SXSW Friday, pt 2: Pissed Jeans, Passed Out
posted by March 15 at 12:55 PMon
I started Friday at the iheartcomix party, which was on the upper deck of a parking garage a few blocks west of the SXSW strip proper. There was a line to get in, not so much because it was over crowded, but because they were letting people up one crammed elevator at a time. Up on the roof, Flosstradamus were DJing a set of big, dumb, fun party jams—Michael Jackson re-edits, their Matt & Kim remix, Ed Banger, “Satisfaction,” “Better Off Alone.” “Yo, we’re just freestyling up here, playing our favorite songs,” they said over the opening synth strains of Benny Benassi. Then: “This wind is killing us up here. It’s blowing our needles all over the place. Fuck it.” Then, later: “Spring break!” And it really felt like spring break.
The high wind wasn’t the only snag at the iheartcomix party, though. There was free beer, but they stopped serving for three hours at 6pm. They were out of water by then, too, although they did have tiny, branded squirt-guns, and I saw one guy walking around with a squirt-gun stuck in his mouth, killing himself for some water.
Santogold had a rough time, too. Santi White came out in a neon pink and green clashing jumpsuit and big wrapped shades, flanked by two stone-faced dancers in white blouses and sunglasses (whichever critic first compared these girls to Public Enemy’s S1-Ws deserves a medal). So, obviously, Santogold is drawing a lot of M.I.A. comparisons—there’s the aforementioned outfit, the fact that Santogold’s electrp-pop is made with some of the same producers, and having Diplo as your live DJ definitely isn’t going to help matters. The most striking difference, besides White’s more trained singing voice, is that whereas M.I.A. samples from a grab-bag of global urban music, Santogold mashes mostly Jamaican influences, notably rocksteady and ska, into ‘08 club music (the bright, 8-bit crunk of “Creator” is an exception).
Diplo, for whatever reason (maybe he was still reeling from that pool party), kind of bombed at backing up Santogold. After the first song, there was a long, drawn out silence, while Diplo worked out some apparent technical issue. White’s S1-Ws stayed totally still and expressionless for the duration like total pros, while Santogold asked if anyone knew any jokes. A friend wondered if she was lip-synching, and, after finally doing her next song, White admitted, “I don’t know if I should tell you this, but that was the CD version of the track,” so she had been singing over her own recorded vocals. Later, her voice was thinner but still impressively elastic. One song started playing backwards part way through, and another one just cut off completely maybe a minute in, causing White to snap, “I don’t even need to say anything. I’m looking for a new DJ.” Then, amicably, “Just kidding. You all know Diplo’s the shit.” It’s a forgiving, forgetful party, though, and White thanks the audience for being so nice.
Another long line, and it’s up to a rooftop pool and patio, where they were serving wine. The sun was setting, all pink and orange behind the DJ booth, girls were dangling their legs in the pool, a trance riff was playing on the soundsystem—it was like walking up the stairs from SXSW and winding up in at WMC in Miami. Definitely the best looking crowd of the weekend so far (music critics aside). Team Robespierre played half a song, blew a fuse, paused in the dark, and then did a short but spirited set for a handful of fans and a lot of disinterested onlookers. Talked to Khaela Maricich from the Blow for a minute, mostly about Why?’s lyrics and whether or not they were offensively bad. I’m obviously a big fan, she’s not so much. We both agree that his morbid neuroses suggest that Yoni Wolf could be bad boyfriend material. About an hour later, I get the weird feeling that I had that exact same conversation before.
Back down on the parking garage floor, after dark, Cut Copy absolutely light the party up. Their new songs have a serious New Order vibe—soft, mopey singing over shimmering synth arpeggios, dreamy pop shoegaze guitars, and electronic kick thump. They have neon, kaleidoscopic videos playing behind them. Like New Order, the lyrics are frequently secondary to the songs’ pulse. “This is a pretty cool party, here’s some more party music,” said their singer before introducing another simultaneously joyous and melancholic song. They played “Girl and the Sea” and “Lights and Music,” and both sounded fantastic. Later, during an instrumental lull: “It’s time for everyone to go nuts, not just the people in front but all through the place.” When the beat kicked back in, the crowd obediently went apeshit, jumping up and down, dancing all over, clapping along.
At the Sub Pop showcase, Pissed Jeans were playing out on a patio stage and fucking killing it. The gravel pit the stage was set up in front of wasn’t great footing for moshing, but a few dudes gave it a shot. The lead singer of Pissed Jeans is a great front-man, part Iggy Pop, part David Yow, part Will Ferrell (Ferrell hat tip: Brandon Ivers), alternately shuddering, sneering, leering, and cringing, leaning on his mic stand, then hunching down to the stage, howling, then screaming into the nearly eye-level stage lights, his thrusting and writhing at once sexual and self-deprecating. Plus he’s funny: “You guys need more pebbles? There’s more pebbles back there.” The band was heavy—drums pounding hard, rumbling, and rolling; bass vibrating below audible frequencies; guitar droning feedback. They swerved from ranting drones to bursts of thrash to sludgy headbanging snarl, brutally executing each. Of all the bands on the Sub Pop showcase, Pissed Jeans stood out as what you might call a classic Sub Pop band. Grunge. Flannel. Hanging on the flippety flop. All that good shit. Plus, they’ve got that whole Allentown-depressed-rust-belt-Springsteen lyric-mystique. “I’m Sick” and “Don’t Need Smoke to Make Myself Disappear” were particularly brutal.
Grand Archives sounded good in the main room, their newer, more rootsy songs sounding more at home here than in Seattle, although the more subdued songs from their demo EP are still my favorite.
Across the street, Old Time Relijun were an ecstatic, mad freak-out, free jazz skronk mixing with swamp boogie mixing with mutant disco grooves mixing with shamanic throat singing. Stand up bass and dual saxophone (two reeds, one mouth) and Arrington de Dionyso looking a little less impish than usual but still summoning some apocalyptic fire and brimstone. I swear I heard an interpolation of “Contort Yourself” in one song. When his guitar came unplugged, he said, “I feel like a guitar shouldn’t come unplugged during such ecstatic, raucous song. Is it embarrassing?” Some guy shouted out, “No big deal,” and Dionyso replied, “I agree with this guy, it’s no big deal.” Saw the drunkest, douchiest dude of the weekend so far, shouting and shoving people incoherently, sporting a shiny baseball cap. Saw a guy fall ass backwards, passing out, head thunking hard on the ground. Good show.
HEALTH sounded much better than their second-most recent show at Chop Suey. Their drummer pounded while the other guys hunched on the floor and humped the stage, screaming into their pedals, jumping up and down, echoing vocals soaring, guitar bursts interlocking and falling apart, feedback braying like a donkey. I wonder, is the impact of noise music lessened when pretty people are making it? Is an ugly band like Wolf Eyes more legit than these guys?
I caught a minute of Blitzen Trapper, including “Wild Mountain Nation,” and it occurs to me that the whole rootsy rock resurgence that’s happening right now, especially in Seattle and on Sub Pop, leaves me kind of lukewarm. I don’t get it. I don’t dig rural seventies Southern soft rock. I appreciate the musicianship and the craft and all that, but, like Moz says, it says nothing to me about my life.
Rode to a couple massive, expensive-looking, but ultimately bunk afterparties with a couple of photographers who were taking flash photos in the front seat while driving buzzed. I don’t want to die driving to see fucking Squirrel Nut Zippers or whatever play at some energy drink sales pitch, but fuck it, if that’s how I go out, so be it. Spring break!