This year at South by Southwest, I really didn't have any desire to hop on the buzz-band hype-train or have a plan of who to see, for that matter, save for catching as many St. Louis bands as I could and dorking out to some old favorites (Imperial Teen, the Faint, Buffalo Tom, Robyn Hitchcock). And you know what? I had a great, stress-free time.
So without further ado, here's a report about the local bands making the scene down there. The list is incomplete; a few day parties weren't in meandering distance, so I missed the Daybreak Boys, Gentleman Auction House and John Boy's Courage and some folks (cough, Leo) I had no idea were even in Austin. But for more coverage, please see our blog at www.riverfronttimes.com/blogs, where we have pictures, video and a tale from a freelancer about how she danced with Iggy Pop.
Waterloo playing its first show in many moons due to frontman Mark Ray's new Portland, Oregon, locale sounded reliably strong, despite a few bum notes here and there. Songs from last year's Out of the Woods maintained their easygoing twang live, especially my favorite, "Light in the Doorway."
Magnolia Summer played next, and it was interesting to hear its sound change with Joe Thebeau (more on him later) playing guitar for this show. I shudder to use the word "virtuoso," but perhaps "George Harrison-like" is more appropriate for the feathery, intricate textures Thebeau brought to the set. Chris Grabau and company have been tinkering with song arrangements, and while I personally didn't like everything, a slower and sparser version of the already-moving "Words for War" was even more beautiful.
Prisonshake came out of hibernation on Friday night and blew the roof off the absurd scene at a venue called the Blender (as in, magazine) Bar at the Ritz. Playing on a small, red-curtain-draped stage that was dwarfed by a giant Texas flag continuously waving on a TV over the bar (à la a Yule log), the post-everything group schooled younger bands in what raw, dirty and messy sounds like.
Riveting vocalist Doug Enkler contorted his body and flailed around the stage howling like a man possessed and nearly beheaded bandmates several times with the mic stand as the group jumped from gnarled noise to metal snarls, from doom-disco to post-garage and instrumental psych-rock. (Enkler's self-deprecating stage banter, of which there were too many instances to mention, also entertained nearly as much.) Anticipation for Prisonshake's upcoming album(s) Year of the Donk: high.
Saturday night was the big St. Louis show-hopping night for me, with the 7 Shot Screamers kicking things off at the Dirty Dog Bar (which was basically the old Creepy Crawl on steroids). A small but enthusiastic crowd didn't dampen the band's fervor, as all of its touring has made the quartet a psychobilly force. Vocalist Mike Leahy jumped around the stage like a wriggling kid, and Chris Powers abused his upright bass, all in the name of tight, fast, loud tunes (and a great cover of "Paint It Black").
My next stop was Finn's Motel, who played outdoors on a patio tucked away off an alley. A criminally small crowd was there to see the quartet play a set of solid, charming pop songs. The meticulous sounds frontman Joe Thebeau crafted on last year's Escape Velocity translated quite well in concert, bringing to mind shades of Guided by Voices and Superchunk.
Tunes on the Affair's MySpace page (www .myspace.com/affair) reveal musicians indebted to At the Drive-In's scissor-kicking chords and Rage Against the Machine's viscous funk grooves although the set I saw the band play was far less interesting. Generic emo-screamo tunes morphed into songs with a reggae beat that aped the Police (complete with yelping vocals reminiscent of Sting) and then turned almost jam-band noodly. (Unconfirmed is whether the end-of-set quip that it was changing its name to Monsters of Jazz is true.)
By the time the Affair's set ended, I parked myself at one venue for the rest of the night, in hopes of avoiding the drunken douchebags out celebrating St. Patrick's Day. (It didn't happen. And I was even at a Junior Senior show.) But no matter: Four days and 30-plus bands later, I was more than ready to come home. Annie Zaleski