started about 40 minutes late and I wasn't up for spending 6 hours in cramped close quarters, especially given that the metal gods were literally a block away. That said, The High Dials were very good at delivering their melodic pop and I'd like to see them again soon. It was also quite cool to have a Little Steven sighting since the Underground Garage is part of the foundation of what we do with Musical Justice.

King Khan and the Shrines: After the prior night's sound debacle, we decided to give them another shot. Amazing what a change in venue can do. Khan has one of the classic rock screams... one part Daltrey, one part James Brown. I could do without some of the more psychedelic stuff, but overall, this is shambolic, chaotic stuff.

Wavves: Some great songs, but not quite at the level of the best yet. I can see potential here once they have a couple more records under their belts.

Woods: Jangly, psychedelic pop with average performance and energy. Good but pretty much dime a dozen here.

Pains of Being Pure At Heart
: One of the biggest buzz acts playing one of their 10 or so shows. We've been a near miss at a couple of those shows so we made sure to catch them this time. Very good and likely one of the breakout acts from this year's SXSW.

The Black Lips: One of the most anticipated sets for me, but it left me cold. The internet's a buzz with the fact that Wu-Tang Clan's GZA joined them for 30 minutes of freeform over the Lips' beats. I get how that is pretty outrageous at the concept level, but GZA admitted that they hadn't rehearsed any of the performance. The Friday night @ 12-1 slot was probably the toughest choice of the entire week with competition from DEVO, Gary Louris & Mark Olson, Lady Sovereign, St. Vincent, Black Joe Lewis, The Hold Steady, The New York Dolls, Primal Scream and Dinosaur Jr. A little practice might have been nice. Just sayin'...

Here's some video from the Lips/GZA gig:

Grades: New York Dolls A-, The Black Lips with GZA C (Cool factor A, Execution D), King Khan and the Shrines A-, Pains of Being Pure At Heart B+, Wavves B-, The High Dials B+, Woods C, Metallica Heh heh heh... does it really matter?

Friday, March 20, 2009

SXSW '09 - Day Two (Thursday)

So what is it about Thursdays at SXSW? Last year, we got shut out of the Spin party and the Vampire Weekend day gig. This year, we make an attempt to get in first at the Paste Mag party and the line is easily 1/2 a block long and my badge fails to do it's usual magic despite an RSVP. Our fallback position is NPR's deal at the Parish. Another no-go. Sigh.

I've been thinking a bit about this because you'd never know that there's a bad economy by the volume of people at SXSW this year. The crowds have been equal to Friday-Saturday crowds in years past. But a closer look says that most of them don't have badges or wristbands. It looks like the vast number are here just for the free stuff. We've scarsely had any trouble in the evenings getting into venues and the number of badges looks to be down from my limited view. So, maybe the crowds of people looking for free entertainment is actually a sign of the recession? Just sayin'...

So anyway, we fall back to Plan C which is to head for the infinitely less-hip Austin Convention Center to camp out at the Day Stage there. Finally, we strike paydirt, as best we can, with a banjo-y rollicking set from Elliot Brood. We played a couple of tracks from his Mountain Meadows in 2008. It's reasonably fun and he seems a charming guy.

Following Brood is Justin Townes Earle, Steve's kid. J.T. performs sincere old-timey folk stuff with an occasional vein of humor. He sings better than dad. Wife doesn't typically like this kind of music but she gives it the thumbs-up at the end. That's a pretty good endorsement.

I'm a bit taken aback when Amy LaVere takes the stages. She's short... way short. And she's rocking a stand-up bass making her the only member of the tiny female lead singer/stand-up bass player club that I can think of. She's got a great big voice for such a small package.

So, I'm sitting there after LaVere, looking over the schedule and catching up on some of the Austin Chronicle's recommendations when the 4-piece Mumford & Sons start their set. One song in and I'm paying them full attention. A quick Google on my phone and I find out that the BBC has named them one of the Sound of 2009 -- one of the 15 top rising stars, a list that includes such buzz-worthy folks as Little Boots, Lady GaGa, Passion Pit & Florence and the Machine. I'd put them at the intersection of Arcade Fire, Coldplay and David Gray, which is a nice neighborhood to live in. A great find.

We decide to walk back to the room for a quick break which turns into nap time for my tough wife, who's been soldiering on despite a lingering cough and cold. SXSW is a bit of an endurance test, so one of the key rules is to rest when you can. The Von Bondies & Peter Murphy get scratched from the list. C'est la vie...

We rally in time to hit Latitiude 30, which is the home of all things British this South-by. I get to see Frank Turner, who was on my short list. Turner's a former punk anarchist turned Britpop/rock/folkie. Think Billy Bragg. He might be a bit too Brit for the US indie-fab scensters. We've been playing tracks from his Love Ire & Song for the past several months. I'd compare him favorably to The Frames for his rock-edged, nakedly honest anthems. He ends his set with a nifty cover of the Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone". A great set.

After that, I give the wife the choice between Vivian Girls (less than a block away) and Tori Amos (at La Zona Rosa, about 15 minutes walk) and I know which she's going to pick. We go for a walk... On the way, we spot Rolling Stone's David Fricke waiting in line outside Antone's. Someone please give this guy access, OK? New media world, indeed...

When we get there, I find out that this is the Sound Exchange showcase and I refuse to allow one of their nice people to put one of their "I'm Getting Paid" stickers on me. She wants to know why and I explain start to explain my position on internet radio and streaming music royalties when I realize that this exchange is not going to have a happy ending and walk away. I'm all for artists getting paid, but I can't help but wonder how much of my royalty payments are going to these kind of splashy marketing efforts.

The venue is about half full when finally walk in and Erin McCarley's just starting. She's one of those Gray's Anatomy soundtrack types and clearly influenced by Tori. She's talented and the crowd is eating it up with a spoon, but I'm rethinking the wisdom of two hours of piano-based chick pop. She covers Suzanne Vega's DNA remix of "Tom's Diner". Some guy in front of me is doing interpretive dance and Mr. Jazz Hands goes off the deep end when she follows the cover with something that I can only assume is a hit single.

To say this crowd is a bit enthusiastic would be an understatement... a bunch of them burst into applause when the bring Tori's grand piano out on the stage between sets. Folks, that's just being too easy. Then the lights dim, the crowd erupts as... Perez Hilton takes the stage? Hilton introduces Amos as "one of the most influential artists of all-time".

Amos is the real deal. No doubt. Probably the most pure musical talent that we'll see this trip. But the crowd... ugh? A real sign of this YouTube age that when she performs the intimate classic "Crucify", the stage view is almost completely blocked by the sea of tiny video screens trying to capture not just a single snapshot but the entire performance. So I resigned myself to watching it on one of those amateur vids...

The early "Crucify" gives the wife her raw meat and knowing that I've been getting restless, she offers an early exit. We move towards the door, but actually find an improved sightline and stay for a couple more songs. I look at the schedule and see that we might have a chance to catch the end of the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart set a couple blocks away. We hustle over, guess the wrong line for badges and see the last song over a fence. Seemed good, but too limited a sample to draw any conclusions... Off to walk back towards the Radio Room for the Sub Pop showcase...

We get back across town and gain easy access to the venue. Sparse crowd in the main room for Daniel Martin Moore. The guy's polite, mannered and looks like a missionary. Nothing bad, just nothing to keep people around. So we head in back to check out Vetiver. I'm getting fidgity and I'm thinking about Blitzen Trapper. And I start to realize that Sub Pop has gone Americana. Does that mean if Kurt Cobain was still around, he'd be doing roots rock? Time to look at the schedule and I see that King Khan & The Shrines is down the street. We scoot.

Decent enough venue, this Sun and Moon place. But the band is 15 minutes late to the stage and then once they start, we realize that the sound system is just inadequate. The crowd is yelling "turn it up" but I think these amps only go up to 7. The band is hot, ripping it up. But it sounds like they are at the far end of a tunnel. Quite a disappointment, but totally not the band's fault.

We decide to step outside as Little Boots (see previously mentioned BBC Sound of 2009 list) is playing right across the street and we might catch the last half of her set. As luck would turn out, she's had one of those typically long fussy set-ups that we've seen before from electronic/dance acts (see Goldfrapp, Lady Sov, White Williams, etc.). So we actually saw the first song. Stayed for 3. She's pretty good and sells it better than LadyHawke. I think we'll hear more from this indie dance diva.

Walking down 6th Street, we decide to pull the plug on the evening. Just having a hard time getting up for going back to the SubPop gig or giving Peter Bjorn and John a second chance at Emo's. So we head back toward the hotel. And I look at my map. The Woggles are playing just a couple blocks away from our place and remembering their performance in 2007 as one of the best of SXSW, that's just too good to pass up.

And it not only meets but exceeds our high expectations as the band gives Gallows a serious run for best of SXSW so far. Amazing stuff as the Mighty Manfred spends as much time as Frank Carter in the crowd. But Manfred's all about feeling the love, not throwing elbows. He's up on the bar, swinging the mic stand like a bandleader's baton, testifying to the power of their garage rock. Sweaty, energetic and tight -- this is a band that must be seen live. Just go... you can thank me later.

We've reached the half-way point. Twenty-one acts so far. Here's Thursday's marks...

Grades: Elliott Brood B-, Justin Townes Earle B, Amy Lavere B+, Mumford & Sons A-, Frank Turner A-, Erin McCarley B-, Tori Amos A, Vetiver C, Daniel Martin Moore C, King Khan & The Shrines (performance B+/sound F), Little Boots B, The Woggles A+

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW '09 - Day 1 (Wednesday)

The drive in across Texas was brutal... 6 hours @ 45 mph, recalling but not eclipsing the legendary 14 hour drive from 2005. Note to self: this is a message from the universe to fly next year, you cheapskate.

We did manage a last-minute hotel upgrade from our previous headquarters the past 6 years about 7 miles from downtown Austin. This year, we can look out our window and see the convention center. My feet will thank me later...

After checking in and getting our badges and lighter-than-usual swag bag, we do a quick walk-thru of the exhibit floor. On to The Cedar Door for a quick bite before the evening's festivities... Oh and a quick round of one of the fav SXSW games -- "Is That Somebody?"

Filled up on tacos, it's time for the first band of the trip. Gallows is playing at Emo's. The hope is that this will at least be better than the Wednesday night folkie debacle that started off the 2006 trip. Whoa! Frank Carter (#1 NME Cool List, 2007) is a very dangerous man, spending more time off the stage than on and challenging the "pathetic" industry wonks to make a circle pit. Elbows and snot gobs flying, Carter's literally at the end of his tether most of the show, stretching the mike cord taut like a barking dog at the end of his leash just inches away from us at times. Musically, the performance is snarling and sloppy, covering a lot of the same territory as Iggy or the Sex Pistols. But as live acts go, this searing gig is easily one of the most memorable of 10 years at SXSW.

We escape with our lives and head down to Vice for the Von Bondies/Peter Bjorn & John/Glasvegas sets. Once, we're there I remember that I hate this place. The room probably holds 500 people, of which about 100 can see anything. Given that we have options, we leave before the music starts and head to Stubbs to see Ladyhawke (#6 NME Cool List 2008).

The contrast between Ladyhawke and Gallows couldn't be more jarring. Ladyhawke is a shy, reticent performace who delivered her polite dance-pop without making a ripple with the large Stubbs crowd (likely waiting for the Decemberists @ midnight). Nothing bad, but I fear Frank Carter may have set the bar unreachably high at this point...

We move up close and find a great spot to watch Cincy's Heartless Bastards represent. Right before the first notes, two 6'10 (not kidding, I come up to their shoulders) swoop in with some chatty chick and render our sightlines moot. And I could deal with the twin towers, but she's talking loudly over the music and getting all the band names of the band's she thinks she wants to see wrong. Note to fans of I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness (or as she calls them "I Love Choosing The Darkness"), be ready...

The Bastards are solid. They've grown quite a bit as performers since I saw them on the tour for their last CD. The new music from The Mountain, also solid. And when Erika Wennerstrom wails, it cuts through the shadows created by the big men in front of us and even chatty Cathy shuts the fuck up long enough to notice there is actually a band on the stage.

But I'm getting antsy in those shadows and decide we should make another run at Peter Bjorn & John. After all, they played here about 20 times the last time they were here and we ended up missing them all. So, to get that monkey off our back, it's back to Vice and it's gotten worse. If possible, it's even more packed in and now the room temp is cresting at 120 degrees. More like a sauna, my view is literally a stone wall... oh and PB&J is late. Finally, 25 minutes after their original start time, they take the stage still fussing with their gear. They make it through the first song, ok. Second song is aborted. More fussing and the crowd grows restless. A slow trickle starts for the door, then a few more. Still no music from the stage we can't see anyway. We pull the plug.

By the time we get to the Radio Room, The Grates are better than halfway through an energetic set. Patience Hodson's got quite a voice, actually reminding me of a more-upbeat version of the Bastards. Definitely one of those surprises that makes SXSW worth it.

Viva Voce is next up. The Portland band also surprises, mining some of the same sonic landscapes as The Duke Spirit. Radio Room has a main stage and a patio stage, so we walked out to see Annuals. These guys are a little too quirky for my tastes, but they're winning the battle for crowd size about 3-to-1 over Viva Voce. I stay for 3 songs to give them a fair shot. Nothing really connects. My ever-patience wife agrees and we go back to hear the end of the VV's set.

At 1 am, Delta Spirit's on stage. This San Diego band's got a layered rootsy sound that's a bit like a grittier Wilco. I'm impressed and make a mental note to pick up their most recent CD, 2008's Ode To Sunshine. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see these guys step up on their next record.

Meanwhile, I'd planned to stick around to see Manchester Orchestra, having appreciated their garage-y indie rock sound on the tracks I'd heard to date. Their energy was strong. Maybe it was mine that was waning at this point, but again, just not really connecting so after 3 songs, it was time to call it a night.

SXSW 2009 is off to a roaring start...

Grades: Gallows A+, Ladyhawke C-, Heartless Bastards A-, Peter Bjorn & John I*, The Grates B, Viva Voce B, Annuals C, Delta Spirit B+, Manchester Orchestra B-

* Incomplete

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Adds: 3.15.2009

Some excellent new additions to the MJ playlist for the week of 3/15 include...
  • Art Brut - Art Brut vs Satan
  • Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
  • BLK JKS - Mystery
  • The Bitter Tears - Jam Tarts In The Jakehouse
  • The Boy Least Likely To - The Law of The Playground
  • Coma Cinema - Baby Prayers
  • Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen
  • The Dead Weather - Horehound
  • The Drones - Havilah
  • The Ettes - Danger Is
  • Fol Chen - Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made
  • Great Northern - Remind Me Where The Light Is
  • His Orchestra - Field Guide To The Wilds
  • The Isles - Troika
  • Julie Doiron - I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day
  • Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care
  • Justin Townes Earle - Midnight At The Movies
  • The Love Language - The Love Langauge
  • Marissa Nadler - Little Hells
  • Maximo Park - Quicken The Heart
  • Neil Young - Fork In The Road
  • Pete Doherty - Grace/Wastelands
  • The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage
  • Piers Faccini - Two Grains Of Sand
  • PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman A Man Walked By
  • Sam Roberts - Love At The End Of The World
  • Say Hi - Oohs & Aahs
  • Silversun Pickups - Swoon
  • The Silver Brazilians - Fender Car Disaster
  • The Strange Boys - The Strange Boys And Girls Club
  • Tyler Ramsey - A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea
  • The Yum Yums - Whatever Rhymes With Baby

Live Updates From SXSW 2009

Starting on Wednesday, we'll be posting live updates from SXSW in Austin, Texas. The most recent posts will be at the top of this blog page. You'll be able to find all the updates at our Twitter page:

If you're going to be in Austin, drop us a note and maybe we'll see you down there.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cheap Thrills: The Vines - Get Out

A free legal download from the upcoming Melodia (due 3/24)...

MP3: The Vines - Get Out

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cheap Thrills: Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

A free legal download of the title track from Middle Cyclone...

MP3: Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Listen To New Music: Various Artists - Dark Was The Night

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MJTV: The Presets - If I Know You

Dance-filled vid from Apocalypso...

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Cheap Thrills: Justin Townes Earle - Mama's Eyes

A free legal download from Midnight At The Movies (due 3/3)...

MP3: Justin Townes Earle - Mama's Eyes

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Bootleg Justice: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals Live @ Orpheum Theater in Boston, MA (2.21.2009)

Definitely a better set than the one he phoned in recently in KC...

Ryan Adams & The Cardinalrs
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, Mass

01 - (Intro)
02 - I See Monsters
03 - Everybody Knows
04 - Fix It
05 - Let It Ride
06 - Two
07 - Easy Plateau
08 - A Kiss Before I Go
09 - Wonderwall
10 - Come Pick Me Up
11 - (Band Intros)
12 - Peaceful Valley >
13 - Beautiful Sorta
14 - Evening Joke
15 - Freeway To The Canyon
16 - Goodnight Rose
17 - (Ryan banter)
18 - Grand Island
19 - Shakedown On 9th Street
20 - Rescue Blues
21 - Oh My God Whatever Etc.
22 - Stars Go Blue
23 - Magick
24 - Oh My Sweet Carolina
25 - Off Broadway
26 - Born Into The Light
27 - Down In A Hole

Text version of setlist
Zip file

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Sunday, March 01, 2009