The End of SXSW 2012: Too Much Portland to Count and a Little St. Louis

Nikka Costa at Twangfest Day Party at SXSW 2012 - Dana Plonka
Dana Plonka
Nikka Costa at Twangfest Day Party at SXSW 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

2:15 p.m. By mid-afternoon the South Congress strip had become a not-quite-debauched Mardi Gras parade of young and old, hip and unhip, crunchy and coiffed, and dogs, lots of dogs, all taking in the food trucks, boutiques, vintage apparel encampments and day parties, lots of day parties. They never end. The Friday slate for the back lot at Home Slice Pizza was packed with folk and pop acts, including fine Aussie band Husky, mashing up mope and fun with good blasts from the keybs for the crowd, who, like much of Austin this time of year, resembled a Portlandia casting call, buzzed on pale ale and basil-dusted slices.

2:40 p.m. Just down the street on Congress stands the poshly-zen Hotel San Jose, home to parking-lot party South By San Jose, with Dry the River wanking hard towards a full freak out on violin and Crazy Horse guitars. An intimidating warm up for the next band, Milo Greene, who recently joined the Civil Wars on tour. A sensible match: though the band suffers from a lack of identifiable songs and personality, it does have a sneaky sampler for the corny violin parts.

Typhoon at Home Slice Day Party at SXSW 2012 - Dana Plonka
Dana Plonka
Typhoon at Home Slice Day Party at SXSW 2012

3:24 p.m. Back to Home Slice for Typhoon, an excessively-named Portland band (yeah, I saw a few of those this week) with twin violins sounding not corny at all. I dug the slap-back delay on Kyle Morton's voice, the twin drumming and the trumpet player who couldn't fit on stage. Nostalgia for the early years of Margot and the Nuclear So and So's set in.

3:55 p.m. Buzz band Hospitality got off to an inhospitable start, pushed back 15 minutes by an impromptu song or two by Adam Arcuragi, because clearly there wasn't enough music on the dual stages (cleverly separated by curtains and removable doors; while one band played, another set up in secret beside it). I expected more than just a few hooks and "dah dah dahs" (tally at SXSW 2012 approximately 3200). The band looked fried and ready to go back to Brooklyn.

J Roddy Walston and the Business at South By San Jose at SXSW 2012 - Dana Plonka
Dana Plonka
J Roddy Walston and the Business at South By San Jose at SXSW 2012

4:10 p.m. "It made me want to puke," Dylan once said of the word energy as applied to his reunion tour with the Band. Twenty-eight years later, he still has a point, so let's make a pact to strike it from our impoverished musical lexicon. J Roddy Walston and the Business doesn't have energy. The band has testicular fortitude, rock & roll in the glands, from Leon Russell to the MC5 to Little Richard, whose "Lucille" Walston pillages in the most unholy of ways. At least that's how it sounded on the South By San Jose stage on Friday afternoon. I would call it the most electrifying set of the week if I hadn't seen Springsteen the night before.

6:20 p.m. Back at Home Slice, Dan Mangan was finishing up a quick set with "Leaves, Trees, Forest" and "Post-War Blues," both of which evoked M. Ward with blaring trumpet and sweaty, angry strumming over a sharp band. You can't hear it all, so my Friday day parties ended all too abruptly.

Young Statues at Palm Door at SXSW 2012 - Roy Kasten
Roy Kasten
Young Statues at Palm Door at SXSW 2012

8:20 p.m. If you've ever been to South By you know the deal. Young band scores a showcase, travels from Minneapolis or Los Angeles or St. Louis, gets to the gig, and the only critic in town who knows they exist arrives twenty minutes late, only to discover the PA is shit and the sound man is clueless. Such was the fate of sparkling Philadelphia guitar-pop quintet Young Statues, whose artful, cliché-free songs deserved better, while still somehow managing to zip around the room. Clubs in St. Louis: Give these guys a chance if they're routing through.

Alice Russell at Parish at SXSW 2012 - Roy Kasten
Roy Kasten
Alice Russell at Parish at SXSW 2012

9:06 p.m. By SXSW standards, Friday night on 6th Street felt relatively tame, or at least navigable, and so I made it to the Parish in time to catch the KCRW showcase with Brighton UK soul singer Alice Russell, backed by San Francisco jazz-funk fusion band Quantic. Russell can belt with the bravado of Candi Staton, but tonight she let the cool, almost Cuban son groove ripple around her, with mysterious violin lines everywhere, and Russell's winning wit and charm overcoming the non-stop chatter of the chattiest club in town. "Look Around the Corner," the forthcoming single from this collaboration, was dazzling.

Delta Spirit at Stubb's at SXSW 2012 - Dana Plonka
Dana Plonka
Delta Spirit at Stubb's at SXSW 2012

9:52 p.m. Non-Shocker Cancellation of the Week Award goes to the Ting Tings, narrowly beating out John Mayer, both of whom canceled headlining sets at Stubb's for SXSW. Mayer had a throat injury and the Ting Tings had a hang nail or maybe it was too hot out. Just speculating but the no-show meant opening Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men won a longer set, sounding like an angrier Mumford and Sons, and thoroughly enjoyable from the cheap seats, though the band has one too many songs about sleeping. Then followed Delta Spirit playing their 16th show (literally, I believe) of the week, spraying everything they had left in their tank of frenetic, back-to-Replacements-basics songs at a crowd that really wanted to see fun. You can always tell when a band is trying too hard, and Delta Spirit tried as hard as they could to catch fire, and they nearly did on a terrific "Bushwick Blues."

11:36 p.m. The recorded work of Shearwater is admirable and expressive, including this year's Animal Joy, but at the Sub Pop showcase on the Red 7 patio it mostly sounded like a good band to check your Twitter feed to, if you're following Fake Marcel Proust and Opera St. Louis.

Chairlift at Empire Automotive at SXSW 2012 - Dana Plonka
Dana Plonka
Chairlift at Empire Automotive at SXSW 2012

12:17 a.m. Freelance photographer Dana Plonka (SXSW slideshow here) was desperate to hear the buzzy Chairlift at Empire Automotive, so what the hell. If there's a thing that's not my thing it's dreamy electronic dance pop with finger cymbals clinked by an asexual singer in a borderline chador. It's too late for cool points: I did not feel the rapture and I did not groove out on the laser-light show.

Cloud Nothings at ND at SXSW 2012 - Roy Kasten
Roy Kasten
Cloud Nothings at ND at SXSW 2012

1:12 a.m. Feeling a bit like a wimp for ending my night early on Thursday, I pushed on into hour twelve of music for the day with Cloud Nothings at barely east-side warehouse-styled club ND. If the next time you see me you ask, "How was South By?" and I lean in and say, "What?" you can blame this Cleveland band and an arena-cranked PA. Fucking loud enough and a fucking-hard mosh pit, but I went in anyway, getting sprayed with beer and soda and pretty much loving every gnarly thrashed, crashed and spazzed-out hook. Great punk band. Great end to the penultimate night.

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