Thursday was the day of the official Exploding In Sound + Friends of Sound Records showcase, an obvious highlight for me. Held at Austin's Friends of Sound Records shop just across the river on South Congress, the venue was a small patio in a back alley, perfect for a day time rock show... or a BBQ... but we went with rock show! Having put together the bill myself, I knew this would be an exceptional event, and with huge thanks to Friends of Sound, Miguel Hinojosa, Andrew Leeper, and all the bands that played, we were able to make it a truly awesome afternoon.
Athens, GA psych grunge quartet Gift Horse opened the show, with their murky blend of guitar/keyboard washes and destructive entrancing rhythms. The band opened with "Missionaries" before smashing the intensity level up a notch on "Plastic People" and "James Castle". The guys blew out the overloaded electrical socket fairly quickly, but after a quick fix they were back in action with a crowd that was still very much tuned in. Running short on time the guys had to forgo the always spectacular "All The Rage," but closed their set with the vicious "Black," a new track set for the band's highly anticipated sophomore release.
Gypsyblood took the stage next, delivering an energetic set that made great use of their surrounding environment. The four piece Chicago shoegaze/alternative band signed with Sargent House late last year, and it's no surprise that their live show is intense and musically solid. Lead singer/guitarist Adam James took advantage of the patio area, wedging himself mid song between a tree and a fence without missing a squealing note of guitar noise. Their music is loud with sharp bursting hooks buried in a cloud of distortion. Upbeat vocal melodies from all four members take turns ringing in and out, as drummer Kyle Victor keeps the framework and holds everything together. James often looks like a man possessed, losing himself within the music as he dropped back until he could walk no further and the band exploded in response with an enormous burst of guitars. Half the stage floor was made up of small rocks, and James didn't miss the opportunity to use them, furiously rubbing a handful of rocks against his buzzing guitar as the band played "Take Your Picture," "2-4-6 inthedark," "Endless Summer," "My R.K.O. is M.I.A.," and other songs from their upcoming full length debut.
Zlam Dunk, hailing from San Marcos, TX, describe their music as dance punk which is fitting for the quintet whose energetic music drew the biggest audience of the day. Filled with intricate guitar work and spastic rhythms, Zlam Dunk like to get down, and it's hard not to join in. Lead vocalist Charlie Day shouts over the manic math rock contusions as he showcases his soulful dance moves that really are a must see to believe feat. Their is a joyous energy to their evolving song structures and watching a Zlam Dunk set is similar to witnessing a party errupt before your eyes. Vocal duties were handled by Day, bassist Taylor Hughes, and keyboardist Ross Bennett, as they interspersed gang vocals and enthusiastic shouting that couldn't have sounded better. The band played a slew of songs from their latest album Nobel Ancestry including personal favorites "21st & Kedzie" and the mesmerizing "Vice". "On "Midnight Runners" the band holler in unison, "If there was somewhere to be, then it was this," and at that moment, truer words were never spoken. Zlam Dunk are ready to take the world by storm, and it's only a matter of time before their ultimate post-hardcore domination.
Disco Doom took the stage next, bringing their indie noise rock all the way from Zurich, Switzerland. Having been obsessed with the band for several years now, this was my first opportunity to catch them live and it surpassed all my expectations. The band opened with "Trux Reverb," the title track from their latest album, an experimental noise affair billowing with stunning guitar tone and weird effect pedal manipulation. After a few noise rock explorations, Disco Doom burst into their significantly more structured material including the fantastic "Raptor Kit," a song that roars and dives into heavy psychedelic grooves, spiraling deep into insanity and warping right back out into a pounding grunge stomp. I have played this song hundreds of times over the past two years, and being able to see it performed live made my day. Scathing versions of "Cptn. Petal," "Raise the Dead," and a blistering performance of "The Magic Arc Song" soaked up the sunshine with massive blankets of reverb and distortion, the latter gradually building in intensity with demanding guitars ringing out in pure glory.
Austin's own post-punk four piece Markov followed bringing a dense and heavy crush to the eardrums of everyone in attendance. Markov rock hard for the sake of rocking hard. There's no gimmicks here, just four guys making the kind of music they wanted to be listening to. Lead vocalist Richard lost his setlist, and referred to one typed on his cell phone, joking about various SXSW ridiculousness each time he referred to it, sarcastically stating "oh my god, Kanyeezie is playing right now at some club across town... what are you doing here??" before the band would burst into a balls to the wall rocker with throat splitting shouts and thick rhythmic blasts. The band churned out a phenomenal set that including many songs from their debut This Quiet including highlights "The Futile," "Jaws of Life," "Girls and Eyes," "Red Ocean," and "Lucky Me".
Leeds favorite post-hardcore purveyors Pulled Apart By Horses headlined the showcase, and just as they had on Tuesday evening, delivered another jaw dropping set of brute physicality, astonishing musicianship, and exhausting energy to a thoroughly excited crowd. The band made several jokes about being excited to play a BBQ that was sadly missing the BBQ, but were thrilled to venture outside for a change, taking pictures of the audience between the mayhem of "High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive," "V.E.N.O.M." "Get Off My Ghost Train," and "I Punched a Lion In The Throat". Tom headed into the crowd, jumping off unstable furniture and throwing his shirt over his face as he roamed the venue's space, without missing a note. Lead guitarist James Brown (yes... James Brown) joked about the heat and having wet balls, but didn't let the fiery sun stand in the way of an outstanding performance. There is a good reason Pulled Apart By Horses are one of the UK's most beloved bands, and I can only hope they will return stateside in the near future. I was able to catch them one last time on Saturday, and you're not gonna want to miss that review, so be sure to keep checking back for updates.
Heading back into the downtown area, I made my way to catch The Black Shades performing on the rooftop of The Blind Pig. The Bowling Green, KY quartet were dressed in matching attire, churning out danceable garage pop anthems that ooze with classic 50s and 60s rock and roll attitude. The band played the majority of We Are The Black Shades with an amped up excitement highlighted on "Keep on Trying," "Gimme Action," "Turn Me On, Electricity," and the unbelievably catchy "Say Say Say". With a tongue-in-cheek attitude, a soaring theramin, and big bold guitars, these guys are making cheesy rock n roll cool again. The audience broke out into a dance party, with people getting down all over the dirty floor without a care in the world.
UK grunge trio Dinosaur Pile-Up played to a packed audience at Latitude 30 for the British Music Embassy, bashing out power chord riffs that owe a great deal of gratitude to Nirvana. The band create a sound very much their own however, surpassing the angst for generally upbeat songs about love and rock music. Lead singer/guitarist Matt Bigland is the mastermind behind the band, and his stage presence is commanding as he switches between anthemic vocal hooks and searing guitar solos. The band performed fan favorites from their full length debut Growing Pains, including singles "Traynor," "My Rock N Roll," "Birds and Planes," and slacker grunge anthem, "Opposites Attract".
The Globes first caught my attention last Fall when they ventured out on tour with two of my recent favorites, Tera Melos and Maps & Atlases. Having recently signed to Barsuk Records, the band performed as part of their showcase at Red Eyed Fly to a packed house. Their music is hard to pin down, combining the bizarre with delicate vocal melodies and clear structuring. I found myself absolutely transfixed with drummer Marcus Ourada, who plays with a tasteful yet shimmering technicality that's hard to look away from. Oh... and he uses a cowbell on several occasions, need I say more? Their set was rather impressive, combining the easy going attitude of indie rock with a dark progressive tint constantly lurking just around the corner. The set wasn't without it's setbacks however, as the bass cabinet shorted out causing a lengthy delay, and a pair of raccoons "getting down" in the rafters above the audiences heads. Following up last year's Sinter Songs EP, the band are readying their full length debut for release this Spring, and I can't wait to hear what they have in store for us.
The hype surrounding Le Butcherettes leading into SXSW was enough to make them one of my most anticipated bands to catch. Sure, I've only been listening to them for about a month, but let's start with the facts. The latest band to sign to Rodriguez Lopez Productions (with Omar Rodriguez Lopez producing their record) has been garnering astounding praise for their live shows with the press, and the technical garage punks are going out as main support for Deftones and Dillinger Escape Plan this Spring. On top of that, the band is comprised of the magnificent Teri Gender Bender on vocals/guitar/keys, Jonathan Hischke (Hella) on bass, and the incredible Gabe Serbian (The Locust) on drums.
St. Patrick's Day seemed like an appropriate time to catch the trio during Flamingo Cantina's Mexican Music Showcase, and they nearly brought the house down with them. Teri's presence on stage in undeniable, adorned in a lacey dress covered with a bloody butcher's apron, the Mexican native is spellbinding, looking out into the audience with hypnotic stares and possessed fiery eyes. Switching between guitar and keyboards, Teri roared with total carnage at times, and sweetly catchy pop melodies at others as the band ripped through the bouncy "Tonight," the spastic "Leibniz Language," and the darkly seductive "All You See In Me Is Death". Teri, both beautiful and a bit frightening, set her guitar down for the overtly sexual "Dress Off," a song which finds her demanding "Take my dress off, take my pretty dress off" in repetition over Serbian's complex drum patterns as she dove backwards into the audience with absolutely no warning. After returning to the stage, she quickly climbed onto her amp cabinets, grabbed a hold of the nearest light fixture and swung herself forward, pulling down the entire hanging light in the process and narrowly escaping injury. Totally un-phased, she kept rocking and entertaining the packed to capacity audience. The band closed the set with what is sure to be a hit single, "Henry Don't Got Love," a song with a catchy guitar riff and enormous hooks. Without notice, Teri once again dove, guitar and all, backward into the front row audience of photographers who failed to catch her as she collided with the ground. Lying their mangled with a mischievous smile on her face for a few moments, she got back up and continued to rock with mind blowing intensity. This was a show I will never forget and Le Butcherettes without a doubt earned a spot among the best live acts of SXSW.
I closed out my night with one of the greatest rap groups ever created, the one and only Wu-Tang Clan, who were headlining at the Austin Music Hall. When I arrived at the venue the line to get in was insanely long. Having a press badge wasn't going to help, so I went to the end of the line and hoped for the best. The venue was said to be at capacity and they were letting one person in with every one person out. With nearly hundreds of people ahead of me in line, it wasn't looking good. The SXSW employee responsible for running the line was losing his control as he insisted everyone continue moving backwards, further and further as the crowd began to lose their patience. Eventually, I was so far back in line that I was nearly behind the building, conveniently enough situated directly next to two very inviting doors. After a few minutes I saw some people simply walk in the back doors without any problem, and decided to do the same. Sneaking in to a concert was never easier, and for the record, there was plenty of room inside. The opening line from Wu-Tang's "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)," kept replaying in my head, "Special uninvited guests came in through the backdoor," and for the fifth time in my life I was set to see my favorite rap group of all time.
There was a lot of discussion in the audience of how many of the remaining nine members would actually be in attendance and I assumed that being the massive show it was, they would all be there. I was wrong. Wu-Tang arrived as a five-piece with Ghostface Killah, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Cappadonna taking the stage one by one, spitting their most vivid rhymes for all the hip-hop heads in attendance. While the absence of Raekwon, Method Man, RZA, and Masta Killa was certainly upsetting, the guys who were there performed an incredible set of genuine, no bullshit, hip-hop that more than made up for any disappointment. GZA lead the audience in "Clan in Da Front" to kick off the show, as they tore through hits "C.R.E.A.M.," "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit," "Triumph," "Da Mystery of Chessboxin," and tons more of the groups multitude of classic tracks. Wu-Tang also took the opportunity to pay respects to the dearly missed Ol' Dirty Bastard, as the entire venue rapped along together to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and dedicated the set to Nate Dogg, who passed away the night before. The Clan offered an incredible selection of solo tracks as well including GZA's "Liquid Swords," and "Cold World," Ghostface and Cappadonna performed their verses from "Ice Cream" and the group and audience joined in together again for "M.E.T.H.O.D. Man" before bringing out special guest Erykah Badu to perform with Ghostface & U-God on the classic "Cher Chez La Ghost". While missing three of the best known members and battling spotty microphones, Wu-Tang managed to deliver as they always do, raw, energetic, and knowledgeable. As GZA said on "Liquid Swords" over 15 years ago, "I'm on a mission that n***as say is impossible, but when I swing my swords they all choppable". Whether it's nine members or just one, always remember it's Wu-Tang FOREVER.
(Exploding In Sound showcase photos courtesy of Dave Spak)