SXSW Review: Totally Mild, All Our Exes Live In Texas, March 16, Brush Square Park

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Totally Mild

I will admit that I had never heard of them until this year’s SXSW, but Melbourne-based Totally Mild ended up on my list on the strength of “Move On” from their last album, Down Time. It’s a bubbly vocalized piece with a music video that showed the band members drinking and regurgitating milk. Hearty, mind-bending, sardonic stuff. Since then, they have delivered another short album titled Alive in Denmark.

The lead vocalist Elizabeth Mitchell has a naturally high-pitched and clear voice that resonates well. She needs to – their music is moody, expressive and forlorn with twisting passages spanning quite a range. “The Next Day” is a good example. It’s like a slower version of a coloratura’s training scales. Listening to them in the BBQ tent really made me feel like an exemplary irony. Should I feign philistine and continue to shove food down my throat, or stop chewing midway to better hear the lyrics? Test this out for yourself with “More” – I’d stop half way.
 
All Our Exes Live In Texas
Fluttering women have no patience to stay in Texas – they belong in Sydney, Australia. That’s why they left all their exes in Texas. At least that’s the story I made up. In truth, members of All Our Exes Live In Texas are from Sydney, and so are their exes. The Texas came in for a rhyme and dime.

All Our Exes appear to have coalesced as a revenge band – and playing at SXSW while their male counterparts (also a band) fester in Sydney gave them some degree of satisfaction. One would be hard-pressed to say that they are performing out of spite. They were playful and energetic (that would be anything other than head-bobbing in folk music). In a short set consisting of just 5 songs, each is enjoyable with bright melodies and close harmony. The rendition of their showcase “Boundary Road” is fairly true to the recording. It’s fun to guess who would be singing which part, as each seem equally capable of a similar range. All in all, not bad for their first time singing live in Texas.

SXSW Review: ATO Showcase, March 16, Cedar Street Courtyard

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ATO Records put on a showcase at Cedar Street Courtyard and the Panic Manual was there to take in sets by three of the artists performing:

Nick Hakim

Nick Hakim
Whether it’s “I Don’t Know” from 2014, or this year’s “Bet She Looks Like You,” Hakim’s recordings always project an air of sophistication. The precious silence in between his vocals produces its own reflective and soulful imagery. But in real life, with the din of Cedar Street Courtyard at 10pm, and everyone jostling for a view of the stage, it projected a completely different feeling. Perhaps it is an inaccurate impression. I felt anxiety-ridden – wishing that they could be heard in that smooth, slow light. But of course, as Einstein might demur, “there is no such thing as slow light”. Oh well, back to the headphones.

Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman
I am very much a person of instrumental music, so incomprehensible lyrics usually do not dissuade me. I found it a little funny and odd then that Chicano Batman’s music did not work for me. They produced disjointed melodies that accompany as transitions, a segue to each batch of lyrics. It is an interesting structure. They would jump off the cliff to explore the sea floor, and then teleport back up as if through rewind. Repeated use of this, however, made one song sounds like the other to me. I am sometimes reminded, during obvious passages, of jazz improv. There is also a whiff, carried on a synth keyboard, of a chord or key eerily reminiscent of 80s Taiwanese pop music. So, it could be the work of some Freudian block in my head – an annoying trip down memory lane.

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff
I last saw Hurray for the Riff Raff in 2014, performing in Lance Armstrong’s local shop, with more mountain bikes than people. Then, they were a feisty and folksy band with a singular message about empowering the underdogs. Fast-forward 3 years, and with the advent of the Trump era, they have essentially turned activists, as we’re likely all of us underdogs now. The vocal and style has transformed into something that would fit right into any large metropolis in their new album, The Navigator. “A Life to Save” is a very good example.

Confident, almost strident, they have also become much more adept at holding the attention of a large crowd. Alynda Lee Segarra now burns with a permanent anger. She wears it like a revolutionary, and even has a beret to match. Given the current political and societal context, I think she is right to be. We should probably all be angry at many of the regressive ideas floating around. That strong emotion carried throughout the concert, in songs that touched on immigration, social injustice, and even a ballad about her Puerto Rican father. Ending with Pa’lante or “go forward”, it is a forceful and powerful performance. I recommend catching their entire set (a different one hosted by NPR) below.

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

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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.

Mastodon

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.