Saturday, September 26, 2009

Everyone Is Trying to Get to the Bar

Buttercup, Stereo Is a Lie
Mixx, 9/25

The best thing about Mixx is the big white wall behind the stage. From the upper level rather than observing the musicians on stage directly you can see their giant shadows play against that stark backdrop, twenty feet tall. Mix in a pleasantly bass-heavy sound system and a vaguely Teutonic exposed-metal decor, and it's sort of like modern Austin's answer to the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. We were glad for the couches during Stereo Is a Lie's fine set, both because the shadowplay complemented the band's shoegazer-y sound beautifully and because we wore ourselves out dancing frenetically to the music of Buttercup. They might be our favorite Austin band to date, were they not from San Antonio.

Sometimes, you can tell even before a band has finished setting up that they're going to be a good time. After a negligible first act with shiny guitars, overpowered amps, and no songs to speak of, just the sight of Buttercup's shredded instruments and thrift-store drums warmed one's heart. The night before at Mohawk, I walked inside to check out one of the local bands playing the second stage when Twilight Sad failed to hold my attention. Ten minutes later, I went back outside without having heard a note; the pretentious mooks astage were still fiddling with their six amplifers, three samplers, flotilla-sized pedalboards... it's not rocket surgery. Plug the guitar in and turn it on!

Buttercup don't take themselves too seriously, as their disheveled approach suggests. One of their guitar players didn't make it to the stage until a few songs in, and then they pulled a buddy out of the crowd and taught him the chords to one tune on the fly. Why not? With a drummer and bass player so adept at sketching in the shapes of their songs, and giving each a distinct identity, the other guys can let it all hang loose. Their mixture of goofy humor, audience involvement, beefy harmonies, and sheer joy in each other's company reminded me of a Texas-fried They Might Be Giants. Everybody sings! They do songs by other bands that the members have been in, just because they're fans of the music and it makes them happy!

Joel Gion tambourine throwing, ATDI-style rugby scrums, unexpectedly subtle and lovely nylon-string guitar fingerpicking, superstar guest musicians, "ba da ba" choruses... if it's fun and it's indie rock, they do it. The casual, tossed-off approach would be annoying if they weren't very tight and didn't have stacks of good songs, but they are and they do. They're also way more professional than most in the way they deal with noise problems. Persistent mic feedback didn't slow Buttercup down one bit. They'd just switch around or share, and when it got too bad to play through, they didn't get mad, they just stopped for a second to fix it, and then got the party going again. This is admirable.

Stereo Is a Lie, thankfully, were unaffected by any kind of technical problems, which is a mercy because their massive volume level is quite enough for the human ear to deal with on its own. I think bands play too loud a lot of the time, but these guys can get away with bludgeoning it, because Glynn Wedgewood's fine range and natural vibrato make him perfectly audible singing even above the din. They also have a drummer who kills it but can play with repetitive precision when the songwriting calls for it. Their bassist and second guitar player aren't flashy, but they are right on the grooves, and they largely avoid the monochromatic trap into which a lot of bands following in the footsteps of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, et al fall (a pinch of Smiths works every time). I do wish that the onslaught slowed down more frequently, as it was only about every fourth song that the guitars stopped screaming long enough for their keys player to even be heard.

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