CJLO @ SXSW: Zak Slax Coverage Part 2

Nardwuar told me he was going to see Shopping – a good pick indeed. I, however, was looking for a less hyped gig; a brief respite from the increasingly thick throngs of Hotel Vegas, as my energy had sunk with the sun.

Why not relax to some blaring garage punk at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room? The Jackson Pollock were on stage, an Italian duo with the wild abandon of backwoods Alabaman blues rockers. Their drummer was a sight to behold, giving it her absolute all, flailing like mad and screaming like a banshee. It was complete devastation of the skins, with the only reprieve in form of a tambo slammin’ hoedown of sorts. I felt a little inconsiderate sipping on a gin & tonic in an elaborate antique chair while watching the exhaustive carnage. Rarely have I seen a drummer thrash so thoroughly and with such unbridled intensity, holding nothing back despite the sparse crowd. In a band of of just guitar and drums she provided on her own the comparable energy of three players.

Later that night I headed to the Hideout, a coffee shop with a small basement theatre that seemed as suitable for a Samuel Becket play as a Sturle Dagsland performance. Now this is what would satisfy my self-imposed weirdness quotient—a completely left-field experience, courtesy of the Norwegian brothers. The best point of reference musically would be Björk at her most manic, but even that territory serves only as a launchpad into a completely singular realm of inconceivable vocal gymnastics and foreboding atmospherics. While Sjur created mysterious drones, largely obscured by a towering speaker, Sturle careened about the stage like a crazed pixie, or some sort of demonic acrobat. More delicate moments were spontaneously subject to total freak-outs, with Sturle playing host to many spirits, unleashing both mournful moans and devilish screams. He frequently drew on bizarre instruments strewn across the floor, from lira to Viking horn, sometimes seeming to pull them from thin air. The drones were intermittently disrupted by instinctive blows to the crash cymbal standing to his right, which was frequently displaced by the forcefulness of it all. Emerging from the Hideout, a light mist began to fall; did Sturle summon rain to the desert?

Then down to Lambert’s to catch the tail of the Get Hip! showcase. The crowd had mostly dwindled but that didn’t stop Austin’s own The Ugly Beats from delivering a full-tilt set of blissful nuggets-style garage rock. This is the tasty true-blue 1966 variety, though informed by the necessary amount of ‘77 punk pacing and a touch of Texan twang. They set the bar for their set high with an immediate blast of energy, members flying off the stage rapidly and remounting with swift ease before settling into a series of timeless stompers, all sung with honest conviction. The edges of the guitar attack were smoothed by Farfisa organ, mashed with delight by a tambourine-wielding mod gal. Their drummer is a classy motherf*cker, evoking the composure of Charlie Watts, flashing jazz chops in a slack, stylish solo, but clearly well-versed in the rock ‘n roll vernacular. Reviving the sounds of the past with brazen passion and a tenacious sense of purpose, this is a band that the legions of young retro-rockers could do well to take a few notes from. Upstart Brooklyn garage/psych combo Acid Dad from earlier that night seemed rather apathetic by comparison, almost bored by their own songs. Despite their strong debut record which features more originality and better-than-average songwriting for their crowded genre, the Dads lacked a certain vitality when stacked up against the Beats.

The next day at Beerland, Moaning seemed similarly lackluster compared to the fierier acts I’d been taking in. The fresh-faced Sub Pop signees more than competently cranked out the tight moody tracks featured on their new LP, which is certainly a promising platter of post-punk, and high quality by today’s standards. Live, however, there was a sense of something lacking, and their frontman’s grunged out foray into the audience at the climax of their set seemed particularly forced. Perhaps I misread the situations and both groups were having off-days, or were merely fried from multiple appearances at this merciless festival.

And it is a cruel fest indeed that makes one choose between Jad Fair and Yonatan Gat. Inside Cheer Up Charlie’s, I was delighted to encounter the detuned maverick with a full band wailing away on a robust rendition of “Fire to Burn. The patio was calling me however; as Fair’s set was winding down and the momentum of Yonatan Gat & The Eastern Medicine Singers was just picking up. The outside stage was empty besides a few intrepid spectators, with Gat & Co. opting to play on the sandy terra firma, encircled by the beaming congregation and illuminated by a single creamy spotlight. With this physical barrier surpassed, the egos of the audience were powerless against the pounding traditional drums and Algonquin chants of the Eastern Medicine Singers which acted as a transcendent chariot to carry the nimble psychedelic fretwork of Mr. Gat. The singers and drummers sat in the eye of this mystic storm as Gat and a shadowy bassist channeled their effulgent currents, with the vibraphones of a gleeful Thor Harris adding subtly tingling frequencies. After an immeasurable amount of time, Gat held up his guitar, balanced in one hand, allowing the sky to provoke a tender feedback. As he placed it gently down, the throbbing ritual gave way to a sweetly sung ode, some sort of loving Mediterranean melody that suddenly transformed the space into a candlelit seaside tavern, as Yonatan danced, posed and gestured in all directions before taking up the guitar once more to bring the happening to electric culmination. This delicate cacophony added up to something that can only be described as beautiful—a seamless melding of disparate cultural traditions into an interstitial whole; a spiritual unity!

Nearby at Swan Dive, the party was in full swing and with pleasure I plunged in to a completely Canadian lineup presented by Pop and M for Montreal. Common Holly, Frigs, Tika, Lisa LeBlanc, Partner, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan; It was a real treat watch all these acts absolutely killing it so far from home, enthusiastically received by the abundant attendees swarming around stages both indoors and out.

The night could have ended there and my auditory desires would have been more than fulfilled, but thanks to a tip from Kodi of Marauder Group, at 2 AM it was time to take things to the next level. The next level, in this case, was a pedestrian bridge raised above the dark Colorado River on the limits of downtown where Iron Age, No Warning, and Integrity were slated to perform, powered by a generator, with permit secured for a grand total of one hour. All was eerily quiet as we ascended the spiraling path to the overpass, not quite sure if we were in the right place or not, when suddenly a murmuring mob of punx and metalheads came into view, overflowing from the concrete plateau and perched like black crows on the bridge railing. As it neared 2:30, Iron Age at last let loose their sludgy thrash; pounding drums and heavy riffage bellowing into the night sky. We inched our way into the frenzy but didn’t get far, the tightly packed crowd writhing and rigid like hardcore sardines. The set was brief, allowing time for Toronto’s No Warning to bestow us with a seasoned crossover barrage, while Austin P.D. made their presence known on the perimeter. Though I could catch only glimpses of tireless frontman Ben Cook and his forceful four, it was clear they were at the top of their game, with the raging and righteous crunch propelling heshers into the air, crowdsurfing potentially to their doom as they drifted to the brink of the bridge. Before Integrity could take the scene, the cops infiltrated the dormant pit, undeterred by the boos and hisses of the punk-rock flock, and pulled the plug. This misfortune aside, I left the bridge with glass in my boot and a grin on my face; an optimal end to the south by south quest for wild and weirdness.