Most of the New Zealand music that makes it to these shores is of the Flying Nun variety: jangly pop, decidedly male. (Albiet uaually sensitive males.) Annabel Alpers, who records under the name Bachelorette, makes music that is keyboard-heavy, thick with harmony, and often ready for the dancefloor. And she's a girl, obviously. But like so much Kiwi pop, Bachelorette is humanistic and warm… and super-catchy. This was Bachelorette's first show of her U.S. tour supporting her second album, My Electric Family, with help from a drummer and Australian Pikelet who did a set of her own earlier in the night. While laptops surrounded Alpers, the most crucial instrument was live: her breathy, fragile voice that at times recalled Beth Orton or Electrelane. Ten songs went by quickly, and Cake Shop owner Andy Bodor yelled from behind the bar that they could do as many more songs as they had ready. Alpers then gave us one more song, but I'd have stayed all night. I've got a new crush.
Bachelorette Tour Dates Jun 15 – Cake Shop NEW YORK, New York Jun 16 – Union Hall BROOKLYN, New York Jun 17 – Kung Fu Necktie PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania Jun 18 – Talking Head BALTIMORE, Maryland Jun 19 – Crofoot Ballroom – Pike Room Pontiac, Michigan Jun 20 – Hideout CHICAGO, Illinois Jun 21 – 7th Street Entry MINNEAPOLIS Jun 22 – The Jackpot Saloon LAWRENCE Jun 23 – Larimer Lounge Denver, Colorado Jun 24 – Urban Lounge Salt Lake City, Utah Jun 25 – Neurolux Boise, Idaho Jun 26 – The Red Room Kennewick, Washington Jun 27 – The Triple Door Seattle, Washington Jun 28 – The Aladdin Theater Portland, Oregon Jun 30 – Bimbo's 365 Club SAN FRANCISCO, California Jul 1 – The Troubadour Los Angeles, California Jul 3 – Seaport Music Festival New York, New York
Back before the Day Party became the norm, SXSW attendees were forced to either sleep till a civilized hour, go enjoy a relaxing, delicious lunch somewhere in Austin other than near the convention center or, heaven forbid, attend a Panel Discussion. I know what you're thinking. Panel Discussion, what's that? It's where a handful of people in the industry get free food and are then put in front of an audience of their peers to talk about a particular topic like "Merch Table of Contents," "Fans are Suckers," or "I'm OK, You're OK: The Industry's Still Rockin'!"
Despite what the Fader Fort and the Filter Courtyard might have you believe, these panel discussions are still going on at SXSW and people still attend them. Probably as many people as before the day parties. And they're just as dull as they used to be.* I know, I went to one: "The Blog Factor." On the panel were Amrit of Stereogum, Idolator editor Maura Johnston, Matador major domo Gerard Cosloy, Sean Adams of Drowned in Sound, NPR blogger and onetime Sleater Kinney vocalist Carrie Brownstein.
What could have been a potentially interesting discussion about music blogs — Gerard Cosloy talked briefly about using the extremely unfriendly Web Sheriff to do their dirty work for them –got hijacked by a lot of marketing types in the audience who asked a bunch of questions that all amounted to "So, if I sent you an MP3 what kind of subject line would work best for you to open it?" I did however use the opportunity afterwards to ask Cosloy when the Matablog was going to fully convert to all food content. (It's almost there as it is.)
After that, I headed over to the Village Voice day party, arriving just in time for the last Black Keys song. If someone had told me it was the Black Crowes I woulda believed it. I was there to see Sweden's neo-classic rockers The Soundtrack of Our Lives who played a set almost entirely comprised of new material from their yet-to-be-released fifth album. Skilled musicians and masters of all the great rock moves (windmills, kicks, stick twirls, etc), TSOOL are always good live but the band's material has suffered with the departure of main songwriter Bjorn Olsson shortly after their 2001 breakthrough, Behind the Music. The new stuff wasn't bad, but paled in comparison when the band launched into the stellar "Sister Surround." MP3: The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Sister Surround
From there I headed over to the Fader Fort to catch the debut of UK-Swede combo Fanfarlo (who I've yammered on about before) who have surprisingly little US buzz despite the David Bowie stamp of approval. A lot of these day parties blur the lines as to whether you're attending a show or a commercial, but there's no subtle marketing at the Fader Fort: to get into space you literally have to walk through a Levi's Store specially built just for this. This is what we do for free Stella and SoCo-n-Lime and an excellent lineup of music daily in an admittedly cool space. Fanfarlo are fan-tastic, performing shoeless in the 90-plus degree Friday heat. Again, I've no idea why more people aren't talking about them. Catchy songs that remind me of Belle & Sebastian, though I've read more comparisons to Arcade Fire (they're nowhere near as anthemic). Maybe it's because they're slow to release their debut, trickling out singles instead, like the wonderful "Fire Escape" of which I shot some video:
Did I mention how hot it was Friday? I compared it to friends back in New York as if the McCarren Pool parties in July took over an entire town. Pretty sure it hit 95. Energy-sucking heat. I headed back to the hotel for a while to cool off, sneak in a nap and shower.
The order of things is a bit confused in my head but at some point in the evening I went to some cheesy subterranean club called Prague (that probably only has music during SXSW) to see Fuck Buttons. Two guys, one with a hoodie pulled over his head, were hunched over either end of a long work table filled with makeshift gear, toy microphones, patch bays, etc. The first ten minutes or so were somewhat torturous, about as exciting as watching two dudes work on home electronics kits as a voluminous nonmelodic sludge was sprayed at the crowd from the soundsystem. But then the bearded one picked up drumsticks and began whacking at a floor tom while screaming words into the toy microphone shoved into his mouth, while the hoodied guy jumped into the crowd and began spastically dancing and screaming into a real mike. Fuck Buttons' album, Street Horrrsing, isn't really my cup of tea, but I'd go see them live again. They're currently on tour with Caribou — a double bill that's highly recommended. As are earplugs.
Most of Friday night was spent at the Sub Pop showcase at Bourbon Rocks: two stages, ten or so bands and most of them were good though it started off a bit shaky with New Zealand's Ruby Suns. I actually really like their new album, Sea Lion, but the many-membered band were only three or four strong here and were forced to trade off onto instruments they don't normally play (from what I could tell). The witch doctor hippie stagewear didn't help either. A disappointment. Much better were Seattle's Grand Archives who traffic in late-'60s / early-'70s rock and do it very well. Highlight of the set for me, though, was a medley of covers comprised of the Beegees' "I Started a Joke," the Zombies' "Care of Cell 44" and Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown."
In a similar vein was Kelley Stoltz, though maybe slightly different reference points. I'm a big fan of his, so take this with a grain of salt, but his set was tied with Fanfarlo for best of the fest. Stoltz is a real charmer, very funny and knows how to tell a good story in between songs. His backing band is pretty ace — including one of the coolest cats you've ever seen on bass, and a keyboardist who also rocked the theremin. Most of the set came from his great new album, Circular Sounds, but also "Birdies Singing" from 2005's Between the Branches which you might know from a Volvo commercial. I shot video of my favorite song from Circular Sounds, "To Speak to the Girl":
Sixties Night continued with Fleet Foxes whose impeccable four-part harmonies wowed just about everybody in the room. They were probably one of the most buzzed-about bands of SXSW. Outside, were some of Sub Pop's more raucous acts: Pissed Jeans and No Age, the later of whom provided my favorite quote of the trip.
To cap the night I headed down the street to see indie legends My Dad is Dead. Main (sole) member Mark Edwards has been doing MDID since the mid-80s and their excellent 1989 album The Taller You Are, The Shorter You Get (among others) does what Interpol made commercially viable, except he did it 14 years too early. (They're all available to download for free from the MDID website.) I had no idea, before SXSW, that Edwards was still performing under the name so it was kind of a thrill, as much as I liked his records back in the day. The current lineup is a trio, with Edwards on guitar and a tight rhythm section backing him. His setlist was mostly foreign to me, but they didn't really seem too sonically worse for wear. One of the monitors did start smoking three songs in…they've still got heat.
Well here’s a bit of a mystery. Heather at Ugly Floral Blouse emailed me asking if I knew anything about The Clean playing Cake Shop at the end of the month. Um, no I hadn’t. A visit to the venue’s website did indeed show three — three! — nights featuring the legendary New Zealand band, Nov. 29 – Dec. 1. This would be pretty big news if true, so I went to Merge Records’ website, the label who put out the entirely-essential Anthology(#85 on Blender‘s Top 100 Indie Rock Albums Ever) and there were the three shows.
It kind of makes sense. Singer David Kilgour is in America touring for his new solo album (my review of his recent Union Hall show here); his brother and Clean drummer Hamish lives here in New York. The big question is whether Robert Scott will be apart of these shows’ lineup. He’s the third constant in the Clean over the band’s nearly 30 year existence, who also fronts the wonderful Bats (who played Cake Shop, upstairs, last year), and that would really make it something. Otherwise, it’s the Brothers Kilgour. Either way, it will be the first time Clean songs have been played on these shores in a long, long time. I know they toured the U.S. in 1990 for their then comeback album, Vehicle. Not sure if they’ve been back since then (probably) but it’s still a big event. Certainly one you’d think wouldn’t have slipped out as quietly as this.
UPDATE: According to Cake Shop’s website, it is the Brothers Kilgour and Robert Scott… hooray!
The extremely nice Cake Shop folks obviously are Flying Nun fans, so I guess I can’t begrudge them having the shows but I do kinda hope they announce another show somewhere else, like Union Hall or Mercury Lounge. I can’t imagine the average Clean fan (mid-30s at the youngest) enjoying the nonexistent sightlines and other problems the venue has. But three Clean shows at Cake Shop are better than none at all.
"This next song is 16 minutes long… and about every two minutes it sounds like it’s ending. But it’s not, so please don’t clap. It kind of ruins the momentum." That was pretty much the only thing Euros Childs said all night I understood, apart from some of his lyrics, what with his thick Welsh accent. Actually, for all I know he was speaking in Welsh some of those times. He has never shied away from his native tongue — his former band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci sang more often than not in his native tongue and one of the two albums Childs released this year, Bore Da, is entirely in Welsh.
The last time I saw Childs was, I think, 1999 when Gorky’s was touring for Spanish Dance Troupe. Though I own every album he’s released — Gorky’s, solo, or otherwise — I would still call myself a casual fan. Watching his excellent set Friday night I realize I’ve been taking him for granted. Childs’ solo material may lack the inventiveness and manic energy that made early records like Bwyd Time fun, but it is also absent of the Renaissance Fair embellishments which made them annoying. He’s still a quirky songwriter (dig that 16-minute title-track to Miracle Inn, also released this year), but these days his songwriting abilities are given more of a spotlight, as are the harmonies and his mellow voice. Playing as a trio with Gorky’s drummer Peter Richardson and Radio Luxembourg’s Meilyr Jones on bass, those qualities were abundantly clear. Great set.
What wasn’t clear is why he was headlining this show. This is not to knock Childs, it’s just obvious that everyone came to see David Kilgour with whom he’s been on tour. Half the room left after Kilgour’s set, which was too bad. But Kilgour is an indie legend of 30 years. His band, the Clean, which he started in 1978 in Dunedin, NZ with his brother Hamish and Robert Scott (who would form his own influential band, The Bats) have influenced loads of bands, perhaps most notably Yo La Tengo, Pavement and Superchunk. (Of the latter, Mac McCaughan’s Merge label put out a Clean compilation, released Bats albums in the ’90s, and has been releasing Kilgour’s solo albums since 2002.) Ira and James of YLT (both of whom stuck around for Childs and were well into it) were in the audience, actually, as were Kilgour’s brother Hamish, and Carl Newman.
Kilgour, who must be nearing 50 but looked much younger than that with a green military cap pulled down over his curly hair, and still sounds great. His new album, The Far Now, is pretty mellow but live, with his band the Heavy 8’s, he’s much more in the Dean Wareham (or Yo La Tengo to mention them again) school of droney, jangly, blissed-out, VU-inspired rock. Full admission: I am a sucker for this sort of thing when it’s done right, as it was Friday. I think it was the second guitarist playing a boxy-looking 12-string that really took it over the edge for me.
Kilgour and Childs were the main draw but the rest of the bill were notable too. Portland’s Pseudosix opened, previously unfamiliar to me, but I left impressed. Breezy and just a touch country-ish in that early-’70s West Coast sort of way, they reminded me of druggy ’90s band Acetone but with more melody and less reverb.
There was also a "special guest" on the bill, a badly-kept secret. (The real surprise came later that night.) Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn & John played a short impromptu set of songs he’s working on for an upcoming solo album, working out arrangements in advance of his "real" solo show at Joe’s Pub on November 19. Stress on "working them out." There were stops and starts, flubbed lyrics… but luckily Moren’s a real charmer so nobody seemed to mind. Actually, I would guess half the people there didn’t even realize this was the guy responsible for "Young Folks." Which is probably just how he wanted it, certainly different than his last appearance at Union Hall. He played maybe five originals plus a cover of Richard Hell’s "Time." I shot video of one of the new ones that Peter said was about his time as a music teacher in Sweden. I knew the name of the song but didn’t write it down and now don’t remember…