There's an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" where, having just turned eighteen, Buffy has to pass a test from the Watchers' Council where she is injected with a chemical that takes away her super strength and speed. At work yesterday, I couldn't help thinking about that episode, "Helpless." I kept carrying stuff I was supposed to stock halfway across the floor and then realizing I was walking in completely the wrong direction, or sticking a whole roll of the wrong labels onto a stack of textbooks. The guys I work with, seemingly all of whom are musicians or photographers or graphic designers or creative people of some kind, were really forgiving about this. Seems like I'm not as different from everybody else as I like to think. Especially after getting a total of maybe four hours' sleep in five days.
All right, I'm well-rested now, and my superpowers are back. Let's do some more shows.
Beauty Bar: La Snacks, Black Gum, Boy + Kite, Grandmas Ghost
Beerland: OBN III's, Love Collector, Teenage News
Emo's inside: Yellow Fever, Missions, Spells, Silent Diane
Emo's outside: Ringo Deathstarr, The Carrots, The Ugly Beats, The Hi-Tones
Mohawk: T Bird and the Breaks, East Cameron Folkcore, Bridge Farmers, Maneja Beto, Guns of Navarone, Money Chica, Jacob Jones
Parish: White Rhino, Smoke & Feathers, Devil in the Drink, Ancient Wisdom
Red 7 inside: Woodgrain, Shitty Carwash, Betarhythm, Markov, (Devo Tribute) Big Mess, Pink Sugar
Scoot Inn: The Creamers, Expensive Shit, Air Traffic Controllers
Stubb's: The Long Tangles
U.S. Art Authority: Amasa*Gana, Venison Whirled, How I Quit Crack, Smokey Emery
Who would have thought the highlight of the "Local Music Is Sexy" show at Mohawk right before FFFF would be four guys (and a rotating tree branch) playing one note for twenty minutes? I didn't have any money for beer that night, like always, and by committing and concentrating on Amasa*Gana, I was able to attain a natural change in consciousness that was startling... and a total validation of the band's musical legitimacy. By watching their movements very, very closely, I was slowly trying to work out how and why the players were making minute adjustments to the mixers into which they ran all different kinds of sound sources... keys, guitars, violin. A lot of the time they didn't even play the instruments in the traditional sense: a guitar will make a little buzzing sound on its own when it's plugged in, so at times two guys in the band would be sitting there with guitars on their laps that they weren't strumming, they were playing the sound it was making on its own with their sound gear. That's really creative! By the end of the performance my frame of reference had changed, instead of hearing the band play I perceived I was listening to them listen. Fascinating.
With their hearts in DC, their feet in San Diego, and their actual bodies in Austin, Markov played the same show but they got a totally opposite reaction from me: I rocked out and banged my head so hard I was a little sore the whole weekend. Nobody at the whole festival proper got me moving more (except Big Freedia). After the set Markov's guitarist Andrew came to run out and give me a CD copy of This Quiet, which totally is on my 2010 top ten list. He didn't recognize me, although I had reviewed the record. People: If the sight of somebody rocking out in the audience happens to Markov so infrequently that the band members run to give the one person who does a free record, something is desperately wrong with Austin music fans. This band kicks ass. Put your black-rimmed glasses in your pocket and get stupid.
Update: Wow, news of more shows just keeps streaming in. Can't miss the chance to praise my friends in La Snacks. Robert Segovia is my favorite frontman in town, with his provocative stage banter, patented rock moves (most involve drinking beer in some way or another), warped convictions, and original vocal approach and lyrics. The band careens around behind him delightfully, and their rock smarts keep each song its own thing. I know Robert really, really hates his band being compared to Pavement (he never loved 'em) so I'm going to do it here just to tweak him.
Didn't I just say that I needed to see White Rhino somewhere with better sound? Parish tonight. Hmm. That could work.
I still haven't seen Guns of Navarone play yet and shame on me. Do you know how hard it is to play alt-country in Austin? Talk about a saturated market. I've heard so many bands in exactly this same style and the great songwriting on the Guns of Navarone demo sticks out in my memory like a power forward in a crowd of jockeys. I haven't listened to it in a few months and yet just hearing their name makes me start singing to myself: "They grow 'em COLD up there."
The Long Tangles are a really cute couple who have a lot in common with Anna and me: drummer Earl has been in bands a long time, keyboardist Coco is just getting started. By being adorable married people who play drum-keys pop, they're just begging to be compared to Mates of State. I will support them because every day I live with the challenge of being in a relationship with a person I'm also in a band with. Man, Anna is so awesome. You think it's easy being the girlfriend of a guy who sees everything in terms of how he can criticize it? I love you, Anna! Fuck that guy who shoved you at Emo's.
However.... I just flat-out don't like Yellow Fever. To me they are cool, but not good. Their music and their vocals are jabby, atonal, and unpleasant to listen to for me. Anna still has a little bit of cognitive dissidence going between her intellectual opinion and her emotional connection to our mutual heroine Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), who wrote about Yellow Fever on her old music blog before she welcomely quit to start Wild Flag. Yellow Fever are opening for Wild Flag on some tour dates, so I don't think a dissenting opinion from the likes of me is going to slow them down much.
I need to hear it from someone I trust that The Carrots have gotten their vocal harmonies together before I ever go see them again. Harmonies are really hard to do, and if I made a rule about only seeing bands who were perfect at them I could never see anybody except the Eagles (and maybe Band of Heathens) again. Especially my own band; we want to do four-part harmonies but our ambitions wildly exceed our experience. But The Carrots, though, for them harmony is the whole sales pitch, and when last I saw them I was not sold.
Bridge Farmers are one of those rare bands whose appeal I understood immediately, despite not liking them very much myself. If you're the sort of person who thinks the louder a drummer is, the better they are, you will love them. Good singer, too. I think the lack of quiet parts for contrast makes them rote, but super loud roaring psychedelia (Blue Cheer?) isn't exactly a field noted for its studied songwriting. They sound absolutely nothing like STEREO IS A LIE but they do have one thing in common... having talented singers who can project over high volume guitars and drums and be heard. That really helps. I have it out for singers, usually... it's because when I sing, it sounds in my head like Alex Chilton crossed with Mac McCaughan but apparently it sounds to other people like Fred Schneider crossed with Michael Gira. Seriously, I had NO IDEA I had a bass voice for like my first 10 years of playing in bands. It's hard to hear yourself objectively.
I hope nobody is getting the impression I only like dude-rock. I've given props to a bunch of good bands with female musicians lately... Ringo Deathstarr, The Creamers, Bike Problems, Blue Kabuki. I just don't particularly feel the need to point it out every time I see a band that has a girl in it. And I also feel like it's really important to hold females to the exact same standards I do guys. I'm really lucky to have Anna around for balance, although the more time she has spent drilling her guitar parts, promoting shows, and suffering through seven-hour band practices, the more she has come around to my side. Lazy musicians suck.