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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

SXSW For The Sober Guy

posted by on March 18 at 13:22 PM

There’s that old joke: “What did the hippie say when he ran out of drugs?”

“This band sucks.”

So maybe it makes sense that in my newfound and temporary booze-free lifestyle, I was sorta underwhelmed by SXSW this year. Damn you, Lent. I managed to catch quite a few bands over the course of three days, and I figured I’d share the highlights for anyone that isn’t completely tired of the hearing about all the shenanigans in Austin this last weekend. To make this a little easier on all of us, I’ll eschew the details of my own sober adventures and just give you the straight-up dirt on some of the more noteable bands I witnessed.

1349 – I was totally psyched to see some legitimate Norwegian black metal at SXSW. I cannot admit to being a die-hard fan of the genre, but I have enough of an interest to know that anytime Frost from Satyricon is playing drums, you’d better take note. Unfortunately, Frost was noticeably absent. In his place was some dumpy dude who didn’t hit hard enough to break a sweat. Black metal often suffers from weak drummers and awful guitar tones. 1349 stands out on record for actually having solid performances and production. Unfortunately, the drumming and bass playing in Austin were pretty mediocre. However, their singer was definitely terrifying. Decked out in full corpse paint, including a hefty amount of white make-up applied to his beard giving him a weirdly disproportionate set of jowls, his prowling stage demeanor was truly unnerving. In addition, it appeared that his eyes were bleeding. Despite the theatrics, I wound up leaving mid-set when I found myself paying less attention to the music and becoming more concerned with wondering how they got those huge spiked gauntlets through U.S. customs.

Chiodos – Okay, to be fair – I didn’t actually hear Chiodos play. I watched them on a monitor at the bar at Emo’s IV while they played the outside stage. And thank god for that, because I think I would’ve started drinking if I had to endure that shit. Watching the band on that monitor reconfirmed what I’ve already come to terms with: Screamo is the new hair metal. Girl jeans, teased hair, annoying choreographed stage moves, teenage girl demographics, compromised aura of safe rebellion… it’s all there. I hate being a musician.

The Night Marchers – John Reis from RFTC/Hot Snakes/Jehu/Pitchfork is back with a new band. It definitely sounds like Reis-fare, only with a bit more of a garage sound and a penchant for rock shuffles. I saw them play outside mid-afternoon. It was good, though it would’ve been way better in a tiny bar at midnight.

Black Mountain – I can’t get enough of In The Future, but as with the Night Marchers, this is the kind of music you need to see in a good, dark venue. Seeing them from a distance on an outdoor stage with the sun still out just wasn’t working for me.

No Age I’ve got Grandy’s back on this one.

This Will Destroy You – Austin’s latest post-rock buzz band is pretty much what I expected. While they sounded great, that was due at least in part to the fact that they sounded a lot like Explosions In The Sky. In fact, almost every band I saw on Sunday sounded either like EITS or Isis. I have never been so sick of digital delay in my entire life.

It wasn’t all disappointing though:

Pissed Jeans –They remind me of Born Against’s sludgier material, minus the political tirades. Singer Matt Korvette steals the show by somehow managing to engage the crowd without pandering to them. He is simultaneously disaffected and likeable. Goofy without being silly. Angry without seeming forced. Teamed up with Bradley Fry’s Greg Ginn-influenced guitar playing, it’s a pretty stellar show.

Coliseum – Missing Friday’s Tragedy show in Seattle was made somewhat easier by catching fellow d-beaters Coliseum on Sunday night. The riffs are fucking mean. The drumming is totally over-the-top. Brutal shit

Tera Melos – Now that Dillinger Escape Plan is playing on Conan and writing songs with hooks, people with an appetite for unhinged fretboard awareness and spastic drumming should look to Sacramento’s Hella disciples, Tera Melos. While certainly not as metal as DEP, this trio certainly out-plays the Jersey tech-metal quintet, and demonstrates a greater array of effects pedal trickery. This is definitely a band for guitar nerds. I caught them twice at SXSW, and was thoroughly impressed on both occasions.

Constantines – I had to make a decision. See Constantines for the roughly twentieth time, or catch Torche’s set. It was a tough call, but I also figured I could catch Torche the next night at the Chunklet party (little did I know that the party was in an art space with a capacity of 50, so I totally missed the Torche boat this year). Constantines were great though. I only caught five songs, none of which were Draw Us Lines or Young Lions, but they did end with Shine a Light. While I know that the Bruce Springsteen-meets-Fugazi description has become quite popular for these Canadians, I was struck by how much their singer reminded me of a pre-electric Bob Dylan, both in look and manner. I eagerly await their new album due out next month.

Harvey Milk – No band with Joe Preston can fail. Thrones, The Whip, Melvins, High on Fire. Need I say more? Slow, immense, misanthropic, and Southern. While I have mixed feelings about their recorded output, I enjoyed their set, and was particularly pleased to see so many people excited about a band that existed in almost complete obscurity throughout the ‘90s.

Helms Alee – Seattle’s own were top-notch at the HydraHead showcase. Well done, folks.

RSS icon Comments


Glad to see Harvey Milk killed it. I think I'm responsible for many of the listens on their myspace profile, can't wait to see them live (someday?).

Any band named after a gay activist can't be bad!

Posted by Ari Spool | March 18, 2008 2:01 PM

Helms Alee own.

Posted by dan | March 18, 2008 3:06 PM

Have you checked out the Obits, Rick Froberg's new band? Same garagey American R'n'R influences that informed Hot Snakes, but drawn out in more rambling traditional songs.

Posted by christopher hong | March 18, 2008 4:41 PM

Tera Melos are my new religion

Posted by sydney | March 18, 2008 9:26 PM

The part I disagree with: Chiodos is not and should never be considered screamo, the screamo you talk of is a generalized, watered-down version that the media no doubt took under its wing to re-sell to teens who try their hardest to be an outcast in order to be trendy.

You're a musician in 2, now three very prominent bands along the punk/hardcore/whatever scene, and I'm sure you know this and should never be given a lesson by a 17 year old who's had far less musical experiance: screamo belongs to the DIY/off-the-marker underground punk hardcore bands. I talk about: Ampere, Saetia, Orchid, Comadre, Portraits of Past, Pg.99, City of Caterpillar, Off Minor, The Fiction, Joshua Fit For Battle, La Quiete, Louise Cypher, Jeromes Dream, Yabe, Yaphet Kotto, you get my drift, i'm sure...

Posted by Ryan Cutler | March 18, 2008 9:45 PM

the term has pretty much been co-opted into meaning something entirely different at this point, and i really can't feel too defensive about it when "screamo" is as silly of a genre tag now as it was in its late-90's/early-00's heyday. same thing with emo...from what i can gather, no self-respecting band ever really wanted to be called that. so i really don't care anymore that emo no longer means moss icon, the way i did when i was twenty. and don't even get me started on people calling bands like pg.99 "skram" now that screamo means something different.

Posted by matt | March 18, 2008 10:08 PM

ya, and i love how many camera phone videos of chiodos are on youtube already with descriptions of "sooooo f*** aaaaamazing!!@1!1"

ps: look at the spelling corrections for 'chiodos'

Posted by texas | March 19, 2008 12:09 AM

i'm certainly willing to entertain the argument that "screamo" is not the best choice of a genre description for Chiodos. however, that willingness stems from my admission that i've never heard a single note of their music, not from any desire to maintain the sanctity of term. that word has always seemed to me like an invention of the larger music media. throughout the mid to late nineties, the bands you've mentioned were simply described as "hardcore" within my social circles. if further descriptions were needed to differentiate the many sounds that fell under that umbrella, there were always sub-classifications: crust, grind, sxe, emo, power-violence, anarcho-punk, post-hardcore, etc.. emo seemed to be nearly as broad of a term, used to describe everything from Antioch Arrow to early Promise Ring. but if you were getting distributed by Ebullition and reviewed in HeartattaCk, you were simply a hardcore band.

i don't think i ever heard the term "screamo" until At The Drive In was getting press in mainstream magazines. perhaps it was being used in other cities or other scenes, but i never heard anyone in Seattle describe Behead The Prophet, The November Group, or Vade as "screamo," though all three bands share some of the musical attributes associated with the word.

Truth be told, i struggled to think of the proper moniker for bands like Chiodos and their ilk. perhaps screamo isn't the most accurate designation, but then what is? something has to differentiate bands like Underoath, Hawthorne Heights, and Taking Back Sunday from bands like Reversal of Man, Torches To Rome, and Lincoln. the ideological gap is enormous, and even the sonic differences are quite striking. "screamo" was never mine anyway; let them keep it.

Posted by brian cook | March 19, 2008 9:40 AM

I actually enjoyed Black Mountain in the blazing hot sun on the top level of a parking garage. Of course, I was not being shy about helping myself to the free Dewar's either, so that probably makes the difference between your experience and mine.

Posted by JJ Hellgate | March 19, 2008 10:59 AM

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