Thursday, March 15, 2012

SXSW day two: Most acts fall short of expectations

Much of Wednesday was spent working, so I didn't see as much music in the afternoon as I would have liked, but I made an appearance at the Canadian Blast party to see some friendly faces, eat some brisket and have a beer.
Library Voices

I also finally got to see Library Voices, a large and literate indie pop group from Regina, Sask. which released one of my 10 favourite albums of 2011: Summer of Lust. It's Denim on Denim predecessor was also excellent, so I'm not sure how I keep missing the septet when it comes through Toronto since it's been on my radar for a couple of years. The band plays pure pop music with jangly guitars, keyboards and an occasional saxophone fill, and it put on a higher energy show than I was expecting. The fine original material was complemented by a fun cover of The Box Tops' "The Letter."

Whitehorse, the husband and wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland had an interesting set-up with guitar, bass and a variety of effects, but I preferred what I heard on the self-titled debut album from last year to the two songs I heard live before I had to leave.

I returned to the rented condo I'm staying in for the week to wait for a phone call and get some things done and at 6 p.m. made my way to The Green Mesquite for the annual dinner hosted by the good folks at Collective Concerts. I caught up with a few people, enjoyed a three-meat plate with a couple of sides and a few Shiner Bocks, and was ready to start a night of music by 9 p.m.

Oklahoma's The Boom Bang was at Friends and the singer introduced the set by saying, "We're probably going to be the worst band tonight." Unfortunately he wasn't lying. The group's sloppy garage rock meets punk material made me finish my beer quickly and make it to Whiskey Room in time for the last few songs from Jerusalem and The Starbaskets. This two guitars and drums trio had a relatively deadpan vocalist and, while the wall of guitar sound didn't knock me out, it was definitely a step up from The Boom Bang.
The Pinstripes

A Cincinnati band called The Pinstripes was busking in the intersection of Sixth and San Jacinto and did a pretty good job of The Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone." A woman with a rub board randomly walked up and joined the group, which handed out download cards to people who'd stopped to watch after a couple of songs.

Taiwanese '60s pop throwback band Wonfu's set time changed at The Loft, which meant I missed it. So the back-up plan was Nashville's Turbo Fruits at the Beauty Bar Backyard. It was solid straight-ahead rock-and-roll until closer "Volcano" ended things with a sludgy stoner rock vibe.
Turbo Fruits

Thee Oh Sees and Tennis switched time slots at Red 7 Patio and, while I like Thee Oh Sees, I've seen them three times and this was reserved as a night for new discoveries. So I moved west to see the final two songs from Scotland's French Wives and quite enjoyed them. The first was pretty upbeat and catchy, but still rocked, while violin was used to good effect on the closing single, "Younger."

I returned to the Beauty Bar Backyard, which had now filled to capacity, for Bleached. I missed the group's recent Toronto show, so was happy I caught most of its set. The female-frontlined band plays melodic pop punk that's far superior to most groups that classify themselves as such these days. It ended up being my favourite performance of the night.

I shifted over a patio to Red 7 where I found a dozen friends waiting to see Lee Fields & The Expressions. Unfortunately the wait lasted 35 minutes before his well-dressed band played an instrumental before the star stepped out in a black pinstripe suit and silver shirt unbuttoned to reveal a gold chain. Fields initially made a minor name for himself as a funk artist in the '70s and then took a career hiatus before a recent revival in fortune as a younger generation has rediscovered vintage soul and funk of late through the likes of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings and Charles Bradley. I'd rank Fields below them. The band was tight and he was able to sound relatively smooth and simultaneously raw, but it still seemed like there was a bit missing. But he had the audience on his side and got people waving their arms in the air and singing along at times.
Built To Spill

I've been trying to land a interview with Built To Spill, which hasn't been easy and cost me a few hours waiting by the phone on Wednesday afternoon -- and there's still a chance it might not happen later this week. The Idaho alt.rock band packed the IFC Crossroads House at Vice to the point where I couldn't see it after snapping a quick photo on my way in. A large arched brick wall that runs through the centre of the venue eliminated my sightline and, while the couple of songs I stayed for sounded good, I wanted to see as well as hear so I moved on.

Nick Waterhouse's set time had changed at The 512, so my back-up plan came into effect with Psychic Ills at Elysium. The group played a sometimes droning set of spacey rock for stoner hipsters that was accented by a black stage pierced by laser lights. It didn't impress me as much as I hoped for, but at least I found a padded bench where I could still see the group.

Technical problems delayed Bare Wires' start and plagued the part of their set I stayed for. But what the group lacked in execution, it made up for in energy. But the garage punk was below my expectations so I elected to make one last musical stop.
Bare Wires

Brooklyn, N.Y. indie pop band The Drums drew a large crowd to The Stage on Sixth Patio, and many of those in it were screaming women. The group comes across as a more pop-oriented Interpol or vintage British new wave act and sounded a bit too polished. My enjoyment level decreased as the set went on despite the enthusiasm of dancing frontman Jonathan Pierce and 2 a.m. meant the night was over.

Money spent on food during first two days and nights of SXSW: $0.


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