Friday, November 5, 2010

Incest and Peppermints

Local Music Is Sexy
Mohawk, 11/4

I wish I had time to go in-depth with all of the bands I saw last night at the Austinist's FFF Fest kickoff party at Mohawk. Unfortunately, I have to get out of here soon so I can be on time for the beginning of the festival proper. I'm going to move quickly, and I apologize if I leave something out. Also sorry to Weird Weeds, Dana Falconberry, Sleep Good, and Bill Baird -- I wasn't able to be in enough places at once last night. I'll give them further consideration soon.

Again quickly: Since I'm writing about higher-profile events than I ever have before, a lot of people are coming here for the first time. I want to reiterate that although I'm sharply critical of a lot of bands, it's not because I enjoy dumping on people's dreams. I'm not rubbing my palms gleefully together thinking about taking revenge for all the bad music I've been forced to listen to. Not at all. It eats me up when I get e-mails from crestfallen musicians that I've given negative reviews. I lose sleep over it. I really don't want to make enemies. I don't know if my readers understand that as negative, obsessive, and perfectionist as I can be about others' music, I am a hundred times more brutal when it comes to my own self-assessments. I hold myself to an impossibly high standard when it comes to my writing. I wish I could make myself more diplomatic, but it's not in me. I really want to like everyone's bands. I want everyone who isn't in a band to start one. But I've been serious about journalism my whole life and to me delivering anything other than the 100% unvarnished truth as I see it is a betrayal of my calling. The choice for me is between writing the truth and not writing at all. And too much positive comes of my writing to quit.

All right then. Hundred Visions were not so great when I saw them a year ago under the name Corto Maltese; I'm happy to say that I liked them a lot better last night. They've gone from having songs with no parts to having songs that have one strong part apiece, and it's a lot easier to go from one to two or more than it is from zero to one. One song with off-beat hi-hat swipes and cowbell actually found me tapping my feet a little, imagine! They need to play out more often -- and maybe hold off on the Fugazi covers until they have some material strong enough to keep pace with them. Sneering, fuzz-everything trio Rayon Beach were monotonous but ever-so-trendy; it boosted my faith in local tastes that a bigger crowd gathered inside during their outdoor set to watch Amasa Gana's group drone experiment. That four-piece was a nice example of conditioned listening. At first it seemed like they were hardly doing anything but by concentrating closely for an extended period of time you began to hear the minimal variations in sound produced by their slight nudges of guitar knobs and barely-there violin bowing. After a time I felt like I was listening to them listen, and I enjoyed the natural change in consciousness.

Watch Out for Rockets, as I've written before, have promising melodic sensibility but just no variation in rhythms to go along with it. Sally Crewe and The Sudden Moves exhibited a similar lack of developed songwriting, except with a lady singer. Markov on the other hand were a jolt of energy that the outside lineup needed sorely. It breaks my heart that nobody else in the crowd seemed to know what to do when a hardcore band is laying wheels. Put down your beers and bang your heads, children! Finally, TV Torso were a freaking revelation. Their records are so artfully mixed and EQ'd that I always felt listening to them like the production wasn't confident in the quality of the songs and felt the need to dress them up with extraneous details. But as a live band they're physical, varied, and captivating; Anna liked them as much or more than I did and Anna hates four-guy two-guitar bands. She even thought they were awesome when their guitars were out of tune, since it made them sound more like Guided by Voices. You feel their drumming in your gut and I really like the way the rhythm section and guitarists trade off driving vs. swinging so they're not all pounding the same beat at once.

Oh yeah, why the weird post title? Six of the evening's bands were connected in a single family tree. TV Torso and Bill Baird are ex-Sound Team, Weird Weeds' drummer played with Baird and their bassist with Dana Falconberry, Sleep Good's bassist also played with Baird, TV Torso's guest second guitarist is also the leader of Hundred Visions. I'm not saying it necessarily made the music bad, but there's a reason many local musicians are skeptical of if not outright hostile towards the Austinist.

During a lull in the evening's activities I went for a stroll down Red River and to my shock and delight discovered that Opposite Day were playing a no-cover show at Headhunters. Their fluid, witty, and virtuoso playing was the exact thing I needed in the midst of a long string of soundalike in-crowders at Mohawk. I may not see another band at the festival all weekend rock as hard.

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