is a busy musician, but that hasn't stopped her from lending those blogging skillz
to those in need. Last week, Spero hit up Austin with her bandmates Northern State
. They played music, they watched bands, they consumed BBQ. Get all the nitty gritty details below.
Spero's SXSW Round-Up
After recovering for a few days, I have 2 words that sum up my SXSW experience: Ooooh, girl
SXSW can really beat your ass down. But it was also pretty fun, let’s face it. Here is a little (belated) reporting from the field, in list form (was too dehydrated for paragraphs).
1. Barkin’ dawgs
– The #1 thing about Sx that nobody mentions is that everything in Austin is uphill both ways. The most common discussion overheard involves complaints of a podiatric variety. If you got a heel spur, put your hands up!
2. Too much of a good thing.
There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially when the good things in question are free ‘Soco Punch’, brisket at 11am, constant crowds, really loud (often crappy) sound, and blazing hot sun. A recipe for ending up face down in a ditch by 3pm.
3. Feast or famine.
You cannot eat at SXSW. In spite of every party boasting free BBQ, you’ll never get any, it’s a myth, and restaurants are not really an option when you are rushing around. So just accept that you will starve every day. You will eat your best friend’s boyfriend’s turkey sandwich that has been in the trunk of the car all day and consider it a gift. A Zone bar is like a small brick of gold. Regardless, you will somehow still leave SXSW feeling kind of bloated and fat and with a moderate to severe case of…
The official stomach condition of SXSW.
5. Cedar Fever.
Some people, such as myself, may find themselves VERY allergic to Cedar trees, in full bloom in Texas at this time of year. Locals may tell you that you’ve been “hit with the Cedar Fever”. Silly Yankees.
6. You can’t do it all.
I didn’t even try. If a band is really that cool and hyped, they’ve either been playing in NYC non-stop or they’ll be coming soon, where one can walk on flat land to go see them.
However, here are some bands that I did manage to see at SXSW:
1. My friend Benny who scared up some Clarinex for me when I needed it most described Mew
, from Denmark as “beautiful prog-rock”, which was accurate. The vocals were soaring and it was all very lovely. Their album could maybe replace the Sigur Ros one with the ()’s as my soundtrack for riding on a train in Scandinavia when the sun is setting at noon.
2. However, Galactic
was a little more my speed, considering I had bellied up to the free Margarita bar at the Spin party @ Stubbs a few times by this point and was wearing a straw hat with a chin strap (heeeyyy!) that the Tequila people were giving out. Galactic is an instrumental outfit blending New Orleans funk with Headhunters and Meters style jams. Their forthcoming album is more on the hip hop tip, and their set featured some solid guest MCs which was nice since hip hop is hardly the official genre of SXSW. Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab was a commanding presence, and I enjoyed Lyrics Born and Boots Riley from the Coup while on a trip to the Port-o-John. (See Point 4 above).
3. Kings of Leon
– also at Stubbs. Let’s get one thing straight. I love the Kings of Leon. A lot of people in my circle seem a little indifferent to them, but I think they are one of the best rock bands around. They are a great live band, exhibiting some pretty serious musicianship, and yet their songs are accessible enough that friends of mine who weren’t all that familiar with them were still able to have a good time. However, with all that said, let’s just get real re: WHAT could be better than 3 brothers raised by a preacher and their first cousin, all from Tennessee, all probably under the age of 25? It’s as if someone went into my depraved mind and stole my secret dream, except in my dream I am not only a fan, but I am also the drum stool. The boys played all my faves from Aha Shake Heartbreak
and some new songs from the upcoming Because of the Times
, which makes it onto my list of the maybe 5 albums I will actually buy this year. “On Call” has been up on their myspace for a minute but was way better and fuller live. The perfect harmonies that these guys nail live are of the ilk that can only come from groups made up of family members whose vocal chords have been constructed similarly, like Tegan and Sara, the Beach Boys, and the Von Trapps. Stage banter was kept to a minimum, since the Kings came to shred. (Insert pulled pork reference here?
) Each band member bestowed upon me a loving and grateful gaze before exiting the stage, which was sweet, but totally unnecessary since I am first and foremost a fan of the music.
4. In case you don’t know, Brother Ali
is a white Muslim ALBINO MC from Minnesota whose mentor happens to be Slug from Atmosphere
. There was a day when being just a plain old white female rapper would turn some heads, but Brother Ali has got us way beat. Ali is a real MC for sure- his larger than life persona and connection to the crowd make for a fully entertaining set. He has a whole rap that he does in between songs about how grateful he is to finally be able to afford a 2 bedroom and a couch from Ikea instead of the Salvation Army. Oprah would say that this “attitude of gratitude” will continue to bring good things into Brother Ali’s sphere, and I would agree.
has emerged from the underworld of those white boy rappers obsessed with drugs and porn (Eastern Conference, etc.) and cleaned up his act to reinvent himself in sort of an Emo image, it seems? Speaking of which, I caught his set at Emo’s on Fri night and noted that he has removed his ‘fronts’, grown his hair long, and dropped some weight - but the voice and the manic flow are still the same. Out of all those Def Jux boys (his current label), I think Cage is one of the best rappers. I like a lot of the imagery he uses, even if it’s dark (I am such a wuss that I even had nightmares after Pirates of the Carribean 2: Dead Man’s Chest
). Still, Cage’s 2003 "Ballad of Worms," which samples a Built to Spill song and tells the terrifying (I assume fictional) story of his relationship with a terminally ill woman, is to this day some of the most imaginative and cringe-worthy shit I’ve heard in hip hop. Thankfully, it seems like despite the physical makeover, Cage’s lyrical style remains pretty true to what his fans love about him (minus the misogyny which he has also turned his back on, thankfully). But homie needs to maybe step up his stage show a little, which involved rhyming over canned tracks along with a hype man who oddly looked exactly like the Old Cage. Kinda confusing.
6. MC Chris
– I have been reading a lot about nerd-core rap of late, and MC Chris is one of the most buzzed about nerd rappers out there. I am sorry to say that I was less than impressed. I spent the first few minutes trying to figure out if MC Chris was possibly a woman (his voice is super high) or maybe the alter ego of NYC trans personality ‘Muray Hill’? Alas, Mc Chris is neither. Nerdy references that I didn’t get abounded, but I was expecting that. It was more the bad rhyming over boring tracks that I just couldn’t get down with. The roomful of nerds chanting along seemed to love it though, so what the F do I know.
7. Shitake Monkey
– This brave NYC trio decided to play their first gig ever at SXSW. Historically not a live band, Shitake Monkey consist of three producers whose credits include Yoko Ono, Wu Tang Clan, Jennifer Lopez, and Northern State. Their first album, Street Beef
(Outlook), is out now and is getting a lot of buzz for its unique sound and super high production value. These guys trade off on vocals and instruments and their set was a totally fun representation of the album, which has a kind of Beck meets Frankie Goes to Hollywood by the pool vibe. I was psyched to see the boys finally ‘play out’ and hope this will be the first show of many.
8. Au Revoire Simone
– We played with these gals at the Redeye Distribution party at the Yard Dog on Saturday (very fun, free tacos). They have such a sweet and mellow sound; it’s kind of a nice balance to what we do. If I had half a brain I would have written about all the female and female-fronted groups at SXSW this year, since my friend Dr. Jon Wynn (a sociologist) pointed out that it was the ladies this year that were providing, in many cases, a nice counterbalance to some of the hipper-than-though male posturing BS that goes down at SXSW.
9. But I didn’t pull that together. But Jon caught the Pipettes
and loved them. They have like a '60s girl group kitsch thing going on. And then I found out there is apparently a whole other group The Dansettes
doing a very similar thing. Meanwhile, my girl Sprout has been killing ‘Leader of the Pack’ at karaoke for years, so what do y’all think about that?
10. Apollo Sunshine
- Our drummer Seth aka “Crunk Johnson” is all about these guys. It’s earthy and a little bit country and a little bit classic rock. Good facial hair. We DJ’d the Sno Cap BBQ where they played and they were very polite about asking us if they could plug in their iPod and play a few of their own songs to get ‘in the mood’ before their set. What? Brand Nubian’s “Steal Ya Ho” was not doing it??
11. And the band I didn’t get to see but wish I did has gotta be The Gossip
. We have played with them a bunch in Scandinavia and I’m sure they have only gotten better since then. I was kinda shocked to hear they recenty signed to Columbia, hopefully Columbia won’t totally F this one up. Beth Ditto is God
In summation, I am proud to be a part of an industry for whom one of the more important ‘trade’ events of the year more closely resembles Mardi Gras than actual work. Holla. See you fools next year.
- Correne Spero