Sunday, 13 April 2008


Next day we got up and out and headed across town to see some of The Smell showcase at the Opera House. We arrive just as the Mae Shi are packing up and say hi to Jim Smith, who runs The Smell and who we’ve seen perhaps at every show this week. I’ve heard from reliable sources that Jim doesn’t sleep, but this man’s stamina is impressive and his party is in an art gallery/store with a car park full of weird shit.

We also catch up with Mika Miko, and there are hugs and the exchange of sunglasses (the best band merch I have seen in ages). No Age haven’t set up yet, so we dash the 25 metres down the street to End of An Ear records to see No Kids play. They have a quiet, delicate soulfulness and a determined pop sensibility. And they are playing next to a painting of the meeting between the world’s tallest man and the world’s smallest man.
Those of you have been bored to tears with me shrieking incoherently about the incredible nature of this meeting will have some idea of how cool this was. I watch about four songs and dash back round the corner.
On the basis of a moulded icicle making it feel cooler than the scalding car park, No Age play in the art filled cave. It was a real contrast to last night as it was a really intimate performance.

We chat to Dean, Randy and Jim after the show and discuss some of the finer details of the May tour. We’re not organising it, but Chris is driving it. Randy is apparently making a spreadsheet to work out how many chalets they need at ATP. Mika Miko play next, outside, in the sun and I can feel myself burning to a crisp.

They are great as always, lots of energy and sass and they almost suit playing outside at lunchtime. I was pretty gutted that we weren’t going to see them again this week.

I have never seen so many bands play outside before. I realise it isn’t much of a novelty in the US, but in the UK it does not happen, except as part of a stunt or an organised festival. I don’t know if this is a result of the perennial problem that we don’t have any space (like why basement shows don’t really happen, because everyone’s converted their basement into a two bedroom flat) or if it is something to do with the authorities and the criminal justice legislation that basically criminalised outdoor parties in the 1990s. We’re missing out.

After Mika Miko finish we say fleeting farewells, catch a glimpse of our watches and hightail it over to Ms Bea’s, which is miles away, for the party we’re doing with Todd P. We try to get a bus (duh!) and give up, trekking several blocks. I could have kissed the cab driver that turned round in an eight lane highway to pick us up. Austin isn’t sympathetic to those of us without cars.

We get to Ms Bea’s just in time. Todd P had let us choose a bunch of bands for the Friday evening, and between us we rustled up a pretty special show. Ms Bea’s is a great space, a tiny bar full of locals making a killing out of bean tamales, a patio out back where bands play for about 12 hours a day, a car park where bands sell their merch and a grassy field where you can chill out when you’ve had enough music.

Todd arranges his parties there with two stages, so that there isn’t much waiting round between bands. He is a fine stage manager and somehow manages to keep things running to a rough schedule. He does good work in New York and it was an honour to be asked to participate. I’m not going to write about everyone that played, but these were my highlights.

Lucky Dragons played at sunset and it was an emotional communal experience, akin to watching a magician spellbind a group of children.

I hadn’t seen the performance with the rocks before, where Luke moves a series of rocks across an electronic device, giving the impression that the rocks themselves are creating the sounds. Outside, framed by trees, sat in the dirt, this was remarkable.

Luke also did the piece with the touching wires, which he’s probably most well known for now. I’ve seen this several times and the initial pleasure of participating and helping others to participate have been overtaken by watching the group, in the way Luke skilfully choose people on the fringes of the group and the absolute joy you see on people’s faces as they realise they are responsible for the sounds they hear.

Telepathe were up next. I’d seen them Wednesday and their close-cupped vocals, immaculate production and group harmonies were impressive.

This performance was more laid back, and suited the feeling of the early evening.

High Places followed, and although the two bands are often compared with each other, the only real point of similarity is sub bass and more sub bass. We have loved everything we’ve heard by Rob and Mary, and we were first alerted to them when they toured with Vice Cooler a few years ago.
Their sound live is immense and tonight, they provide the loudest set, despite the fact that they weren’t using all their speakers. But the volume isn’t brutal, it gives a pounding bass narrative to their songs, which are carefully crafted, with Mary’s ethereal vocals hanging over them. The instrumentation is incredible, a whole mass of shakers and claves that add a layer of extra textures and rhythms.

High Places are a band that have perfected their sound and they are that rarest thing, a band that sound completely like themselves. Like Lucky Dragons (their touring partner of recent times), their sound, which is primarily electronic, feels completely organic and so their performance beneath the trees is particularly apt. I’m afraid our filming might not do Rob and Mary justice, as we were right at the front where it was super-loud!

Lexie Mountain Boys brought pot plants and props aplenty for their triumphant performance piece. There was as much laughter on stage as there was off it, and an impressive display of gymnastics.

Their songs are surreal vocal rounds, with percussion from plenty of foot stamping and clapping and it completely lived up to my expectations.

Foot Village were also a treat. Sounding way more polished than I had been led to expect from other videos I’d seen, they arranged the crowd around them on stage to witness their tribal drum patterns at close quarters.

The most bizarre set of the night was that provided by Kimya Dawson. I still don’t know how Todd P managed to wangle this, but I wasn’t entirely surprised when the tiny patio at Ms Bea’s was stormed by several hundred adoring fans.

Luckily, most of these people stayed for John Maus. I don’t know what they thought to John’s performance, but as far as I was concerned it was an overwhelming triumph.

It was the first set I’d seen at SXSW where the crowd seemed totally amped. And there were two encores. He did all the hits and on the video you can hear plenty of people singing along (including Chris UTR, who must have forgotten he was filming!). Really inspiring stuff.

Due to a few line up changes, KIT made it on to the bill for a short set and they were frenetic, Kristy bounding around even more than usual.

They really suited the outdoors space, ducking in an out of the crowd.

Death Sentence Panda closed proceedings with a far more aggressive and immediate set that we saw the night before.

It was a fitting finale to an awesome day and our last show in Texas.

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