Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Black Keys "Everywhere I Go" 3-20-10

Dan Auerback and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys owned Austin last Saturday afternoon as they played their one and only SXSW show at MOG's Unofficial Day Party at Mohawk. The duo were in perfect form as they played their own brand of heavy blues rock to the packed courtyard. Fresh on the news of a new album in the works, the Keys ran through a set list of hit songs that spanned their entire career while the crowd understandably went nuts.

Broken Bells "The High Road" 3-20-10

A late addition to MOG's Unofficial SXSW Party, Broken Bells went on stage backed by a full band allowing Danger Mouse to bounce between the drums, bass and keyboard throughout the show. Along with Shins' frontman James Mercer, the group put on a great live show that perfectly captured the chemistry found on their debut album. For a band only a few months old they seem to have their stage show down. With all the positive buzz it won't be long before they hit the road on a national tour.

Broken Bells "Mongrel Heart" 3-20-10

"Hello, and welcome to Portland, Oregon," James Mercer joked as he and Danger Mouse greeted the frozen crowd at MOG's Unofficial Party on the final day of SXSW. The strange weather wasn't enough to stop hundreds of excited fans from converging on Mohawk early Saturday morning for a chance to see several amazing bands. The newly formed super group Broken Bells played several songs from their self-titled debut album including "Mongrel Heart." Enjoy!

MOG's SXSW Party at Mohawk - March 20, 2010

With a line-up featuring Broken Bells and The Black Keys, MOG's unofficial SXSW Party was the place to be Saturday afternoon in Austin. Despite the overnight drop in temperature I arrived at Mohawk to fine a quickly growing line of about 300+ shivering but excited people huddled together outside the bar. Spirits were still high an hour later as the crowd slowly entered the small courtyard where the Philadelphia band Free Energy was about to begin their set. I didn't know it at the time but this was going to be the best concert I would attend during my time in Austin, and arguably the best concert I have EVER been too so far.

The show started with a bang as Free Energy launched into their set. Jumping around on stage the band entertained with a collection of karate kicks, drumstick twirls and ham-fisted lyrics. "We're breaking out this time, making out with the wind this time," frontman Paul Sprangers sings, "and I'm so disconnected, I'm never gonna check back in." Like a strange Cheap Trick/Spoon love-child, Free Energy embrace all the cliches of 70s glam-rock while still giving their music a modern indie-rock edge. With songs like "Hope Child" and the catchy "Bang Pop" its only a matter of time before Free Energy invade mainstream radio stations nationwide. The group ended their show on a high note handing out free cassette tapes of their new debut album, Stuck On Nothing, to the excited but frozen crowd.

Next on stage was the strange super group Demolished Thoughts, a hilarious combination of hardcore punk sprinkled with comedic one-liners. "We need a place to crash tonight", Frontman Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth told the crowd in-between songs, "we'll be in the van in the back later tonight." The crowd began to mosh as the band shot off dozens of silly 45-second songs with names like "I Hate Kids" and "I Hate Sports," complete with matching lyrics. Formed as a side project with J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Andrew WK, Moore describes the group as a punk/hardcore tribute band. On this particular event Jonah Falco of Toronto band F--ed Up played bass for the missing Andrew WK and Moore took over vocals.

The James Mercer/Danger Mouse super group Broken Bells took the stage next backed by a full supporting band. Seriously this show was a treat for all music fans as Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, stepped away from the soundboards to jump between drums, bass and keyboard on various songs. "What amounts to a dream anymore," Mercer chimed on "Vaporize", "A crude device; A veil on our eyes." The chemistry onstage was perfect despite this only being Broken Bells sixth ever live performance. The group covered many of the tracks from their debut album including "The High Road," The Ghost Inside" and the uptempo psych-rock jam "Mongrel Heart." The highlight however was the synth accompanied "The Mall and the Misery," one of my favorite tracks from their self-titled album.

The Brooklyn indie-pop trio The Antlers were up next with a sound system so powerful my internal organs vibrated with every note. Known for soft keyboards and a very mellow sound on their albums I was surprised how much The Antlers rocked live. The band kicked it to eleven with screaming effect-heavy guitars, overlaying keyboards and hammering drums. While most of their songs call for delicate artistry what the crowd ended up with was a pulverizing wall of sound and feedback. The most dramatic shift from album to live performance I have ever seen, if The Antlers put out a live record in the near future I would pick it up in a heart beat.

Finally, what I consider the best show of the week, The Black Keys took the stage to play their one and only SXSW performance. The crowd surged forward as drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach filled the courtyard with their classic blues-heavy sound. Covering the gamut of their entire career, the band played many of the songs that have made them world famous. Like a best of hit list they ran through personal favorites such as "Strange Times," "Stack Shot Billy," "Your Touch" and one from their very first album "The Breaks." The place was completely packed as people crammed into every corner of the bar trying to catch a glimpse of the Ohio band. The music even pulled in celebrities such as Mary-Louise Parker who was seen rocking out next to the stage with James Mercer and Danger Mouse who stayed behind for the show. I've been to a lot of concerts over the years but I have to say, hands down, this one takes the cake.

There is more video from the Broken Bells and Black Keys sets on YouTube, the show was so great that anyone with a recording device probably got some footage.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

21st Street Co-op - March 19, 2010

After a day spent bouncing through event parties and bars the decision was made to go off the beaten path for Friday nights activities. Word had gotten around about a show at the 21st Street Co-op on the University of Texas campus featuring Ume, one of my favorite Texas bands. Located just a few blocks away from Guadalupe Street, aka the Drag, the student housing building resembles a giant tree house.

Crisscrossing staircases and balconies lead to a smokey dark room where a large group of coeds were gathered as the band ZORG finished their set. "This next song is very dark," they told the crowd, "if you have pot on you now would be a good time to smoke up." Hazy air with a hint of cannabis filled the room as the crowd were mesmerized by the heavy beats and trippy light show of the two man psychedelic rock group. One of the more bizarre performances of the trip I was almost sorry when the set was over and lights flooded the room. The crowd scattered in search of beer and food as the next band set up their instruments.

Wires covered the stage as the Austin trio Ume - Lauren Larson, Eric Larson and Jeff Barrera - started their scorching set. A band of few words, Lauren gave a quick "We're Ume" before jumping straight into the music. Hypnotic rock hooks paired with moments of static drenched guitar noise, what more do you need? Ume played a mix of old and new songs for the crowd including the fan favorite "Conductor" from their Sunshower EP. The new tracks were a pleasant surprise leaving me hopeful for a new album in the near future.

Pronounced 'ooo-may' the threesome has been an Austin favorite ever since the band moved to the area back in 2007, quickly becoming known for their heavy live shows as well as Lauren's lush vocals and her ferocious flailing guitar riffs. Forged in the fires of the the punk/grindcore scene Lauren is a ball of energy on stage, jumping and dancing to the music all the time trashing on her guitar. Almost every photo taken at their shows are branded with a golden blonde blur as their front-woman's hair is tossed around while she rocks out. It is a true spectacle to behold, even more so when you consider the fact that her fingers never miss a chord.

There is some video from Ume's set on YouTube but the audio isn't the best. I think I was standing way too close to the right speaker tower. Might also explain why I've been hearing a high pitched buzzing sound for the last week. Oh well, sometimes music involves sacrifice.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Showdown at Cedar Street - March 19, 2010

My second day in Austin presented me with plenty of sunshine, beautiful scenery and a overwhelming amount of epic events and free parties to choose from. Seriously the pure amount of jaw-dropping-amazing bands performing in the city is enough to give a music enthusiast like myself a panic attack. On this particular day in Texas my first destination was the FILTER Magazine SXSW Showcase entitled Showdown at Cedar Street, an event spanning three days of free BBQ and amazing live music. I was hitting day two of this event and by the line outside it was quite clear that word had gotten out about the massive music-gasm about to take place.

Admittance was first come first serve and while the line did go around the block the wait wasn't long and I was inside before the packed courtyard was at capacity. Those who made it late crowded along the fence outside the courtyard straining to get a glimpse inside as the first band began to set-up. The air was electric as everyone prepared themselves for one hell of a day full of live music. Seven amazing bands, in one place, back to back - it was clear to everyone this was the place to be that afternoon.

The first artist to take the stage was Nneka (pronounced 'Neck-uh'), a Nigerian-born singer with a bit of soul, hip-hop and reggae all mixed together with a splash of Bob Marly thrown in for good measure. I hadn't heard her music before, but after one song I was hooked. Cited as an artist with a "heart as big as her afro," Nneka has apparently been building buzz all over the country due to word of mouth and the intensity of her live performances. Since the release of her US debut album, Concrete Jungle, Nneka has made a lot of press including mentions in Rolling Stone, SPIN and being chosen as one of Beyond Race Magazine's 50 Emerging Artists. Her writing has also gained critical praise for covering issues such as capitalism, poverty and war in her home of Nigeria and Western Europe. As she puts it herself: "I do it in a sweet way - but I sing to speak the truth."

The UK rock trio Band of Skulls took the stage next with a powerful set from their amazing debut album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey. If you haven't heard this album yet you are doing yourself a serious disservice as it is easily one of the best releases of 2009. With instant classic like "Fires," "Patterns" and the amazing ballad "Cold Fame" this album is a must have. While their name congers up images of a really bad black metal band trust me when I say they far from it. BOS is pure infectious rock-n-roll highlighted with bluesy guitar riffs, the great duel-vocal play of guitarist Russell Marsden and bassest Emma Richardson and the pounding punch of drummer Matt Heyward. Formed only two years ago BOS are on the verge of world wide stardom after a successful national tour as well as landing the track "Friends" on the Twilight - New Moon Soundtrack. I caught these guys in STL last year where they put on a scorching show so my expectations for this performance were really high. Of course BOS didn't disappoint as they attacked the audience for near 30-min with a wall of sound built by amazing vocals, infectious guitar riffs and an head pounding drum beat. It's scary to think this will end up being only #3 on my top 10 list of best performances that week, but the best - as they say - is yet to come.

The third band to grace the stage was none other than Delta Spirit, a San Diego based group with a mix of folk, soul and southern rock. A favorite on college radio stations, Lead singer Matthew Vasquez had the crowd swaying and singing along with the lyrics. "If you're feeling what I'm feeling, c'mon," Vasquez sang, "all you soul-serarching people, c'mon!" the crowd replied. The energy level in the audience spiked as the band bounced around the stage with smiles on their faces as they shuffled through several of their hit songs. Known for their catchy and contagious melodies, DS is often referred to as a "hybrid of rock and northern soul" creating a alt-country style that goes well with their spiritual-infused pop lyrics.

The music kept on flowing with The Temper Trap, an Australian outfit that has built insane amounts of buzz after landing on the 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack as well as the TV shows Greek and One Tree Hill. In fact you could actually see the girls in the crowd swoon as the first notes of "Sweet Disposition" began to dance on the air. The band went on to play many of their hits from their debut album, Conditions, including the pulsing base of "Resurrection" and the instrumental "Drums." Describing themselves as "soul-jazz exploration," Temper Trap is known for their atmospheric sound, grandiose guitar riffs and lead singer Dougie Mandagi's incredible vocal range. Comparisons to Coldplay and U2 are justly deserved as these Ausies put on one hell of a show.

Finally, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took the stage for a short set featuring some of their fan favorite hits as well as the title track "Beat The Devils Tattoo" from their new album. The guys were joined by Raveonettes' touring drummer Leah Shapiro who replaced Nick Jago in 2008. I'll be complete honest in that I had totally forgotten about Jango leaving and was a bit surprised and confused by the cute girl sitting behind the drums wearing thick black sunglasses. However, Shapiro has no problem keeping up with the boys and makes a great addition to the band dealing out the heavy beat that has come to characterized BRMC. The band sounded great but there was a sense of urgency in their set that felt rushed giving me the impression that the guys felt they had better places to be. I love BRMC but it was a strange transition from the enthusiastic smiling faces of Delta Spirit and Temper Trap to the relatively pissed off looking BRMC. Oh well, I suppose short and sweet is better than no performance at all.

At that point in the day I was physically and mentally exhausted and in need of food, water and a comfortable chair. After all there is only so much mind blowing music one can take in one gulp, and only so much standing in the sun you can do in seven hours. With regret I took my leave of FILTER Magazine in search of someplace to regroup and rehydrate. Little did I know that soon after my departure from Cedar Street Courtyard indie-rockers Local Natives and Dr. Dog both put on amazing shows clocking in at around 40-min each. Sa la vie.

Salesman @ Hole In The Wall 3-18-10

Another video from the Thursday show at Hole In The Wall in Austin, this time featuring the local rock band Salesman. The four man group - Devin James, Clayton Guns, John Houston and Patrick Patterson - play a mixture of alt-country and pop-rock full of unsettling lyrics about ghosts, sex and UFOs.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obsolete Machines @ Hole In The Wall 3-18-10

My camera phone was spilling over with video from last weeks Austin trip. Above is one of those many videos, this one in particular from the Thursday show at Hole In The Wall featuring the experimental Austin group Obsolete Machines. The trio - Adam Diener, Shanna Teresinski, and Jesse Contreras - have a very dark and theatrical sound fueled by duel keyboards and some serious chops behind the drum kit.

Hole In The Wall - March 18, 2010

SXSW is one of the largest music festivals in the United States, every Spring the city of Austin is overrun with enough bands, performers and record labels to make you go cross-eyed. This year I took a drive down to Texas with a friend of mine to see what all the fuss was about and to just outright have a blast. The journey was tedious and the nights were long but in the end I had one of the best concert going experiences of my life. Over the course of three days I took in more shows than most people do in an entire year. From big cooperate sponsored event parties like FILTER Magazine's: Showdown at Cedar Street to small college parties at the 21st Street Co-Op. I wandered all over the city taking in as much music as I could without passing out or dying. Some days it was sunny and warm, others it was cold and wet, but all were amazing.

After driving through the night, and being up nearly 36 hours straight, I hit Austin around noon on Thursday. My first destination was a bar, appropriately named Hole In The Wall, where a dizzying tag-team music event was taking place. Bands were rotating sets on two stages, one in the front and one in the back. When I arrived the New Jersey band Makeout Party were on the back stage finishing up their set. Less than a minute after they were done the Austin natives Through The Trees were playing in the front room. The bands flipped in and out like this for the rest of the event, think speed dating only with music and you'll have the idea.

One thing to understand is despite the whiplash pace of bands setting up and tearing down the overall quality of music was amazing. Through The Trees took the stage with some hard rock riffs and heavy beats before the focus switched to the back room where the guitarist from Most Ghosts was doing a solo set full of reverberating, fuzzy guitar and cryptic whispered lyrics. Later the Austin foursome Salesman took the front stage with some mesmerizing alt-rock about ghosts, sex and UFOs. Frontman Devin James Fry's searing vocals perfectly compliment the alt-country guitar riffs and twisted lyrics. Their new album is called SKULL and I highly recommend checking it out, most of the songs are streaming on their myspace page.

The Deaf Ears took the back stage next with some catchy piano-pop full of heavy Beatles/Kinks influences. One of the most polished bands to perform at this particular event, The Deaf Ears came together from the broken pieces of Joel Mullins' previous band Tammany Hall Machine. THM was booking some good shows and building a decent amount of buzz in Austin before it abruptly fell apart. Instead of calling it quits Mullins picked up Scott Oliphant on drums along with former THM bandmates Mick southerland and Geoff Dupree to form The Deaf Ears. Walking the fine line between polished rock-pop and bar band rock, TDE blend stomping rhythms and lush piano with emotion heavy lyrics about relationships and drowning your sorrow in whiskey.

Obsolete Machines took the front stage next with their engaging brand of atmospheric, experimental rock. Armed with only two keyboards, one drum set and a mic, OM are just different enough to set them apart from the rest of the pack. And once they have your attention their moody brand of dark prog-rock will seep into your mind and swirl around in your head for weeks. Think Amnesiac-era Radiohead only darker. The band has plans in the works to leave Austin on a national tour sometime in the next year, so keep an eye out for them at a venue near you. Their 'new breed' of music may be to dark or orchestral for casual listeners, but if you open your mind and give it a chance you may find something you didn't know you were looking for.

I made it through several hours of great music and a few beers before sleep deprivation caught up with me and I was forced to either hit the sack or start hallucinating. While option number two seems fun in theory I had a big day of shows ahead of me so I decided to head to the hotel and pass-out for the remainder of the day. Walking down the streets in Austin I was surrounded by great music calling from almost every open door making the decision to walk away one of the most difficult of the entire trip.

There is video of several of the sets from Hole In The Wall up on YouTube for anyone who wishes to explore these bands further.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Broken Bells - Self-titled

Melodic indie rock meets beat heavy trip-hop on the self-titled debut from the two-man supergroup Broken Bells. A collaboration between Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, Broken Bells finds the duo once again combining Mercer's falsetto vocals with Burton's synth driven beats. The two artists decided to work together after meeting at a Danish music festival in 2004 and finding they were both fans of each others work. They began recording together at Burton's Los Angeles-based studio in 2008 describing their project as "melodic, but experimental, too." The duo went on to produced the track "Insane Lullaby" for David Lynch's book/album project, Dark Night of the Soul, back in 2009.

Burton is no stranger to collaboration having worked with such notable artists as The Black Keys, Beck and Gorillaz, as well as his work with rapper Cee-Lo Green in Gnarles Barkley. Mercer however has been relatively inactive since the 2008 meltdown during which he fired most of his band mates and switched from Sub Pop Records to his own label. I get the impression Mercer is still haunted by those events as most of the lyrics on the new album focus on disappointment, betrayal and pessimism. Emotional lyrics such as "You'll never know how low an angry heart can go" found on "Your Head Is On Fire" say it all.

The best track on the album has to be the synth driven "The High Road," pairing Mercer's heartfelt vocals with an addictive backbeat and some nice guitar riffs. "Cause they know and so do I, The high road is hard to find," Mercer sings, "A detour to your new life, Tell all of your friends goodbye." This track pretty much fulfills my expectations of what a Shins/Dangermouse love-child would sound like. Mercer nudges Burton toward a more relaxed song progression and in turn Burton pulls Mercer towards a little more experimentation and fuzz. The two musicians compliment each other nicely, emphasizing each artists strengths and creating a great mix of genres and influences.

The second track, "Vaporize," does a great job of showcasing the wonderful writing Broken Bells are capable of. "If you want to follow me you should know," Mercer sings, "I was lost then, and I'm lost now, and I doubt I'll ever know which way to go." Mercer delivers emotion in his vocals seldom seen in his work with the Shins. Another personal favorite is the upbeat "The Ghost Inside," a irresistibly catchy beat paired with some funky keyboard and some random hand claps. Throw in an almost pitch perfect Damon Albarn impression from Mercer and this track could easily be a long lost Gorillaz B-side.

Other album highlights include the feedback drenched "Sailing To Nowhere," some post punk guitar on "The Mall & Misery," and the soft synth of "Trap Door." Broken Bells has built a great foundation with their first album, and with the duo already working on a follow up I can't wait to see where this partnership takes them. I'm heading off to SXSW next week and with any luck I'll be able to catch Broken Bells at one of their many show.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto

Only a few months after the release of their last album, The Satanic Satanist, the experimental indie rock band Portugal. The Man has come out with a new LP equally as amazing as the last. The new album, American Ghetto, finds the Alaskan band moving slightly away from the psychedelic towards a more soulful, electronic indie sound. All the swirling guitar riffs and groovy bass lines found on Satanist are still here, but now paired with some great synthesized beats. PTM has found a good harmony between synthesized music and traditional instruments, proving why they are one of America's most unique and creative rock bands.

A true 'indie' rock band, PTM have mostly been self financing their own albums and tours since the release of their first EP back in 2006. Known for their ambitious out put of recordings, PTM have released a new album every year with several EPs in between creating a substantial discography for a band only 5 years old. Even with a massive amount of music behind them PTM continue to push the envelope and explore new ideas with each new album, constantly changing and never getting stale.

Almost immediately after recording the critically acclaimed Satanic Satanist, PTM's John Gourley returned to Boston's Camp Street Studios to begin recording "something a bit more beat driven and a bit more spontaneous," as he described in a letter to their fans. "The whole process of the American Ghetto recordings was basically a two week explosion of ideas followed by about 4 months of clean-up and focusing," Gourley continues, "This gave the songs space and time to breathe a bit before finding their true home in the album and in the finished piece."

Believe me when I say there are no filler songs on this album, every track is amazing in its own unique way. The LP starts off with the distorted guitar riff of "The Dead Dog," giving listeners their first taste of PTM's new synth-rock sound. "This track began with a break beat and a loose set of chords that I had put together in the morning before tracking," Gourley said in a press release, "Lyrically, this was the first album where I really went out and referenced the streets and places around where I grew up." The Dead Dog was a bar near the band's Alaskan hometown of Wasilla where "some pretty shady folks" spent their time. "[American Ghetto] is probably the most consistent album lyrically and the most true to some of the harder points of my friendships back home."

The euphoric distortion of "Break" serves as a great intro to "60 Years," an instant classic with its bluesy guitars and jazz feel. Frontman John Gourley is joined by recurring guest vocalist Zoe Manville, who is given a more prominent role on this album. Manville's ethereal vocals perfectly compliment Gourley's soft voice as the lyrics weave together with the catchy guitar riffs and drum beat. Manville shows up again on "All My People" and the beat heavy "1000 Years." Probably the catchiest songs on the album, I would be surprised if college radio stations don't throw them into heavy rotation soon. PTM move to the psychedelic on "Fantastic Pace," a slow burning track with a nice back beat, echoing vocals and some quiet piano in the background.

Motown meets hip-hop on the stripped down "The Pushers Party", one of the few synth-less tracks on the album. Along with Gourley and Manville, bassist Zach Carothers also lends his vocals the the track creating PTM's signature gang vocals. There is a lot of soul flowing through this song. "The pusher was the feet and the feet were the floor," Gourley sings, "when we got a little bit well we got a little more." The guitar work and lyrics of this track are superb and will stick with you long after the song is over. Of all the tracks on American Ghetto "The Pushers Party" is the closest to the 'classic' PTM sound found on Satanic Satanist.

Swirling electronic effects combine with high-pitched vocals on "Do What We Do," again pairing Gourley's familiar falsetto with Manville's angelic voice. The mellow "Just A Fool" works as a good interlude to the synth heavy "Some Men," another slow burning track featuring acoustic guitar mixed with ambient sounds and some profound lyrics. "As he grew into a bigger person, he stood above the people," Gourley sings, "all these little people, and everyone below, they were just little people." I personally could have done without the whale call effects but its a very small complaint on an otherwise amazing track.

The album ends on a high note with the upbeat "When The War Ends," showcasing some great guitar, keyboard and stabbing synth beats working together perfectly. There is even a hint of sitar mixed in with the great lyrics adding a nice touch to this multi-layered track. "When the war ends, yeah, we'll wonder what it was about," Gourley sings in his soaring falsetto, "When we grow old, yeah, we'll wonder how we missed out." This track is a musical feast for your ears there is so much going on. A perfect ending to a great album.