SXSW so far (I think): Black Angels, Van Morrison, Roky Erickson, Cut Copy, Tough Alliance

Categories: SXSW

Reporting in from SXSW in Austin, where the proliferation of barbecue, noise, and way too much free booze is starting to severely hamper my ability to take notes.

It’s now day three of the music marathon, and over the last couple of days I’ve caught a few legends, maybe a couple soon-to-be-legends, and … I should make a clever pun here, but I’ll just say, bands that were not so great.

Much of Wednesday is already lost to the sands of time, so a few highlights:

Happy Surprise #1: An afterparty for a screening of the new Lou Reed Berlin movie. I missed the screening, but hustled over to Pangaea (yep, same as at the Hard Rock Live, same logo, same strange piratey décor, only here with more skulls and Texasy touches). First cool random discovery was What Laura Says Thinks and Feelsfrom Tempe, Arizona; a bunch of shaggy, long-haired types with a really pleasant, tripped out, fleshed out psych-ey sound. Kind of like Devendra Banhart but not quite as weird, and with a big backing band. Awesome, creepy harmonies. After that, more excellent retro psychedelics from Austin’s own Black Angels.

Second stop, on to La Zona Rosa to see none other than Van Morrison -- definitely one of the best things about SXSW is, besides the new bands, sort of return appearances by classic artists. What to say about Van Morrison? Rumors of his condition seem to be exaggerated; his voice sounded great, but the whole vibe was a little subdued, and he sat the entire time.

Later that night, Very Happy Surprise #2 -- the Austin Music awards at the Austin Music Hall. I arrived in time to watch Britt Daniels and Spoon, of course, scoop up several awards, as well as someone from ZZ Top (who I earlier spied lunching with Billy Bob Thornton on the patio of the TGI Friday’s in my hotel, haha). But the real treat was an appearance by the guest of honor -- Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators!!!! First, Okkervil River took the stage, totally rockin’ and winning me over…. Then, like Voltron, with Roky they formed Rokkervil, playing four or five songs, including a scorching version of “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

Last stop of the night: the Modular Records showcase!! If you know me, you know I love absolutely everything the Australian label puts out, and their sort of dancey/rock crossover ethos is very now. I arrived in time to see Melbourne’s amazing Cut Copy, whose sort of cold, retro synth stuff translated surprisingly well live with an added warmth and super high energy. Yes, they did all the hits the hipster clubs love – “Saturdays,” “Future,” “Hearts on Fire.”

While most of the room cleared out, I stuck around to see The Tough Alliance from one of my favorite cities ever, Gothenburg, Sweden. Their sound is sort of twee and dancey and I was SUPER excited to catch them at a small venue, as they’ll probably blow up soon enough (they already have in Sweden, opening for people like Justice)…

….Too bad the performing was completely distressing!!!! I would say “I want whatever drugs they’re having,” but that would be a lie, because I don’t think I’d want to stand silently on a stage, face flushed, spittle dribbling down my neck, breaking shit. Literally – first, they spent about 30 minutes setting up some stupid screen for even stupider projections (what looked like Islamic scrolls, or something, in what appeared to be a Power Point presentation). Then when the duo finally took the stage, they gave up all pretense of actually playing. One member tried to lip sync for a while, but then gave that up, and the show devolved into the two guys running around in circles while a CD of their songs played. Then they broke a microphone stand with berserker strength. Bizarre, completely. Well, I did enjoy listening to their songs being played on a loud sound system, haha. Such a conflict of emotions!

That wraps up Day 1 for me, I’m behind now but will file Day 2 later… I’m off to the party we (Village Voice Media) are sponsoring, featuring Health, The Black Keys, the Cribs, and …Trail of Dead!!

--Arielle Castillo

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