Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SXSW Diaries: The Final Night — Tucson Rules!

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 5:31 PM

A few thoughts on the last full day of SXSW, Saturday, March 16, a couple of days removed.

*Someone at SXSW has a real sense of humor; they booked New Orleans bounce star Big Freedia at twelve noon on an upper stage of the Convention Center, backed up with free Bloody Mary’s. Big Freedia is generally going to be the last act up in any given evening, and in fact was the last act, at 1 a.m., on a stage somewhere in Austin later that evening. But, it was perversely perfect: Big Freedia’s insanely in your face persona and messaging (“Ass Everywhere,” basically), brutally simplistic grooves, and booty shaking dancers was in fact the perfect way to rouse a sluggish crowd up for the final day of the festival after several days of ever-increasing burn-out. But really, check out Big Freedia on video to get the full effect. This is what they warn you about in church: the libido run wild, all eyes on the booty, lasciviousness as a POV. Really, really.

*Detroit’s The Sights distilled that city’s rich musical history - punk and garage rock, soul & R&B and girl group pop - into a perfectly balanced guitar-bass-drums-sax-keys + two back-up singers set that suffered only for being booked at 1 in the afternoon after 4 days of music. Great stuff; catch them in a smoky club sometime for the full effect.

*I found myself talking to a gent that turned out to be Kevin Godley of 10CC and Godley and Creame fame, in town to pitch some sort of audio device to the accumulated masses of musicians. He was a delightful gentlemen, with eyes that actually twinkled, and more proof that you can run into just about anybody, randomly, at SXSW and have some sort of pleasingly off the cuff exchange.

*Back at the Convention Center, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Sly Stones’s cute-as-sweet potato pie daughter (sporting a pink ‘fro) indulged in a free-floating mutual appreciation society, obstinately on a panel discussion about the History of Funk (there’s a film coming out), but really just an excuse to give each other props about how funky they all are. Which is perfectly true, of course: if this wasn’t the funkiest panel in history, I’ll turn in my Funk Card and retire.

*Other than a brief early foray out to see the wonderfully off the wall, absurdly high energy Brazilian electro/hip hop combo Bonde Do Role, the rest of the night belonged to Tucson, and Tucson stepped up and blew the house down. The full band showcase was at the Speakesy, right in the middle of downtown, and it was a night to treasure. Getting there a little late I missed Andrew Collberg (sorry man, that’s twice at the Festival!) as Chicha Dust were laying into their first number, and they had the crowd from the get-go. If you haven’t seen Chicha Dust - fronted by Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez, and featuring several of the Old Pueblo’s best players - well, your loss. Using the basic template developed in Peru in the 1960s of mixing cumbia with American psychedelic and surf music and localized sounds, Chicha Dust have very quickly developed into one of Tucson’s best live acts, and the Austin crowd was completely bugged out. Following Chicha Dust was left to Tesoro, who more than stepped up and delivered a set of incredibly high energy, passionate Flamenco-rock that took the room energy even higher, before giving the stage back to Gabe Sullivan and his huge Taraf de Tucson collective. Taraf’s big-band mix of cumbia, Balkan and spaghetti Western themed rock pretty much blew the crowd down, playing to a ever-more-packed dance floor that had been filled to capacity for hours already. Fortunately, one of Tucson’s only acts capable of following Taraf, Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, were on next and somehow managed to take it up to an even higher level of intensity. Sergio and his band of ringers really brought it all to a sustained crescendo, playing a show that would be hard for anyone at the Festival to follow, one of the only real positive ways of looking at the last hour, when headliners Giant Giant Sand didn’t appear in any form that the crowd was clearly expecting.

You may have already heard it by now: for whatever reason, Giant Giant Sand mainstay/front man/singer/songwriter Howe Gelb wasn’t present in the club, instead Skypeing himself in via video link to a huge screen over the stage for a very short short set while Gabe Sullivan and Brian Lopez (on guitar) and Sergio Mendoza (on drums) did their best to follow along on stage. It was...odd, and clearly very disappointing for a good size crowd who had come to see Giant Giant Sand play the heavily coveted, Festival final, 1 p.m. on Saturday night time slot. Gelb has made a career out of defying any expectations and always finding a new approach to his music, band concept, etc., and this was certainly another dramatic deviation from any expectation. Howe is, of course, free to follow his own path where-ever it may lead. Beyond that, whether it was wise or satisfying or any number of other possibilities is for the audience to decide for themselves, but there’s no denying that there were a lot of disappointed folks that wanted to finish off the Festival with one of Tucson’s longest running and most legendary acts, but left perplexed and not at all happy.

None of which, ultimately, took the edge of of what came earlier, and it was a night when Tucson stepped up and delivered an evening as full of joyful good vibes, fabulous musicianship and showmanship, originality and communal camaraderie as I saw all week. In truth, it was the best set of back-to-back-to-back shows I saw all week, and once again made me proud to be a Tucsonan. Am I perhaps a bit biased towards the hometown bands? Sure I am, but the astounding outpouring of energy directed towards the stage from hundreds of non-locals speaks for itself. Tucson stood and delivered and left a huge impression on crowds who had already been impressed for for or five days straight.

Tucson rocked and Austin rolled. Score a big one for the hometown team.

- Carl Hanni

Forthcoming Tucson Concert Synergy: Dinosaur Jr. Cover Phoenix

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 2:41 PM

I'm not sure how this came about, but college-rock legends Dinosaur Jr. (playing Exile on Congress Street Apr. 20) have "remixed" (or so they say, it sounds more like a cover to me) the new Phoenix (playing AVA Apr. 9) single, "Entertainment". Apparently, Phoenix's Thomas Mars is a fan, so there you go. As strange as this development is, it's an enjoyable version of a song I liked already, so why ask questions, right?

[HT: Spin]

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Wolf Larsen Opens Festival En El Barrio This Sunday

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Continuing on with bringing you the bands of Festival en el Barrio, Wolf Larsen will be kicking it off this Sunday.

When you think of a music festival, you may think of an outdoor music event with lots of loud music, drinks, and dancing. Larsen, however, , transforms noisy venues into tranquil environments with her tender, soothing melodies, allowing her rhythmical lyrics to come to life.

Larsen is not only a musician; she is also a writer and a poet. Her debut album, Quiet at the Kitchen Door, was released on Dec. 6, 2011 with a much deeper cause then just to sell CDs.

For every CD sold, Larsen donates 15 percent to a Nike Foundation called The Girl Effect, and similar organizations that focus on developing the education of women around the world.

According to a biography about the singer on Air Play Direct, “Larsen doesn’t want to wait until the end of her career to speak up for what she believes in. And she doesn’t want to say she’ll give money when she has enough, when she is famous enough, when she herself is secure enough.”

Larsen will be performing from 1:05 to 1:35 p.m. on El Presidio Stage. For more information on the festival, visit their webpage here.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Dewey Does Austin: Gargling Whiskey 'Til the End

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 3:45 PM

My last couple of days in Austin were spent between nursing my cursed ear, checking out some things off the beaten path, and of course checking out bands. I won't let my ear troubles get the best of me. I've been poppin' ibuprofen every few hours for my earache, along with gargling copious amounts of Jameson to remedy the situation and make me fit for duty. Here's rounds four and five:

Gram Rabbit (CA) - A short and sweet set from this female-fronted band out of the Mojave desert. Gram Rabbit sings songs about cowboys, ghosts, aliens, cryptids and other strange phenomena, and you can dance to it. They seem to play Tucson at least once a year, so get your dancing shoes and tinfoil hats ready.

El Vez (CA) - "Aye, this is a punk rock show mija, you're asking for it!" El Vez, aka Robert Lopez, the guitar player from early punk band The Zeros, has been doing his schtick for over 25 years now, and it's still the funnest show in town. This time around he's doing a "Punk Rock Revue", covering classic punk and proto-punk tunes with his Las Vegas by-way-of Tijuana spin. His pick-up band of young recruits scorched through a half-hour of tunes by The New York Dolls, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Roxy Music and Iggy Pop. "Re-Make/Re-Model" by Roxy Music was dedicated to Pope Francis, whom El Vez coudln't give two chingas about.

I went on a trek to check out this candy store I saw on the show Oddities, and on the way there I heard "I Think of Demons" by Texas psych legend Roky Erickson drifting out of an outdoor bar. I said to myself "cool cover" and didn't think anything of it. Then I stopped. I hustled across the street, took a look over the fence, and there he was.

Roky Erickson (TX) - Lucky for me, he had just started. The outdoor patio was packed with the most diverse crowd I've seen here yet. Drunk moms, rock dads, cool kids, hipsters, punks, skaters, metalheads, bikers, frat boys, old ladies - they all came out to see Austin's favorite son sing songs from his decades-long career. I got goose bumps during the "Reverbaration" and "Night of the Vampire." Roky is in fine shape and looked absolutely pickled to be on stage. This is the infamous Roky Erickson's Ice Cream Social he does every year during SXSW, and I'm glad I stumbled upon it.

Dream Affair (NY) - Cool Fad Gadget cover, bro.

Bestial Mouths (CA) - Like their name suggests, Bestial Mouths are an exercise in demon shrieking and speaking in tongues. In fact, I was reminded of the scene in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ when Jesus finds John the Baptist in the river surrounded by shrill, warbling harpies. Lead singer Lynette Cerezo strikes a cutting figure already, but backed by her brutal synth-drenched and percussion-heavy band and with her vocals set to 11 on the echoplex, she's absolutely terrifying. The small, dedicated crowd ate it up, including the Goth Cinderella I saw at last year's Zola Jesus show.

Nobunny (AZ, CA) - "No rules, it's Spring Break and I'm Nobunny!" There was something perfect about Nobunny playing a dead-on cover of the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" a mere 10 feet away from the skeeball machines in the Gypsy Lounge's backyard patio. Justin Champlin always puts on a fun show, and it's been a long time the first time I saw Nobunny play in a tiny bedroom in the Iron Horse neighborhood.

My favorite street performer of the year, or maybe ever (TX) - This guy. Yes, his freaky doll is playing piano. The music itself was pre-recorded backwards ragtime music. I dropped a few dollars in the hat, something I rarely do. Just stare at the picture a little longer.

There's no shortage of great chow in Austin, from free party nachos to Stubb's BBQ to a ridiculous amount of food trucks, it's impossible to go hungry. I recommend the Foreign and Domestic food truck. For $5 you'll be able to chow down on two tender pulled-beef tongue sliders. The beef is extremely tender and the bbq sauce with a hint of spice was absolutely perfect, especially when combined with the pickles and onions. I'm also a fan of Hoek's Death Metal Pizza, a dingy pizza joint on 6th Street that serves right on the sidewalk. The sauce packs a punch, and three types of pizza are always available as slices - cheese, pepperoni and pepperoni and jalapeno. Perfect eating while you sip a beer and check out the great metal bands that play in their back patio.

Finally, I can't recommend Austin's Museum of the Weird enough. It's a two-story building on 6th Street hiding inconspicuously between all the bars. $8 gets you the tour AND a sideshow on the top floor. The museum has all sorts of strange artifacts - shrunken heads, life-size "authentic" mummies, wax figurines of horror movie monsters, and all sorts of other curios related to strange phenomena. Totally worth it if you're into that sort of thing. Don't be afraid to touch the Human Lightbulb in the sideshow, either.

That just about wraps up my Austin visit. A few pounds lighter and a throbbing ear later, I've had a fantastic time. Thanks for reading.

Over and out.

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Rebirth Brass Band to Headline Festival en el Barrio

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Rebirth Brass Band is among the headliners for this year's Festival en el Barrio, which is just around the corner this Sunday.

The New Orleans nine-piece formed 30 years ago, and, with their last 10 records, have made a name for themselves, expanding from the streets of their hometown to venues all over the world. Taking traditional brass influences and mixing them with modern funk elements, the band has put a refreshing twist on a genre that has been around for decades.

The band's three decades together have clearly honed their performance, and their live show on Sunday, if it's anything like the other live videos online, should showcase their laid-back style, a trait that likely only comes from years of jamming on the streets of New Orleans.

Rebirth Brass Band will take the El Presidio Stage on Sunday night from 4:25 to 5:05 p.m. Find more information on the festival's website.

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Portland's Ape Machine Swings Into Town

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Ape Machine is one of those groups that arrive every so often to remind us how rock should be played: with shaggy, organic vitality rather than clean, digital corner-cutting. Ape Machine’s name—add a “T” for “tape machine”—symbolizes heavy music’s analog roots in reel-to-reel. The band’s tectonic-shifting attack, most recently captured in 2011 album War to Head, is proof positive that a singer with pipes (like Ape-frontman Caleb Heinze) and killer riffs are the foundation of awesome rock ’n’ roll. Ape Machine is on tour in preparation for the release of forthcoming album Mangled by the Machine via the Ripple label. The band plays Tucson Live Music Space tonight, March 18, at 7 p.m. with Been Obscene. Tucson Weekly phone-chatted with guitarist Ian Watts before Ape Machine played SXSW.

You’re from Portland, an indie-centered scene with a few cool metal bands lurking in the shadows. How does hard-rockin’ Ape Machine fit in, if at all?

Being in a hard-rock band in Portland is a bit tricky. The scene is centered on folksy indie rock or extreme-metal stuff. So we bounce back and forth between the two when we pair up with other bands on a bill. Lately, we’ve been leaning more toward the really heavy bands, which we feel is a more fun scene.

Continue reading »

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

SXSW Diaries: Cuuuuuumbia!

Posted By on Sat, Mar 16, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Keith Streng from the Split Squad and The Fleshtones, rocking the picnic table at the Gingerman Pub.
  • Carl Hanni
  • Keith Streng from the Split Squad and The Fleshtones, rocking the picnic table at the Gingerman Pub.
More snapshots of the Festival, this time from Friday, March 15.

*One of the great joys of SXSW is the occasional availability of free food, generally at one of the day parties. Today's free banquet was courtesy of BMG Chrysalis, featuring a full selection of Creole food, from jambalaya to gumbo, while being rocked around by the terrific Lafayette, LA rocking gospel combo The Mercy Brothers. Their swamp gospel version of "People Who Died" got the day off to a promising start.

*Back at the Ginger Man pub, The WI-based power pop band Shoes sounded every bit as pitch perfect as they did back in their hey-day of the 1970s. Perhaps rock & roll really does keep you young; if it doesn't kill you, that is.

*Also at Ginger Man, Montreal's The Besnard Lakes kicked up a great psych/drone ruckus ala My Bloody Valentine, and ex-Go-Go Kathy Valentine's combo The Bluebonnets played inspired, all-girl garage pop, but the afternoon highlight was the 2nd ever show by super-group The Split Squad. Including members of The Fleshtones, The Plimsouls, Baseball Project and Clem Burke, super drummer for Blondie, this crew simply went OFF, and guitarist Keith Streng's (from The Fleshtones) in-the-crowd antics and energy might have been the most entertaining thing I've seen all week. Score another one for the old guys, and the forever-young power of rock & roll.

*Over at the Mexican American Cultural Center, after a typically brilliantly set by Austin's own Grupo Fantasma, one of the godfathers of modern cumbia, Monterrey, Mexico's Celso Pina turned in a fabulous set of elastic, grove crazy cumbia that elevated the night into another level altogether. This was a great respite from the rest of the Festival: a huge, outdoor show filled with mainly locals, away from the noise and crowds outside, under a perfect sky, with whole families dancing and clowning around. This was the second SXSW in a row where the happiest crowd I found was a cumbia crowd (two years ago it was Chico Trujillo). Everybody say Cuuuum-bia!!

Friday, March 15, 2013

SXSW Diaries: Daptone Records Burns Down Austin

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Friday, March 15, Austin: Being pressed for time, and working on a borrowed computer, instead of diving to deeply into Thursday's Festival wrap-up, here are a few snapshots.

*If there's a truly quintessential SXSW band, it would have to be the Waco Bros. I've seen these guys every SXSW I've been to back into the '90s, and they bring it every time. Score one for the old guys, rocking as hard as anyone at the Festival, as irreverent and cheeky as any band half their age. And of course they have the SONGS.

*Dave Grohl's Keynote Speech was a highly entertaining love letter to rock & roll from one of the nicer guys in the biz. Telling his own personal story, starting with '70s rock (he beat-boxed the riff from "Frankenstein") up through his life changing discovery of punk rock and hardcore, and on up to the rise of Nirvana before going back to his DIY roots with Foo Fighters, Grohl sounded very much like the music fan he clearly still is. Score one for the nice guys and the working musician, in his case seemingly unfazed by his own enormous success.

*Tucson represented heavily all afternoon at an outdoor showcase outside a cafe and and hotel on South Congress. I only got to see sets by Gabe Sullivan and Taraf de Tucson and Texas Trash and the Trainwrecks, but Andrew Collberg, Chicha Dust, Rich Hopkins, Sergio Mendoza (on a huge stage next door) and others also played. Gabe and Taraf totally brought it, and their big-band mix of cumbia, Balkan and spaghetti western rightfully attracted a huge walk-by crowd. Terry Texas Trash and his band also grabbed the attention of the huge crowd on South Congress enjoying the festival, this time by the hair and by the throat. We took some real Tucson pride from this one; our musicians and bands are as good as anyone anywhere, and now that many more people know it in Austin, as well.

*I left 5 songs into British soul guy James Hunter's set; this just wasn't catching fire, and Duncan from KXCI and I knew that all we had to do with head around the corner and down the street to...

*...The Daptone Records Soul Review showcase and we'd get all the soul we could handle. This was indeed the case. Following an opening set by the Como Mamas (acapella gospel by three terrific church women from Como, MS) and a set by the Menahan Street Band, this show caught fire the moment Charles Bradley (the 'Screaming Eagle of Soul') hit the stage with the energy and moves that would make James Brown watch his back. This was truly inspiring showmanship, from a guy that must be one of the happiest guys in the world, finally achieving his due after decades of struggle.

Following a largely instrumental set by the Sugarman 3, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings just TOOK the stage, which Jones proceeded to tear up. Whatever got into Sharon Jones in Austin sure worked; it was one of the most energetic and engaged shows I've ever seen at SXSW, and the crowd gave her and her band as much love back as the band gave to the crowd.

The Budos Band capped things off with a thunderous set of dark, at times almost-sinister Staten Island funk. I'd never really noticed how dark their music was until tonight; eight heavy-looking dudes in black t-shirts, knit hats and crap tennis shoes, the exact visual opposite of the well-dressed Dap Kings, laying down a very heavy groove that seemed to emanate from underground. They brought everyone back for a final song, a big-band sing-along version of Sly Stone's "Family Affair" that sent everyone off into the night with more soul in their soul.

*The last band I saw was one of those classic SXSW moments: a totally unknown (to me) band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (from Portland, of course), who blew what little was left of my mind and ears at 1:30 in the morning with a set of insanely great psychedelic guitar rock that had the audience weeping with pure pleasure. Thanks to the Weekly's Stephen Seigel for the turn-on!

*Finally: another you-had-to-be-there moment, at 2:30 in the morning or so we come across a guy methodically and maniacally pounding a full drum kit into submission, set up on the street in downtown Austin, his Bonham-on-speed pounding echoing for blocks.

The magic still happens!

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