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Monday, March 19, 2012

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

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 7:14 AM

Page 2 of 2

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Noon-5:30 p.m. I spent the first part of my last day at SXSW 2012 at the second KDHX (88.1 FM) and Twangfest party of the week at Jovita's. For the sake of brevity (right, 47 periodic sentences too late for that) and for the sake of my conflict of emotional interest (I'm a KDHX DJ, KDHX Web Editor and Twangfest volunteer), I'll just graze the highlights:

Chuck Prophet at Twangfest Day Party at SXSW 2012 - DANA PLONKA
  • Dana Plonka
  • Chuck Prophet at Twangfest Day Party at SXSW 2012

Deano and the Purvs, featuring members of the Waco Bros and the disbanded Meat Purveyors, kicked things off with old-school hillbilly rock and good songwriting delivered by torch-and-sass singer Jo Walston. Rising young songwriter Joe Pug held a solid audience on the outdoor stage (often a challenge at these parties) while Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express ripped through the most-packed crowd I've ever seen inside this Mexican restaurant -- a great teaser of a set for his upcoming show at Off Broadway on March 22. Kentucky Knife Fight won over new fans with a loud and tight performance outside, as did fellow St. Louisians Jump Starts and the Blind Eyes, though the latter played to a small crowd, but so it goes at the end of a long day. JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound smoked through a short run of old-school soul and might have rivaled Prophet as best band of the afternoon, were it not for Nikka Costa, whose shit-kicking, hard pop and funk, with perfectly-timed floor-tom pounding and trombone riffing, made for a sexy, joyous show, and a coup for a by-all-accounts successful event.

The Scruffs at tenOak at SXSW 2012 - DANA PLONKA
  • Dana Plonka
  • The Scruffs at tenOak at SXSW 2012

8:16 p.m. Memphis power-pop legends the Scruffs surprised me with a show at tenOak, as I didn't even know Stephen Burns and company were in town. I had high hopes for this rare chance to see the band, but as excellent a record maker as Burns can be (2010's Conquest remains one of my favorite albums from that year), he's a shaky performer and his terrific melodies and garage limbo rhythms never fully translated.

9:10 p.m. I made the trek down to the relatively newly-revived Rainey Street district of bungalows-turned-into-charming-bars-and-eateries via pedicab steered by a young John Belushi doppelgänger, impervious to chafing in his St. Paddy's Day kilt. On the back decks of the Clive Bar, the 43rd drink of the week was in hand and all seemed well. But the catch tonight was the band, the unfortunately named Greylag, who sounded both grey and lagging (glib but true). This is what happens when you plod through Oregonian chamber folk with a falsetto that would make Justin Vernon swear off octaves forever. Subtract any remaining points for the hippy Sumo hairdo.

The Belle Brigade at Clive Bar at SXSW 2012 - DANA PLONKA
  • Dana Plonka
  • The Belle Brigade at Clive Bar at SXSW 2012

10:01 p.m. I'd come to the Clive Bar for Los Angeles band the Belle Brigade, whose excellent self-titled album from 2011 only approximates what siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska can do live. With a good little rock band around them, they jolted the crowd with straight-up rockabilly and Everly-esque harmonies, and songs about not caring about being winners and finding true freedom instead. I'm not exaggerating with the Everlys reference and I'm not hyping when I say they were as exciting and pop-smart on stage as any band of the week.

11:10 p.m. I lasted all of three songs for Widowspeak at the aforementioned chattiest club at SXSW. Think Best Coast on Brooklyn art rock and morphine, which would probably work just fine on headphones over a muted David Lynch flick. On stage, nothing was happening, so I fled to catch some of Belfast's Cashier No. 9 at the crap-sounding Sixth Street joint Friends. The band was ending its set, but I liked what it was doing with the apparently world-historical influence of Bon Iver. Extra points for not pandering to the green-beer contingent.

11:46 p.m. I wouldn't expect a Portland indie pop band like Radiation City to pay homage to Etta James, but that it did, led by the mighty pipes of Elisabeth Ellison, who set her organ aside and killed the song, poor sound and all.

Y La Bamba at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room at SXSW 2012 - ROY KASTEN
  • Roy Kasten
  • Y La Bamba at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room at SXSW 2012
12:35 a.m. Earmarking another Portland band Y La Bamba to close out my SXSW dance card might seem like an odd choice, but I've fully fallen for its Steve Berlin-produced, never-too-twee take on Calexico-esque ranchera pop. I'm also smitten by singer Luz Elena Mendoza's prolific dancing and equally prolific body art. On stage at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room, with technoid bass from the bar below shaking the floor, the band all seemed to be serious musicians who yet have great fun renovating traditions and veering from predictions, even when one of them had the terrible idea to run a Fender Squier bass direct and even when the sound person seemed to want to end their career before it truly starts.

And yet I won't forget what Y La Bamba hoped to do and what it did -- make a joyful noise -- with the little time it was given.

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