[Above: Ponytail at Ms. Bea’s.]
Nate Dorr has done this before. Follow his play-by-play experience of South by Southwest for the rest of the week.
[Above: Colour Revolt.]
South by Southwest may have begun screening its film selections over a week ago, and seeing its first semi-official concerts Tuesday night, but Wednesday was the day that things really got moving. After stopping off at the Brooklyn Vegan day show at Red 7 for complimentary plates of tasty meatless BBQ and a glimpse of standard-issue indie rockers Color Revolt, we wandered down the central artery of E. 6th Street, already a tremendous mess of bodies. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the absurdly long line leading to the doors of this year’s Fader Compound, so instead of camping out we headed out under the freeway to Ms. Bea’s, where Brooklyn promoter Todd P and various other savvy folks had set up shop.
[Above: The Convention Center.]
We arrived just as the So So Glos were wrapping up, but just in time for a pleasant discovery in the form of long-running, yet-lesser-known scrapyard noise-rockers Neptune. The Boston band immediately distinguished themselves with a weird array of home made instruments: obscure effects pedals, an array of light switches, junk drums, and a pair of custom guitars of heavy, welded metal. According to Eric from Golden Error, then getting ready for his own set, the guitars had to be about sixty pounds each. They seemed worth the trouble, though, producing clean metallic tones (and atonal blurts) that gleamed through any rust and tarnish. Apparently these guys play with Parts & Labor a lot, which seems an apt match-up given the Brooklyn bands’ penchant for elaborate pedal assembles and scratchy raw sounds, so I’m surprised I had to go to Austin to hear about them.
[Above: Kirsten Kestjer.]
Denmark followed with another strong surprise showing from drummer Kirsten Ketsjer and her band. While the guitars were solid enough, it was really Ketsjer herself that distinguished the act, singing sweetly from behind her kit only to burst into unexpected fury of motion and sound, battering her cymbals clean off their stands and screaming like a banshee when it fit her narrative.
[Above: Golden Error.]
A string of more familiar bands followed, turning the sun-speared open air patio space to their usual needs. Golden Error spun excellent pointy-edged punk rock, aforementioned lead singer Eric using the full semi-circle before the audience to twitch, thrash, and eat his mic on the bricks. The Brooklyn band also used the occasion to launch advance pressings of their debut 12″.
Baltimore’s Ponytail followed with a pretty typical, if shortened, example of their current set of candy-coated punk experiments, focusing on more dynamic new material utilizing the vocal chords of three of the four members now, and collapsing most of the previous album, 2006’s Kamahama, into a rapid medley/recap.
The Vivian Girls, despite guitar problems and an eventual broken string that cut short the set, still managed to charm with floating harmonies and buzzy garage riffs, leading us to seize the opportunity for an interview after a set of keys and guitar pop from Minnesota’s Best Friends Forever. That interview ended just in time to catch enough of the Mai Shi”s set to establish their ability to go from calm to conniption in zero seconds.
[Above: Vivian Girls CHILLAZAXING post-broken string.]
[Above: Best Friends Forever.]
[Above: Mae Shi.]
At this point, despite the continuing variety of solid acts gracing Ms Bea’s, we seized the chance to grab some food and check out the strip again for official SXSW shows (we are here for that, after all?). Settling on the showcase of another rising Brooklyn institution, Parts & Labor in-house label Cardboard Records, we caught a fine set from Shooting Spires. What began as a side project from P&L has now really come into its own with its full four-piece line-up (incidentally sharing tirelessly heavy-hitting drummer Jeff with Golden Error), and where early full-band shows had seemed somewhat less original than Shooting Spires’ original solo noise-pop incarnation, they seem to have hit their stride now, sounding like a solid and unique rock band. Frontman/composer BJ Warshaw’s unusual rock decision to appear as a seated electronics technician at the front of the band underscores that they’ve still got enough of their own style to continue sounding like no one so much as themselves.
Cardboard co-founders Pterodactyl followed with a abrasive but catchy noise punk set. It’s the first time we’d actually caught the band in a while and we found ourselves paying close attention to the clever mechanics of their blazing noise constructions. In one track, for instance, that may have been the beginning of an extremely extended intro to album highlight “Polio”, bassist Zach Lehrhoff plucked a wavering note while carefully de-and-re-tuning his bass, finally looping the results to lay down a thicker bassline over the top, partially played with a soda can.
We’ve number of times in the last few weeks, and they’ll be playing our own party at Rancho Relaxo on Friday, so we stepped out for a bit during their set. Returning during their last song, we observed a cleaner clearer separation of the sounds generated by the three members than at other recent shows, a pleasant surprise later confirmed by electronics manipulator Keiran Gillen. We hope they sound so good on Friday as well.
Really, the band that got us out to the Cardboard showcase, however, was Bay Area noise-pop craftsmen Gowns, who are unfortunately rarely on our own east coast. The trio delivered on our hopes with a set of three gorgeous studies in building tension and subtle noise creation, striking album standouts “White Like Heaven” and “Cherylee” bookending a (presumably) newer song. While the two album tracks were well familiar to us by now, they appeared altered and reconfigured in interesting ways, and seeing studio subtleties reproduced live with careful electronics, unorthodox percussion arrangements (cymbals stacked directly on drum heads, at one point), also helped keep them fresh. While these songs focused on Erika Anderson’s voice and guitar prowess, the previously unknown track saw Ezra Buchla setting aside his violin to burble verby keys under his own increasingly desperate vocalizations. It’s the first time we’d seen the band since our first exposure to them last year at CMJ, and the return visit was certainly worth it.