It is 9:30 PM when the Courtesy Tier go on for the Deli Magazine, unofficial Brooklyn showcase. The Tier are a Brooklyn sensation who have been on tour for 2 weeks, and I can feel the hurt on them. They are winded. Lead singer and guitarist, Omer Leibovitz’s eyes are hiding back in his skull and it seems he’s lost considerable weight since I saw them last in Brooklyn. After a ten-hour drive out of Lexington, Kentucky a week back, Omer woke up with total inflammation of the face. He was given cortisone shots in his right buttocks and a week’s prescription of antibiotics in the hospital in Charlotte. He cannot drink. Surrounded by hordes of wild drunks, and perhaps I am just projecting, but he seems to switch back and forth anxiously from frustration to complete and utter loneliness. It is, after all, rock and roll’s version of Mardi Gras and to be sober for that would be sheer tragedy, and yet all Omer wants to do is play, rip the stage apart and show Austin and the music world who the fuck the Courtesy Tier are.
And Thursday the 17th, opportunity arose. The thick crowd that slowly gathered through their set inside the Hotel Vegas on the far East side of town, got a brimming mouthful of New York blues rock – hard and fast and right to the brain. Omer wailed and shredded while Layton Weedeman thundered on the skins demolishing the off beats, crushing his cymbols, both of them like two proud and vigorous troubadours. The crowd went nuts as they drove into an extended and humming jam on “Friends” with Omer, capo down, thrashing and bending the high notes. But the climax came at the end when their tour compatriots, the Yesway, came bounding through the entrance bringing an extra exuberance, a sort of second wave back-up that got the crowd jumping to a frenzy. The Courtesy Tier absolutely killed it, road wounds be damned, slamming their stamp down in Austin.
Behind the bar and outside, Black Taxi, another group from Brooklyn is taking the main stage of the showcase just at the finish of the Courtesy Tier’s set. They are a band on the brink of salvation in a mean, cutthroat world back in New York. Lead singer and lunatic/best showman in the city, Ezra, is up to his usual gimmicks, romping around like Mick Jagger in his heyday: strutting, blowing a trumpet, singing through a megaphone, teasing the young ladies in front – all while the bass oozes, the guitar jives and the crowd sweats. Tonight, though, Black Taxi does not have the force that their normal shows in New York usually generate. Mid set, they have technical difficulties. It seems the guitar keeps cutting out, that or the entire left speaker is shot. It is not their best show, probably due also to the fact that right next door, on the other side of a chain link fence, a death hollering hardcore band whose only lyrics feature a rancid noise most dogs make when they happen to be constipated and amplified with a Marshall double stack. I would imagine it would be hard to find a groove with that shit cutting through your monitor. Unfortunately, this weirdness is a common distraction at SXSW as there is an abundance of music, too little space, and a huge amount of hardcore fans in the South. But Black Taxi chugs along, getting people to shake it.
By then I have left. The Buffalo Killers are on at Headhunters in the main part of town. They too are subject to the hardcore debacle, but as they kick into their set, everything works out. Their music is Dan Auerbach approved, grade A, Allman Bros. jam band/Led Zeppelin thick-riffed, exceptional blues. Their only problem is lack of time as their set only runs for thirty minutes. But it’s a swell thirty minutes.
My only other meaningful memories from the night came during the taxi fiasco that happens around 1 to 5 am when the public transit cuts and a bunch of wildly drunk tourists try to fight for a way back to their hotels. It seems capitalism has not completely conquered the West, at least the South West. Here there are few and far taxis compared to those that need them. The taxi industry could be booming like the oil trade, but the humble people of Austin would rather sleep at reasonable hours. And who could blame them. Someone once said "more money, more problems," though I do not believe he was anywhere close to Texas. Either way, as a result of laziness, the currency no longer becomes money. Phone lines are all jammed, and the taxis are all full. Instead, currency becomes wingspan and who can box out good as cabs come roaring off the exit ramp. Two groups of grown man are nearly getting bloody over a cab as I sit and wait - a couple mid-west quarterback types getting sweaty over being sacked by a few square-rimmed geeks swiping their cab. Bad air was passed around. If you wish to one day enjoy SXSW, I advise anyone to bring a bike or at least a strobe light to attract the cabs. It will serve you well, better than waving around handfuls of money.
Thursday is in the books for now and Friday is soon come.
SXSW Day 2. St. Patty’s Day.
By noon, I have made my way to Aussie’s Bar and Grill where a set of volleyball matches are being played off to the side of an outside stage set up in a parking lot. Weeks ago, I came across a guitar/drum duo called Brown Brogues in a Williamsburg pizzeria on two-month tour of the States. They flew here with zero equipment. Musical instruments translate to working for a profit and would require a $4000 visa. They asked me where they could rent equipment to tour the country. Being completely unaware that one could do such a thing, I saw them on their way. In the rare spirit that is SXSW, I ran into them, again, at a bar late Tuesday night where they invited me to their show this morning.
So here we are five weeks later, and they’re just now getting into their show set with a sunburst red, 60s era vintage guitar furnished with strips of duct tape, a moderate sized but booming fender amp, and an immaculate drum set. That's the appearance of most bands here, caught up in the middle of their tour with the hope that someone with the right sway has the tools and connections to keep the wheels on the fun bus chugging.
The parking lot, on the way outskirts of the city and in dead heat, is mostly empty except for a couple of die-hards with plastic sunglasses and tall boys, standing around smoking cigarettes. The Brown Brogues’ music is raw, a sort of simplified White Stripes. The guitar has that thick, thumping tone while Chris rails on power chords. The drums are incredibly simple: no kick or rack toms - just a snare, floor tom and one big cymbal. With the simplicity comes a fuzzed-out punk energy and although I’m nearly alone in front of the stage, I get that crazed excitement bands like the Sex Pistols and the White Stripes turned an entire youth free and wild on.
After the Brown Brogues, I was lost. I spent several hours wandering around the city looking for bands I had written down in my little black book, only to show up minutes after their set was over. Hacienda, a band from San Antonio, played way down on Congress Street, the main strip that runs north to south. Missed them because of confusions over busses and street numbers. The Screaming Females, a New Jersey punk band that re-defined the basement punk scene, played the Brooklyn Vegan showcase in the middle of town. Made it just in time to see Marisa Paternoster, the great East Coast wailer, wrapping up her mike chord and chatting with a small crowd. Turns out Yuck, who have been breaking ground with their single “Rubber” off their new album released by Fat Possum, opened for them.
I decided to cut my losses and head over to the Deli Magazine showcase early. I found it with ease but ended up with too much time to kill, sitting around losing my free booze buzz, and wallowing in one of those heady, introverted depressions while the sun set in the background.
While the concept of SXSW is perfect, after 25 years and a huge following (80,000 strong), it is no surprise that the ugly side of the music business has made an appearance. The dream of the 80s independent scene has dwindled and turned those once small “indie” labels, like XL, into the massive corporations they once tried to diminish. Bands like Black Flag and Sonic Youth had hopes of creating and sustaining a pure DIY scene. While their dream is sill alive in small pockets of the world, it’s now littered with blood-suckers trying to grab whatever money and glory they can by doing as little work as possible. And they are certainly alive and thriving here in Austin.
(to be continued when convenient for the writer)
It's day one of SXSW and a day before St. Patrick's day and walking down East 6th street in Austin you get the gumption that rock and roll is alive. Maybe that’s how Texas is: sleek boots and heel pounding rock music. Kick drums will be getting tested here, booming out onto the street while taco trucks and Wurst mobiles set up, their noise only to be drowned out on the next block as a band will be starting a set. Here in Austin, every bar is a potential venue complete with a raised stage, drums and mikes. People of all sorts are walking the streets and nearly every block is lined with a quintet with banjos and mandolins busking on the sidewalk. At 5PM the sun hasn't even set and I have seen a handful indie bands from Austin, Darwin D’s and Chiddy Bang hosted by the Brooklyn Vegan people at Emo’s, and a favorite Brooklyn band, The Spring Standards on the other side of town at Momo's. There is plenty of free booze, food and good cheers to go around. The spirit is still alive.
By dark, the mood has changed. East 6th street has been closed off to traffic and has turned into Times Square on New Years Eve. It’s madness. Stepping into the street you’ll get caught up in the sway of the rip tide of people and end up on the other side of town, shirt torn and ankles bloody. I ran into a bum with a sign and a dobro singing about how he hadn’t seen his mum in a year and was saving up cash for a flight home to California. He was another lost refugee, a casualty to the rock and roll scene taking his tour a little too far. The scene can be scary.
But when you happen on a random bar where no wrist bands are needed, the cover is nonexistent and the booze is free, that's where you'll find the spirit of SXSW. You’ll find yourself at the front of the stage where some random band from across the country will be ripping into a song and you’ll suddenly feel good and understand what this thing is all about. Rumor has it Jack White got kicked out of a lot where he started his own show, playing guitar out of his car. While Yuck played with a couple other Pitchfork bands and the oh-so-timeless easy pop sensation Duran Duran, I saw a great band from Kentucky, These United States play the blues and bring the house down. The notion is to follow the crowd and get in line here or there – it doesn’t really matter where it takes you. Take in the music, enjoy the vibes and share with the random dude next to you, jumping and hollering.
From Alex Picca, bassist and vocalist of local rock group The Press:
"We of The Press have been, over the past six months, casually working on putting together a few musical side projects. In doing so, we've noticed that a number of our band pals were doing the same. So we've decided to cram all of them onto one bill. Its gonna be a night of 30 minute sets from an incestuous clutch of musicians doing some completely new shit. And, to top it off, the whole thing will be DJ'd by The Press' own DJ Chugger.
From soul and R&B to country, electronic rock to catchy prog rock, this night embraces it all. Show at 7:30 pm at Bar Matchless (557 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint). Check out the Facebook event here.
Bicycle Boys - David Schneider's proto-soul-grit-mindjab feat. Lisa Libera of Muy Cansado and David Fine of Big Grin.
KNTRLR - Michael Henry's one man robocop data probe experiment
AJ Phillips - Alex Picca's alter ego Country music cattle drive
Human Highlight Reel - Predator Drones in Rock formation, w/ a healthy dose of Atlantans and drumming by David Schneider of The Press
Gönül & What Army - A Celestine songbird singing soul tunes that you already have tattoos of, feat. Billy Gray of Ben Franklin and David Fine (again).
If you're up for some more grit and rock, come back to Matchless the next night, Friday the 4th, for another hot show with locals Big Grin, Lovehandles and Missing Ships and Boston fave's Muy Cansado. Doors at 8 pm.
The NYC Underground
By Sam Houghton
The fact that we can grow up surrounded by the same things as a fellow neighbor - eat at the same bodegas, go to the same schools, fight in the same fights - and at the end of the day, listen to completely different music, is remarkable. Music today is all over the place. There’s the top 40 that plays to teens and soccer moms, there’s Hip Hop and all that noise, there’s indie and the rebirth of laissez-faire hippy attitude, there’s classic rock, blues, and on and on and on. It’s no wonder words like Hipster have fluttered back as we all take incredible pride in our record collections and Pandora stations. "Independence Baby." If you read the right blogs, you’ll see the headlines of gun-slinging duels over which 8 tracks mix is better. The reasons are obvious: Our influx of media outlets, with the overwhelming help of the interweb, has turned us all into song ripping Bucanneers, blood thirsty for an itunes account with more and more days of music just in case the apocalypse comes and we have nothing better to do but sit around and listen to music. No longer told what to like by MTV or Rick Dees, we are all a bunch of whiney music journalists with our blogs and our facebook. That is why, as true journalists in the greatest definition of the word, we at Knocks have asked our wonderful readers, you, to vote on what was good in 2010, and what will be good in 2011. What we got was a whole slew of different bands, most of which I have never even heard of. But, there is clarity. We do have here some winners, and a list of five excellent bands to listen to, and, most importantly, to get out to the streets and shake it on down to.
Editors Pick/Honorable Mention:
Next show: January 16 @ Party Xpo, Brooklyn
#5. The Beets
Next show: Jan 15 @ Glasslands, Brooklyn
#4. The London Souls
#2. Twin Shadow
Next show not until May 6 @ Webster Hall, NYC (Currently touring world, proudly).
#1 Hank & Cupcakes
Next show: January 21 @ Knitting Factory, Brooklyn