Monday, October 25, 2010

Anna C. Tells You How It Is

Literature, Party Photographers, Planets, Half Mile Fox Fur, Suede Uppers
Beerland, 10/24

The original plan for this review was that I would give my take and the multifaceted Anna Charlock hers for each band. The theme was going to be how everybody listens/looks for different things in their music. But she wrote her parts first and kind of nailed it. I'm glad to not have to write tonight because I have spent the whole day engaged in a crash course on all the out-of-town Fun Fun Fun Fest bands I know absolutely nothing about. I hope you enjoy Anna's guest piece and let's all pressure her to write about music more often, so perhaps she can also get into music festivals for free one day. One note on perspective: Although we both thought the Suede Uppers were dullsville, they had the biggest crowd by far. From the venue's point of view, they were the highlight of the evening. - WH

I came out with Westy to Beerland on Sunday night to fulfill my weekend jonesing for live music. Since it was an off night for the club, we got to see a relatively long roster of bands for the usual cheap cover charge. Bands hauled on and off the stage with admirable speed, setlists cut to a short-and-sweet half an hour. Other performers and their friends made up most of the audience. For most of the evening a small crowd of boozed-up twentysomethings clustered on the outdoor patio, many dressed in styles that were the height of fashion around the time that they were born: plaid shirts, high-top sneakers, miniskirts with tights, Doc Martens boots. I don’t really get why so many people at these shows think it’s cool to dress like it’s 1989. Perhaps because so much Austin music draws its inspiration from that era.

When we came in, Suede Uppers were going at it. The four-man group plays fairly cut-and-dried barroom rock, obviously inspired by early punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and the Descendants. Each pounding chord, guitar solo, floor-tom whack and shouted lyric is exactly where the listener expects it to be: lather, rinse, repeat. We left after hearing a few of their formulaic songs.

Half Mile Fox Fur were a bit more interesting. Their brand of sludgy, dissonant noise rock could get old very fast in the hands of less mindful musicians. However, these three dimunitive dudes arrange their tunes smartly. One of their most memorable songs begins with spare, quiet playing, builds up into a dragging three-chord drone, and dissipates into planned chaos before finishing with on the same quiet pattern as before. It’s jarring and atonal, but there’s a method to the madness. The drummer, bassist and singer/guitarist make the most of what they have by constructing parts to play off of one another. Although I like my rock a little more melodic and accesible, I stuck around to watch HMFF instead of leaving for the patio. I can tell they’ve got talent!

I was pretty excited to see Planets. When we heard the three-girl punk group play Beerland a month ago, their set was tight, energetic, and powerful. Singer/guitarist/band mastermind Debra had a talented drummer behind her, who made her songs really stand out. Their style draws from late-70's bands like the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, college rock like the Pixies, and the raw, spare energy of early 90's-era riot grrl. Unfortunately, the lineup changed: they now have a lead guitarist but no bass player, and a new drummer. Planets’ set on Sunday had the loose, amateur feel of a jam session. Debra’s songs wavered in coherence, the lead guitarist played distinctive riffs only on occasion, and the new drummer sounded lost as she pounded the same beat on every song. To their credit, the band seemed to be having a good time -- they bantered drunkenly between songs & made jokes to the audience. I heard some pretty cool guitar parts pop up amidst the floundering, too. Here’s hoping that Debra helps Planets grow into the new lineup, and finds another bassist.

The Party Photographers, of Philadelphia, drew me in with the presence of two women in the band -- their drummer, who plays standing up on a small 2-drum setup, and their adorable fedora-clad singer. At least their musical concept is unique. They combine repetitive, simple Mo Tucker drumbeats, a grinding, industrial bass guitar sound, and echoing vocals reminiscent of Donita Sparks of L7. However, there’s almost a total lack of arrangement. The guitar and bass power through with very minor changes in feel, playing a heavy-handed bar-chord/root-note formula that obliterates any distinction between songs. The Party Photographers could have a good thing going for them if they worked on varying the dynamics in their music. The guitarist and bassist need to learn how to better complement the spare drumbeats & vocal melodies, and they all could stand to move around more onstage! The singer had the aura of an embarassed karaoke performer, and the other three just looked bored. If they’d had a better stage presence I might have (partially) forgiven them their monotonous songs.

By the time Literature played, Beerland was pretty empty. The vanished crowd missed out on what was easily the night’s best act. The four guys play energetic, dancey pop-punk that calls to mind Devo, Television, or more recently the Strokes or Vampire Weekend. The lead-guitarist/singer provides tipsy, shouty vocals in the style that’s so popular nowadays. The rhythm and lead guitarists have mastered the art of trading off parts, the drummer plays super-fast disco-ish fills, and the bass player manages to hold the whole ruckus together. Also noteworthy are the lead guitarist’s stage moves, which rival those of my all-time favorite Carrie Brownstein. Periodically he tiptoes, jumps, pivots, and even does a Michael Jackson catwalk while playing crazy-fast licks. Literature are talented musicians. I am eager to hear more of these guys, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if they start playing bigger venues.

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