U.S. Art Authority, 7/8
Venues in Austin are a curious thing. Some places I never feel quite at home. Beerland has great sound and they book smart, but the crowds there are so self-conscious -- even in the sweltering heat, all the boys wear skinny jeans. At the Hole in the Wall I sometimes feel as if everyone else there is a regular and I'm an interloper. Watching a band alone inside at the Beauty Bar while 30 people sit outside smoking cigarettes and waiting for the DJ to come on is disheartening.
Then there are some places in town where it's almost impossible not to have a good time, meet some cool people, and be glad you went even if the bands weren't very good. What's needed for a joint to click like this must be different for everyone. I'm hardly a metalhead, but I love Headhunters... it's hard to take yourself seriously anywhere there's tiki torches. The Triple Crown has a particular accepting vibe of its own -- like San Marcos has its fair share of weirdos same as Austin, only not so many that they can afford to be snobby and start subgroups. And I just love Trailer Space to death. Drinking in the parking lot reminds me of high school. One day I want to have a record store of my own just like it, with free shows all the time. (Only the floor will be swept more often.)
I've never been in the Spiderhouse proper, but its annex (the U.S. Art Authority) is climbing up my personal charts. Particularly after the event on Thursday, which combined an opportunity to see the highly-regarded Sour Notes with an art show thrown by Toy Joy. I can't draw a straight line, but I love art -- I studied art history in addition to regular history in college, believing quaintly that having a grounding in aesthetic theory might be a valuable thing for a music critic to have. (Little did I know music writing was destined to rapidly devolve into tabloid gossip, free verse, and blogs that cut and paste their text content directly from press releases.) I don't really travel in the wine and cheese circles these days so I don't get to go to galleries nearly as often as I would like. It was nice to get a little middlebrow culture in with my usual diet of rock and roll and buck-fifty beers.
This was a particularly accessible and area-appropriate show that blurred the line between fine art and nerdy "collectibles." Right up my alley -- my apartment looks less like the 40-Year-Old Virgin's now that I live with my girlfriend, but I still have a variety of Willow Rosenberg action figures in their original packaging on display in our bedroom. Along with the paintings and sculptures there were stuffed animals, custom bowling pins, comic book covers, and funky collage. Two artists' work I enjoyed particularly -- Brian Byrne-Soria's lovingly constructed "Paranormal Research Kit" with real bottle of garlic and helpful field guide and Raquel Schleimer's subversive yarn creatures with their absurdist, Beanie Baby-satirizing biographical detail cards.
Also cute and brightly colored, the Sour Notes proved more than worthy of the strong recommendations given me of their music from multiple sources. Right after the show I wrote that they were "simple yet varied," but upon further reflection I don't think that's the right choice of words. Shredding they ain't, but this is adult songwriting of rare quality, three- and four-minute songs that don't go verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus-chorus but move from one cool new part to the next. In a scene where many declare their intentions to go pop but then neglect to include any melodies the Sour Notes toss them out carelessly enough to make it seem easy. It's hard to believe that two-fifths of the lineup is brand new, but such is the power of Jared Boulanger's tunes.
It's a fine operation getting new band members to fold in this seamlessly to a sound that's already pretty well established (three albums and counting), but to all appearances Boulanger gets what's essential in his songs and lets his bandmates be creative and enhance them. They're a stronger live band than studio act, and what I've heard of their records isn't shabby. Their drummer can hit hard or barely play at all, and their new keyboard player is a vivacious performer and a lovely singer. Their use of loop pedals and samplers is tasteful and always in the best interest of the songs, and I loved that they had the confidence to close their set with the quietest selection of the night. They took a song that's heavily electronic on record and rendered it convincingly with melodica, shaker, cajon, acoustic guitar, and accordion. They had the audience's attention, and they deserved it. Loved watching middle school-aged kids getting their Sour Notes CD's signed -- I wish local bands had more opportunities to play all-ages events. Bless those parents who get their offspring supporting developing artists when they're young!
It was fun to watch Mother Falcon set up but their music was, perhaps not unexpectedly, rather disappointing. We've touched on the problem of totally democratic rock bands before. With this many people (15 at this show by my count), who's going to shout over all the others and tell them it's time for a freaking second part already? Not when there's still two entire sections waiting for their spotlights. It's odd to me that a group of music majors doesn't recognize that doing I-V-IV-IV for five minutes straight is boring, no matter how many embellishments come over the top. And the singing... it never occurred to me that this might be a problem until I saw it in person. Lots of people in Mother Falcon sing lead, taking turns, and they're sitting and standing all over the place. You hear a voice, and you start looking around for where it's coming from. Is it the cello? No... is it the accordion? No, not him... is there another guy behind the bassoon player? I found it weirdly unsettling searching for who was doing the damn singing instead of relaxing and listening to the music. They're unique as one of those only-in-Austin musical spectacles but I don't think they're coherent enough to qualify as a band you might become a fan of and buy records by.