South By Southwest

SXSW Review: Ben Kweller, March 14, Paste Party

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

As i watch Ben Kweller absolutely charm the crowd at the Stage on Sixth, I totally came upon the realization that Ben Kweller is basically America’s version of Joel Plaskett.

Both have music based in folk/alt country roots, seem to be genuinely honest and down right nice in person and both have fans that absolutely adore them. Most importantly, both acts put on great live shows that put a smile on your face.

Playing the last slot at Paste’s day party, Kweller took the stage to a packed stage in a jean-vest and greeted the fans like an old friend “we’re going to play some new songs, and some old songs” Kweller then launched into Mean To Me, one of the tracks from his new album Go Fly A Kite. Even though that song might be new, it has all the classic Kweller moments – sing along chorus, heartfelt lyrics and just an overall sunny disposition. Switching between guitar and piano, the rest of the show would be a mixture of new and old, the latter of which was met with singalongs.

A rousing edition of Penny on a Train Track (featuring Kweller playing into the street) sent the crowd into the night ready for good times and good food. While Kweller’s brand of alt-country-folk rock might not be sexy among the blogging world, there’s something to be said about being consistently good. With five LP releases now, Ben Kweller is exactly that.

SXSW Review: College and Anoraak, March 14

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It might be a bit unfair to lump them together, but both French electronic acts Anoraak and College were playing showcases on Wednesday and I was there for both.

These bands caught my eye in the mid 00s when a host of French acts exploded into the blogosphere. They were probably all friends and called themselves the Valerie Collective. While this explosion never really caught on stateside, their music remained constantly good. The genre recently received a nice surge due to the popularity of the Drive soundtrack and maybe that (along with College’s new release Northern Council) factored into the bands decision to visit Austin

It was a strange decision to slot Anoraak in a mid afternoon slot but the 3 piece act made the most of it with a surging set that featured the band frequently interchanging between synthesizer and guitar/bass. The drummer provided tracks like Nightdrive with a nice additional kick and the crowd was moving their feet by the end of the set. Judging by the amount of times I overhead the term “who are these guys?” in the crowd, it’s safe to say that these retro synth poppers gathered a few fans that afternoon.

Anoraak plays Malverde on Saturday at 12:15 AM

At the other end of the spectrum was College aka David Grellier. No doubt used to playing night clubs, College’s solo laptop act seemed a bit of a stretch for Mohawk’s massive outdoor patio setting. The crowd was packed for College’s set, which consisted of laptops and some dj-ish devices on the table with projections in the background. Aside from the glow coming off the projected screen, it was pitch black. The synth driven set sounded good and as one track melded into the other, one couldn’t help but feel that with a more intimate setting and some complementary lights, College’s synth-laden 80s summer sounds would have been a bit more effective.

SXSW Review: Thee Oh Sees, The Wedding Present, March 14, Red Eyed Fly

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Austin – In a lot of ways, rock and roll is really a lifestyle choice – if you want to rock, you really have to dedicate yourself to it.  John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees and David Gedge of The Wedding Present both strike me as guys who’ve dedicated much of their adult lives to rocking –  Gedge has been fronting The Wedding Present since 1985 and Thee Oh Sees have been going since 1997, though Dwyer’s been in a ton of other bands before that, including The Hospitals, who famously got into a pretty violent scuffle with Silver Dollar Room booker Dan Burke a few years back.  I’d say that qualifies as a pretty rock and roll move.

If Dwyer was around back in the ’50s, I imagine he’d fit right in with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – he’s got that kind of over the top stage persona, which probably isn’t even a persona at all, but just him getting right into it.  He and the rest of the band also understand that rock music is essentially about the beat, the rhythm – a fact made quite clear by the band’s stage setup – not one, but two drummers, each placed prominently at centre stage.  The setup made the smallish stage at Red Eyed Fly look even more cramped, but that just seemed to add to the energy and the atmosphere somehow. 

While The Wedding Present didn’t operate with quite the level of wild abandon that Thee Oh Sees put into their set, they certainly aren’t lacking in energy.  The crowd was certainly into it, with many excited to see the band’s first American show in four years.  While they’re currently touring a production of their 1991 classic Seamonsters, their brief set this afternoon was not devoted to that particular album.  Gedge led his crew through a number of tunes from throughout their career, leaving the crowd fully satisfied.  Then again, when you’ve got great bands and free beer on hand, it’s pretty hard to go too wrong.

SXSW Review: Bitches, March 13, Headhunters

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Austin – Bitches.  It’s quite the band name; it provokes a certain sort of reaction, certainly different from what it would be had the band names themselves Flowers, or Puppies.  Singer/bassist Blake Ivinson was well aware of this, noting after one audeince member shouted “I love Bitches!” that he was compiling a tape of similar exclamations during shows to play for his mother, who he imagined would be thinking, “What are you doing with your life?”

The band played a fun sort of noise-punk that sounded pretty good, but it was Ivinson’s stage banter that truly made the show.  He had a wry, sardonic, dry sort of humour, discussing things such as how their song “Fly Away Home” was inspired by the fact that he thought the message of the Anna Paquin film of the same name was a bit silly.  He also commented on how as a kid he was good at the egg and spoon race and the three legged race (ie. he’s not terribly athletic), and mentioned how unhappy he was that the Olympics were coming to London this year, adding, “I suppose it’s a bit like SXSW…”  He did make sure to point out though, that playing rock songs is at least better than sports, but it was an astute commentary on how I’m sure many Austinites feel about the annual influx of music industry folk into their city.

Ivinson also took time near the end of their set to trash the sponsors a bit because they couldn’t put up a banner lest it block the ad banner already onstage.  “We made it ourselves, what has Pepsi ever made?” he quipped.  “I still drink it though,” added drummer Stacy Owen, who often chimed in with additional comments throughout their set.  If Ivinson ever decided to set the bass aside and branch out into stand up comedy, I’d consider checking that out as well … as long as he found a way to still keep Owen and her drumkit onstage.