SXSW: David Malitz's faves -- The Love Language, Drunkdriver, Frankie Rose, Carsick Cars, Total Abuse, Free Energy, Thurston Moore and J Mascis's hardcore supergroup
By David Malitz
Between last week's blog posts, Chris's Saturday article and his notebook roundup in today's paper, we've given you plenty of coverage from SXSW. But since the two of us saw more than 120 bands combined, we might as well try to let you know about as many of them as possible. So here are 10 more that I'll remember fondly from my week in Austin.
The Love Language
For me, this Chapel Hill quintet was the most inescapable band of the week -- not that I'm complaining at all. Even when I went on a brief detour to check out a showcase of D.C. bands, Love Language had somehow landed on the bill. They stole the show with a set filled with joyous sock-hop bounce tunes. Their debut album's standout cut "Lalita" is one of those songs that can make people start dancing even if they haven't been downing free drinks since noon. And based on the new material previewed throughout the week, their summer followup could be a sleeper hit.
The unabashedly retro rockers had a tough act to follow taking the stage after the all-anthems, all-the-time overblown rock spectacle of Titus Andronicus. Free Energy is pretty anthemic in its own right, just not with that same life-or-death intensity. Quite the opposite, in fact. Life? Death? Too deep, man. Let's just party. And that's what the band's set turned into. Less than a week ago, Free Energy played a DC9 show that never gained much momentum. This time, though, the Lone Star was flowing, and those arena-sized riffs, sing-along choruses and razor-sharp solos were all clicking. Singer Paul Sprangers told the crowd it was their most fun show to date and marked the occasion in the only way possible -- by ripping through a BTO cover.
These dudes are just professional rock-and-rollers. You look at the North Carolina trio and immediately say, "Yeah, I've got no idea what else they'd be doing if they weren't playing rock-and-roll." To classify their sound as garage rock or country-rock is inaccurate; there's none of the retro pastiche of the former or cheesy folksiness of the latter. After the band's set, frontman Dan McGee told me that he has no TV or Internet -- something that is apparent in the band's music. This isn't music influenced by cultural references or anything like that. Just rock-and-roll that keeps stomping forward. "Waking Up Drunk" is one of their signature songs, but it was "Que Viva El Rocanroll," played in some musky, abandoned car repair shop three miles out of town at 2:30 p.m. Friday that best captured the band's ethos. Bonus points for another scorching set on Saturday afternoon at Beerland as the backing band for Wes Coleman, himself one of those rock lifers that makes you wonder why blogs even exist if they're lot letting us know about talent like him.
(Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Drunkdriver and Total Abuse go heavy, after the jump.)
This sludge-punk trio really sounds like a car crash. Chaos, danger, loud noises, sudden movements. Singer Michael Berdan is a restless dude, making his way wherever he can -- the stage, the floor, whatever he can climb. If he gets in your face and you get back in his, that's fine. If not, he'll be doing it just the same. It's more about catharsis than confrontation as he told me during an interview (coming to Click Track soon!) after Friday's WFMU showcase, an annual SXSW highlight. All eyes are understandably on Berdan -- if only for your own safety -- but meanwhile, it's guitarist Kristy Greene and drummer Jeremy Villalobos who are doing irreparable damage to your ears with sledgehammer blasts of sound. A true full-body experience.
I wrote about these Kiwis during my CMJ visit last fall but couldn't pass up another chance to hear them play the off-kilter, deceptively catchy songs that their homeland has been successfully exporting for more than three decades. I must say that the lads seemed a bit salty during their early Thursday afternoon show at Home Slice Pizza (sketchy sound and a crowd seemingly more interested in pepperoni than pop songs may have that effect), but it didn't make their woozy slabs of jangle and distortion any less appealing. How this band remains without a record deal is a mystery, one that I have to imagine will be solved at some point in 2010.
Give these new sludge/noise/hardcore groups points for truth in advertising with their band names. Total Abuse lives up to its moniker with a barrage of brutality. Loud, fast, rarely coming up for air. Unlike Drunkdriver's Berdan, Total Abuse howler Rusty Kelley never made his way into the crowd. At his band's Saturday show at Barbarella he simply stood near the front of the stage, eyes bulging, a scowl that never left his face. He didn't need to get up close and personal with the audience members - his presence at front of the stage was intimidation enough.
Bethany Cosentino fronts this charming group which manages to toe the line between precious and sincere. The first set I caught was a Thursday night outdoor gig at Cheer Up Charlie's where she wore a flannel shirt, played fuzzed out power chords and sounded like a cross between the Breeders and Veruca Salt. Lyrical themes were mostly boys and, well, boys. Set closer "Something in the Way" (not a Nirvana cover) is one of those impossibly sweet and catchy tunes that stays with you long after its two minutes are up. She seemed worn down at her Saturday show at Barbarella's. Her voice certainly was -- halfway hoarse, but in an endearing way. It still didn't have a negative effect on the simple melodies. She finished once again with "Something in the Way," the one song that remained stuck in my head more than any other the entire week.
For rock shows that have up to seven or eight bands, things are surprisingly prompt at SXSW. But rarely does a seven-band bill end early as it did at Red 7 on Saturday night. At 1 a.m. No Age finished a fine set of surging, dissonant noise-pop that reminded us why we all loved them a couple years ago. Thing was, their set was supposed to begin at 1 a.m. By that point rumors were making the rounds that we were about to witness some sort of supergroup featuring Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis playing '80s hardcore covers. And that's exactly what it was. Moore had a thick stack of paper with lyrics to more than two dozen songs, none more than 90 seconds long, as he prowled the stage like the singer of some band whose 7" he bought on eBay for $192. Mascis stood perfectly still the entire time. One crazy dude kept doing cannonball flip stagedives. Bill Murray watched from the side of the stage. And that was that.
Frankie Rose & the Outs
Frankie Rose was a busy lady in Austin, playing more than a dozen gigs between Dum Dum Girls (for whom she plays drums) and her own band that she fronts, the Outs. The Dum Dums specialize in retro girl-group sounds filtered through modern indie cool but with her own band Rose opts for a more gently shimmering sound. The five-piece band hardly raised a racket -- a few distinct guitar leads, some tambourine shakes and plenty of reverb-heavy vocals. It was a dreamy delight. There will be an interview with Rose in these parts soon where she talks about her fear of becoming a frontwoman and her likely imminent departure from behind the kit of Dum Dum Girls.
I've saved the best for last. I like electric guitars. I like the sounds they make. I especially like when there's one really great sound and it is hypnotic and drones on for minutes at a time while the rhythm section keeps things chugging along. Sonic Youth pretty much perfected this, the Clean did a mighty fine job of refining it and now three kids in their mid-20s from Beijing have managed to enter that hallowed territory. High praise, I realize, but after witnessing a pair of their shows this week there is no denying this group is onto something special. Carsick Cars guitarist/vocalist Zhang Shouwang utilizes a small army of effects pedals to create his swirling cacophonies but everything is steeped in songcraft. The band's Saturday show at Speakeasy closed with "You Can Listen You Can Talk" and "Zhong Nan Hai," the latter of which is basically this Chinese generation's version of "Teenage Riot." EXCEPT BETTER. Interview with this band coming soon, too.
March 22, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories: SXSW | Tags: Best Coast, Carsick Cars, Demolished Thoughts, Drunkdriver, Frankie Rose, Free Energy, J Mascis, Spider Bags, Surf City, The Love Language, Thurston Moore, Total Abuse
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