Look for more SXSW coverage throughout the week. I will post more photos from this showcase, pictures from both days of Music by the Slice, and a review of the MOG Party.
With such a heavy bill, I was utterly surprised when I showed up to Emo’s for the Brooklyn Vegan Day Party two hours early and found that I was the first in line. Five of the seven groups are some of the most well respected bands in the indie community, and two of them have held prominence on the local Austin circuit for a few years. To see them for free without the badge/wristband hierarchy should have had people lined up at least by 9 am. Despite my confusion, I prepared myself for a day’s worth of great music and, by the time I made my decent back into the cluster that is downtown Austin during SXSW, I left with a smile wide across my face.
If there was any lull in quality throughout the day, it came from opening group YellowFever. While the Austin group did not play a bad set by any means, they failed to grab my attention. The duo combined guitars, keys, and drums, along with lead singer Jennifer Moore’s somewhat monotone vocals to make for songs that didn’t have any real staying power to them. The group does possess a decent amount of musical talent, as the songs were catchy in the moment and the band seemed to know what they were doing. However, there was not enough there for the group to be particularly memorable, especially against a line up full of heavy hitters.
The Rural Alberta Advantage
The Rural Alberta Advantage quickly made up for the shaky start by demonstrating why they have been riding a wave of praise over the last year. I will admit that I was originally just lukewarm about the group’s debut, “Hometowns,” when I first heard it this past summer. I found some of the songs to be kind of boring, and that there was nothing truly unique about the group. However, these reservations were immediately thrown out the window by the group’s live show. The band had an energy about them that was only hinted on their album, as they played with such finesse and effortlessness that it was almost jaw dropping. Not only was Nils Edenloff’s voice sound more controlled than I had remembered, the music itself sounded incredible. This was largely in part to Paul Banwatt’s drumming, as he played with such force that the drums threatened to overtake the rest of the instrumentation. Amy Cole contributed her lovely voice to compliment Edenloff’s Jeff Mangum-esque delivery, and played several different instruments to add to the diverstity of the music. As a result of their set, I am more than willing to give The Rural Alberta Advantage another chance.
The Morning Benders
Next up was rising San Fransisco group The Morning Benders. The band had released their new album “Big Echo” only one week prior to this, their first SXSW performance. Although they only got to perform four songs because of the time constraints that come with these kinds of showcases, the band undeniably left their mark. The easiest way to describe the morning benders would be to call them a West Coast version of Grizzly Bear, which is not too far off considering that Chris Taylor of said band helped produce “Big Echo.” Not only are the bands songs grand in scope and instrumentation, they contain enough hooks to make them stand out. This was evident throughout their set, especially in the group’s last song, lead single “Excuses.” Lead singer Chris Chu has such a natural and pleasant voice that to hear it amidst thundering percussion and surf-rock guitar makes for a real treat. When the band broke down into a vocal harmony that built until the music kicked back in, I knew I was witnessing something special. If this band does not blow up within the next few months, I will lose faith in the general listening public.
At this point, the showcase changed gears from grandiose indie pop to the fuzzed out, albeit brilliant, music of Vancouver’s Japandroids. Their debut, last year’s “Post-Nothing” was proof that a band doesn’t need four of five members to rock hard and make catchy anthems about youth and girls. I saw them play in October at the inside stage of Emo’s and was completely blown away by how much energy the group had and the way they interacted with the crowd. This set was no different, as they brought that exuberance to the forefront with guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse playing with reckless abandon and shouting their lyrics as if it were their last show. Not only were staples “The Boys Are Leaving Town” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire” present, the group performed what is arguably their best song, “Wet Hair” for only the second time in the United States, according to King. Although King and Prowse didn’t talk much (King’s spastic banter and Prowse’s asides are a key component of a full Japandroids show experience), the songs spoke loudly enough on their own for me to safely say that the group totally wrecked shop.
If there’s one band that is a perfect match for the energy and talent of Japandroids, it would be Titus Andronicus, one of America’s best rock bands. The New Jersey group, now back to a quintet after being a brief stint as a four piece, came to play in support of their new album, “The Monitor,” and they handily justified the rave reviews it has been getting by playing an entire set of cuts from it. The band plowed through cathartic anthems such as “A More Perfect Union” and live staple “Titus Andronicus Forever,” with Patrick Stickles beer-drenched yell backed up by he and his bands uplifting and driving brand of hard rock. If there was any criticism to be levied at their set, it’s the fact that the band didn’t have time to perform any songs from their equally stunning debut “The Airing of Grievances.” However, this makes for an excuse to see them when they come back into town, and this set should solidify that their next show here will garner a large enthusiastic crowd the band deserves.
The Black Angels
Austin’s own Black Angels took the stage next, and their blend of psychedelic rock was an interesting choice in terms of the progression of the showcase. However, this did not take away from the quality of the group’s set, as they played with a great sense of urgency and purpose. The bass was particularly heavy in the mix for this performance, but it was for the better as it provided a catchy foundation on which to layer their reverbed guitars and vocals. The band performed several tracks off their last record “Directions To See A Ghost,” as well as hinting at a new album coming out sometime this year. I had never heard of the Black Angels prior to their set, but I am now happy to have discovered another very talented Austin band.
Originally, the next slot in the lineup was designated for Wu-Tang Clan member GZA. However, since he had to cancel at the last minute, headliners Fucked Up took the stage early. The Toronto hardcore outfit has garnered a reputation as one of the genre’s few true pioneers, and they have proven it both on record and in concert. They play with a manic ferocity that gets any crowd fired up, and the first few rows of Emo’s outdoor stage turned into a giant mosh pit from their first note. Frontman Damien “Pink Eyes” Abraham growled his heady lyrics with aplomb, while the band fired on all cylinders with no signs of slowing down. Abraham was quite the showman, going into the crowd during songs, letting people smack his bare stomach after taking off his shirt, and telling the crowd that Emo’s was the first place he took off his shirt on stage. It all made for an extremely enjoyable set, and a great way to cap off my first SXSW experience of 2010.