While the official SXSW showcases commenced on Saturday, those that were wise enough to stick around caught another full day of free shows and exceptionally good concerts. I started my at one o’clock at the Six Stages Over Texas Block Party, just on the outskirts of the city. Arriving a few miles from where the show was taking place, it became obvious I was going to need to run to make sure I caught all of Austin’s favorite up-and-comers STEREO IS A LIE. After beating out the enormous competition to claim The Deli Magazine’s “Best New Artist” for 2009, SIAL played a scorching hot set in the early afternoon sun, comprised of nearly every track from the band’s upcoming debut. SXSW is a festival tends to focus on new music and the “next big thing,” and ladies and gentlemen, STEREO IS A LIE may very well be just what alternative rock needs. The band roared with cool washes of guitars, keys, and a very tight rhythm section, as band leader Glynn Wedgewood brought his songs to life with a charming snarl of Brit rock via Austin, TX. Imagine The Verve, Oasis, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s unholy offspring, and the sound of this quintet becomes more clear. Extremely accessible and radio friendly without ever sounding contrived, soulless, or mass produced, these guys are destined for great things, so be sure to check them out. The band enveloped the outdoor stage with their massive shimmering sound, playing personal favorites “Get It Right,” “What We Do,” and closing with the magnificent and time appropriate “Last Call”.
The rest of the day found me taking on a new SXSW experience… staying in one place for the entire time. With the absolutely incredible line-up presented at the Giant Steps, Radar Recordings, Translation Loss, & Sargent House present: Goodbye South-By Party, there was no reason to leave. The showcase has become a yearly event at Red 7, culminating the week’s extravaganza, presenting a slew of bands that truly offered a feeling of community as everyone enjoyed the day’s music. The show took place both indoors and on the patio, as sets were beginning directly after the others finished for a complete day of constant rock euphoria.
The show opened with band I was most eager to witness live, Belfast Ireland’s And So I Watch You From Afar. The four young fellas’ instrumental post-rock / progressive hybrid can only be described by one word… explosive! The band chugged through sludge and nimble fretwork into wide open bursts of manic virtuosity as the band leaped around the stage in a storming frenzy. Their presence demanded the crowd’s attention, opening their set with “Set Guitars to Kill,” and tearing through their sonic palette on more recent songs like “S is for Salamander” from the recently released Letters EP. Having played many of the largest venues in the UK supporting Oceansize, these guys are true performers in every sense of the word. The energy from the band was infectious as the entire audience nodded their heads, stunned by ASIWYFA’s fiery intensity.
Next up on the indoor stage was Dublin, Ireland’s shoegaze / post-rock collective, Butterfly Explosion. I had never heard of these guys before, but upon catching their set, I am thoroughly hooked. The band plays a brooding post rock style with gigantic washes of guitar, serene and peaceful ambiance, and calmly drifting vocals. The quartet played several songs from their recently released debut album Lost Trails, showing off their gorgeous song craft with delicately layered swirls of guitar feedback. Their set ceased to contain any vocals after the second song, as their post rock tendencies took the forefront. Considering the fact that I had never heard of the band, they certainly were able to impress me, so much that I brought their album as soon as they got off stage.
The mighty Tuscon, Arizona four-piece Juarez blazed through a set of their catchy stoner metal meets pop inspired melodicism that fans of Torche have come to know and love. Having played an official day party the day before, Juarez slayed their fans and friends with a nonstop chug of hook laden stoner riffs and crushing rhythms. Lead singer Dana Fehr’s vocal melodies are what sets this band apart from the pact, as they burrow deep into your memory, his voice clear and strong, never allowing the chaotic crash of the band to drown them out. Texture is a big focus for the band, as they blend their doom pop with ambient soundscapes and enormous drums courtesy of Mike Sanger. Highlights included “Orgy in Red” and “Old River, Dry River,” a track recently released on a split 10” with Junius. I can only hope that 2010 will have lots in store for Juarez, as the band certainly have what it takes to create a buzz in the indie metal world.
What was once The Postman Syndrome, was then Biclops, and is now East of the Wall, New Jersey’s favorite progressive metal shape shifters. Primarily an instrumental band, East of the Wall experiment with complex time signatures that would make the average metal fan’s head reel, and do so with grace and extreme heaviness. The rhythm section of Brett Bamberger (bass) and Seth Rheam (drums) kept my attention throughout the entire performance, as the two played with expert precision, banging out some of the most complex prog of the day, while remaining clean and structurally sound. The primarily instrumental band wasn’t without monolithic guttural screaming from deep within several of the band’s guitarists. Next up, Battlefields took the stage, bringing their doom-core metal to the outdoor stage to a packed audience. Their compositions have all that doom metal fans have come to know and love, it’s slow as molasses, heavy as a ton of bricks, and the sludge kicks up into full blown mud storms from time to time without much warning.
Northwest, Indiana’s prodigal sons Native followed on the inside stage, showcasing the many reasons the band were added to the triumphant roster at Sargent House Records. The band’s music is a refreshing blast of post-punk energy, from four guys that I highly doubt are of legal drinking age yet. Their set was full of aggression, angular riffs and rhythms, and intense screamed vocal performance. At times their lead singer/bassist would be rocking far too hard to bother with vocals, at that point turning the mic down to the audience’s level, where friends and members of La Dispute shouted out with equal force. The band were far heavier than they appear on record, with the shouted vocals turned into all out screaming, but perhaps that just comes with the intensity of the amped up live show, as These Arms Are Snakes, certainly a large influence on the band, had a similar boost to their vocals in a live setting. These young guys can play their asses off, and they did just that, and with Native we have the start to a very bright and promising career.
Junius took the stage next, and as always, stunned everyone within ear shot. The band have clearly mastered their sound, and their live shows are as much artistic spiritual awakenings as they are beautiful new wave meets post-rock inspired metallic gasps of fresh air. Check out my full review of Junius’ performance from the night before in the Day 4 coverage HERE.
It was with great anticipation that I awaited Fang Island’s set, as the band had garnered an enormous amount of hype from their multitude of shows earlier in the conference. While I may have waited until the final night to catch the band, the band clearly could have played another ten shows that week. The progressive pop and overall happiness they exude sprawls from the band’s live show, heavy on the prog. The quintet has been buzzing brighter than anyone during the past month, and it’s easy to see why. The three guitar assault the band displays on their Sargent House debut album sounds even bigger live, without the band simply layering on overlapping textures, but rather each guitarist playing something entirely different. Exploring strange time signatures galore, the band opened with “Dreams of Dreams,” leading directly into “Careful Crossers” as the four-part vocal harmonies were pushed over top the shifting rhythms and ever expanding riffs. As the saying goes, “can the drummer get some?” and in Fang Island’s case attention must be paid to Marc St. Sauveur, their unbelievable man behind the kit, capable of switching times back and forth without ever missing a beat. The band debuted some new songs, as well as their former single “Daisy” and the triumphant “Treeton”. The band were considerably more light hearted and jovial than the majority of the bands playing the event, but still fit very well amongst the day’s music. Clearly not phased by playing with bands of a far heavier nature, Fang Island will be touring this Spring with Doomriders, Caspian, and label mates Red Sparowes.
Just as the optimistic sound of Fang Island came to a close, Boston’s apocalyptic stalwarts Constants delivered a crushing set with wall of sound guitars that blanketed the audience in a tide of feedback and distortion. A glimpse of melody shimmers under the massive soaring hypnosis, adding delightful texture to the menacing sound. The trio played loud and distorted, with no ear drums safe and nothing rising up to the top of the mix. Singer/guitarist Will Benoit’s voice was pulled below the sea of noise, adding an element of melody that serves as another instrument and nowhere near the focal point. That very focal point, at least from my perspective, was entirely in the hands of drummer extraordinaire Rob Motes as he cranked out stunning syncopated rhythms and heavy earth rumbling fills, and dazzling cymbal crashes that provide their bursting sonic envelope with direction and the overall feeling of general greatness.
This evening contained a first that has been long overdue, the first time I’ve witnessed the epic nature of Caspian live and in person. Hailing from my current hometown of Beverly, MA I have had many opportunities to catch the band live before, which much to my dismay I foolishly squandered. I suppose sometimes you have to travel to the other side of the country to find what your hometown has to offer… but regardless, catching Caspian live was an exceptional experience. While Mogwai may be given the credit as the originators of post-rock’s quiet to loud signature, Caspian pulled it off with more beauty and power than anyone I’d seen before. Absolutely gorgeous guitar driven ambience soothes and calms the audience before the volume knobs are gradually turned to 11 and all of a sudden Caspian are blowing the eager crowd away with unbelievable energy as the band thrashes around the stage perfectly in tuned to their enormous music. The drumming is as simple as can be, allowing for the three guitar attack to take center stage as it rises into glorious crescendos and bruising storms soaked with distortion. The band closed their set with an spectacular rendition of “Sycamore,” as the song neared its final outro, the stage became filled with the drummers from nearly all the day’s bands, loading well over ten extra percussionists onto the stage for one of the most epic breakdowns I’ve seen. Caspian have made a believer after this performance, and I think it is safe to say I will not be missing any more of their concerts.
Heading back indoors, New York City’s Rival Schools were already blasting out their blend of power pop by way of post-punk to an excited crowd. After releasing their one and only album and taking a near decade long hiatus, the band are back and ready to drop their new release through Photo Finish / Atlantic records this summer. The audience ate up the fun loving sound, as Walter Schreifels (Quicksand) and company were clearly having a great time. The band was the final act of the SXSW experience, and was thrilled to be there with the full house of fans that had stuck around. The band may have done a bit of drinking in anticipation for this last breath of rock, as Schreifels was playing with an unusual looseness, bordering on the line of sloppiness, but carefully never crossing over. Spirits were high as he shouted thanks between each songs, louder than the actual song preceding it. They played a selection of new songs with interesting explanations to their origins, as well as fan favorites “High Acetate,” “Undercovers On,” and “Good Things,” to which Schreifels announced, “Hey everyone, we all have health care!” Good things certainly came to this year's SXSW, and I'm already looking forward to good times at 2011's conference.