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CoS at SXSW: Jack White, The Shins, South by South Mess, The Drums…

on March 17, 2012, 5:14pm

Welcome to our report on South by Southwest from Austin, TX, where sleep is nominal and foot pain is exponential. We’re giving you the run on bands we really enjoyed every day this week, so check out our blurbs and pictures below for coverage of Friday at SXSW, including a review of Jack White’s much talked about performance.

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Parties/Showcases

We Listen For You Acoustic Showcase – 10:30 a.m.  @ Diverse Arts lot (Bro Stephens, Conveyer, Arms, Henry Clay People, Dent May, Miracles of Modern Science, and Kevin Barnes)

Me personally? I don’t really like hearing bands at a club at 1:30 in the afternoon. If there were be a rule against playing early afternoon sets, all bands’ moods would increase by 100%. So, 10:30 a.m. is  obviously an absolute nightmare, but under a overcast sky with a cool breeze in a quiet lot away from the din of downtown, seven bands played seven acoustic sets for about 60 or so people and it was — and this is one of the highest compliments in the context of SXSW — worth it.

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Conveyor // Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

The toast of the morning was Conveyer. Their freewheeling compositions harken the focused songcraft of their Brooklyn home with the freedom of campfire freak folk (think Grizzly Bear Collective and you’re in the ballpark). Tight, interwoven harmonies were backed against a tip-toeing guitar riff here, or sudden yawp there, or an ambient noise made by putting two cell phones together in front of the mic. Even for a small acoustic set, their fertile folky sound was easy and enjoyable to marvel at.

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Kevin Barnes // Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

I neither furrowed my brow nor winced my eyes for the entire morning, which is saying something since usually its hard to cobble together a 100% fantastic lineup and I think I was served decaf coffee on accident, but nevertheless it was all grand. Dent May drawled his songs out, Henry Clay People mostly ignored the ambience and played loud and proud anyway, Mircales of Modern Science turned the place into an arena, and of course Kevin Barnes was the cherry on top, playing sleepy versions of “She’s A Rejctor” and “Suffer For Fashion”. –Jeremy D. Larson

Hard Rock Hotel’s “Sound of Your Stay” Lounge @ Austin Convention Center

In the midst of the chaos that is SXSW, it’s nice to have a few things you can rely on. There will be awesome music from bands you’ve never heard of. There will be more free booze than you should probably drink. There will be enough tacos to fill the UT football stadium. And if you’re a performing artist or celeb, you can count on the full VIP treatment at exclusive lounges and parties around Austin.

This year, Hard Rock Hotel hosted the “Sound of Your Stay” lounge, drawing a healthy stream of visitors looking for a place to unwind, catch a variety of performances, and grab a drink. Oh, and get inked, and if time permits, play around on some sweet Fender guitars. It’s true, the event featured everything from a tattoo parlor to a shave lounge to the invite-only gifting (aka free swag) room.

Consequence of Sound’s Heather Kaplan headed to the lounge to check it all out…

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Shearwater – 12:25 p.m. @ Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center (WFUV)

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Photo by Harley Brown

After seeing bands in dark, beer-stained warehouses, it was a welcome change hanging out in the Convention Center’s beanbag chairs to watch Shearwater play side one of their February release, Animal Joy. Even though the band plugged in—unlike opener Gary Clark, Jr.—Jonathan Meiburg’s warm vocals and awkwardness about releasing Animal Joy on Valentine’s Day generated the intimacy of an acoustic set. They thundered through “Breaking the Yearlings” and brought “You As You Were” to life onstage, fully inhabiting the cavernous stage with ambitious arrangements that incorporate heartier genres, like “1980s testosterone rock,” in addition to their established atmospheric folk. Shearwater moved me with their new material in a way they haven’t before, and I look forward to seeing them when we both return to those dimly lit bars. –Harley Brown

Escort – 1:45 p.m. @ Stubb’s (Spin Party)

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“Don’t be afraid, you can come closer,” vocalist Adeline Michèle beckoned the still evolving crowd at Stubb’s early Friday afternoon. Animated, wiry, bubbly: You name it, she’s got it. Her supporting band? Not so much. While Michèle ricocheted across the stage, bringing to mind a young Whitney Houston, her surrounding 17 member “disco orchestra” felt rather amateurish, at least in the beginning. The young starlet tried her best to breathe life into set opener “Starlight”, and while her efforts were commendable, the band itself was as exciting as watching War Horse on valium. They sounded tight, they just lacked any real fervor. However, four or five tracks later, specifically on “A Sailboat in the Moonlight”, the Brooklyn band started catching up with Michèle. Hungover? Exhausted? No idea, but their manager might want to pick up a 24-pack of Red Bull for the near future. -Michael Roffman

Ben Kweller – 3 p.m. @ Radio Day Stage (The Current Showcase)

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The thing about Ben Kweller is that he looks so young and adorable. Throughout his two decade-spanning career, though, he’s used his various albums and EPs to prove that the babyface is all there is, and underneath is loads of insightful singer-songwriter gold. In a live setting, that grand truth becomes even more clear. Kweller’s setlist, mostly focused on tunes from his latest album Go Fly A Kite, doesn’t necessarily expand and flesh out live. Instead, the material’s more nuanced aspects, like their maddeningly simple and powerfully effective structure or just how much energy is infused within them, becomes all that more tangible. It’s easy to lump Kweller as a mere dynamo on stage, but that buzz extends beyond power-pop songs into romantic ballads and heartfelt revelations, meaning the whole show feels like you’re riding a giant surge of true musical bliss. Nothing cutesy about that, folks. -Chris Coplan

Jimmy Cliff – 4:25 p.m. @ Google Play Stage

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Photo by Michael Roffman

You could say Cliff pulled an Axl Rose and made the audience wait 45 minutes for his set to start. Or you could get sort of poetic and insist that the reggae auteur was just waiting for the sun to set. Either way, you’d have a strong case, but the latter would be more fitting. At 63 years old, Cliff performed just as many shows this week as a budding artist like Cloud Nothings did. So if the man wants to be late, let him be late. Sure, Google wasn’t too happy, but when he performed his cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” as the strong Austin sunlight snuck through the grey clouds above, you’d have to be a little shit to complain. -Michael Roffman

Korallreven – 5:00 p.m. @ Hype Hotel (Creamteam.tv)

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Photo by Harley Brown

With their body-cradling beats and sweeping light show, Korallreven gave the impression that it wasn’t broad daylight outside, it didn’t smell like free Taco Bell inside, and everyone still had it in them to dance the night away. The Swedish trio falls somewhere between Deorean’s bubblegum house and the experimentalism of Elite Gymnastics (who share label Acephale, recently remixed “Sa Sa Samoa”, and which vocalist Marcus Joons endorsed by wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Minneapolis duo’s Ruin EP). “As Young As Yesterday” was particularly transcendent, sustaining tension with rattletrap Houston beats before The Radio Dept.’s Daniel Tjader unleashed soothing waves of synthpads. Truly, as described on SXSW’s official website, “This is music for losing yourself and also finding yourself, sometimes in the same afternoon.” - Harley Brown

Seryn – 5:00 p.m. @ Scholtz Garden (Texas Music Magazine Party)

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Photo by Paul de Revere

With the hustle-bustle, crowds and time crunch of downtown Austin, and all the traveling New Yorkers and other big city folks in town for South by Southwest, it’s easy to forget that you’re in Texas. But 10 blocks away from downtown was a small taste of a state known for its roots music, family atmosphere and, let’s be real, a traditional, even fiercely conservative culture. This was all reflected in Texas Music Magazine’s Reader Appreciation Party, a family event with small children in which a downtown South by- reveler might feel a bit odd lighting up a joint or saying a curse word. It featured a variety of Texas acts, but none better and more musically stunning than Denton, T.X.’s Seryn, a chamber-pop quintet with vague Contemporary Christian music leanings whose washes of gorgeous, twinkling sound (comparable, at times, to fellow Texans Explosions in the Sky) and tight vocal harmonies distinguished itself from the pack. Songs like “We Will All Be Changed” and “River Song” off Seryn’s debut This Is Where We Are stunned the crowd. “On My Knees”, with its hypnotic live vamping (a constant swapping of instruments including a xylophone, humming into the body of a ukulele and bowed guitars, basses and banjos), hushed it. The band seamlessly transitioned between songs, making a sound as endless and beautiful as the Texas sky under which it performed. -Paul de Revere

The Shins – 6:40 p.m. @ Google Play Stage

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

If there’s one thing to take away from a Shins performance nowadays, it’s that, out of all the great songs that James Mercer has written, it’s really fucking baffling how he managed to eek out a track like “It’s Only Life”. Sappy, uninspired, and gooey, it’s the sort of schlock that Lite FM champions, and not the good Lite FM, either. Still, one sore thumb doesn’t break a hand, and The Shins’ headlining performance at Google Play was all sorts of a joyous celebration. “Simple Song” meshes well with past favorites “Caring is Creepy” or “Australia”, while the urgency behind a new track such as “The Rifles Spiral” picks up the driving distortion Mercer tinkered with on 2007’s “Phantom Limb”. They didn’t return for an encore, as their set list suggested, but then again, it was getting late. Yeah, that’s no excuse for South by Southwest. Oh well. -Michael Roffman

THEESatisfaction – 11 p.m. @ Red 7 (Sub Pop)

In the case of avant R&B duo THEESatisfaction’s slot at the Sub Pop showcase, the venue made all the difference. On their own, the pair are mesmerizing live, demonstrating oodles upon oodles of charisma that they use to make the crowd swoon. The songs, eclectic, sample-heavy gems infused with heaps of ambiance, transform on stage into energetic transmissions of dancing orders and new social standards. The real difference maker, beyond the ladies’ smooth tribal dance routine, is the rivers of sweat generated thanks to Red 7 being the hottest place since the 9th circle of Hell. It’s the extra special touch that makes audience and performer alike fight their way through smelly agony and burrow themselves closer and closer to the heart of the material as a means to transcend the sticky feeling. And if there’s any musical act that makes sweating a truly existential experience, it’s THEESatisfaction. -Chris Coplan

Snowden – 11:30 p.m. @ Hotel Vegas Patio

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Photo by Paul de Revere

At South by Southwest, acts get discovered, buzz bands keep their stock high and established acts revel in their draw. But comebacks, like Fiona Apple, were prevalent this year. One of the quieter ones this year was Atlanta-born, now Austin-based Snowden. The band’s debut full length Anti-Anti was released on Jade Tree Records in 2006, a dance-friendly, fuzzed-out bit of post-punk that promised great things from the band. The band has since rebooted with new side men and singer/guitarist Jordan Craig still at the live and creative helm. Craig’s older songs “Between the Rent and Me” and “Like Bullets” were as tight and martial-sounding as ever. The new songs, early versions of which appear on the band’s Slow Soft Syrup EP, reveled in the same dripping buzz as its debut. The set was a last-minute addition to this slightly off-the-SXSW-grid show but was still an industry preview of the new Snowden, which was signed last year to Kings of Leon’s Followill brothers’ Serpents & Snakes Records. Keep an eye out. -Paul de Revere

Jack White – 11:45 @ Stage on Sixth (Third Man Records)

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Bruce Springsteen has long been the gold standard in live concert experience. Thursday night at South by Southwest once again proved this. But on Friday night at that same festival in Austin, TX, Bill Murray and the other 649 lucky individuals who packed inside the Stage on Sixth witnessed another rock legend give Springsteen a run for his money.

Jack White’s genius was displayed in nearly every aspect of the Third Man Records’ official showcase, from the booking of the 10 other bands who played (Reggie Watts, White Rabbits, and Karen Elson proved particular treats) to the matching baby blue color scheme of his stage. The amps, the guitars, the foot petals, the backdrop, even Third Man’s official photographer were all colored in Jack’s new favorite shade. Wes Anderson would have been proud.

And of course, there was the music. A 90-minute set, which was easily the best live performance this writer has ever seen him play (White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather all included.) It helps that White has one of the most formidable back catalogs of any musician going today, but there was something Springsteen-ian about the whole thing. Be it his own solo material (most of which is very White Stripes-esque) or his pre-solo compositions, each song exploded to form a dazzling wall of sound, a level of intensity and vigor and perfection obtained by only the greats.

His two bands were both up to the challenge; the all-girl ensemble that opened the show and the all-male ensemble that closed brought new depths and layers to once-simple, guitar-centric White Stripes cuts. Fiddle, slide guitar, bass, and keyboard were all worked in seamlessly, as if this is how they were always supposed to sound. Still, Jack himself provided the ultimate highlight, obviously, with solos after solos after solos, daring both his bands and the audience to keep up.

And keep up they did, even the dedicated souls who remained outside the venue even after being shut out. In fact, it was them who gave South by Southwest its most memorable moment. Hearing the opening riffs of “Seven Nation Army” through an open window, the thousands amassed outside began chanting “Oh.Oh.Oh.Oh.Oh.Oh.Oh.” Even White seemed blown away, smirking at the sight as he ripped into another one of those iconic riffs. Music’s last great band may be gone, but music’s last great rocker may just be reaching his pinnacle. -Alex Young

The Drums – 12:40 a.m. @ Stubb’s (Time Out North America)

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Could someone give this band a push? They deserve it. While last year’s Portamento came and went, it really shouldn’t have. Chock full of melancholic power pop, The Drums’ sophomore LP shakes and shifts like a kid first learning to deal with angst. Nearly all of the material burns just as fast live, too. With the exception of the “meh”-inducing “I Need a Doctor”, there wasn’t one track that didn’t shimmy a pair of Chucks at Stubb’s. For a late show – it pushed towards a quarter ’til two in the mo’ – everyone’s BBQ bellies sure as hell danced, especially to singles like “Money” and “Let’s Go Surfing”. Frontman Jonathan Pierce continues to find his inner Morrissey (a feat everyone should accomplish sometime in their life), and his tragic swaying suggests he’s in a good funk nowadays. Also, somewhere in there they kicked out a new song, or at least I think they did, but they never addressed it as such. Both Pierce and Jacob Graham sing on it and it’s a two-part chorus that drives like The Dream Academy. Considering they told us at last year’s Lollapalooza that they were pretty much finished with a third LP, perhaps we’re not too far off from a follow up. Here’s hoping. -Michael Roffman

Mikal Cronin – 1:00 a.m. @ Beerland

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Photo by Michael Roffman

Not too many of these opportunities. Early into Saturday morning, Mikal Cronin dished out his fourth or fifth set of the week at the thumbsized bar, aptly dubbed Beerland, where he, alongside Ty Segall and his fleshed out band, performed his latest eponymous debut pretty much in full. Maybe 30 people altogether saw it, maybe even fewer. That’s the sort of show you remind yourself about when you start thinking, Why am I so obsessed with music? Before close, Cronin segued into a pulsating freak-out that was something both scary and supremely blissful. And you were trying to define “rock hero”? -Michael Roffman

South By South Mess @ 21st Co-Op

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Contrasting the warm hug of the morning was a fuck-all house party at the 21st Co-Op  organized with 100% DIY aesthetic featuring bands that knew how to make absolute most with what they had. They radiated energy, dripped sweat, and looked elated to be playing a bananas rager a solid 1.5 miles away from 6th St. and the Hype Hotel. Bands played on two stages, alternating  between a lovely outdoor patio with the smell of burgers cooking and weed wafting in the background, and a clay oven fashioned into an indoor music space. Some highlights:

Girlfriends

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

A one-man song-construction artist from Portland who looped freak progressive loops on his guitar, and his synth, then sat down on the drums to bang out the rest of the song and sing. Ten points for not having to pay anyone else in your band, and 20 points for completely not needing anyone else in your band.

AU

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Immortal technique derailed and with a new female vocalist. Its high energy, byzantine song structures, and sound coming from everywhere .They knot their songs up so thick, but never forget to untie them with a pop-spine.

Hume

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One of the themes of the evening was  ”fuck a motorik groove”, and Hume stuck it to the krautrock forefathers hard (though they surely didn’t mean any disrespect, what with two drummers and all.) It was a cunning, elusive, noise-ridden mind trip that didn’t lean on groove, but used it as a life-preserver when things were getting too far out.

Caddywhompus 

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If you want to learn how to play drums, watch this band live. If you want to fall in love with smart-ass punk music, watch this band live. If you want to see the maximum amount of rock & roll two dudes can make, watch this band live.

Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt vs. Netherfriends vs. Rich Aucoin vs. Best Fwends

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So in the clay oven there was a community dance party featuring a giant light-up power glove, a giant multi-colored sheet, an ersatz child’s play slide fashioned in the middle of the room, and crowd surfing in a space whose ceiling could not have been more than nine feet tall. The music was heart-on-the-sleep dance pop with sweeping sentiments about love at the end of the world, but it was the perfect thing for a crowd of sweater people to scream as they danced away. Say what you will about the schtick of these kind of things, but I have never ever seen so many smiles at a show. – Jeremy D. Larson

Stay tuned tomorrow for our Saturday coverage, in addition to photo galleries of the whole week, and our 10 CoSigns from the festival.

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