I began Thursday of SXSW excited to see a handful of bands I've never seen live, and first up was San Diego's Mrs. Magician. I've been a fan of the surf punk/psych pop quartet since their first single, due largely to the involvement of Jacob Turnbloom (First Wave Hello, Ken Andrews, etc). The band recently released their full length debut produced by Hot Snakes' John Reis, conveniently released on his Swami Records imprint, and it's fair to say I've been pretty obsessed with it. The anticipation of seeing them live had grown to a fever pitch, and at Cheer Up Charlie's I got my chance. The guys sounded terrific singing their punk tinged psych pop melodies in the hot morning sun. Their set was like an unholy combination of Obits and The Beach Boys with a penchant for catchy melodies on songs "There's No God," "The Spells," "Videodrome," and "True Blues." Short and to the point, the guys churned out stunning reverb soaked pop tunes for all those lucky enough to catch their early morning set before the heading back out on the road with New York's Cults.
Back on the other side of the highway, Vancouver's fuzziest duo Japandroids were playing Pitchfork's day party at Mohawk. After hearing friends rave about their live performances for years, I figured it was time to see what all the hype was about. While I couldn't see drummer David Prowse from where I was standing thanks to the giant stack of speakers (though I could see his sticks flying), guitarist/vocalist Brian King was certainly captivating as the guys performed songs from their upcoming album Celebration Rock. While King continuously reminded the crowd they'd only been playing the songs for about two weeks, it didn't seem to matter to anyone as their garage punk odes to good times had the crowd moving. King's amp head was giving him problems throughout the set, as he gave an out of ideas gesture to the sound guy before saying, "The Marshall's just fucked, whatever... we sound better fucked." After a set filled with new material (a true SXSW tradition) Japandroids closed out with "Wet Hair" to an audience that was hanging on every scuzzy note.
Local Austin shoegaze heroes Ringo Deathstarr were next on my schedule, performing inside The Volstead Lounge at Hotel Vegas during Brooklyn Vegan's day party. The trio released their latest EP Shadow only two days before, roaring with an unapologetic set that swirled and crushed like a hazy train wreck. Their grandiose wall of sound would make My Bloody Valentine and Ride proud, and the band stand out among the faceless sea of shoegaze revival bands these days. Always energetic live, Elliot Frazier's guitar tones are enormous and vibrant, as he wails away with distorted washes of seething melodic noise. His vocals combined with bassist Galexy offer terrific male/female harmonies that are surprisingly audible within the chaotic feedback. The set's standout moment came with "Shadow," a post-punk meets shoegaze extravaganza with enticing shouted vocals.
Heading back across town once again I made my way over The Beauty Bar for The Twilight Sad's set only to find out they had already played. For the second year in a row I was unable to see the Scots live in Austin. Luckily, I was prepared with back up options and made my way to The Stage on Sixth for Maps & Atlases. Arriving early, I was pleasantly surprised to find that We Were Promised Jetpacks were just taking the stage and I was able to catch another set from Scotland's finest. Miss one great Scottish band... catch another I suppose! The guys put on another great show, with a similar set to the previous evening, though opted to close with "Pear Tree," an outstanding finale that finds Adam Thompson forcefully chanting the mantra-esque lyrics from several feet away from the mic. The slow building track is filled with epic dynamics, expansive guitars, and pounding tribal rhythms.
Chicago's Maps & Atlases followed with an impressive set pulling songs from each of their records and offering a glimpse into their upcoming album. Known for their ability to intertwine math rock rhythmic flourishes and dazzling finger tapped riffs with gentle folk, pop, and Americana, the quartet sounded brilliant. While they have moved further into the folk pop sound in recent years, the progressive element of their sound has remained in tact and shines live with every note singer/guitarist Dave Davison plucks and strikes from his guitar. The band opened with "Pigeon" before playing a new song, followed by "Artichokes". It's great to see the band spanning their full range of material as they continued with another new track before concluding with a string of fan favorites that included "Witch," "Living Decorations," and the always stellar "Solid Ground". The band seemed genuinely happy to be there, a sentiment that was echoed directly back from the packed crowd.
Inside at The Stage on Sixth Built to Spill were taking the stage so I figured it was in my best interest to stick around and see what the band would open with. As they began playing "Traces," I decided to move ahead with my planned schedule and head to the Dickies/Filter Magazine party at Lustre Pearl for Los Angeles' FIDLAR. While there are few bands I'd rather see live than Boise, Idaho legends, I felt obligated to catch an up-and-coming act I've yet to see rather than a set I may have already heard just the night before. FIDLAR put on an entertaining punk rock show that felt as though the band should be playing in the middle of the audience as opposed to on stage. The guys shouted through a set of heavy garage rock and dirty punk tunes seemingly inspired by nights of beer and weed consumption. The band joked about the audience being old, their never ending schedule of shows during SXSW, and sponsor misspelling their name. Highlights included "Max Can't Surf" and both songs from their recent single "No Ass" and "No Waves" dedicating the latter to going to rehab. Seemed fitting.
It was time for another SXSW sacrifice. No, I wasn't slaughtering any innocent animals, but rather sacrificing time to get in line insanely early to guarantee I would get in to The Belmont for The Jesus and Mary Chain's only performance of the festival. The absurdly influential band was set to take the stage at midnight with four bands ahead of them, and I got there long before doors of the venue even opened. When the doors eventually opened and the music began (after a rather extended wait), Los Angeles' Cold Showers were the first to take the stage. The band were an exceptional fit to open for JAMC, as the legendary post-punk/indie/noise rockers were a clear influence. Cold Showers played with the classic shoegaze sound and big hypnotic rhythms that cut through the guitar fog and got the crowd's feet tapping in unison. Next up was Seattle's Night Beats, another band with a JAMC influence, although borrowing an entirely different aspect of their sound. The trio's music was an enthusiastic and bizarre concoction of psychedelic rock with a thick 60's aura combined with punk and R&B moments that unfolded in jangly guitar outbursts and soulful vocal howls. It was definitely refreshing to see two great performances from bands I knew absolutely nothing about.
The next band to play The Belmont were the Arkells from Hamilton, Canada. If you believe that all press is good press, I'm going to sit this one out... and skip right ahead to Titus Andronicus. The New Jersey natives were a band I had checked out in the past and for whatever reason didn't really do it for me. After seeing them live however, I'm happy to announce that has all changed. Their set was an incredible snarling burst of punk attitude and energy, and frontman/guitarist Patrick Stickles was hard to turn away from. Oozing more attitude than a mopey teenager, Stickles made sarcastic remarks about playing new music as that was the idea of SXSW, unless he was wrong and its about playing old music. He also mentioned Paste (who were hosting the showcase) giving their previous album a score of 93, an A- to which he quipped "what is this, public school," and finally about an eating disorder before playing a scathing new song that shouted "spit it out" in repetition for a good couple minutes. While I assumed I'd be watching the clock their entire set waiting for it to end, Titus Andronicus seriously impressed me live and I look forward to my next opportunity to catch the band again.
The time everyone had been waiting for arrived as the one and only Jesus and Mary Chain took the stage. Jim Reid welcomed the audience with, "We're here to ruin your evening," but it seemed there was nothing the band could have done to upset the ecstatic crowd. Charging straight out the gate with "Snakedriver," the volume was piercingly loud, the way only legendary bands seem to be able to achieve and get away with. Blaring guitar noise aside, the Scottish gents sounded like a well oiled machine with every member in perfect unison as the larger than life sound swallowed the audience whole. There wasn't much movement from the guys but they seemed to be in good spirits, even when a mostly naked guy ran up on stage only to be thrown off by security, as Reid asked, "Who the fuck was that?" JAMC create fuzz and feedback at a professional level and seeing them live it became rather obvious as to why there are so many bands trying to rip them off. The entire experience of their set was fairly unreal to say the least. The Jesus and Mary Chain lived up to the hype and then some, offering the finest performance I'd see all week. Check out "Just Like Honey" and the complete setlist below.
Far Gone and Out
Blues From A Gun
All Things Must Pass
Some Candy Talking
Happy When It Rains
Halfway To Crazy
Just Like Honey
The Hardest Walk
Taste of Cindy