Friday, March 22, 2013

SXSW day three: Warm Soda, The Split Squad and The Specials

Warm Soda
I elected to plant myself at The Side Bar for a few hours from 3 p.m. onward on Thursday to take in a bill of rock-and-roll that began with Warm Soda. This full-on, rockin’ power pop quartet is part of what seems to be an interesting music scene developing in Oakland, Calif. A number of friends had raved about the group, and they weren’t wrong — and many of them were in the front of the stage when I arrived for a set that included “Jeanie Loves Pop,” “Spellbound” and several other songs I’m still getting familiar with. There was a relatively small crowd on hand, but it was justifiably enthusiastic.

I moved from the bar’s inside stage with my pint of 512 Wit Bier to another one set up on a back patio to catch the final number from Minnesota’s 4onthefloor that was an up-tempo, blues-based rocker.

A pint of Austin IPA and Spider Bags took me back to the inside stage. The group members are punky, meat-and-potatoes, rock-and-roll practitioners who played very loud in the relatively small room. It was okay but didn’t live up to my expectations.

The Hounds Below
I returned to the glorious sunshine for The Hounds Below, a group I tried to see on Tuesday night but didn’t, which is fronted by Jason Stollsteimer from The Von Bondies. The band wasn’t as intense as Warm Soda or Spider Bags, but was definitely more melodic than the latter. A drunk dancing in front of the stage was attracting as much attention as the band, and I concluded that I prefer The Von Bondies over The Hounds Below. I felt like beating someone up and not talking about it when the group concluded with a cover of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”

I drank some of my FM966 Farmhouse Ale pint at the inside bar to catch a bit of Diarrhea Planet, which was better than its name and fit in with the sound and spirit of other bands on the bill.

Glasgow, Scotland’s Paws was another band I’d heard great things about. The young outfit plays perky power pop that packs a decent punch and abundant hooks. The aforementioned drunk dancer grabbed my pen and notepad and scribbled or drew something that a really loaded guy might create before he bounded off. While I was certainly impressed with Paws, I had to cut out with two songs to go see something else I was curious about.

I spotted Billy Bragg walking down Sixth Street by himself while on my way to Latitude 30 to see another young United Kingdom band, China Rats. The quartet plays and writes songs beyond its years, and its spiky, energetic, melodic mix of pop and rock is full of promise. A surfy, garage-y tune reminded me a bit of Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” and the band stopped it mid-song a couple of times for dramatic effect. Paws and China Rats should draw from the same fan base, and hopefully it will be a large one.

The Split Squad's Keith Streng
I didn’t realize that Patagonia was a clothing store and not a club until I arrived and was given a free slice of pizza and a bottle of sparkling cider on my way in to see garage rock’s new supergroup: The Split Squad. Bassist Michael Giblin from Parallax Project handles most of the lead vocals, and his peers have even more impressive resumes. Drummer Clem Burke is from Blondie, guitarist Keith Streng is from The Fleshtones, guitarist Eddie Munoz is from The Plimsouls, keyboardist Josh Kantor plays at Boston Red Sox games at Fenway Park and Scott McCaughey plays in too many bands to remember, but they include R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows and The Baseball Project.

This was The Split Squad’s first show, but you wouldn’t have known it by the performance. The group’s debut album (which includes contributions from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Gang of Four's Hugo Burnham and The Figgs' Mike Gent) will be out this spring and you won’t get anything unexpected, considering the members’ pedigrees, and that’s alright. If you’ve ever seen The Fleshtones, you’d know what a dervish Streng is — spinning around, doing jumping scissor kicks, immersing himself in the audience and climbing on amplifiers, all while playing crisp guitar lines. Original power pop, garage and glam rock songs formed the backbone of the set and had people dancing, but covers including The Small Faces’ sparkling “Sorry She’s Mine” and a rawking encore run through Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” shone a spotlight on both the musicians’ skills and music knowledge.

Chuck Mead and The Grassy Knoll Boys

I left the store on a high and returned to our condo to check a few emails, and a couple of breakfast tacos that had been given away this morning and refrigerated were thrust at me as I made my way out the door to see Chuck Mead and The Grassy Knoll Boys. Mead is the former frontman of the much missed BR549, but this very traditional country music combo he’s put together could go a long way to making people cherish his present and future as opposed to his past. The vintage ‘50s country and honky tonk sounds that came from Mead’s electric guitar and the three accompanying musicians on mandolin/steel guitar/harmonica, upright bass and snare drum infused the original songs and carried over to covers of Del Reeves' “Girl On The Billboard” and Little Willie John's “Leave My Kitten Alone.” I may not be as nimble as the couples that started two-stepping and spinning each other around on the dancefloor, but I was just as happy as they were by the time Mead and the boys left the stage — and that wasn’t just from my Red Hook Audible Ale.

Capsula is a rock trio from Spain that I’ve planned to see for the past few SXSWs, but haven’t been able to squeeze in. The group mixes late ‘60s hard rock and psychedelia and plays pretty loose, which perhaps makes sense considering its Stooges influences. The lead singer/guitarist vibrated his instrument against various ceiling and wall pipes to see what would happen and had a lot of energy, and I found the female bassist/singer sexy. But it wasn’t quite what I expected, which dampened my enthusiasm a bit. Capsula will record its next album in two weeks.

There were no nearby must-see bands for 10 p.m. on my list, and I had met friends at Capsula who I warmed to seeing Warm Soda, so I elected to order a second pint of Ziegen Bock and stick around to see the band for the second time today. It played many of the same songs again, which I was cool with, as this is definitely a band to watch out for.

I arrived at Hype Hotel at 10:40 p.m. and heard the last couple of songs from Beach Fossils, which I pretty much ignored -- but it let me know that things were running late and I’d have to wait longer than expected to see The Specials. But The Specials are worth waiting for and admission to the large venue included two free drink tickets and two free tacos — and my guile and charm got me four more free drink tickets that I quickly turned into more easy-drinking maple bourbon and colas. It made the wait go much easier.

I saw two members of unique Finnish punk rock band Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day in line to get in and again inside the venue and tried to talk to them and told them I had reviewed the documentary made about them last year, but they either didn’t understand or appreciate what I was saying. I also realized that a lot of people in the room didn’t appreciate The Specials, as a number of them walked up to me to ask who the band was when it came on stage. It made me miss my reserved skanking spot that was set aside for a few hardcore fans when the group played Toronto’s Sound Academy in the summerof 2010.

The Specials finally came on and launched into “Do The Dog,” but the backing vocals were mixed too low. Luckily, that problem was soon resolved. The absence of Neville Staple unfortunately wasn’t. His vocal and camaraderie contributions were missed.

“New Era” followed and, while most people were just standing around, I told them to give me some room to dance and sing along as I moved a bit closer to the stage. The hits came in quick succession, with “Gangsters,” “Monkey Man,” “Rat Race,” “Doesn’t Make It Alright,” “Concrete Jungle,” “Man at C&A,” “Do Nothing,” “A Message to You, Rudy,” “Nite Klub” and finally a closing run through “Too Much Too Young.”

By this time it was after 1 a.m. and I knew I wasn’t going to see anything better, so I walked back to the condo and stayed up until around 4:30 a.m. writing, talking, eating and drinking.

Amount of money spent on food during SXSW thus far: $0.


Unknown said... can you drink so much and remember with clarity...ah yes, note taking while on the move...

Steve McLean said...

It comes with years of experience, Ian.