The SXSW music recap, part three

>> Friday, April 01, 2011

But Friday we were doing so much better. Sleep, a shower. And then there was the the Yoko Ono interview, and, oh, Yoko was marvelous.

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Bearsuit at Latitude 30

I don't know if this is a stupid reason to see a band or not: I'm struggling with a probably lousy short story called "Bearsuit" right now and this was my work-in-progress last month, too. So I see that there's a band called Bearsuit playing at Latitude 30, and it's like, "Well, why the hell not?"

So these kids remind me of Bis, and the idea that this is my reference point and that Bis are so '90s depresses me somehow, but it's meant as a compliment for Bearsuit, who were a helluva lot of fun in much the same way Bis were back in the day.

If you don't remember Bis, a lot of their music involved bloops and beeps and everybody in the band yelling and singing, which is a shallow-but-accurate enough description of Bearsuit, one that probably sounds disparaging somehow but shouldn't. They were, like I said, a helluva lot of fun, and it may be better if I post one of their videos when I have a chance. Check 'em out, anyway.

The One A.M. Radio and The Dears, behind Mellow Johnny's

The Dears were not a "Why the hell not?" band; The Dears, a six-piece Canadian indie pop band fronted by a really phenomenal vocalist, Murray Lightburn, and his wife, Natalia Yanchak, were on my must-see-essential-hell-yes shortlist as soon as I knew they were coming to South-By this year.

I got to Mellow Johnny's, Lance Armstrong's bicycle shop in Austin, a bit early so I wouldn't miss them; well, actually, I was so confused that I wandered into the wrong venue, asked somebody where I was, left, asked for directions, finally found my way to the entrance to the area behind the bike shop where a large awning had been set up over a stage across from some tables serving beers. Not being a bicyclist, it never occurred to me that "Mellow Johnny's" might be a bicycle shop belonging to Lance Armstrong (and anyway what the hell's wrong with "Lance's Bike Shop" I want to know), nor is a place that looks like a bicycle shop exactly the first place one might expect to see a concert.


I was there early, like I said, and I got myself a beer and ended up with a spot near the front for The One A.M. Radio, a three-piece from L.A. who had the slot before The Dears. Everything was a little behind, it seemed. I didn't mind.

The kids were alright. But I have to admit, they didn't blow me away. What they were doing sounded, really, like a lot of what you might hear on Soma FM's Indie Pop Rocks or some other indie pop internet station. Somebody in the crowd afterwards compared them to The Postal Service, and that wasn't a terrible comparison: the same catchiness marred, perhaps, by a similar sense of earnestness or overachieving. I wasn't sorry to catch the set and I didn't leave, for what that might or might not say.

Then The Dears--good god, The Dears.

I think maybe I expected, from the music, a tight, a little wound-up set. In a good way, I mean, I don't mean anal-retentive so much as very serious and somber and straitlaced. I did not, I'll admit, expect the band (as much as I love them) to rip the roof off the tent and give possibly the best show I saw while I was in Austin. At some point I found myself thinking that one sign of a good show is when the lead singer goes crowd surfing and another sign of a good show is when the lead singer is so frenzied by the awesome power of rock and roll that he (or she, though that's less-common for whatever reason) rips his shirt off; this was after Lightburn had dived off the stage and, having finally returned to the stage from the back of the crowd,completely unstoppable, ripped off his suit jacket and shirt, crooning away the entire time. Meanwhile, Patrick Krief beautifully tore notes from his guitar while the band pounded away.

I expected a good show. What I got was so far beyond that.

Everything was running behind, I mentioned, and after just a few songs the band was told they'd have to wrap it up. And they're saying goodnight to the audience and disentangling from their gear and putting things away, and the crowd can't stand it. One more song, one more song, one more song, and Lightburn is apologizing when word comes from some member of the powers-that-be that, okay, yes, The Dears can do one more song. I can only hope that whoever gave the thumbs up wasn't a member of the next band slated to play, because I don't know how they followed what happened next. Shy, offhand smiles from the band as they geared back up, only to launch into a ferocious, stunning blast that tore down whatever had managed to remain standing after The Dears' first onslaught. And then they were finished, really finished and there was no time for one more, and I don't even know what poor, damned souls had to deathmarch up onto the stage to follow that, because I'd seen what I'd come to--no, wrong, I'd seen more than I'd come to see, and I left happy, so, so, so happy at what I'd witnessed behind an oddly-named bicycle shop.

Lolita No. 18 at Elysium

Sometimes it's good to be wrong. I thought that with Yoko Ono doing her interview on Friday, she'd be playing Friday night (or Saturday morning, really), and I kept checking to make sure I knew where she was scheduled, and SXSW Go, the official scheduling app for South-By, kept deleting it or refusing to add it to my schedule, which I assumed was because SXSW Go was pretty buggy most of the time and not because I'm a moron.

Well, SXSW Go was pretty buggy (though nonetheless essential), but I'm also a moron: Ono was playing Saturday night/Sunday morning, and the show was, matter-of-fact, appearing on my schedule exactly where it was supposed to be appearing, I was simply insisting on looking for it in the wrong place. And this is why I caught Lolita No. 18 at Elysium, which turned out to be sheer awesome.

Japan is a lens through which the entire world is refracted and bent, and what the Japanese have done to punk rock is take all the fun and energy, distilled to 99.9% purity and scrapped most of the rage and angst from it. I'm not knocking rage and angst in punk--gods bless The Sex Pistols, y'know? And I'm sure there are angry, angsty J-punk bands. But most of what we end up hearing over here across the ocean is what I mentioned in that first sentence, really: ferocious exuberance, thrashing pleasure. I dare you to not feel the urge to bounce and bang your head, although if, like me, you're old and rusted, I don't blame you if you abstain from the acts themselves.

Lolita No. 18 have been around for quite awhile, though this was my first exposure to them, and have an unbeatable pedigree that includes having had an album produced by the late, great Joey Ramone before he left us. Their pink-haired lead singer yells at the audience and the audience yells back--they played a song from their new record (and I'm a terrible reviewer for not having gotten the name of it down yet) where she shouts, "Oi! Oi! Oi!" and when she yells it and holds out the microphone to the crowd so we can shout, "Oi! Oi! Oi!" back at her, how can we not even if we're some idiot who came to the venue a night early and doesn't have a clue? If you're not grokking what the band is doing, I'm sorry, you're broken and I'm not sure I can help you, but I'll cross my fingers and wish you well, hoping for your enlightenment.

When they were done, the last thing I did before I went back to the hotel, happily exhausted, was stumble to the back of Elysium, where there was a long table stretched out between the men's room and the lower-floor bar, where CDs and merch were being sold. And I couldn't even read the title of the CD I bought, nor would I be able to listen to it until I got home, but it was a treasure, a trophy, a dear thing I was happy even existed.


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