SXSW Review: Beach Slang, Chastity Belt, March 17, Empire Garage

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Beach Slang

Two bands. Two different approaches to the end of SXSW.

Near the beginning of their Friday night set at Empire Garage, Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro admitted that a full week of nonstop gigging can wear you out. “This is our last show at SouthBy. It feels good to be done honestly – it’s exhausting.” Meanwhile Beach Slang frontman James Alex, though quite possibly just as exhausted, decided to go hard. “This is our last show at SouthBy. We’re gonna fuckin’ destroy this room.” Alex, clad in a tuxedo and bow tie (bow ties are cool) stated that he and his band were “here to punch you in the heart.”

At one point, the guitarist played the riff from Santana’s “Smooth.” “Two things that have never been mentioned in a review of Beach Slang: the word ‘professional’ and the influence of Santana’s ‘Smooth’ featuring Rob Thomas.” joked Alex afterwards. Weirdly, that was the second reference to that song by a SouthBy performer in as many days. Evidence of some sort of Santana based conspiracy? The Santanalluminati? Quite possibly. In addition to “Smooth,” the band also slipped a little snippet of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” into their set as well as a full cover of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” The band’s been compared to The Replacements in the past and the cover songs, rough and raucous performance and even the tux brought to mind The ‘Mats for sure.

Chastity Belt

Despite feeling the effects of however many shows they’d already played that week, Chastity Belt still put on a great show, though they may not have been exactly what a crowd full of Mastodon fans were looking for. Regardless, the band still impressed with new songs off of their upcoming release I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone as well as older numbers like “Time To Go Home.”

Of the new stuff, first single “Different Now” was a definite highlight. Check out the Temple Of The Dog referencing video for that song below:

SXSW Review: Mastodon, March 17, Empire Garage

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Wikipedia states:

“a Mastodon (Greek: “breast” and “tooth”) is any species of extinct mammutid proboscideans in the genus Mammut, distantly related to elephants, that inhabited North and Central America during the late Miocene or late Pliocene up to its extinction at the end of the Pleistocene 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.”

So why was I taking their pictures while standing waves formed in my jello brain? The answer is that I had obviously followed the “wrong” teacher and deposited myself into Metal-land. Before this point in time, my interaction with the concept of metal (if you discount the periodic table and solid mechanics textbooks) had been limited to the hoarse screams issuing from mediocre metalcore bands on 6th/Red-River, and “Girls Girls Girls.” Even that was courtesy of Futurama. I wasn’t even aware that Mötley Crüe is spelled with so many umlauts, which seem more reminiscent of gowned socialites around a glistening plaster Moët & Chandon fountain than sweaty mamas plastered salaciously to glistening leather-clad outlaws.


No. I know nothing about metal.

That’s never stopped us. In fact, we specialize in the “know-nothing approach” to reviews. Mastodon is probably the only certified heavy progressive metal band I have ever seen live in concert.

I’ve always had a knack for finding the worst spots in a concert, stuck behind some tall guy whose shoulders I can’t even reach. That’s normally OK, since they tend to be tombstones and wouldn’t block my camera. I think it speaks to the energy of this crowd that it wasn’t possible here. 6’5″ men were headbanging while jumping up and down, trying to dislodge their brains through some orifice, and may well have succeeded if they didn’t also need eyes to see Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds. I had to move away fearing that my lens would either break on someone’s jaw, or a dread-lock would entangle my camera and send it stage-side like a trebuchet. But, you the reader likely don’t give 2 somethings and just want to shout at the top of your lungs, millimeters from my ears. What can I say, I’m analytical about everything.

Mastodon is out promoting their upcoming album, Emperor of Sand. To me they are actually more amenable than the pure screaming that I am accustomed to reject. I certainly enjoyed picking out the guitar rifts during “The Wolf Is Loose” and “Bladecatcher”, and even that weird country-like twist in “Megalodon.” “Andromeda,” a new song from the album, may have even broken my stereotype of metal music. Just think – the screaming is so restrained that I can actually hear the machine-gun-paced guitar speak for itself! Nowadays, even a one-man-show can have good lighting, and I readily submit that classical, indie rock, and folk songs have never been conducive to glamour, but I quite enjoyed the spectacle of this show. With well-choreographed and dazzling laser lights synchronized to the music, this was a few firecrackers and roman candles short of being one of the more visually memorable concerts. So there, my indie-rock-eye-view of a heavy metal show. As to the sonic department, I won’t lie – I’m still no convert. But perhaps now I have more vocabulary to debate on that subject.

Oxymoronically, academics never learn (to shut up). Not even from extinction of large elephants.

SXSW Review: Hanson, March 16, Bungalow

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

IMG_20170317_001438 (1)

It’s hard to believe that Hanson has been a band for 25 years. I don’t mean that in a “this will make you feel old” way (though it will) – it literally is difficult to believe that a band whose oldest member is only 36 years old has been around that long. But here they are, still around all these years later and unlike Oasis, The Kinks, or The Everly Brothers, the Hanson brothers don’t seem to hate each other yet.

So yes, somehow Hanson has been a band for a quarter century, but they’ve only really been known to the general public for 20 years or so, and got their first big break at SXSW way back in 1994. So it was only fitting that they make their return to SouthBy with a headlining slot at the Tulsa Music Showcase where they played to a large crowd of dedicated fans eager to hear the all the hits. Which probably didn’t bode too well for Broncho, who played the same stage right before Hanson. Though they were probably playing to mostly a Hanson crowd, they gave it their all regardless, urging the crowd to come a little closer, telling everyone that they had to get under the tent to truly be on “Tulsa time” and also acknowledging that they weren’t really who most people were there to see. “It’s alright, we understand. We’ll be finished soon.”

Once Hanson came on (later than scheduled), the crowd started getting excited and went into full on nostalgia mode. The band ran through a bunch of their early singles, including “I Will Come To You,” Where’s The Love,” Penny & Me,” and of course, what everyone really came to hear – “MMMBop.” They also started playing a new song after MMMBop, but at that point I’d gotten everything I needed out of a Hanson show. The band did sound great though and they put on a solid show, as is to be expected when you’ve spent most of your lives playing together.

SXSW Film Review: California Dreams, Mike Ott, 2017

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Movies, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment


Life is perhaps at its cruelest and clearest when aspiration and reality collides (and reality wins). If that’s true, then California Dreams is both. Having watched the film, however, I cannot differentiate it from reality TV, pure screenplay, or a bastard child of the two. Interestingly, director Mike Ott was being intentionally ambiguous. From a naive perspective, California Dreams plays on the quintessential Hollywood rag-to-riches trope. Many people in the Inland Empire look to LA and dream of becoming successful actors or actresses, even if their lives circle in the gutters from meal to deal to meal. Ott begins with Cory Zacharia, a 28 year old layabout with no skills. And I do mean ZERO. Comically illiterate, innumerate, and struggles even to form a sentence for a Taco Bell resume, he nonetheless believes that he can make it big. If only a decent audition tape (oh and also $900) could just “occur to him”, he could join a German friend in Berlin. This friend had worked tirelessly to arrange for Cory a role in a big budget film. Everything is falling into place, ready for his arrival. We are also informed that Cory share this dream with a 6-flags attendant from the Philippines, a wannabe alpha-male bounty hunter, a screenwriter in the Church of the latter day Taco Bell, and a down-and-out old lady.

Blurring the lines between fiction and reality seems to be Ott’s modus operandi. Dreams’ structure is eerily similar to Pearblossom Hwy, his 2012 film starring the same hapless Cory. Zacharia was supposedly discovered by Ott in a Home Depot parking lot. The set piece elements here have been lifted from an universe so blatantly child-like and outlandish, that I nearly mistook it for a tribute to Wes Anderson. For example, the whole motley crew in Dreams all live in the same tidy roadside motel. They all seems to get on with their lives despite hardships. And everything works out in the end: Cory eventually found the cash he badly needs when it literally fell from the sky, blown into a straight-line like offerings from the dried branches along the path of his favorite highway trot. All this skepticism aside, it is worth noting that the cinematography is quite breathtaking. If you have ever been to the Californian desert, you might agree that it’s nowhere near as mystical and forgiving as Dreams depicts. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis made it LOOK like like a well-spring of dreams. Ott made an effort to convince us that these are not actors. By speaking on camera to Cory, he is in reality trying to break the 4th wall. We are supposed to believe that these are real people whose dreams are exactly as told through their audition for this film: they are simply acting out their own lives. Actors, playing themselves.

I am still not sure how to feel about the power structure behind this film. Is this exploitation? Or perhaps any talk of exploitation is irrelevant because Ott is fulfilling these dreams? I am indifferent to whether this is staged, transcribed from real-life then reenacted, or reality TV with impeccable-fortuitous camera placements. Even though many of the nesting references and breadcrumbs are too trite and tiresome to follow, it still contains honest and interesting messages. What I’m actually annoyed with, is the same way you would notice that I stopped mentioning any of the other characters. That’s because none received any development or mention at all after they were introduced. Completely superfluous and expendable, they were living and dreaming furniture, no more important to Cory’s dream than the chair he sat in while enjoying a lap dance. It certainly took a step back from the plural title – I was fully expecting an expose on 2+ dreams. With ambiguity comes ambivalence, I guess. I am about as likely to recommend this as I would a box of cereal at afternoon tea: you won’t feel deprived without (just biscuits and scones thank you very much), and you won’t read too much into it if you do. It’s just, there, being it’s own meta-self.