The first day of SXSW's music track was also St. Patrick's Day. Whether this made a difference in anything but the amount of green seen on Sixth Street, the festival's main drag, I'm not quite sure; the street overflows with drunken revelers every night of SXSW. Before long, however, the main topic of discussion was a bit more somber: By that night, the news was out that Big Star's Alex Chilton had passed away. The Big Star show scheduled for Saturday night would go on as a tribute and memorial. But there were plenty of other things to do before then.
Miles Kurosky @ Red Eyed Fly [unofficial day show] If the name Miles Kurosky means nothing to you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry because that means you missed out on the bittersweetly joyous jangle of Beulah, the late-‘90s/early-‘00s band for which Kurosky was the singer. Despite it being the middle of the afternoon and there being more people onstage than seemed comfortable, a slightly nervous-looking Kurosky made new fans and charmed the old with a mix of songs from his new solo record — and a few much-missed Beulah favorites. I’ve never been more happy to see a trumpet player as when Kurosky, muttering something about how they had a trumpet player, they might as well use him, broke into “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand.”
Goodness knows, it’s been a wonderful run...
I’ve not had a chance to listen to the new record but what I heard in Austin was just what I wanted to hear: Kurosky’s perfectly ordinary voice still blends with bright guitars and, yes, trumpets — among other things — as timelessly as it ever has. This guy makes songs that could fit on a mix-tape from any era in my life. There’s a magic that happens when the usual rock lineup transforms through superb songwriting into something so expansive. Go back and listen to When Your Heartstrings Break. You won’t be disappointed.
Frightened Rabbit @ Day Stage Café I can’t imagine that a lunch gig inside the convention center — where people are chowing on inedible Pizza Hut personal pizzas, searching for outlets and pawing through their enormous yet handy tote bags of promotional whatnot — is high on the list of any band’s dream places to play, but the truth is, the funky convention center venue had some of the best sound I heard all week. Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit started too soon — singer Scott Hutchison warbled, “Someone should have told us...” when it turned out they were supposed to wait for a radio DJ to introduce them, thus giving context to the live broadcast — but it didn’t seem to trip them up. The too-short set included at least some of the hits from their still-smallish catalog of soaring, heartbroken, inexplicably endearing indie rock, including the cheerfully sad-sack “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” the only song from the new The Winter of Mixed Drinks I actually know. (This is a minor tragedy.) The band has sprung a new member since they last played in this neck of the woods: Hutchison told Scottish music blog The Pop Cop that new guy Gordon Skene plays “a bit of everything.” His additional harmonies (look, I grew up on the Posies; I’m a sucker for a sweet harmony) made the FRabbits live experience just that much more likely to induce warm fuzzies.
Anya Marina @ Max’s Wine Dive [unofficial day show] I’m not ashamed to say I went to see Anya Marina for the simple reason that I really, really like her song on the New Moon soundtrack. I was less enthralled by the beginning of her brief set at Max’s Wine Dive, where, as I said on Twitter, my first impression was that she was like Joey Lauren Adams — the squeaky voice! the apple cheeks! — doing Metric karaoke on downers. But “Satellite Heart,” spare and pensive, was a delicate showcase for that odd voice, fragile and creaky at once, and didn’t need to be interrupted by the iPod. Later in the week, I watched Marina play a song or two with her band. The fuller sound helped, but still the rest of the songs just didn’t feel as complete, as ready to leap into the ears of listeners and take on lives of their own, as “Heart.” But she did do a sweet T.I. cover.
Danny Malone @ Live Create Lounge Malone recently played a show at Sam Bond’s to an utterly disinterested, loudly talking crowd. He was late, he was frustrated, he seemed about to crack — and then he left the stage to cut a rug in the open bit of floor and opted to perform his final song on the table of the loudest talkers, who, unsurprisingly, finally stopped talking. I get not being into a show, but I don’t get talking at full volume during a solo set. In Austin, Malone was better received — it’d be a hometown crowd were it anything but SXSW, where the few locals I met were apt to swear they don’t get near Sixth Street during the festival — as he yelped through a ferocious track I’d not heard before. I didn’t want to leave, but a Portland-shot movie was calling.
Bad Veins @ Red 7 Good venue, good (not too packed) crowd, better-than-good band. Bad Veins consists of two dudes and a reel-to-reel, and if you think that’s not much different than two dudes and an iPod, you’re sadly mistaken. The duo sounds kind of like the Killers if the Killers had gotten better and more DIY; their charm is bolstered by the juxtaposition of electronic elements and analog equipment (like Irene, the reel-to-reel, and the telephone singer Benjamin Davis sometimes uses as a mic). For being just two guys, they dominated the cavernous, concrete-floored indoor space at Red 7. I’ve had Davis’ voice in my head ever since, singing, “Sometimes / to get by / I believe in the lie.”
Two Rocky Votolato (at Red Eyed Fly) songs gave me very little to talk about but to say that the appreciative crowd was big, Votolato sounded great as ever, and I can’t get my hands on his new record, True Devotion, soon enough.
Jaguar Love @ The Ghost Room Maybe it was the Ghost Room's relative distance from the middle of the mayhem, or maybe it was the 1 am start time, but there weren’t nearly as many people as there should be to see Portland’s Jaguar Love — as was the case when they played The District in Eugene some time ago.
Look. Do you like your guitar lines angular, your electro-pop structures roughed up with noise, your singers explosively energetic and prone to excessive hair-shaking, your vocals over the top, your live experiences addictive? Then join the club, and forget that Pitchfork gave the band’s new record a 2 (out of 10). Yes, the band’s sound is a smash-up of rock mini-genres from the last few decades; yes, there’s a certain campy kitsch to Johnny Whitney’s shrieking, especially now that he’s grown out his hair (“He’s the Muppet Robert Plant!” a friend said). Hyper-stylized and just plain hyper, Jaguar Love is basically a frenzied post-everything guilty pleasure you needn’t feel guilty about; just pogo and sing along, or if you’re a stand-still viewer, watch transfixed as Whitney’s hair takes on a life of its own. Whitney and bandmate Cody Votolato (Rocky's brother), along with Past Lives’ Jordan Blilie, were in the Blood Brothers, but where that band veered toward a more aggressively hardcore scream-it-out sound, Jaguar Love wants you to dance it out. With screaming, sure. But it’s happy screaming.