SXSW Day 4, Sat. March 21

Saturday was a much lighter day than either Thursday or Friday. I began my adventures at the Flatstock poster exhibit at the Austin Convention center where there were reams of incredibly cool concert posters on display by the artists who made them. I wasn't in a buying state of solvency, so I had to satisfy myself by taking cards and dreaming about the day Flaming Tusk or Seize Them! goes on tour and needs awesome posters for advertising and merch. Someday, someday... The work of Matt Parrillo from Monolith Press and Brian Mercer of Mercerrock were particular highlights.

Finally managed to catch up with my friend Garann at Waterloo Park for some of the day's free shows. Israel's Monotonix were crazying up the place with their garage punk chaos, which was admirably tight given the band had set up in front of the stage in the mosh pit and were frequently riding pieces of the drumkit on the upstretched arms of the crowd. I believe they claimed some kind of world record for having performed eleven shows at this one SXSW festival, but their precise meaning remained unclear due to accent thickness.

Monotonix was merely the warmup for my second Circle Jerks show of the festival, and they killed it once again. Far more stage diving at this show than the one at Emo's, and in my estimation (if this show was any indication) stage divers have suffered some serious ego inflation over the past decade or so.

I dropped in to Elysium out of curiosity about the second Japan Nite showcase. You can never be sure what you're going to get, musically, from the Japanese: wild creative experimentation and slavish imitation seem to the the two most likely options. I suppose that's true of music everywhere but somehow this polarization seems to express itself most clearly w/r/t old Nippon. Special Thanks from Aichi prefecture were taking the stage as I arrived and, sadly, they sit solidly in the latter category. Uninspired pop punk with cutesy girly vocals delivered by a lady who appeared to be about thirteen. Nothing to see here, and you've heard it all before. To their credit, the band was having a great time despite equipment problems.
Special Thanks

For what may turn out to be the final official music event of the festival which I attend, I caught the PJ Harvey and John Parish show at Stubb's. Ms. Polly Jean is as compelling as ever. She and her band were working a WWII vibe visually, PJ in a blazing white torch singer gown and hairpiece/hat, her band in suits and fedoras. This show established a theme for me of seeing big name performers I like playing material I've never heard before, in this case cuts from the recently released "A Woman A Man Walked By". The music was still essential PJ: simple, atmospheric, idiosyncratic, primal. I very much want to hear the record, but I'm not sure an outdoor amphitheater is the right venue for this stuff. At its quieter moments, backed by banjo or ukelele played gently and mournfully, the music failed to reach the back half of the crowd or touch the louts who'd rather shout drunkenly to each other about air mattresses and "dry showers". An intimate club, small enough for the bigger moments to frighten you slightly, would be ideal.
PJ Harvey & John Parish 2

The show was over too soon, the clock forcing the band to make way for The Indigo Girls and, later and most unfortunately, Third Eye Blind.

Sunday is likely to see me drinking in more of Austin, TX than can be had by wandering East Sixth Street and vicinity so this is likely my last South By Southwest post. If the stars align, the next time I'm here I'll be playing with one of my bands. Or, at least, I'll bring somebody with me to augment my mediocre networking skills (though, on that tip, I did manage to give CDs to quite a few band members... here's hoping they don't lose them). Until next time.


SXSW Day 3, Fri. March 20

The vernal equinox ensured that today's festival doings would receive equal amounts of daylight and darkness. I got into town early (meaning, 2PM) because there were Things To Do!

First off, I sat in on a demo listening session at the convention center. The panelists were four producers in various genres, and they were pulling submitted CDs out of a bin and listening to the first verse and first chorus of the songs their supplicants wished them to judge. Despite frequent caveats of "we don't know anything!", the panel generally proceeded by explaining what would make the song in question blow up huge on the radio, or why it never would. Afterward the producers made themselves available for meeting and greeting, so I took the opportunity to press the Flaming Tusk EP on Don DeBiase, the one guy who seemed amenable to metal. He seemed very excited to get it.

I discovered via SMS that The Onion were presenting a showcase at Radio Room featuring Ra Ra Riot. I really liked their self-titled 2007 EP and I wasn't sure I'd make it to their 1AM show, so this was serendipitous. I probably missed half of their short set due to the length of the line (in the afternoons, one's badge counts for naught. you wait with the rest of the peons), but what I saw was as lush and danceable as their record, with the added perk of seeing all six folks including the cellist and violinist bop around enjoying themselves. They also drew one of the most tightly packed crowds I'd been in since the beginning of SXSW.
Ra Ra Riot

I stuck around to catch ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, who I'm not terribly familiar with but thought might be interesting. They definitely brought the fire with a rave-up apocalyptic groove. I'm not convinced the second drum kit was necessary, but it at least looked cool to have two drummers set up face to face mirroring each other's slammings. The crowd was singing along and trying to avoid the drumsticks and water bottles being thrown from the stage.

The first show on my To See list for the day was Brooklyn metal act TOMBS at Room 710. Brutal blackened post-hardcore (you realize I'm just inventing genre names, right?). I was jealous of their sonic intensity. Crazy psychedelic washes of noise backed by blastbeats and bass chords. The guys look like they will kick your ass, but I spoke to guitarist Mike Hill for a bit after the show and he was happy to meet a fellow metaller from NYC. He took a copy of the Flaming Tusk EP with enthusiasm and I told him I'd do my best to catch their next NYC show on April 12th at Public Assembly (with Ghengis Tron, Black Anvil and Wetnurse).

The Southern Lord Recordings showcase at Emo's Annex kicked off with Thou from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were decent enough doom metal, but the show felt a touch flat and uninspired. Their vocalist would do well to work a couple of variations on his stock scream into the act.

Next onstage was Eagle Twin from Salt Lake City. They were another octave-dropped guitar and drums two-piece and it's possible my feelings about them were clouded by how much I liked Jucifer two days before. I was mildly disinterested until, perhaps ironically, they got to their more minimal material about halfway through their set. Eagle Twin have some good ideas but they might do better with a wider sonic palette. The guitar tone was impressively huge, though.

I ducked out of Southern Lord's show in order to catch Texas black metallers Absu at Spiro's Amphitheater. Absu black-metalled so hard that they evilled a hole into their snare drum. Fortunately some dark angel lent them another one. They're not so black metal that the drummer/lead vocalist is above cracking jokes in his death growl voice. The crowd was very pumped up, abetted by Captain Morgan and his wenches handing out free rum shots and branded swag.

The highlight of my evening was seeing Rwake at Red 7. They completely destroyed the room with their Arkansas-bred intensity. It was the first show of the night that had me headbanging and holding up invisible orbs. The stage was full of people who looked like they were just this side of becoming toothless meth addicts, but for their decision to crush metal riffs. I really wish their set had been longer, but such are showcases. I had the chance to speak to lead vocalist CT for a bit after the show as he was selling Rwake merch and he accepted my offer of the Flaming Tusk EP enthusiastically. He also mentioned that he was looking for another band to fill out a bill in Brooklyn that one of his friend's bands is playing, so here's some crossed fingers that CT doesn't lose the disc and likes it.
Rwake 1

I returned to the Southern Lord showcase and missed the beginning of Wolves In The Throne Room's set, but what I did see was great. Lit only by two candelabras flanking the stage, WITTR poured out a tarry black torrent onto the crowd. Atmospheric and harsh, but never without a keen sense of droning melody, like a clawed hand reaching up to scratch the stars from the sky. The band plays like you just might never hear anything again once they're through with you, and you have little choice but to submit to the crush.
Wolves In The Throne Room

Finally, Pelican. Chicago's instru-metallists. They seemed pretty psyched about having just signed to Southern Lord, and they played some tracks from their forthcoming EP. They were high-energy, heavy, stony, doomy... Southern-Lordy. I'd definitely see them again.

And that was day three! Lots of good shows, and hopefully effecting pressings of the flesh. Will I survive Day Four? Tune in tomorrow to find out.


SXSW Day 2, Thurs. March 19

I got a pretty late start after adjusting to this whole idea of "there are things that you want to do happening all day and all night", but I wound up at the tail end of the Kerrang!/Guitar Hero party at Wave. It was, theoretically, invite-only, but I wasn't hassled at the door for being a badge-wielding gate crasher so I suppose they must have been nearly out of free booze.

Attack! Attack! from the UK were playing, and while the ample pogoing happening onstage indicated the band was having a great time I was distinctly underwhelmed by their nĂ¼metal-cum-metalcore schlock. It managed to sound overproduced even live. This is what you think is rad enough to import from overseas, Kerrang!?

On the sun-dappled front porch of Beer Land Texas I found The Fresh & Onlys from San Francisco flailing out their energetic, rave-up garage rock. Lots of fun. They, like quite a few other bands I've seen so far, were afflicted with PA problems, but once power was restored they brought back the rock, and it was good.
The Fresh & Onlys

I followed a stiltwalker down the street to Headhunters and stumbled upon Austin's own Meganaut. They've got the self-promotion angle locked down. The dudes were delivering heavy party rock that in its weaker moments drifted toward hair band territory, but it was saved by the reassuringly beardy, bluesy vocals. Not sure I'd seek these guys out again, but if they're playing the bar you're drinking in you'll likely be satisfied.

Today's theme was seeing bands from New York City, and I started off by checking out the Tee Pee Records showcase at Room 710 to catch Kreisor. They're a big-riff three piece who were playing heavy rock with a strong 70s-via-retro-90s vibe. Sadly, they seemed to fall a bit short of the mark. The guitar solos were simultaneously wanky and simplistic, the bassist dropped the ball on the backing vocals, and I left after three songs.

For the remainder of the night I parked myself at The Ale House for the The End Records showcase. This was a good choice. I only caught the tail end of Junius' last song, but I liked what I heard. Next up was Brooklyn's Hull. I'd wanted to see these guys for a while, and I guess it took flying all the way to Austin to do it. Nevertheless, Hull blasted out a toppling wall of stoner-flavored sludge that got everyone in the club fired up. Lots of hair in faces. Nice guys, too. I spoke to Carmine, one of Hull's three guitarists, for a little while after the show about NYC metal and promised I'd come see them again when they played back home.

Next up was These Are They from Chicago. Their vocalist claimed that we were witnessing their first live show, but if he hadn't tipped us off there would have been no way to tell. Very tight, if perhaps only medium-technical death metal. The bassist and rhythm guitarist were headbanging along and tossing their blondeness all over the place, but the vocalist and lead guitarist could stand to amp up their stage presence at tad.

Back to the New Yorkers: Goes Cube shook the Ale House with very heavy post-punky spacerockmetal. Very full sound for a three-piece band. The guitarist was the first band member of the evening to fulfill the punk tradition of coming off the stage to play in the audience. The club got progressively more crowded as Goes Cube's show brought people in off the street, so they're doing something right.

Chicago's Tub Ring are not only a band, they're their own mosh pit. In any given song it's a tossup as to whether the keyboardist / maraca juggler / backing vocalist will spend more time playing or standing on his instruments. They're impossible to classify musically. I heard everything from electro-klezmer to extreme noise terror, all of it heavy, unrelenting and turned to eleven. Their breathless live show is a great rock and roll spectacle, but it's hard to tell how their sound(s) might translate to a record. Super nuts, but they got the girls dancing so what more can you really ask for?
Tub Ring

If you're into thrash, Early Man sure are a thrash band. Flying V guitars chugging away at high speed on the 6 string, ripping riff after riff. That said, it's thrash. If you're looking for anything else, you're out of luck. Early Man are singular in purpose.

Day three beckons. Last night I swapped sleeping orientation on the couch to balance out my musculoskeletal stresses. One must pace one's self


SXSW Day 1, Wed. March 18

As with all conferences, I assume, the whole adventure begins at Registration where you hope your hefty fee will actually result in receiving the magical badge which grants access to everything you want to see. I must have gotten there at prime time (about a half hour after registration opened), as there wasn't much of a line after I finished up.

Wandered through the trade show, but wasn't terribly tempted by any of the vendors. I must have missed all the best free swag.

Afterward I wandered around Austin's 6th St., drinking in the festive chaos. I've never been to Austin before, so to me it looked like all the bars in the city must occupy this one five-block stretch. I am assured that this is not the case.
6th Street

The first bit of live music I took in was the final two songs of Roman Candle's set at Troubador. They're a rocking five-piece from Nashville by way of North Carolina. They were having a great time and I'll have to make sure to check out more of their music.

Next up I drifted over to the outdoor stage set up in the parking lot at 7th St. and Neches. Austin's Snake Skin Prison were setting up, and their start got delayed by generator problems which left the PA unpowered. To kill time, their bassist went on an effects-heavy hard rock jam excursion to the delight of more or less no one. Once the PA finally kicked in, the band had started up a hard rock cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" which was pretty uninspired. They got around to some originals afterward, which were built around hamfisted weaksauce wankery and embarassingly stupid lyrics. They appeared to have some local fans, though.

I saw The Van Pelt from NYC on the schedule and the name rang a bell from my indie/hardcore/emo friends listening habits back in the 90s, so I caught the final two songs of their set. They sounded really rich and full, despite having broken up in 1997. The crowd was very enthusiastic, continually calling for "one more". Might not be a bad idea for these guys to keep on going.
The Van Pelt

Finally 8:00 rolled around and it was time for the first show on my To See list: Jucifer on the Emo's Annex stage. I didn't really know anything about them ahead of time and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that they rocked my face right off. Guitarist Amber Valentine (really? "Amber"? in a band that sounds like this?) generates a huge, crushing octave-dropped tone through a wall of bass cabinets AND handles the light show with a bunch of foot pedals. Musically, I could only come up with "crazy powerstoner doomthrash" as a descriptor. They're a two-piece, in the vein of Hella or Lightning Bolt, but apparently Jucifer predates both of them and I have to say I find Jucifer much more interesting. They played with total passion, the drummer hidden behind a wall of fog and grinning like a loon as he smacked the hi-hat with his foot. Go see these guys. They're nominally from Athens, GA, but I talked to Amber after the show and she clarified that they "haven't really lived anywhere for eight years".

Next up was a portion of the Texas Hardcore showcase at Red 7, and I caught Hatred Surge play their short set. They played with admirable passion and intensity, but ultimately the music was, well, hardcore. Which is to say: fast, chaotic and indistinct. The crowd dug it, and the crowd looked very much like hardcore crowds always have. 'X' tattoos, Xs on hands in thick black marker, and one kid actually wearing a JUDGE t-shirt. The venue did have a vendor of shirts and 7-inches, which felt appropriate.

Back over to Emo's Annex (which, by the way, is merely a tent in a parking lot) to see Valient Thorr. I'd been warned ahead of time that they were, well, questionable, and my warning was correct. While they have a highly energetic stage presence, musically they're hair rock in denim vests. Metal fans be warned. I ditched 'em after two songs and wandered over to see...

The Circle Jerks! The badge-holder line was long, long enough that the guys behind me from Time Magazine and Spin decided to give up. But I did make it in, and I saw what I'd estimate to be half of their set. I must say, they were killing it up there. Despite age and the bald patches mixed with dreadlocks on the vocalist's head, the band ripped it up. Plenty of offering the mic into the crowd for shout-along lyrics, as at any good punk show. The guitarist bounced all over the stage, and the crowd clearly felt the Circle Jerks still rage after all these years.
Circle Jerks

Finally, to round out the evening I caught The Decemberists at Stubb's. They were playing the entirety of their new album, Hazards of Love, which was interesting for me as this was the first time I'd ever seen The Decemberists despite being a fan. A friend of mine had expressed some negativity about the leaked copy of HoL he'd heard, but I think it hung together pretty well as a performance piece. My verdict is still out on the album, as I haven't listened to it yet. I'm sure as with most Decemberists stuff, I'll start out mildly indifferent and wind up enjoying it greatly. The band was clearly having a great time, and Colin Meloy rocked out quite a bit more than I would have imagined.
The Decemberists

And that was my day one! I retired to my accommodations with aching feet in anticipation of Day Two. Stay tuned.



Photographic proof of the "Abigail" review printed in the April, 2009 issue of Decibel magazine. Page 88.

Decibel Magazine, April, 2009


"Abigail" in Decibel Magazine

Decibel magazine's Cosmo Lee (also of metal mp3 blog Invisible Oranges, Stylus, PopMatters, and Pitchfork ) wrote a brief blurb about the Abigail EP on the Throw Me A Frickin' Bone page of the April '09 issue. Here, reproduced in its entirety:

Astoria's Flaming Tusk wins the odd bird award here. I have no idea what to call this. You Fail Me-era Converge, but sludgier, proggier and with black metal rasps? It's messy, but melodic and strangely compelling. You can download it for free at the band's site. Try or die!


Go buy every single copy of this issue you can find.