EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON, OR NOT AT ALL

There is a reason why events unnerve anyone.  At SXSW everyone can find a different story.    And that story plays out differently with every choice you make.   Imagine: when you choose to eat at one restaurant you are turning down hundreds, if not thousands of deserving establishments in your fair city—at SX when you affirmatively head down one of many diverging roads to see a band, you are implicitly (but not knowingly) rejecting at least hundreds of other potentially deserving bands–each of whom you can hear groan when they learn they were not let in your tourney–at least on that day or that evening.  Simultaneously, you have created a path where anything could still happen–just be ready.

I am not a fatalist, I believe in luck and that an individual’s actions can increase the likelihood luck will migrate towards you.    Yet neither you nor an event’s organizers can account for something as unnerving as a tornado/severe thunderstorm such that even a behemoth like SX can be forced to head for cover.   On Friday night, this happened, forcing the closing of many outdoor venues and cancellation of many shows, including probably one I thought I was headed for.   Instead of cashing in and choosing NCAA > SX or some other show I grabbed an umbrella and stormed towards the alley entrance to Barracuda outdoor to find the gate shut.   So I decided to check out the Barracuda indoor entrance, even though it is usually a second and different venue at night, and was fortunate to learn the venue had  pivoted by choosing to combine two showcases into one by moving the outdoor showcases indoors–taping off an area in the middle of the floor as the “outdoor” stage.

By converting floor space into a stage, the Barracuda “backyard” showcase suddenly was transformed,  into the indie roots of SXSW, an intensely personal diy space with virtually no sound check, no monitors to speak of, an unmiked drum set and the band performing “in the trapezoid” face to face with themselves and/or the audience.   For Providence punks GymShorts, this eliminated stage diving–the lead singer/guitarist simply sang directly at, and moshed with guitar and the crowd.  Los Angeles’ Death Valley Girls (after a team huddle) chose an alignment where the lead singer and guitarists played and sang directly across from, at  and to the drummer–which created intimacy within the band as well as with those watching.   It imbued a stormy, blah kind of night full of long into a reaffirmation of what SXSW is all about–raw, new music, connection with performers and just a tinge of nervousness about what might happen next.   And that made all the difference.

OK, so what about the bands?

downtownDowntown Boys (Hole in the Wall) —  There is enough to write a whole separate article about Victoria Ruiz and her crew from Providence (how did that get to be a punk epicenter?).  They are a  fiery combination of anti-racist and pro-people diatribes served with a side of thick sax/guitar pulse activating both the body and mind to betterment.   The commentary/intros are as important, meaningful and entertaining as the songs, challenging  what right the Texas lawmakers or US Supreme Court have to tell people what they can or can’t do with their bodies, the importance of words and context, the meaning of Malcolm X, the evils of slumlords, and how Bruce Springsteen uses more punk words in his songs like “fire,” “burn” and “desire” than most “punk” bands.   In fact, even though many compare Downtown Boys to X Ray Spex because they are a punk band with a key saxophone player, Victoria pronounced that her band is closer to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!

Party Static (Volstead Room) — A chaotic, beautiful mess of a good time from Dallas, featuring two female vocalists who alternatively sing together and then AT each other with almost an accusatory nature reminiscent of Mika Miko.  They dance and bump into each other while roaming freeform  on top of a pulsing, driving backbeat and black and decker scuzzy guitars.

Fear of Men (Sidewinder)–The ethereal floating vocals of Jessica Weiss combine with the swirly guitar rhythms of Dan Falvey and intentionally off the beaten path drums to provide a haunting pop tableau.  About to release their second album, this Brighton group is focusing more on creating space for vocals, eschewing  hypnotic guitar interplay for dream time.

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Thee Oh Sees (Hotel Vegas-Outside).  Now in their 17th year at SX, John Dwyer and his psychotic garage rock express train about to go off the rails are one of my SX traditions of a decade or more!.   Basically playing in residence each day, either heading the afternoon at 6 pm or the evening at 1 am, they even started their She Shreds’ set early so they could play a longer set!   After changing the band completely last year (not necessarily for the best) John has re-adopted a double drum line up which allows a stronger and faster backbeat for his frenzied revved up Nuggets-infused raves.

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Haelos — (Space 2420-what used to be the backyard of Urban Outfitters) –A chill, kind of trip hop band from London that provides a shimmering, moody sound track for what the start or more likely is the end of a late night clubbing session.   Repetitive boy/girl vocals, electronica and percussion with some Edge guitar and  interspersed recorded historical voices to make you sway–lull your head, shoulders, and ultimately your hips, into submission.

cosmonautsCosmonauts — (Hotel Vegas Bar) These slackers from Santa Cruz are kind of the west coast version of Parquet Courts, able to outstone the Rolling Stones (think of an amped up Gimme Shelter).

Future Punx (Sidecar)–   Talking Heads and Devo are mashed together and brought to a new generation by Brooklyn (you tell me if they are hip or geek) sters.

charlesbradleyCharles Bradley  & His Extraordinaires (Stubb’s) — His escape from the Brooklyn projects is tracked in a 2012 documentary and now at 67, this soul singer is starting to hit the height of his popularity, using a full horn section to help him channel the energy of James Brown and the uplifting spirit of Al Green.    that can force you to shake your tail as he On “Changes” (a Black Sabbath cover) from his upcoming release, he slowly but forcefully preaches with bonechilling elegiac sadness about his mother’s passing.  He shows the breadth of human emotion with one voice and an earthy horn section.

Diet Cig (Hole in the Wall)  –A two piece drum and guitar group form New Paltz, New York, combines adolescent Liz Phair themes with early Wavves emotional power punk, punctuated by Alex Luciano’s whirling dervish kicks and leaps in between verses.  Infectious.

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Death Valley Girls  -(Barricuda–on the floor)-   Not letting the whole stage on the floor thing get them down, this LA band charged into their Cramp-infused insistent bloozy guitar grind and fluesy vocals including their song “No Reason” (from which I lifted the title of this piece).

oscarOscar (Space 2420)– You wouldn’t expect a tall Brit wearing a Disney-character jacket could deliver deep dark vocals and lush harmonies.  But when this English popstar gets revved up his music gets , dare I say, Smiths-like.

The Foreign Resort (Tiniest Bar in Texas)–Post punk dark wave dance music lives on in this band from Copenhagen, Denmark.  Propulsive early Cure lead bass guitars and automatic drums support roaring and chiming guitars and plaintive vocals about how “everybody is empty now” or how “you are my downfall.”  Depression can be so uplifiting!

Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression (ACL Moody Theatre).  I admit to being a late adopter of Iggy, but he certainly is one of the Seven World Wonders at this point.  A buzzsaw of energy, punching, kicking, preening, waving, daring the audience to come down an f__k him, stage diving–he is literally, figuratively and bodily busting at the seams to keep doing something.   Maybe that is the point: like his mentor that he is gonna go out fighting on his own terms.   But despite or maybe because of his electrifying persona, the sound of the new material from Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age did not quite do it for me–a bit too slick and not enough of the Iggy primal nature in the sound as in the performance and the feel.

People are always asking about how crowded SX has become after so many years and what impact that has.  The impact is significant.   Certain places, like Hotel Vegas, with, essentially 4 venues with 2 or 3 bands playing at once have now been “discovered” so that you need to get there early or wait in line or both.  And, you have to make a more considered decision if you leave, because you might not get back in.  Also, many day parties have become democratized, so that badges do not give you priority as often as they used to (another reason why badges are less relevant now).   Sometimes that means trying new or retrying old venues. For example, when downtown and east side got too crowded, I headed for the drag–by the University of Texas, where many of the same groups were playing to much smaller crowds.  I escaped there a few years ago and saw Wild Flag,  Times New Viking and an early version of Cloud Nothings in one of the best curated showcases, so it was time for a return visit!

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EXHUMING MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES TO BURY OUR 2015

Reflecting on a year marked by terrorism and racial tension, it is sometimes hard to divert focus from the dark side of the force and concentrate on the things that have made this a very good year. A family gathering. Helping a person in need. Hanging out in the sun or having a great meal with great wine and a great friend. Letting it all hang out on the dance floor–are all reasons to be cheerful.
When I look back on a year of music performance I can still see and feel excitement, hope and renewal (with a bit of anger) from both the stage and the audience. I don’t know about you, but there seemed to be more and more people at big shows having huge conversations during the band. Hello–aren’t we here to see/hear this show?! But, take a couple of steps away and you (that’s the royal “you”–me) can still be the one swaying, pogoing, dancing, thrashing and hopefully enjoying the pleasure of the individual and collective connection with the music. experience. Getting to know and bounce off your neighbor while enjoying the music and also making sure that the people around you are ok. A knowing nod of the head and smile. Girls (or shorter people) to the front! Thank goodness that with all the ideals shedding around us–some conscientiousness is still there!
While festivals can seem to dominate a year–and the performances at Riotfest, Pitchfork and even Lolla–thankfully delivered great and surprising (though again often literally, sonically and figuratively muddy) moments, the most indelible etchings in my brain come from intimacy and surprise.

Seeing the best punk bands from Chicago and Providence at a literally and figuratively underground diy music space in an unfinished basement in Pilsen. Walking up and asking the band members where to buy beer (a Hispanic market nearby), entering what might have been in earlier decades a shooting gallery, then tromping carefully downstairs to the basement–watch your head! Then to get blown away by two of the best new bands in the country (while continuing to watch your head-no pogoing!)–beats virtually all the big time corporate stuff.

The power of the Internet, happenstance, and a crowdfunding contribution brought a dark wave band from Copenhagen, Denmark to my living room (after I made them dinner) for an intimate show before they headed to the Burlington. Morten, the drummer used a snare drum and covered his luggage with a tablecloth to make an atmospheric sound, and I felt compelled in the moment to break out some percussion so the four person audience could participate.

Johnny Thunders probably said it best–“You can’t put your arms around a memory” –but I guess like surviving statesmen Mick and Keith, I’ll try (tra, tra, tra, tra, try that is)–at least this time to bearhug bits of my year.
Here are some of the memorable performances I was able to encounter by plan or luck in 2015.

SLEATER-KINNEY (Spokane, Boise, Milwaukee, Chicago (Riviera and Pitchfork) and Brooklyn (2) February- December).

There is 4 dimensional excitement born from experiencing something new. Which is why I headed to Spokane and Boise to see Sleater-Kinney do their first shows after a nine year hiatus. During that time Carrie Brownstein became an NPR icon, a TV celeb and an American Express commercial feature as well as performing in the great garage band Wild Flag. Janet F’ing Weiss played with Steve Malkmus as well as Wild Flag, and Corin Tucker had her own band and raised her two kids. The density of expectation about what the resumption of Sleater-Kinney would bring was paralyzing. What I found in all 7 shows was a band that was hungry, furious and excited to play to a new generation of fans as well as its long term followers. This was anything but a greatest hit tour to cash in. Corin has not lost any of her brilliant howling voice, and Carrie and Corin’s guitars continue to smash and play off and around each other while leaving space while Janet remains one of rock ad roll’s fiercest drummers. Their only concession to age or success is bringing on a fourth member to play guitars, keyboards and some drum–which makes the rest of the bands’ job easier but sometimes clutters the sound. They can have fun, too, finishing the year with covers of the Ramones’ Merry Xmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) while featuring a menorah on stage, and Rock Lobster, with Fred Armisen playing Fred Schneider. Most importantly, S-K’s new songs are fearless, filled with Clash-infused quick reggae, Gang of Four angular slashing, challenges to individual relationships and society but most importantly, presenting in lyrics and performance the joy of banding to play rock and roll together-again.

ALGIERS (Schubas, June 15).

An amazing genre mashing band from Atlanta and London that combines gospel, work songs, Motown, claps and post-punk . The music is assertive, restless, and yet ready to explode. Lead singer Franklin James Fisher channels the soulfulness of Curtis Mayfield and the Temptations with a somber, soulful yearning that matches the strain on his face, reflecting on past and present racial struggles. Seeing them on the night the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup created a haunting, surreal dichotomy of the range of euphoria, struggle and the violence both can bring to fruition.

PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED (Concord Music Hall, November 18).

Sometimes I wish I had the power to clue a younger, dance-oriented crowd to hear a progenitor band. In the case of Public Image Limited–they probably played the best dance set I heard all year. The psychedelic saz played by Lu Edmonds overlaying a pulsing thick-chest banging dub bass propelled the crowd into a trance making this the dance show of the year, while Johnny Lydon (Rotten) –looking like an escapee from a chain gain for the sunburnt obese chanted club classics like This is Not a Love Song and rants on society like Religion.

FOLLAKZOID (Empty Bottle, May 13).

Hard to believe that the most trans-euro krautrock band around comes from Santiago, Chile. But coming from German parents and being raised on Can and Kraftwerk, the dark, pulsating psychedelic droning does not stop with each mindblowing 10 minute song. Coincidentally, and not that you can’t trust me, but I was talking to a Williamsburg blogger at the great bar Sycamore in what, by day is a flower shop in Ditmas Park. He saw more than 160 shows this year and said his favorite was Follakzoid!

WIDOWSPEAK (Chop Shop/First Ward, October 13).

Ethereal waves flow from Molly Hamilton’s voice and Robert Earl Thomas’ guitar. You want to sway and follow along with them as they walk through dark forests to find that space of sunlight the tall pines cannot block or cross the river gurgling just over the rocks or to a small waterfall. Some light and sometimes edgy surf or atmospheric guitar, some Mazzy Starr-esque vocals and you have the zen you have been looking for.

NELS CLINE (Constellation February 21).

Better known today as guitarist for Wilco, Nels Cline has a world wide reputation as an avante garde/noise musician. This cool performance group included the incredible cellist Fred Lonborg-Holm, drummers Mike Reed (who deserves a standing “o” for bringing back Hungry Brain) and Wilco’s Glenn Kotchke. As hard as it is to explain most music in words, the atonal staccato chaos with harmony and symmetry when you least expect it can be appreciated even by an old punk like me–even though it is not in my “sweetspot.” The most unusual piece de resistance was artist Norton Wisdom who created temporary pieces throughout the show inspired by the music. That’s something more bands might try, it adds another visual dimension to performance and perception.

NEGATIVE SCANNER (Cole’s, Empty Bottle, Mt. Happy, probably somewhere else I can’t remember)

Chicago’s best live band continues to put on thirty minute shows of propulsive frenzy of energy. The short, sharp and cutting chords and bellowing vocals of Rebecca Valeriano-Flores go straight from the gut and in your face, but it is the collective force of the entire group’s sound that makes you want to bounce and jump some cars. They put out its first record this year–check it out!

GANG OF FOUR (Park West March 13, Thalia Hall)

While Andy Gill is the only remaining original member of the band–he can pretty much carry the essence of the sound such that it does not seem like a simulacrum. I’m no gun enthusiast, but I’ll let Andy play his searing submachine gun blasts over the chugging, churning bass engine that provides the dual sensation of frenetic dance fever and brain piercing needles. With his new band of youngsters they could re-release To Hell With Poverty and probably have a dance hit.

An aside. Actually, one of my best moments of the year-dj-wise–was playing To Hell With Poverty at a private party sponsored by a very large software company. With a bunch of blue shirts in the crowd, and after having been told by the “party planner” in a fake British accent “I really like what your going to play, except the punk” -I stuck it to them just a bit with To Hell With Poverty and The Bush Tetras– Too Many Creeps!

MPV (Cole’s, January 29)

This grungy, rock and roll trio gives you the kind of sound you’d expect from Detroit. Bluesy, hard, grinding riffs. Lead singer and guitarist Elise McCoy combines a Joan Jett attitude, sunglasses, headbanger hair and sultry and savage vocals which distinguish them from the pack. One of the best opening bands of the year.

MEKONS (Square Roots Fest, Hideout July 11-12)

Exemplifying very quickly that the Mekons considered this year’s Chicago shows to be seriously important. Sally Timms announced that anyone interested in on-stage banter could purchase a CD of banter from the merch booth–which was true! Over the last decades that (pseudo husband and wife business) banter between her and her fellow UK escapee and Chicago resident Jon Langford was humorous, but often detracted from the music. Dispensing with the conversation meant that the Mekons launched into some of their best and strongest songs without any time outs, segueing their honky tonk punk songs–merging guitars, saz (Lu again!) violin and, accordion to create a driving alt-punky/country-ish sound to put on their best show in more than a decade, grab on to their legacy and show that they are not ready to be put out to pasture.

THE FOREIGN RESORT (My house and The Burlington, October 19)

Channeling new wave bands like The Cure, Simple Minds, New Order, U2 and The Bravery, this trio from Copenhagen synthesizes it all to create something meaningful and new. Alternatively plaintive or insurgent vocals from Mikkel Jakobsen ride the dark wave with emotional takes on excess, loneliness and relationships. They’ll be back in Chicago in March on their way to SXSW.

WIRE (Thalia Hall, June 12)

For some reason, I have never been that into Wire. Even though many of the bands that I admire consider them to be a major influence. As part of their 3 day Drill Festival, they opened for themselves as The Fly and put on a fast, raw, scathing, staccato guitar fest that put me into believer mode.

JULIE RUIN – Pitchfork

Back on the road after cancelling a tour due to her recurring Lyme Disease the Original Riotgrrl Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre) played on a side stage–which was kind of ironic since her Sleater-Kinney students were the headliners–but who really cares. Kathleen struts her stuff–ranging from Polystrene/X Ray Spex punk to sultry soul, without losing her sense of humor or political bent.kathleen

IGGY POP– Riotfest

Iggy is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. At 68, he is still totally ripped–in muscularity and music (and who knows, probably mentally), but is one of the most charismatic performers in music of any day. Pulling out the stops, his leather jacket was off almost immediately–giving a no bs onslaught of No Fun, I Wanna Be Your Dog, The Passenger and Lust for Life–right off the bat. He could have stopped right there and given one of the best shows of the year-but he kept kicking butt–as I hope we all will be able to do.

 

 

 

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IN A BATTLE OF TITANS, ART BEATS COMMERCE IN A SHOOTOUT @ SXSW 2015

“To Hell With Poverty,” the Gang of Four tells us, “we’ll get drunk on cheap wine.” In 1981, when the song was first recorded, the literal context was king in that Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for 2 years in the UK and poverty ruled.   Fast forward to Austin, Texas, 2015.   The air is thick with irony.   The problem with the post-punk anti- capitalism ethos in this context is that the band is playing at SXSW on a stage adorned with the logos of dozens of global megabrands, drinking moderately expensive (and definitely overpriced) beer, funded by tens of thousands of trade show attendees, each of whom (or their employers) shelling out thousands of dollars to attend. The Gang of Four is down to one original member, touring to support a new album attempting, at least in part, to generate cash. So much for the poverty. A lot has changed. Society is different today. The music industry is different. Andy Gill is different (but still stoicly awesome). I’m different. Even cheap wine is different.    Yet just like the song, SXSW has got its political and socio-economic incongruities, but it is entertainment–it has an irresistible proto-disco beat you can dance to.

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What does Andy Gill stand for?

So there lies the context and conflict for the annual death match between art, entertainment and commerce that keeps me coming back year after year for my own death march of music.

I have written about the musical smorgasbord of SX and how merely choosing one band, or doing one thing, conceivably x’s you out of the potential opportunity to see at least a hundred of other bands, pretty much any time between 12 noon and 2 am.   And that is just the stuff you find out about. In all this ruckus and the sea of Joy Division t-shirts, connecting the dots in Austin is increasingly difficult. Venues have expanded geographically in all directions so that a 20-30 minute walk won’t do it like it used to. The East Austin neighborhood is continuing to expand and get gentrified when as little as five years ago some parts were pretty darn sketchy. Also, every house on Rainey Street is a reasonably substantial venue or party bar, such that the notorious main part of 6th Street, though still overcrowded, has coincidentally become less and less relevant.

Because of the geographic challenges a day of rain, and, ok, I hurt my ankle playing basketball so racing all over town did not seem as fun, I made a strategic cultural decision–sometimes I just stayed in one place or area and let the music come to me. It’s sort of like that cocktail party strategy–do you work the room or stay in one place?

Stay in place works best at Hotel Vegas, with 4 separate stages and great showcase and party curators and is also next to other good Eastside venues like Gypsy Lounge   The right showcase sponsor can help you find new music in a sea of unfamiliar names. The right booking agency, record company or blog (e.g. Flower or Windish of Chicago, Panache, Burger Records or Brooklyn Vegan) put on solid showcases and day parties. Smaller specialty publications, record companies or record stores also provide good points of reference. She Shreds magazine for example, can clue you into girl guitar bands and had several showcases, including a party at someone’s mom’s house out in N.E. Austin— you really had to be careful not to stand on the vegetables!

Once you make a decision–even if it is not to decide, serendipity works too, and I always plan for it. It is still exciting to hear music coming out of a window or door and then running in to hear what is going on.   This year I was walking down East 6th Street at around 3 pm on Wednesday going from the Gypsy Lounge (Death Valley Girls and Ice Age) to see Alex Maas one of the guitarists in the Black Angels do a solo acoustic set at the Levitation showcase when I heard hazy, chiming guitars bashing their way out of Hotel Vegas and caught my ear.   I ran in to hear Austin girl band Kay Odyessy perform to a handful of people.

Not only were Kay Odyssey a great sunny day psych girl guitar band, but they had the original indie aesthetic. At the end of their set they had “tease” CDs to give away in advance of their first album, each one was handwritten with the band’s information and designed in black magic marker.   It’s a three song CD I would love to recommend if it were available, but something should be out later this year.

Other than the crowds, the only thing I really have a beef about are selfie sticks. I totally understand why festivals are banning them. In the mosh pit at The Damned some dude pulled one out and it was definitely a safety risk. No one wants to get impaled in mid-thrash.

This year in addition to Austin bands, I heard groups from Mali, Korea, Japan, Australia, Spain, Denmark, Canada, and yes even Chicago.

And, despite the big money and brands out there, all of the bands reviewed in this article (except The Damned, I think) could be seen for free without a badge or wristband!

So what about the bands? Out of the 50 + I saw, I enjoyed aspects of almost all of them. Here are some random categories.

SUNNY DAY BANDS (in addition to Kay Odyssey)

Alvvays (Mohawk)

With lazy, hazy lilting female vocals over a light Jesus and Mary Chain haze this Toronto group provides a soundtrack for the Summer.   Their “Marry Me Archie” is one of the catchiest and best songs of 2014.

Best Coast (Palm Door)

Bethany Cosentino’s LA sun drenched songs are another Summer staple. Live her band features a three guitar army adding power to some songs that sound a bit too sugary in their recorded form.   Her new work appears to have more of a psychedelic feel.

GARAGE

Death Valley Girls (Gypsy Lounge)

The Cramps meet Runaways with raunchy power chords, a biker vibe, dual lead female vocals and dueling guitars from this LA band. They just released their first album Summertime and are definitely worth checking out.

Twin Peaks (Waterloo Records)

Don’t mistake them for a David Lynch loving group of brooders.   After playing together since high school, these fuzz-tone hard garage rockers are more Black Lips than black high heels, creating chaotic energy in every performance.   Drummer Connor Brodner has that, its me vs. the drums explosive intensity, while the rolling stoner riffs keep flowing from the guitars.

Twin Peaks

The Shivas (Mohawk Indoor)

If you are looking for great riffs, from soul to garage or british invasion blues, this Portland-based three piece mines that 50s/60s classic territory–think Link Wray, The Sonics, Yardbirds for a psychedelic freak out you can shake your tail feather to–think shivers not shivas!

DANCE

Public Service Broadcasting (Latitude 30)

This UK two piece combines Kraftwerk-esque droning and pulsing autobahn electronica with live drums and, surprisingly, banjo. Visual effects are an outstanding add to the aural as they time their music to British war and space race videos.   It makes for great dance music to (no pun intended) space out to.

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Prince Rama (Container Bar)

These two sisters currently from Brooklyn claim to channel ghosts and perform exorcisms within their music and dance routines.   But , what really matters is that they dish out middle east infused trance dance combining EDM, guitar and drums for the aerobics class of your life (or afterlife).

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Lust for Youth (Volstead Room at Hotel Vegas)

If Depeche Mode and New Order are cup of tea, then add a little reverb noise and this Swedish synth dark wave Euro(nu)disco band is for you.   Make sure to wear your black sunglasses for full effect.

PUNK/POSTPUNK (Dance for some)

Gang of Four (Day Stage)

Though they are down to one original member, and their new material is a little bit new romantic for my taste, Andy Gill is still one of the greatest guitarists of any era, and is certainly the most stoic post punk guitarist.   The original songs are bass-led and bass-laden dance numbers shattered by staccato rifle burst and searing guitar courtesy of Mr. Gill.   Even as the Gang of One they are worth listening to–especially live.

The Damned (Mohawk outdoors)

Reuniting for a victory lap associated with the release of the documentary “The Damned: Don’t’You Wish That We Were Dead”, unfortunately the band was undercut by rented equipment and probably a lack of practice.   Captain Sensible looked as outlandish as usual in fur coat, beret and yellow sunglasses, but again demonstrated his deft, slashy guitar work on hits “Wait for the Blackout” and “Smash it Up.”   Dave Vanian was dressed in his mortician outfit but his vibe did not meet his look, and other than a couple of songs, the band was unable to build upon its legacy.

Metz (Mohawk Outdoor)

This three piece from Toronto appeared before the Damned and proved to be a hard act to follow.   Furious, intense and relentless punk (but not hardcore).   If you have angst to get rid of this is your band.

Rat Fist (BD Riley’s)

Winner of the worst band name, but not to be ignored are No Age’s guitarist Randy Randall and Pissed Jeans drummer’s Sean McGuinness’ side project.   Sludgy, surfy hard rocking punk chords flow from Randy without all noise and effects in No Age.   Brings me back to the first wave of LA punk–Agent Orange, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, etc.

OUTSTANDING OTHER

The Zombies (Stubbs)

If you combine the ages of original keyboardist Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone with bass player Jim Rodford (not original, but apparently, he auditioned for the job, did not get it and ended up being bass player for Argent and The Kinks), you get 212, and they have been together for over 50 years.   When I saw them a few years ago they sounded like lame Steely Dan, but in a tribute to their craft, the band has improved substantially by touring and recording in the interim. Rod Argent showed his artistic excellence by pulling off two of the best keyboard solos I have seen in a long time on Time of the Season and She’s Not There. Whatever age you are, those hits and Tell Her No are soulful, groovy, butt rocking tunes that can set you free.

The Lemons (Beerland)

These happy go lucky troubadours combine hootenanny boy/girl harmonies of Greenwich Village folk heroes like Peter Paul & Mary and The Washington Squares with singsong pop rhythms and simple, every day lyrics like Jonathan Richman. The combination creates sweet sonic nuggets. Like a half minute song bite about a trip to the ice cream shop that catches one sunshine smiley moment so well, they played it again.   If you are too old for Mr. Rogers, just put on your sunglasses, grab a cool drink, and sing sha la la background vocals so you can be a Lemon too.

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Songhoy Blues (Hotel Vegas Patio)

Mali is known as the home of the blues in Africa, but unfortunately, the country is currently a sea of unrest. Fighting adversity, this group formed in 2012, and combines traditional jump beat rhythms with Hendrix electric riffs and Booker T & the MGs rhythm, blues boogie –a lively unique sounding combination worthy of more attention.

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OLD, NEW, CLOSE AND FAR AWAY—MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES OF 2014

Last year there were many memorable/euphoric experiences, some that came when I least expected it. Like when walking out of an art party in Hong Kong where I was drinking beet and pomegranate juice mixed with vodka and served in blood bags (ok–it was an apocalyptic party), I just happened to look at the list of performers so I could see if the DJ I heard of was someone famous–he wasn’t, but lo and behold the next performers were Rebuilding the Rights to Statues–Beijing’s Number One post-punk band. So, of course, I told my friends that I was staying and heard a short and great show of Gang of Four-inspired angst, B52s dance, with some electronica mixed in. Crazy. Or the Danish dark wave dance band that just happened to post on Facebook that it was looking for a gig in Chicago that night.
And, just as you remember both great and shitty meals, or particularly excellent or poor service, indelibly etched in my mind are the 12-18 inch globs of mud I trudged through at Riotfest and the very scary salmon-walking upstream necessary to navigate and escape Riotfest–so bad it came very close to turning me off large festivals entirely (not to mention the bad time and 30 minute time slots for The Buzzcocks and Kurt Vile). But as Tuff Darts said it best–It’s all for the love of rock and roll.
Here are some of the memorable performances I was able to encounter by plan or luck in 2014.

PERFORMANCES BY “OLD” BANDS

THE SONICS Double Door –February 27.
Formed in 1963 (and breaking up for the first time in 1967) this originally Seattle-based band still has 3 of its founding members, including singer/piano player Gerry Roslie. While they have influenced artists ranging from The Cramps, The Clash and The Fall all the way to Nirvana, The White Stripes, Japandroids and LCD Soundsystem–what really counts is that they can still deliver the goods live. At 70 years of age Roslie belts out his lyrics like Little Richard at a sock hop and Larry Parypa lays out the sharp dirty chords that inspired generations of guitarists. This grungy and garagey band can still send out shivers of frenetic dance waves. From “The Witch” you can hear the origins to the main riff in “Should I Stay or Should I Go” from “Strychnine” a long line of songs about recreational substance abuse, and their authenticity can even make the frat rock standard “Louie Louie” palatable and fun again, to give us all hope for our future.

TELEVISION- Bottom Lounge, September 14
Playing Guiding Light, my second least favorite song from Marquee Moon, Tom Verlaine launched into perhaps the best guitar solo I have ever seen. I looked at the two friends I was with–one of whom is an excellent guitarist in his own right–and they were looking at me with the same expression of awe. Verlaine remains one of the most creative guitarists, bending strings and creating sounds ranging from space to jazz, to noise and back to staccato bullets. Now that the new version of the band has been playing consistently for over a year they are able to give transformative vibrance and free improvisational reign Verlaine which adds new life to these vintage arty, punky and proggy compositions.

NEW ORDER Aragon Brawlroom–July 1
While I admit to being a Joy Division purist (or “snob” perhaps?) it is great to have the opportunity to suspend my earthly existence and just flat out let go. The thickest and best sound I have ever heard at the Aragon was New Order’s. It is actually amazing how fresh Temptation (the lead song from my soundtrack of the Summer of 1982) felt. These guys’ performance (and that of Kraftwerk below) show what dance music should be like. Definitely the sweatiest/danciest show of the year for me.

KRAFTWERK Riviera–March 27.
How could 4 old German dudes standing almost motionless behind consoles be SO EXCITING?! Pulsive rather than propulsive, you could just feel the sound that influenced 40+ years of trance/dance music to follow. There was a cool 3D light show with angular lights and symbolistic graphics for each song, but you could also just close your eyes and take your own intergalactic journey instead of the autobahn being provided.

PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT–Metro November 14
Original Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook has created a simulacrum to compete with his former compatriots. On this tour they played a Joy Division opening set (curated by Joe Shanahan) and then moved on to New Order. While an excellent cover band, in my mind they do a much better job of pulling off Joy Division than New Order in terms of the respective bands’ sound. Hook mugs and shouts for the crowd while sometimes playing the lead bass riffs that formed the foundation of JD’s sound. Of course, no one can replace Ian Curtis in sound and action which makes Hooky’s job quite difficult. But, his energy and enthusiasm, together with great and unique lead bass playing keeps the experience at a level of quality and comfort well above Las Vegas cocktail lounge impersonation.

BRYAN FERRY –Chicago Theater–September 21
At 69, he does not make women swoon as much as when I saw him at the Uptown in 1978, but he still is one of the most charismatic crooners around, striking poses with his lanky profile and dancing with an economy of motion when not behind the piano. His band didn’t have Manzanara or Mackay type virtuosi, but turned out lush versions primarily from the Roxy Music catalog with some of his original solo stuff and packed a little bit of punch, making you wish the theater had more room to sway.

JONATHAN RICHMAN- Space –June 16
Just like when the Ramones were constantly touring and semi-ubiquitous, I think you can take Jonathan for granted sometimes. But this progenitor of punk turned troubadour, Jonathan is still curious and engaged as he half talks and half sings his sincere and often whimsical odes to bygone times other cultures and relationships, both of the interpersonal relationships and even our own intrapersonal ones. In “Let Her Go Into the Darkness” he catches his feet walking into his old girlfriend’s neighborhood and scolds himself, while in “Bohemia” he transports himself back to being a 16 year old pretentious artist who his parents let hang out in Harvard Square. There are not too many artists that can make you laugh and cry so much in one show.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS- Concord Music Hall–September 12
Still punk and political after all these years. In between an afternoon Riotfest gig and a show in Cleveland the next day, this second wave punk band led by now Chicagoan Jake Burns delivered a blistering opening set in a Riotfest aftershow. SLF reminded us of how reggae beats supported the punk ethos hitting hard with viscous 30+ year old anti-war (Tin Soldiers, Nobody’s Hero) and anti-discrimination (Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae and the Specials Doesn’t Make it Alright) songs. Even their song from their new album (and first in 11 years) sounded vibrant and meaningful. It reminded me of when I used to call Green Day a Stiff Little Fingers cover band.

THE CLEAN-Lincoln Hall–August 18
This cultish band from of all places New Zealand band specializes in a pulsing beat combined with driving harmonic, chiming and sometimes dissonant guitars. The weirdest finish of any show this year occurred when guitarist David Kilgour refused to come out for the encore and his brother Hamish successfully solicited singers and ultimately an awesome guitarist from the audience to finish up the song–totally breaking down the barriers between performer and audience in the ultimate DIY performance.

YOUSSOU N’DOUR-Vic Theater–September 20
Perhaps the most famous singer alive–at least according to Rolling Stone–N’Dour is barely known in the US apart from a collaboration with Peter Gabriel In fact, most of the members of the audience were Africans dressed to the nines in wild prints and neon suits. Youssou and his huge band delivered a 2 + hour set of booty shaking percussive world dance music combining the traditional music from his native Senegal with influences from samba to hip hop. After every few songs he would ask the audience if they had had enough, and sure enough we wanted more–and he kept delivering.

ANTI-FLAG -Riotfest
Only performing for 22 years, makes this Pittsburgh based punk band almost “newish” by comparison. Unabashedly political yet community oriented, they see everyone as human beings–stopped the show to make sure that the mosh pit was safe, and had everyone introduce themselves to their neighbors. Ultimately, they moved their drum set to the middle of mosh pit and finished their show from there.

PERFORMANCES BY “NEW-ISH” BANDS

FEAR OF MEN -Empty Bottle–April 28
Hypnotic, swirling, dreamy rhythms of the band supported Jessica Weiss’ visceral poetry and ethereal vocals. Many songs start off slow but build in intensity carrying you up and away with the repetitive spirals of sound. Reflections on depression and difficult relationships never sounded so beautiful and haunting.

CEREBRAL BALLZY -Riotfest-September 14
Part chaos, part poseurs and part punks. These hard core slacker kids from Brooklyn are amazingly fun to watch and thrash to. They have a fresh energy and are a throwback to the original punk ethos. Writing songs about not having enough money to get on the subway. In between songs, lead singer Honor Titus gave shout outs to the Art Institute girls.

THE JULIE RUIN–Lincoln Hall– April 9
Original Riotgrrl Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre) struts her stuff–ranging from Polystrene/X Ray Spex to sultry soul, without losing her sense of humor or political bent. She had to cancel her Pitchfork performance because of her Lyme Disease, but will hopefully make a full recovery and be back here soon.

JUAN WAUTERS–Empty Bottle–June 18
This Brooklyn based troubadour is better known as the lead singer of the Beets, but solo he wields his guitar and flashed a lightbulb against himself and the backdrop of an American flag to create very cool simple imagery and claim lineage to being a hipster Woody Guthrie or Billy Bragg.

COSMONAUTS–Hotel Vegas–March 15
You have to like any band that calls their album Persona Non Grata, but these slackers from Orange County have two separate speeds, droney shoegaze and driving chiming psychedelic pop. Somehow both speeds come with different varieties of disaffected stoner vocals and rhythms that make your head nod.

THE FOREIGN RESORT—Burlington October 21
This was the surprise of the year! Playing Daytrotter, this band from Copenhagen Denmark put a note on Facebook that it could use a gig THAT NIGHT in Chicago, and wow–Thank you Burlington! This trio drilled post punk dark wave dance right out of the Sisters of Mercy school with some New Order in there too.

ETERNAL SUMMERS–Bottom Lounge –May 18, Promontory–October 12
This indie rock and power pop trio from Roanoke, Virginia reference various phases of the Cure really well but substituting strong female vocals. Nothing wrong with any of that plus bouncy dance music and anthemic power chords to boot.

THEE OH SEES–One Eyed Jacks–November 12, Empty Bottle–November 25 and 26
Jon Dwyer has (unfortunately) replaced his entire band. His new stripped down power trio sometimes sounds like a cover band, but still brings on grungy, raunchy, psychotic and fast rock and roll music to stomp to.

DUM DUM GIRLS–Bottom Lounge–July 19; Empty Bottle–March 31
Ranging from surf-edged girl group guitar infused indie pop to resolute or unresolved ballads of love, loss and failure, no matter how many times I see Dee Dee Penny (6 times this year alone) I marvel at her strong stage presence. She has the ability to provide a stoic dark glare yet conveys so much lyrical and vocal emotion. Ultimately, like all of us she just doesn’t want to fade, she just wants to shine. Her band (with the addition of a Dum Dum guy this time around) helps to traverse darkness to light and sometimes back again. The emotion hits you along with the beat, and when the beat picks up you smile.

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING SYSTEM–Gypsy Lounge–March 12
This band is a pretty cool audio-visual mix of driving dance music (a bit faster than Kraftwerk or EDM) comprised of drums, electronics, keyboard, guitar and banjo interjects combined with vocal samples and images from old UK public information films around. The anachronistic images gel with the music create a unique sensory experience.

HABIBI–Bottom Lounge–September 18
Combining surf and psychedelic, and Middle Eastern, indie pop rhythms, this elemental all female Brooklyn based band (with members also from Detroit) entrances with a chiming, retro-sensual beat.

TOP LOCAL BAND PERFORMANCES IN 2014

NEGATIVE SCANNER—Promontory, Burlington, Owl, Saki, Cole’s, Empty Bottle- you name it.
It is hard to find a more power packed 30 minutes than the howling, scathing post punk assault you get.

BARE MUTANTS– Schubas January 17, Empty Bottle July 11
Living somewhere in a narrow harmonic hazy space between The Velvet Underground and Jesus and Mary Chain, the thick layered shoegaze and noise transcends space and time.

TWIN PEAKS –Pitchfork, July 19
These brats delivered the goods with a rollicking, chaotic and fun set of trashy garage rock. It was made even better by the fact that guitarist/singer Cadien Lake James was flying around in a wheelchair.

NEFARIOUS FAT CATS–Liar’s Club, December 14
This local punk super group comprised of members of Stiff Little Fingers, Local H, Peg Boy and others gets together for charity during the holiday season and in addition to collecting a ton of toys and some $ has a lot of fun black and deckering through songs by Thin Lizzy, The Ramones, SLF and more.

LURRIE BELL (w/guest Eddie C. Campbell)–City News Café– January 31
This second generation blues guitarist/harpist played solo acoustic in a small coffee shop at a newsstand in Portage Park, playing guttural Southern blues, only to be joined by his godfather Eddie C. Campbell who, after a little cajoling, belted out a song from a table in his first public performance since a stroke suffered while on tour in Germany in February 2013.

NRG ENSEMBLE –Hideout– June 14
This kick ass all star band features the amazing cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, international star reedist, Ken Vandermark and (sometime Psychedelic Fur saxophonist) Mars Williams among others. Chaotic free form noise to straight ahead bop, even an old punk can appreciate.

JIM PETERIK AND THE IDES OF MARCH–House of Blues–May 31
50 years and counting, the pride of Berwyn, Illinois still keeps rolling with its original members. Vehicle, their Number Two hit from 1970 still sounds fresh with one of the greatest horn riffs in rock and roll history. And, while classic rock is not my genre, the litany of hits that Jim Peterik has authored (e.g. Eye of the Tiger, Hang On Loosely) is impressive and his stories and music amply entertaining.

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DJ Set List (not in order) kinda punky, kinda dancy October 25, 2014

A really great night at the club. Packed for a large part of the night with people DTAO and many awesome requests (for some reason several requesting bands I had already played!). Even with 4 hours of music–so much stuff left to play!!

Since it was a punk and post punk progressive pop and dance night the material was definitely tilted towards 1977-1982 by design, but there is a lot of other stuff in the mix.

Rough breakdown by arbitrary category

1977-1982–Punk, post punk, new wave dance 47%
Modern Indie (last 1-2 years–21%
50s-70s dance–14%
British Invasion-8%
1982-1990 5%
2000-2010 3%
1990-2000 2%

Kinks–She’s Go Everything
Cosmonauts – Sweet Talk
Sleater-Kinney-Ironclad
New Order -Temptation
Bowie– Heroes (Request)
Replacements (Request)
Clash- Safe European Home and Magnificent 7 (Request)
T-Rex (Request)
Pete Shelley-Homosapien followed by LCD Soundsystem North American Scum
Cramps-New Kind of Kick
Au Pairs- It’s Obvious
Wilson Pickett–In the Midnight Hour (Request)
The Jam–In the Midnight Hour
Boxtops-Cry Like a Baby
Animals–It’s My Life
Duane Eddy –Rebel Rouser
Raybeats -Calhoun Surf
Agent Orange-Somebody to Love
UK Subs–Party in Paris
Gang of Four– I Love the Man in Uniform
Cult–She Sells Sanctuary
Jim Carroll–People Who Died
Romeo Void–Never Say Never
Joy Division–Transmission
Josie and the Pussycats–Three Small Words
Shonen Knife–Rock and Roll High School
Ramones–Rockaway Beach
Bleached – Poison Ivy
Eternal Summers– You Kill
Julie Ruin– Just My Kind
Dum Dum Girls – I Got Nothin , Take Care of My Baby (Request)
Martha and the Muffins–Echo Beach
Eddie and the Hot Rods–Do Anything You Want to Do
The Supremes–You Can’t Hurry Love
Zombies –She’s Not There, Tell Her no (request)
Paul Revere and he Raiders–Kicks
Negative Scanner–Ambitious People
Specials -Nite Klub (request)
Dave Clark 5 – Catch Us if you can
Echo and the Bunnymen–Do It Clean
Cure–Jumping Someone Else’s Train
Stiff Little Fingers– Tin Soldier
Bryan Ferry– What Goes On
B-52s–52 Girls
Jesus and Marry Chain–Happy When it Rains
Sex Pistols–Submission
999- Homicide
Yardbirds–Heartvul of Soul
Siousxsie and the Banshees –Spellbound
Duchess Says–Black Flag
Diamond Rings–Pre-Owned Heart
Temptations–Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Heaven 17–We Don’t Need That Fascist Groove Thing
Psychedelic Furs–We Love You
Pylon–Volume
Imports–Side one
Smiths–There is a Light that Never Goes Out
Thee Oh Sees
CSS–This Month, Day 10
Fear of Men-Luna
Raveonetts–Dead Sound
Lizzie Mercier Decloux–Mission Impossible.

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FEAR OF MEN-THE BEST OF THE OPENING ACTS OF 2014 SO FAR

Who cares about opening acts at concerts? What is their purpose anyway? Is it to set the stage for the headliner? Make sure the audience buys sufficient drinks so the bar can make some dough or allow enough time for the alcohol and drugs kick in for the main act? Make sure the sound system works? Delay the headliner because they have to soundcheck all over again after the opener? That kind of stuff makes you want to dispose of opening acts.

The world can be a lot better without opening acts sometimes. The show tends to start a bit earlier and end a bit earlier–important for a weeknight show. And you miss some potentially forgettable or even worse, horrifying or hearing hurting music. This year for example, Television, Kraftwerk and New Order dispensed with opening acts and I was pretty happy about not having to stand through a band trying to set the table for these legends–who could compete.

Opening acts give the opportunity for a booking agent or club booker to attach an up and coming, lesser known or local band to a hotter property to give the band experience and exposure. And, once in a while the opening act blows the headliner off the stage. Just think about seeing Bruce Springsteen open for Helen Reddy–kind of scary isn’t it.

Yet, at the same time, every year I am lucky enough to see a few really great opening acts that, whether or not they defeat the headliner, become an important band for me for a short or long term. And that one time can give you sufficient reason to call the Governor to pardon opening bands.

fear of men's Jessica Weiss
In April, I was privileged to see Fear of Men, a group from Brighton, England fronted by Jessica Weiss. The music is dreamy pop. On stage Jessica rocks back and forth in circular fashion along with the rhythm of her and her cohort Daniel Falvey’s guitar riffs–she almost made me seasick, ut hypnotized me as well. Her voice is delicate and ethereal in a lilting Cranberries, Natalie Merchant or Sundays mode, yet as each song progresses she seems to build in firmness and confidence or the strength of her anger. As if she is testing the waters of her beliefs, convincing herself of their validity and then ultimately presenting them as fact. Her principles seem to be mantras of relationships broken, lost or headed that way, both uniquely dark (“I will never leave you, as long as I inter you with my bones”) or reflections (“if you never leave me I’ll never understand you because I’ll never know what I could have been without you”).

Overall, Fear of Men’s music will haunt you and make you think of your own relationships, past, present and future and the hopelessness of wishing for something else. As far as my future relationship with Fear of Men, I am sure to see them as a headline act soon.

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KICKS–NEW AND OLD–FULL OF MAGIC AND LOSS

KICKS–NEW AND OLD–FULL OF MAGIC AND LOSS

People always ask me what bands I am looking forward to seeing at SXSW.  While there are  always a few, and I spend a lot of time analyzing shows like many of my friends analyze NCAA brackets, but, for me, what I am REALLY looking forward to is the unexpected experience.

One of my favorite songs of all time is The Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick”.  Though the song is about drugs, I look at it as experiential—I’m looking, and looking and looking for, some “new kind of kick” whether sober or impaired that will make me feel different, or the same in a different way.[1]  Those kind of kicks are not impossible to find, but are admittedly rare and by definition, you can’t just make them happen.  You just sort of have to set the wheels in motion and you never know what will happen once you put yourself into drive.   That is probably the best explanation in this moment as to why I do go back and back for more.

The last few years, it seems the best chance of expecting the unexpected is to walk out East on 6th Street.  East Austin has turned over the years from a rough and semi-dangerous, walk on the wild side  area to a really laid back and cool place to walk, eat and hang out.   But it is nothing like Logan Square, Williamsburg or other hipster havens.  There are places like the Hotel Vegas, which for SXSW becomes 4 venues in one, empty lots full of food trucks like the East Side filling station and more and more condo projects (oh well, nothings perfect).

On a misty late Saturday morning/early afternoon, my daughter and I just went to walk E. Austin with no particular place to go.  The purpose was solely to show it to her the neighborhood as she had seen South Congress and its upscale galleries and coffee shops (including the new Toms-brand store) and the utter chaos of the main 6th Street area.  We came upon the Brooklyn Country Cantina party at Licha’s Country Cantina– which is basically a big old house with front and back yard.  On the front porch was Mikaela Davis, a young harpist from Rochester, New York, with her band.  Since the front porch was pretty small, Mikaela, her harp and her guitar/sitar player were on the porch, while her drummer/percussionist played from the ground.

While harp is not particularly the first instrument that comes to your mind for a rock band, Mikaela plays a pretty aggressive harp with strength and beauty that supports her ethereal voice and a dream pop sound, a little dreamier when it was sitar and not guitar.  Being outdoors probably helped the sound, with birds chirping and even the wave sound provided by passing cars creating waves to support her light psych-dream peaceful Sunday afternoon music–#BeachHouse;   http://mikaeladavis.bandcamp.com/

It just made us stop our walk and hang out by the fence to watch for a half hour or so.  Though there was music I enjoyed much more, I don’t think I enjoyed a musical moment more.   And when someone asks me next year what band I am looking forward to see, I will probably hesitate a moment and then mention a couple of bands, and say (again with apologies to The Cramps) that I’m really looking for “something I ain’t had before.”

In addition to looking for new things, I try to remember other things that are important even while chasing after music.

I know the intersection of 9th and Red River very well.   There are at least two, huge orange and white barricades designed to keep traffic off of Red River-which is a pedestrian only zone for several blocks all SXSW.    I have seen dozens of memorable shows at Mohawk- from the Dum Dum Girls, Broken Bells, Japandroids, Kurt Vile–it’s one of Austin’s best venues.  And the line to get into the venue is often pretty long and even stinking badges can’t always beat the system.   On March 12, I headed up Red River–which is blocked off to traffic to see if I could catch X, but the line was too long, so I moved on. About an hour later a 21 year old drunk driver drove through two barricades on Red River and into one of the lines outside Mohawk, sending dozens of people sprawling (and killing 3 people so far).  Many of the injured have been released from the hospital and I pray that they all have a speedy recovery.   Some of you may have read my report a few years ago when another crazy driver sideswiped a bunch of cars and just missed seriously harming people and how several people, including me, took to the street to protect the injured, call 911 and control traffic at 6th and Congress until the police got there. I don’t want to write about these incidents. Let there not be any more. But I am comforted by my friends and family members who texted and called to make sure that I was ok, and  there is a 501(c)(3) that has set up a fund for the victims. https://www.austincommunityfoundation.org.

All right, but WHAT ABOUT THE BANDS?  There were, not surprisingly, some really memorable performances as well as unique experiences.  But first in no particular order, some bands.

Cheetah Chrome (Sailor Jerry-Party–the place to get free tattoos).

With punk’s pioneers getting  on in years, it was a treat to see the former Dead Boy and Rocket From the Tombs guitarist (played by Rupert Gint in the CBGB movie) living, breathing, looking like a character in Sons of Anarchy and dishing out hard power chords. Leading a Dead Boys cover band, he played songs from his recently released first (at 59 years old) solo album containing songs he recorded from 1996-2010, and all of them we strong straight ahead power rock.  But the payoff  was when he lit into the opening chords of Sonic Reducer.   Definitely one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever written(don’t just trust me, it is listed as one of the 660 songs that shaped rock and roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum curatorial staff and a number of rock critics and historians).   With Cheetah singing (instead of late Dead Boys singer Stiv Bators) the song still delivered on its ____ the world attitude.

 Eternal Summers (Cheer Up Charlies)

This Roanoke, Virginia trio has got all the power-pop-punk hooks you could ever want.  Early Cure–check, Undertones–check, Pylon-check.  One chiming guitar, ironic, high powered but not screaming, firm female vocals that never get out of control thanks to a driving-pummeling backbeat duo.  Perfect music to dance to at an afternoon street fair or a late night club. P1010503 

No Joy (Maggie Mae’s)

This is a shimmering noisy sometimes driving shoedaze band from Montreal.  The band members spend half their time with their hair hanging over their heads, but they deliver waves of  atmospheric, complex, thick, wall of  sound running from moody Cure, to Sonic Youth to My Bloody Valentine and into the stratosphere.

Coachwhips (Pitchfork Party at French Legation Museum)

Anyone that has read this before knows that I love Thee Oh Sees and find them to be one of the best live bands around today.  This was Jon Dwyer’s band before joining Thee Oh Sees, and with that band on hiatus, he reformed Coachwhips who last performed as an entity in 2005.  This is raw, stripped down, raunchy rock and roll three piece–fast 2 or 3 chord noisy guitar chops, simple trap drums and a pulsing Casio keyboard, think of the Batman theme song but faster,  jumpier, choppier and edgier and other-good-ers— and adding Jon’s distorted vocals for 1-2 minute nod or jump up and down nuggets of frenzy.  The band set  up in front of the stage so it could be surrounded by and on the level of the crowd (or because its sound was so simple it did not need monitors).   The last song “peanut butter and jelly” had a very memorable chorus.  Jon sang “peanut butter” with the crowd shouted “jelly.”   Too bad Norman Rockwell was no around to memorialize the scene.P1010479

The Cosmonauts(Hotel Vegas)

This four year old Orange County band combines the driving shoegaze psychelic drone of The Black Angels and slower zombie stalk of The Warlocks with a little bit of psychobilly Gun Club with rinse and repeat shambly and somewhat raunchy swirls of guitars (in the great song “Wear Your Hair Like a Weapon”). With two singers alternating vocals on songs, and switching tempos the band can sound like two bands, but both of them are pretty darn good.

Those Darlings (Cheer Up Charlies)

This is a twangy southern-tinged power rock trio from Tennessee–think a hyped up Everly Sisters.   They win the award for best cover song I heard as SX other than at the Lou Reed thing. Their version of Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot caught the haunting freedom and amped up the ringing guitar anger of the original  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFOOk7m64Pc

Public Service Broadcasting (Gypsy)

Here is the one for dance band fans.  PSB is a two piece electronic group from the UK that combines samples of old public information films around drums, electronics, keyboard, guitar and banjo interjects.  The music is often more chiming and driving than EDM, but the unique combination of World War II words and images with today’s music and a danceable beat makes me want to see them at 1 am or later next time.

Steve Wynn and Miracle Three (Yarddog)

Steve Wynn has been around for a while, and is probably best known for his work with The Dream Syndicate which started in 1982 but is just now doing its 30th anniversary tour for some reason. SW and the Miracle Three provides some of the best guitar interplay of any rock and roll band around today.  Featuring alternating lead guitar riffs with Jason Victor, they can really wreck the place.   If you like any kind of rock and roll–look no further than their driving anthem Amphetamine (this is not from this year but is great quality) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKMxflK_dok.  Playing in the backyard of the Yarddog[2] at Steve’s own curated party–the guitar sound slams off the brick walls of the buildings it is not for the squeamish but an awesome performance every time.

Dum Dum Girls (Mellow Johnnies-KEXP)

Dee Dee can perform some of the best dark but chimy pop hook songs, and working with Richard Gotterher (73 years old) who wrote My Boyfriend’s Back, performed and wrote I Want Candy and produced bands from Blondie to the Go Go’s to The Raveonettes you can understand how her repertoire can range the gamut from bad-ass Rolling Stones to the romantic Smiths and beyond with flair and meaning.   Lately, her work has included a lot of ballad and new wave work very reminiscent of The Pretenders–not that that is all bad.  Live though, whatever she and her band performs is injected with incredible drama and power.    Even though it was 12 noon (or maybe because it WAS 12 noon) it was  great emotional performance–especially when she sang. “I Got Nothing” the day after the crash, it was simple, poignant and meaningful (I fell nothing. I got nothing left to say from this day on.) but hopeful (I don’t to fade, I just want to shine).  

Cindy Lee Berryhill (Esther’s Follies)

Cindy Lee grew up in San Diego and was one of the leaders of the East Village anti-folk movement of the late 80s ( a loose group that included Beck and Michelle Shocked).  Check out her “Who’s Gonna Save the World”.  In the 90’s she started a garage orchestra and married Paul Williams one of the first and greatest rock critics, and founder of Crawdaddy magazine. See among other things  http://sandiegotroubadour.com/2013/05/scribe-of-the-tribe-the-ballad-of-paul-williams/ Unfortunately, Paul took ill after a bicycle incident in 1995 and she took many years off to be a mother, wife and caretaker.  Paul sadly passed away this past Fall and Cindy Lee has gotten back with her garage orchestra.  This performing group was most notable for the varied instruments, and she wins the award for must unusual instrumentation, which included cello, vibraphone, xylophone and a percussionist that played shipping box and water heater cover (take that Tom Waits)!  Although she focused on new material, she opened with a haunting, bluesy edition of “Radio Astronomy” from her last released album in 1994.  She played at a small comedy venue that was unfortunately not that well attended, although that was another unique SXSW experience–she played at a free show to 15-30 people and you did not need a badge or anything.  The next night she played the sold out Lou Reed benefit with approximately 1,300 people attending and cheering her.  Her new material clearly shows her dealing with some of the tragic issues that she has dealt with over the last decade and more, as well as wry observations about the world.   I look forward to her new beginnings.

Lou Reed Tribute

Any kind of event that featured 27 different performances from 27 different groups of musicians was bound to have its highs and lows, but Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Barone had their (rock and roll) hearts in the right place when the put together a memorial tribute to Lou Reed.  What I took from the event was how soulful his music really was, even if was often coated with street punk anger, clouded by drug addiction or encased in noise.  Garland Jeffreys, who went to Syracuse University with LR when he was just a Jewish punk kid from Long Island, focused on LR’s love of doo wop and proceeded to belt out a James Brownesque “Waiting for My Man”

The show also featured a NY late 70s all star group featuring the music historian and Patti Smith accompanist Lenny Kaye on guitar (with Tony Shanahan bassist of the current Patti Smith Group), together  with Ivan Julian (of Richard Hell and the Voidoids) also on guitar and backed by one of rock and roll’s best and most travelled drummers, Clem Burke of Blondie and numerous other bands.  They nailed Sweet Jane as well as formed the backbone for many of the song in what clearly appeared to be a labor of love for them all.  

Another amazing soulful surprise was the reformed new romantic band Spandau Ballet’s version of Satellite of Love.   SB’s lead singer Tony Hadley is charismatic and angular  like Bryan Ferry and explained their musical connection with Reed went through David Bowie–which would make a great rock family tree diagram.  But most importantly, they found the essence of Reed’s song and blew it into a sad and magical romantic dance tune.

Searing roots rock showed its face with Bobbie Bare’s driving rendition of   Oh! Sweet Nothin’ and Wayne Kramer (co-founder of the MC 5’s) who delivered a Warren Zevon-esque version of Kill Your Sons; Chuck Prophet delivering his positive love for music on Rock and Roll Heart and Cheetah Chrome hard rocking Romeo Had Juliet.

NY garage punk reared its head with The Fleshtones, running throughout the stage and the theatre (though they did not have their usual mobile guitars) providing a garage-pop invigorating  hootenanny singalong version Real Good Time Together.

Steve Wynn and Jason Victor created a guitar army joining forces with Lenny Kaye and Ivan Julian to absolutely shred out a full 17 minute version of Sister Ray that depending on who you are could equally send one to euphoria or the medicine cabinet–or both.

Alejandro Escovedo’s sometimes regular string section of Susan Voelz on violin and Brian Standifer on cello, added searing punctuation to many of the songs, particularly, Alejandro’s own talk/rap of Street Hassle.   Which helped Alejandro did himself out of the doghouse for totally (in his own words) f-ing  up on Waves of Fear and creating one of the few lowlights of the 3+ hour event.

And rock and roll royalty paid a visit in the form of  Sean Lennon, who delivered a strong (and another soulful) version of What Goes On, showing a lot of his dad in him, as well as his own singing and guitar skills.

I did not know Lou Reed (though I imagined playing pinball next to him once at the Broadway Arcade), and I would not be presumptuous like Richard Barone to declare that Lou Reed would have liked the tribute, but there were , lengthy pleasurable grooves, a few lulls, pings of excitement, electric tension, drama and surprises, moments of chaos, grandeur, sadness, togetherness, magic, some new kind of kicks and ultimately beautiful sadness–a bit like SXSW, rock and roll and life. 

 

 

[1] And, of course, I could cite to contrary authority- Paul Revere & the Raiders “Kicks” another of my favorite songs No, you don’t need kicks To help you face the world each day.  That road goes nowhere I’m gonna help you find yourself another way.

[2] The Yarddog is another unique SXSW experience because as a results of the roots rock type of music played there it often becomes a location frequented by (ahem) some of the older crowd. As my daughter said with a bit of mocking irony–“Dad, you are definitely one the younger people here”. I’ll never feel that way at The Burlington or Bottle.

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