First Off, Wild Flag is as Good as Everyone's Saying They Are
Headlining the Merge Records showcase, a bill that also included the mighty Versus and the newly resurgent, surprisingly powerful Wye Oak, Wild Flag overcame some irritating sound issues to put in probably the best performance I've seen this week. With Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein, they've got two of the most distinct identities in the history of indie rock—and there are similarities between the two, but mostly it's the contrast that's so enjoyable. Timony is a bit more wide-eyed and out there, both in her playing and her singing, while Brownstein is more in-your-face. But still, they're working off each other brilliantly, and with the addition of Janet Weiss' commanding drumming and Rebecca Cole's sneaky, melodic keyboard parts, there's really an awful lot going on, and an awful lot to like.
Best Decision I Made All Day:
At one point, while trying to get from the center of the Sixth Street madness over to Waterloo Records, which is a bit removed from everything else, I had the brilliant idea to walk toward the convention center, where, I'd read, there was some Chevrolet promotion going on where they'd use whatever shiny new car they're looking to sell to drive you wherever you wanted to go. I couldn't find any evidence of this happening at all, but I did almost get run over by a the city's commuter train, which, go figure, does in fact exist. Assuming it would at least take me a little closer to Waterloo, I bought a ticket ($2.75 for the whole day) and got on. The train, which was unbelievably clean and comfortable, sat in the station for probably 15 minutes. Finally, an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying we'd be departing in one minute. At this point, a wave of fear rushed over me, as I worried we might actually be about to head in the opposite direction of where I needed to go, potentially leaving me in, like, the suburbs of Austin, nowhere near all the records I wanted to buy. I jumped up and hurriedly got off the train, which not ten seconds later took off going the wrong way. Phew.
Happiest Accident That, Really, Could Only Ever Happen at SXSW
Intent on catching Wye Oak's scheduled performance at one of the nine shows Brooklyn Vegan has organized throughout the festival, I walked over to Barbarella, just in time for their set to start. I walked out back, where I thought the correct stage was (there were three, total), and I found an insanely packed backyard, like, packed to the point where I barely had enough arm room to get my phone out of my pocket (the horror, I know). "Jeez, Wye Oak is apparently a lot bigger than I realized," I thought. But then, to my extreme delight, Rhett Miller and the Old 97s started playing. They're the perfect old-school SXSW band, of course—heavy on twang and wonderfully conducive to drinking. They were tight as could be, playing a smattering of new material, but focusing on the old stuff. Given the circumstances, anything else would have felt off.
Finally, a Band I'd Never Heard Of
The Belle Brigade are a Los Angeles band co-fronted by brother-sister duo Barbara and Ethan Gruska. They've got a deal with Reprise, and their self-titled debut full-length is due out on April 19th. They played the Filter party, where their countrified pop songs stuck out like a sore thumb. Barbara has a deep, soulful, and expertly controlled voice, while Ethan brings a little bit of rasp. Their harmonies are undeniable, and they've got no real shortage of hooks, either. It'll be interesting to see who pays 'em any mind, though—the fear is they're too country (and too earnest) for the indie kids, and just not deeply embedded enough to have success in that mainstream country world. Listen to "Losers," though, and you can almost see it happening.
A Pleasant Surprise from a Band I Mostly Hate
I've never been a fan of …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, like, at all, but you've almost got to feel bad for them. Almost ten years since Pitchfork gave their debut album a perfect 10, they're nowhere to be found on the website's many high-profile SXSW shows. They're yesterday's news for sure, but holy shit, they can still bring it in a live setting. They played the big outdoor stage outside Waterloo Records in the middle of the day, as the sun beat down relentlessly. They're one of the loudest bands I've seen all week, and though they're prone to long-windedness, it's nice to see them still going so hard.
Best Band to See on a Hot, Sunny Day
For some reason I thought that given the bright, outdoor location of Filter’s afternoon party and 86-degree heat, noise-pop trio Weekend would tone down their set and opt to play a little, I dunno, softer. Let’s just say that the heavy bass, slaying wails (is the singer in pain or is he saying “yaaaaaay?”) and sheer volume of their songs was a shock to the system, in the best way possible. They're not noisy in a cluttered, disorienting sense as much as they are in that pummeling, feel-it-in-your-bones, mountain-of-sound kind of way. Not enough bands take on that volume, much less in a hot, sunshiney setting.
Biggest Growth Spurt
At some point between the time The L deemed bedroom pop artist Oberhofer one of the “8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear” and yesterday afternoon at BrookynVegan’s packed-to-the-gills day party, Brad Oberhofer turned into a full-out rocker. With a Ted Leo-meet-Avey Tare kind of energy, he led a three piece band — presumably all fellow NYU classmates — through a charging, chaotic set. This, coming from a kid wearing a half-buttoned, polka-dot blouse who also screamed “SXSW 2011!!!” into the mic as if he were on spring break, which, come to think of it, he probably was. In other words, he might still be a rookie when it comes to all this, but he’s definitely making strides in the right direction.
Best Moment to Make Brooklyn Proud
“There’s a lot of people here, and it’s kind of freaking me out,” frontman Alex Schaaf said at one point during Yellow Ostrich’s set at the high-profile Billions party. And it’s true: There were an awful lot of people there to check out the mildly buzzy Brooklyn act. He was doing a fine good job of drawing them in too, his strong-but-vulnerable voice leading the way through a maze of loops and intricate guitar that wavered between the Dirty Projectors and straightforward folk-pop. Good things are bound to come for this kid, just watch.