Is it Sunday yet? My lungs are killing me, my feet are simply not speaking to me and if I never have to deal with wireless Internet again it’ll be too soon. You guessed it, I’m ready to go home. Frankly, this all-everything-all-the-time mentality that serves as SXSW’s power plant is for the birds. I don’t know how (or why) people on the other two coasts do it, but to paraphrase John Denver – too bad he’s not still around to launch a big SXSW “comeback” a la Darryl Hall – thank God I’m a Gulf Coast boy.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying myself. It’s a beautiful day, and as soon as I file this I’m going to a party where a bunch of old friends are playing. That’s been the nicest part of this whole thing, catching up with old friends (there’s never really enough time for that) and making new ones, particularly a handful of my fellow Village Voice Media music eds. Speaking of catching up, since my listening habits lately have been dominated by Tom Petty, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Wilco and other bands people playing SXSW wish they were, I figured I’d spend Friday getting up to speed on some more recent musical developments.
Carbon/Silicon: SXSW has a weird karma to it. Thursday night I spent half an hour in line hoping to get into former Clash co-frontman Mick Jones’ new band Carbon/Silicon’s showcase and moved all of about five feet. (Who books a punk-rock legend into a storefront Sixth St. bar? Guess.) Turns out I probably made the right decision when I said “fuck this” and walked on down the street, but this is still the closest I’ve ever come to seeing the Clash live, or ever will. C/S played a brief afternoon set tinged with country and pub-rock at the Free Yr Radio parking lot, and the effect was the Clash without the fangs. (R.I.P. Joe Strummer; we miss you.) Still, Jones’ first post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite is one of the most underrated groups of the ‘80s.
The Ting Tings/Santogold: I decided to post up at Stubb’s indie-dance bill for the first part of Friday night. Manchester boy-girl duo the Ting Tings bounced from electric folk one song to glitch disco the next. She sounds a lot like Bjork, and it looks like what I said the other day about LCD Soundsystem being this year’s biggest, um, “inspiration” is indeed coming to pass. As for Brooklyn’s Santogold, someone described her to me as “the next M.I.A.,” but if it’s all the same, I’ll stick with the current one. She rapped over a similar hybrid of dub, Bollywood bounce and some TV on the Radio squelchy stuff – M.I.A. ex Diplo handling the beats didn’t exactly discourage the comparisons – but her voice was thin and yelpy, and judging by both what lyrics I could make out (“we think you’re a joke”) and her stage banter (“man, it’s hot in Texas”), she didn’t have a whole lot to say anyway.
MGMT: One of the bands featured in the recent New York Times Sunday write-up about the unlikely success of an eclectic cadre of Brooklyn bands (Yeasayer, Dragons of Zinth, total unknowns Vampire Weekend), MGMT would simply be called “prog” if anyone on hand Friday was old enough to know what that was. The singer sang in that high Prince-like falsetto that’s so popular these days, and the music offset spacey, classical-like keyboard runs with vicious power chords. They’re very good at atmospherics and creating moods; the music felt less like a collection of songs than interconnected parts of a grand orchestral-rock suite. After a couple of acoustic-based, effects-enhanced ballads (which probably reminded the crowd of Arcade Fire, this week’s second-most-copied band), the second half of the set got a lot poppier but just as lush, something akin to My Morning Jacket for city kids who wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near Southern rock. But MGMT is out of time: surefire single “Electric Eel” could have been either Modest Mouse chilling at Beck’s Mutations crib or Prince doing Mick Jagger circa Some Girls.
The Cribs: Yikes. Wasn’t quite ready for this prick-kicking Britrock in the vein of Stereophonics, with two speeds: fast and faster. The trio’s spidery guitar hooks and riffs weren’t quite as stilted and spastic as Arctic Monkeys, but they’re every bit as rambunctious a live act. I forsee similar fortunes as the Monkeys in the States too – massive hit with the Internet/college-radio crowd, and that’s about it. Of course, since their countrymen still eat this stuff up with a spoon, they’ll be far too busy shagging supermodels to give much of a shit about us Yanks.
White Rabbits: A Brooklyn group exiled to Club de Ville that nonetheless sounded as British as the Cribs, only in a Beatles/Kinks kind of way. Their teasing, piano-heavy pop-rock featured sharp rhythms and yet another falsetto singer – to borrow a phrase from Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with that? Very catchy and sweet, but could use a few more teeth.
Supersuckers: All right, so they’re not exactly new, but give me a break. Eddie Spaghetti has been shadowing me all week, so the least I figured I could do was watch his band for a while. After a couple of bluesy warm-ups, Spaghetti proclaimed the Suckers “the greatest rock and roll band in the motherfucking world,” and the Seattle roots-punks kicked into overdrive with “Good Luck” and “Bad Bad Bad.” Bold words, but like former Houston Buffs/St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and broadcaster Dizzy Dean used to say, it ain’t bragging if you can do it, and Spaghetti and company brought it all right. Besides, songs about misbehaving and getting high never really get old.
Robyn: I wasn’t sure if I’d make it in time to see this former Backstreet Boys opener now embraced by Pitchfork Nation, but I did, although Perez Hilton beat me there. (Go figure.) Robyn sounded like what those poor cats at Stubb’s earlier should have: perfect pop/dance/electro that pushes all the right buttons. Sharing a homeland with ABBA doesn’t hurt, I suppose, plus she kept this year’s Prince theme going with a lascivious cover of “Jack U Off.” By the way, if Pangaea is charging six bucks for a beer, I don’t even want to know what the mixed drinks cost. – Chris Gray
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