Crustcake, represented by the intrepid Andrew Wilhelm and Van Damned, spent four days in Austin, Texas, at South By Southwest, one of the world's largest, film, interactive and music festivals. Between the two, they saw 49 bands, ate 10 tacos, four slices of pizza, four gyros, three bratwurst, and drank 52 beers, five whiskey and cokes, five rum and gingers and exactly one shot of tequila. They insist that you come with them to SXSW 2012.
By Friday, the wear begins to manifest. Knees, ankles and heels ache. Sunburns begin to redden. Guts churn under the onslaught of cheap food and cheaper beer. The cure? Drink early and drink often, solider. You've made it this far. Why stop now?
Van and Andy, masochists both, worked their way downtown for more punishment. Andy made better time, managing to catch grinders Owen Hart before Van arrived. The narrative begins there.
You can’t get off light if you name your band Owen Hart. There's the obvious heckling from wrestling fans, but if you're consciously going to have a lightning rod for a name, you better have some killer music to back it up with. Thankfully, the Tacoma, Wash., quintet does. The band's riffage is diverse. Doom enters seamlessly into Discordance Axis grind, followed by noise rock angularity with some melodeath as an icing on the spiked cake. Adjust the order as needed. Too sweet and too short. They're welcome back to Austin any time.
Andy skipped on over to Southern Lord's Power of the Riff party at ND at 501 Studios. The County Bucks were playing as he got in. He said they sound a helluva lot like ZZ Top, and that's nothing to fault. Van arrived just as they were ending. Metal bros unite!
After making both Van and Andy's Best Of lists last year, Cleveland’s Masakari were near the top of their SXSW Must See lists. (We like lists here at the 'cake.) After a couple Lone Stars served up by none other than Yakuza's Bruce Lamont -- on loan from Chicago's Empty Bottle, filling in for a no-show bartender -- it was time. Vocalist Tony Yanick lunged into the pit and dove onto the ground within seconds of the first song. The intensity never let up. They sampled new material for the crowd, and we feasted ravenously. Where's the full course?
When Trap Them stalked off the stage about an hour later, there were questions as to whether their set was a performance or a plane collision. By far, this was the most intense show the group has put on. Guitarists Brian Izzi and Every Time I Die's Andrew Williams plumbed depths in their sound that jostled kidneys and loosened bowels and ex-Coliseum drummer Chris Maggio is Proscriptor without the sequins or the Bud Ice. "In the red" would imply that they were playing on a tangible level -- honestly, we didn't think they were. Newcomers All Pigs Must Die simply could not follow that. Few could. They're a fine bunch of boys, but honestly, it was lighting some sparklers after an H-Bomb. Even Converge's Ben Koller looked like a tabby on the skins after Trap Them's pummeling assault.
Fortified by Bruce-slung brews and bolstered by photojournalismo Carm and our boy Monsoon Cobra, Crustcake made our way back over to Lovejoy's for another round of Brooklyn Vegan's phenomenal showcases. With the party already in full swing, we squeezed through to the bar, ordered a pint, and turned to face the wall of suffocating doom that is Cough's live show. The Richmond four-piece have been all but publicly shamed for ripping off Electric Wizard, but honestly, there are much worse bands to crib from. As a brisk change of pace -- like a shot of cold sake after a night in a warm sushi house -- D.C. punk grinders Magrudergrind tore into skin and flesh like feral cats in a dirty alley. Sadly missing were the booty-shaking hip hop samples that popped up in their much-loved 2009 self-titled album and Scion EP. Utah's Gaza rounded our our BV trifecta and hit like a sledgehammer to the diaphragm. Towering singer Jon Parkin prowled the front of the standing-room only crowd, like a caged panther, reaching over three rows of people to lead the mass in a unifying chant of "He. Is. Never. Coming. Back."
All We Had (We Gave)
One of the other marquee metal shows to hit SXSW was the megawatt star-powered Metaliance tour. Held at the woefully undersized, Sixth Street mainstay the Dirty Dog, the show was a dungeon of overpriced beer, terrible pacing, and rock clichés that weren’t cool 20 years ago, much less now (Harleys? Rattlesnakes? Backwards baseball caps? Seriously?). At capacity within minutes of opening, the staff later had to resort to removing all tables from the room, going so far as to strip some bands of their merch tables (or so we heard.) Even the evening's performances were up and down.
Chi-town's The Atlas Moth got the ball rolling on a promising note with a hefty, triple-axe kick of psychedelic doom. Gone is mouthpiece Steve Giannopoulos' (in)famous mustache, but here to stay is the Moth's lush and confident noise explosion. However, without Andrea Black anchoring follow-up act Howl on second guitar, the Providence foursome were left to wander an aimless stage, their doom and crusty death no more clicking with Crustcake than APMD's tepid 'tude. Which was too bad, really. They used to have a good thing going. Portland stoner rock hombres Red Fang followed, with little fanfare. Our ears told us second-rate Kyuss, our eyes showed us strangers. If their music had been half as gnarly as the cover of their Relapse debut, Murder the Mountains, they would have slayed the place.
As an aside, the Dirty Dog, with a captive, at-capacity crowd, could've taken the high road and made some kind of drink discount for the parched longhairs that had crammed their dingy floors like sardines. Instead, we were forced to swallow $4 Lone Stars, a price usually reserved in Austin for imports and craft beers. Buncha jerks. Anyway, this affront was more than compensated for by a surprise, one-night-only appearance by Southern sludge disaster-baitors, Weedeater. Dixie Dave and the gang were in fine form -- muggin' and spittin' and hollerin' and groovin' and kicking up a ruckus like only drunk rednecks can. Dave thrashed so hard, he broke a string. Beers were slammed, weed was smoked and toes were all but shot off. On the other hand, Savannah psych-doom-cum-indie-rockers Kylesa were marred by a flat mix: everything ran together in tepid waves. There was no punch to the guitar, no vitality in the dual drum attack, no attack to the vocals. Then again, that could have just be Crustcake's ears getting gnawed off by SXSW fatigue. But this group deserves more. When they've got a killer mix, they're on top of their game.
Crowbar, thankfully, was just what was needed to jolt some electricity back into the room. The New Orleans sludge godfathers proved why they're still relevant 20 years into their storied career, holding a rapt audience in their hairy palms and squeezing them til they burst. Band figurehead Kirk Windstein doesn't croon, exactly, but he does pour enough emotion and resonance into his growl to tug at even the toughest of heartstrings. And by mixing just enough up-tempo groove and thrash into their sound, especially in "Cemetery Angels" and "All I Had (I Gave)," four Crescent City lifers are proof positive that old dogs can teach young pups a trick or two. Extra awesome: Pantera's Rex Brown, recovering from acute pancreatitis, rocking out with Greg Anderson in the front row. Crustcake took a much-needed break during Helmet's set, who played neither "Unsung" or "In the Meantime." Page Hamilton is still sporting that fuchsia guitar, but that's about all we can say about the long-running alt-metal troupe.
Finally, the moment had come. It was clear from the crowd's reaction that the band everyone was waiting for was legendary doom founders, Saint Vitus. With the recent passing of original drummer Armando Acosta, there was an air of uncertainty about who would replace the mustachioed bruiser. But as the lights dimmed and the band broke into "Living Backwards," all fears were allayed as Sourvein's Henry Vasquez mounted the throne and performed with heft and grace. The core of the band, still looking like hippies bitten by the snake of cynicism in the desert, was still as strong as ever. Dave Chandler's guitar tone and energetic stage presence broke through any tiredness, overindulgence, or drag from how boring Red Fang were. Wino's voice was that of one who's seen a million faces and doomed them all. Mark Adams was...well, he was there, but it wouldn't feel like Vitus without him. "Saint Vitus" and "Clear Windowpane" allowed Chandler to reach into the side of his playing that recalls Albert Ayler and Kerry King more than Tony Iommi. Of course, the standout was the fucking doom anthem - "Born Too Late." Fists in the air, heads bobbing, crowd chanting "I WILL NEVER BE LIKE YOU" - the room was filled with majesty, even if the room wasn't so royal itself.
Our feet were so sore at this point, dipping them in acid would have made them hurt less. Saturday was calling our name though. We would submit to her, for she had Profound Lore and Pentagram in her hand. Shake our blood, she would.