Live Music + Gig Reviews

SXSW 2011 @ Austin, Texas – Part 3

19 March 2011

Judged by the insane amount of hype, the lyrical shout-backs, and the million YouTube views, it was pretty clear that Odd Future was the most talked about act at this year’s SXSW. They deserve that attention on a purely visceral level, provoking water bottle fights, bile-spewed verbal assaults and constant stage dives. By the end of their 25 minute set at the Fader Fort on Friday the 19-year-old mastermind Tyler, The Creator looked absolutely exhausted, straining to get each Yonkers jab into the audience. They never slowed down though, thriving off of the manic energy their demonic crust-rap breeds.

Their rape jokes and homophobia never cease to be troubling, at least to these ears, but it’s impossible not to get swept up in their prowess – these kids are undeniably great on both a mic and a stage. Will they ever transcend their dirty capriciousness and transform into iconoclastic stars? That’s left up in the air.

Smith Westerns rely on youth in a completely different fashion. The Chicago trio play the starry-eyed romance-rock that’s become increasingly lost on the current indie generation. A band like Arcade Fire envelop it with unabated melodrama, and Smith Westerns certainly have that element, except with all the us-against-the-world doubt replaced with warmhearted good times. This is balladry without an asterisk, in love, out of debt, where gorgeous nights last forever. Watching the band launch into the swooning All Die Young in the humid, late-afternoon Austin sun might’ve killed that vibe a little, but it didn’t stop everyone from singing along.

As a teenage music journalist in America, the regulatory 21+ drinking age can really hamper coverage. Getting turned down from clubs featuring Diplo, Jamie XX, Kurt Vile and Kanye West (to name a few) because of my age was a real damper, both for my entertainment and the quality of the reporting. It’s understandable, if a venue gets a minor drunk they face (at best) a loss of alcohol license and (at worst) straight-up closure. So forgive me if I wasn’t able to make it into some of the more interesting parts of the week; no amount of press-badge waving could change it.

Red 7 has always been all-ages though, like the punk-leaning institution they are, and Sub Pop rented out the place Friday night to show off quite a few of their bands. Papercuts are not a band that’s easy to like. Their flighty yellow-bellied indie pop isn’t the sort of thing that ought to get much attention, but Jason Robert Quever’s voice can, and the shimmering intersperse guitar sounds can send remind time before this sort of music was lashed with near all-encompassing backlash. In terms of coverage it’s hard to dedicate much attention to the band; they’re quite comfortable in predestined songwriting, and the fact they haven’t cornered a market after a decade’s worth of existence confirms that. However that won’t stop their songs from being so passively pretty.

After that was Dum Dum Girls, a band that doesn’t seem to get the lashing resentment you’d expect a fuzzy, girl-group-loving rock band to get after the explosion of that aesthetic a couple years ago. Maybe it’s because I Will Be sort of snuck up on us, maybe it’s because Dee Dee is so likable, or maybe it’s because they’re just a lot better than the bulk. Whatever the case, Dee Dee’s snarled tuff-chick demeanor worked quite well in a punked-up setting. Her voice was draped in a heavy vibrato, giving old favorites like Jail La La an almost vaudevillian aesthetic, while beating the occasional sound issue with brute force.

That was it for Friday. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow marks the date for Kanye West‘s official live resurgence…

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