By Andy O'Connor (TX)
Spring Break is over, guys. Time to get back to class. Now that SXSW 2012 is done, we're counting down the days until the next one. I mean, we're looking forward to Fall Break (Fun Fun Fun Fest), Summer Break (Chaos in Tejas), and Senior Skip Day (Rites of Darkness IV?), but SXSW is such a distinctive animal that no other music fest compares to it. It's overstuffed, yes, and that's led to a lot of criticism in the past few years that SXSW had outgrown Austin. The clusterfuck of people, cultures, subcultures, and heat, however, is what makes SXSW such an awesome experience. Amongst the morsels of shit, finding the few diamonds is always worth it. And there's tacos. And Texas women.
Here it is, the Crustcake SXSW recap. Or, as we call it, Crust by Crustcake.
(In case you can't tell, I'm a hipster with Instagram now. Follow me at andyoconnor.)
PALLBEARER: OR, I'D HATE TO BE ANY OTHER DOOM BAND RIGHT NOW
If you're in a doom band and you've had an itch to form a faster side project, scratch it with every ounce of vengeance you have, because you cannot compete with Little Rock's Pallbearer. Without question, they were the band to beat at SXSW. Sensing that the critical buzz from their latest album, Sorrow and Extinction, must be capitalized on, Pallbearer played several shows during the course of the fest. Their first was at Pitchfork's Show No Mercy party at ND @ 501 Studios on Wednesday, and bar none, it was the best show I saw at SXSW. A cancellation from fellow Arkansans Rwake proved to be a blessing for Pallbearer, as this granted them a headlining slot and the opportunity to perform Sorrow in its entirety. The album already sounds majestic and heavy on CD (vinyl version is coming soon for you eBay husslas), but in a live setting...I wish I had a live bootleg good enough for you guys to hear. Many doom bands can make a room shake, but few really have their tones burrow into your skin like Pallbearer can. “Given to the Grave” remained as moving as a song even without the choral flourishes. Most importantly, Brett Campbell can pull off his soaring vocals live. Believe the hype.
GEORGE CLARKE MAKING PROGRESS WITH HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH MICROPHONES
Pallbearer may have dominated Show No Mercy, but Deafheaven caught themselves a little but of limelight too. Last year's SXSW marked my introduction to the band, where I let me skepticism about their post-hardcore image make way to enthusiasm over their furious, often gorgeous black metal. Since then, I've seen the band five more times, two of those times at this year's SXSW. While their FFF 'Nites show will go down as their rowdiest in my mind, their shows at their second round of SXSW proved they've really solidified as a live unit. One thing has changed quite a bit in a year's time: George Clarke's stage presence. He's always given it his all, but it was always intriguing to see whether or not he acknowledged the presence of the microphone. Certainly, the mic must have told Clarke she was feeling neglected, and he must have listened, because he wasn't yelling into the wind this year. In fact, their courtship's never been better, as Clarke was getting his grind on during instrumental sections. I'd like to know what he's thinking when he's closing his eyes during performance. Or maybe I should let private thoughts stay private.
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE VEGAN STRAIGHT-EDGE ENTOMBEDCORE
Southern Lord's hardcore-with-HM-2-pedals jones didn't produce as many knockout albums in 2011 as it did in 2010, so Atlanta's Dead in the Dirt, who made their Austin debut at the day portion of the Thrasher Death Match at Scoot Inn on Friday, slipped under me in a never-ending promo piss stream. Did we really need more Entombedcore? If it's like what they do, absolutely! As an avowed fan of Kuma's, I can't say that I get behind their vegan and straight-edge views, but not agreeing with a musician's ideology has never stopped me from enjoying his/her music. Like contemporaries Nails, they keep their Swedish urges on the short, punky, and pissed side. 12:30 is a hard time for bands to play – waking up early even without a hangover is difficult during SXSW – but they put up, shut up, and played their asses off. Even if I would have to serve them vegan biscuits and gravy, I respect their work ethic. Their “Euthanize People, Not Pit Bulls” sticker also ranks as the best piece of merchandise I picked up on my trip. Dead in the Dirt will tour during the summer – we'll have more on those dates when they come.
PEOPLE NEED TO SHUT THE FUCK UP, EXHIBIT Z
People who talk a lot often have nothing to say. People who don't talk a lot often have nothing to say either, they're just polite.
Zola Jesus and the Elysium would seem like a perfect fit. A goth club hosting an artist with strong influences? There was only problem with this marriage on Wednesday: the crowd. People were there to be there, not to enjoy the show. No issue with her performance at all, just wish there weren't so many obnoxious tools watching her. I would love to do a series of interviews with people who insist on talking during shows. Why are you there in the first place? What makes your conversation more interesting than the performer on stage? Why did you pay a cover? Do you realize there are bars not in downtown that don't have live music so you can have a conversation? In all, are you really that much of an idiot?
Rude audiences aren't the only ones at fault. Most frontmen that are not Ronnie James Dio or Mike Cheese have no business with gratuitous stage banter, or often, stage banter at all. Keith Morris, frontman of OFF! and former Circle Jerks vocalist, does not take the same approach to talking to crowds as he does to his own music. When OFF! were playing at Thrasher Death Match, they were superb: punchy punk rock that definitely felt inspired by, but not derivative of, the spirit of the early '80s. Songs came and left fast, and the exit wounds left me wanting more. Kids in the pit were feeling it too. But when Keith Morris was ranting about being let down by Obama? And commenting about “boy bands” ten years after their peak? Wrap that shit up, b.
SHIRTLESS WITH A BEER GUT: MATT PIKE IS MY ROLE MODEL
Trash Talk brought the mosh to SXSW (more on that later), and that carried over to High on Fire's set at Thrasher Death Match. Matt Pike and co. used this emboldened enthusiasm of the crowd to test out new material, and this resulted in the most pit action I've seen at a High on Fire show. The best of the new songs was easily “Fertile Green” - I mean, we are talking about the man behind Dopesmoker here. “Blood From Zion” in particular got the crowd really raging, and “Snakes for the Divine” served as a fantastic closer. Still can't get over that “Thunderstruck” lead! The trio also sounded a lot beefier than at their Emo's East show the Tuesday previous. For your general well-being, I must not that Matt Pike continues his long tradition of performing sans top, and his beer gut is even more impressive. I salute you, dude.
BRUCE LAMONT OVERSERVED ME ON WHISKEY AND MAN'S GIN
Bruce Lamont deserves the award for “SXSW Hustler of the Year.” Not only was he playing all around downtown, he was also pimping the bar at ND @ 501 Studios. I only managed to catch him playing with Man's Gin at the BrooklynVegan/Jester King party at Lovejoy's, but that alone was worth his trip to Austin. Joining Erik Wunder from Cobalt, Bruce sat in on Man's Gin's dark take on American folk. A buddy commented “No black metal band is complete without a folky side project,” but luckily, Man's Gin have no misplaced runes, just somber tales of hard living. Bruce notably brought his saxophone in the mix, but his vocals are where he really shined. Dude could easily be a heavy metal preacher if he wanted to be; I damn near yelled “Hail Satan” like I was Al Green at one of his Sunday services in Memphis. This would, of course, assume The Reverend Green took a turn on the Left Hand Path. If you're ever in Chicago and stumble into the Empty Bottle, say hi to him if he's behind the bar and tip him well.
WOULD YOU LIKE CHILE CON QUESO WITH YOUR SHOWCASE?
Most people would watch the sketch from Portlandia with a band playing in an acupuncturist's office as absurd. If you've lived in in Austin and bore witness to at least one SXSW, you might mistake it for a documentary clip. Even if you knew it was fictional, it looks more Raymond Carver than Dr. Seuss. The only criteria for a venue in the middle of March is a wall outlet. This, of course, contributes to the glut of shows that go on beyond downtown, often to scant audiences. Following around Watching the Moon, featuring Crustcake associate The Swizard on guitar, Thursday proved that very point.
Through them, I discovered two bands that made the empty rooms and mostly indifferent crowds worth it. The first of them was Shitty Carwash, a charming garage-punk duo whose songs were catchy, direct, and featured titles like “Even People in Africa Have Heard of Led Zeppelin” and “My Cock Tastes Like Techno.” This went down at a sparsely-populated Cheapo Records, where you'd figure there would be more people trying to escape downtown and buy some records they want instead of having free promos shoved in every orifice. Alas, that was not the case. A Storm of Light and Early Graves were supposed to play, but could not make their appearances. Used record stores always have an mausoleum-like air to them, with many a cultural discard in the racks, and the lack of people only heightened that atmosphere. The crowd may have been dismal, but the reactions of the few people who were there certainly weren't. We then trekked over to El Mercado on South First, which is you go for margaritas and unholy offerings of queso, not necessarily live music. Aural wallpaper is a fate most bands never want to be consigned to, no matter how decent or how terrible the band actually is. Were most of the people there aware of the show? After slogging through misplaced indie rock, we watched Bridge Farmers close the night, and it may be hacky of me to say this, but they need to be bigger than they currently are. They've got a strong '90s Seattle persuasion, but pack that influence with plenty of aggression. Whether you live in, near, or far from Austin, don't sleep on them.
YOUNG AND IN THE WAY ARE, LIKE MYSELF, YOUNG AND IN THE WAY
When did crusties decide having Burzum backpatches was kosher? I don't know, but if it leads to more bands like Charlotte's Young and In The Way, I'm all for it (well, except for witch-hunts at Chaos in Tejas). Among with Pallbearer, they were one of my favorites throughout the festival. Young and in the Way play blackened crust that doesn't sacrifice the intensity of one for the other. The different iterations of rawness from both genres melded together effortlessly. Was there a break between songs? Their set was such a whirlwind; I can't recall for sure. Vocalist Kable Lyall flailed around a inverted bone cross during the show – total King Diamond swag. He bonded with a special bro in the audience, often going towards him to belt out lyrics in very close proximity. Intense, but also kind of sweet.
The Thrasher/Power of the Riff/BrooklynVegan official showcase, also held at the Scoot Inn on Friday, had no shortage of killer music. KEN Mode put on yet another excellent show, even if they're better suited towards narrow rooms. Vocalist/guitarist Jesse Matthewson's cowboy was nowhere to be found during the fest – check your milk cartons, y'all. Narrows were a pleasant surprise, and much like KEN Mode, they give a little more low-end punch to their noise rock stew. Would have love to seen them at the bridge show the night before. Black Breath played their only SXSW show that night as well, and don't just take my word for it – the crowd was stoked to have them back in Austin. The material from their latest, Sentenced to Life, came off with a death wish live, especially because that album is streamlined towards having fast-and-furious bangers dominate the record. Sadly, no girls or burly bros got submitted themselves onstage to “Unholy Virgin,” but the futures holds more tours – and more potentials for decadent ritual – to be had. Black Breath also featured weird dancing from certain members of the crowd, almost like Primitive Weapons at the same venue last year. Whereas Primitive Weapons had a couple ballroom dancing in the pit, Black Breath just had two drunks madly in love spinning around. As Chuck Klosterman said in Killing Yourself to Live about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen: “[their] relationship forever illustrates the worst part of being in love with anyone, which is that people in love can't be reasoned with.”
ALCEST AND SPEEDWOLF: METAL'S ODD COUPLE
SXSW is all about the mix of people, bands, tensions, exuberance, and vibes that descend upon Austin. We brought this up in our post about hip-hop and metal at SXSW, but it was also true at Brooklyn Vegan/Jester King's day party. In the red corner, we have Alcest, the Frenchies who love them some Baudelaire and dreamy textures. In the blue corner, we have Speedwolf, who fuel themselves with werewolf babes and whiskey straight. Was a fight going to break out between 1%ers and night elves? Well, a fight actually did break out during Alcest – free Black Metal Stout running out fast will do that to you – but luckily, heshers of every stripe were on their best behavior. Maybe on too good of behavior for Speedwolf, but granted, this is the first time I've seen them not on their home turf. Reed Bruemmer yelled “Fuck Tim Tebow!” during “Denver 666,” which has to be the best little bit of stage banter the whole weekend. And let's be honest: Tim Tebow is not metal at all. Alcest's sound could have been clearer, but they kicked off their tour in fine fashion. Neige got himself a prettyboy by the name of Zero for backing vocals – maybe they did take something from Deafheaven! All kidding aside, Lovejoy's was filled to the brim for Alcest and the crowd loved every minute of them. They'll be back in Austin on April 19, playing an aftershow for the Melvins. No shit.
THE FINAL SHOWDOWN: A$AP ROCKY VS. TRASH TALK
Odd Future was so SXSW 2011. Earl's free. Who cares anymore? Who was gonna bring the ruckus this year? The answer was Trash Talk, A$AP Rocky, and mountains of free* PBR and vodka. Vice Kills Texas, which closed out Saturday night, ended up being one of the more infamous events this year.
Wherever Trash Talk goes, mayhem follows. People threw trash cans, vocalist Lee Spielman handed out his last weed cookie to a lucky audience-goer, PBR tallboys were flying across the room, and bassist Spencer Pollard was hanging onto a rotating speaker at the end of the set. You know, normal Trash Talk hijinks. A$AP Rocky and the A$AP crew were not used to this, however. Add the lack of security, and...it was an interesting night. A$AP Rocky eventually got into a brawl with the audience for all the projectiles being thrown his way. For a more sober-headed report, I'll turn y'all to Pitchfork. I heard rumors flying around that A$AP Rocky stabbed someone, but tall tales, no matter how entertaining, are still tall. Some speculate that paring them and A$AP Rocky together was an intentional ploy by Vice to ensure chaos in Tejas, and while I'm normally no conspiracy theorist, I just might have to break out my rock-crit tin hat. It didn't help that A$AP Rocky had (purposefully?) shitty sound – there is such a thing as too much bass, when you can hardly tell which beat is being laid down.
Was it fun? Even with the tension in the air, there were lots of laughs and cheers.
That's it for us. See y'all next year!
*Vice has probably sold my e-mail to marketers. Nothing is ever really free.