Last night brought some of the best performances I've seen yet at this festival. Here's What It Was Like on Thursday night...
Band: El Remolon, a two-piece electronic dance act from Buenos Aires Where: Ninety Proof Lounge What It Was Like: Stepping into an Argentinian dance club (without very many people there, though--hey, it was only 9 or so). And that was the idea (minus the lack of a crowd), actually. This showcase of all Buenos Aires-based electronic club acts at Ninety Proof Lounge was thrown together by Grant Dull, a former San Antonian who moved to Buenos Aires five years ago to open up a club called Zizek. This Thursday night show was a showcase of the acts that rotate through the club's Friday night performance schedules. Verdict: El Remolon wasn't bad, actually, although their use of electronic bongos as their back beat was somewhat over the top--but when isn't it in world dance music? Honestly, I kinda dug it and thought it'd be a great soundtrack for a sweaty, people-filled dance-club. Unfortunately for El Remolon, unlike all other SXSW venues, this room wasn't very sweaty or people-filled. So I moved on. Random Note: The crowd, too, was pretty much all Argentinian, except for a film producer from LA who was there in hopes of Dull allowing him to use some of this music (Dull also runs the Zizek label) for an upcoming feature.
Band: Florence and the Machine, an act from the UK with an amazing female vocalist, a guitarist and a whole lot of piped in sound (hence...the Machine). Where: The Rio What It Was Like: Butter, baby. Florence has a voice tailored for old-time AM radio soul and she knows how to use it, updating her sound to showcase flirty, dangerous lyrics. It'll hit me later exactly who she sounds like. Her set saw her drumming away with a snare drum in front of her as she howled away into the mic stand. Verdict: Dug. It. Random Note: This was the first of three acts I saw this evening as part of BBC 6's showcase at the festival.
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Band: Wild Lights, a four-piece indie rock act from New Hampshire Where: The Rio What It Was Like: Um...kinda like watching an indie rock act from New Hampshire. These boys tried oh-so-hard to be oh-so-cool on stage. And it just didn't work. At one point, the lead singer, who doubled as the keys player and (sometime) guitarist, tried lighting a cigarette butt between songs. Nevermind that it was a smoke-free venue. He tried lighting it about six times before realizing the tip was wet and ripping the end off. Then, he finally light the butt--just enough to get the harsh burn from the filter lighting, it seemed--and took one puff before throwing it down in disgust, trying to look cool. He didn't. And it was a perfect metaphor for this set. Verdict: Not good. They had a crowd--everyone in the place was there to see the next band, MGMT--and they had some people bobbing their heads along with the set, but if it weren't for MGMT, no one would've even bothered sticking around, in my opinion. The only song worth a damn was the last one. Random Note: As a native New Englander I can confidently say that the chorus from that last song is something a lot of northeasterners feel: "Fuck California. Fuck San Francisco."
Band: MGMT, the best dance psychadellic rock band out there these days. Have you heard their debut, Oracular Spectacular? LISTEN TO IT. I command thee! Where: The Rio What It Was Like: Being a sardine. They packed the crowd in to The Rio for this one. And it was sweaty and smelly and gross. But the music? Pretty dope. Verdict: I was such a big fan of Oracular Spectacular that I was worried this two-piece wouldn't be able to match it live. Bringing in three more band members helped. It was a great set. The crowd was into it, too, going batshit crazy for "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feet," dancing like no one was watching. Great showcase. Random Note: Sure, they've only got the one disc out there right now, and it's only 40 minutes long. And yes, considering they played a 50-minute set, they were bound to play some B-sides. I get that. But why play four B-sides and not touch the best song on the album, "Kids"?
Band: Drug Rug, a low-fi indie Boston band that was formerly a singer-songwriter duo, but has formally added three other members. Whereas they were once a bit cutesy, they're now pretty rockin'. Where: Spiro's What It Was Like: Being utterly surprised. I didn't know the band officially had expanded until doing some research today, after seeing their Thursday night set, so when I saw them on stage as a five-piece, I was a bit miffed. Had I walked into the wrong club? No, it was the same band--only better. Verdict: Drug Rug was pretty awesome last night. A bit sloppy, sure; but when you're a low-fi act, you can gracefully get away with those things. If they ever tour through Dallas (they're notorious for sticking close to the Boston scene), I'll be one of the first in line to see them. Random Note: The band's awesomest song, "Walden", pretty much rips its bass line right from The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." But, I must say, it uses it well.
Band: Yeasayer, an experimental Brooklyn band that pretty much defies categorization. Here's my best effort: experimental stoner space rock. Where: Emo's IV Lounge What It Was Like: Waiting for two and two to become four. Yeasayer's set started 15 minutes late--it was the first show I've seen all week not start right on time, surprisingly--and the venue was pretty crowded by the time the band started. To make up for it, the band played a 50 minute set, shooting a few minutes beyond the bar's 2 a.m. closing time. Verdict: OK, so I was beat by the time Yeasasyer started its set. I'd heard a lot of good things about them, though, so I trucked through it. And, at first, I just didn't get it. I was trying and trying and trying and I just thought it was weird for weird's sake. And then, halfway through the set, after I moved to find another spot to stand (it was too crowded and sweaty where I was), it started to make sense. First I noticed the talent. Then the passion. And then I found myself nodding along with the music. It's weird; experiemental acts like this usually aren't too visually captivating, but this one had me in a trance by the end of its set--and without a fancy laser show or anything! One problem: I don't think I'd buy this disc and play it at home or for friends. It's definitely concert setting music. Random Note: At one point between songs, the band heard the music from the stage next door. "Is that techno music?" one member asked. When an audience member said it was Serj Tankian from System of a Down, the member who asked started laughing. Another member then joked, "System of a Down? Oh, I love those guys!" Doubtful. -- Pete Freedman