Friday (March 17th)
Rob and I split up on Friday afternoon because I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the opportunity to see Elliott Brood and Dean Owens. He had heard Mary Lucia from the Current was going to be interviewing Portastatic, and that was a can't-miss for him. Since neither of us could be in two places at once, we agreed on this plan.
I had to find a cab to take me to the Longbranch Inn, where Elliott Brood was playing at 1:00 p.m. The Longbranch is east of 35, but their Bloody Mary's make it worth the trip.
I was blown away by how good the band was. Simply outstanding! The set was over by 1:20 p.m, but it was the most kick-ass 20 minute set I saw all week!
There are three members in Elliott Brood: a drummer, an acoustic guitarist, and a singer who alternated between banjo and ukelele. The sound is sort of an old-timey alt-country with an emphasis on rock. The band had a great rapport with the audience, which isn't surprising since only about 10 people showed up. Apparently, the band had a bit of a rough night on Thursday and were trying to play hard to sweat out the hangover. The lead singer said they would still have been in bed had they not had this gig.
I wish the set had been longer, but I'm hoping they will make it to Minneapolis soon. I can't wait to see them again.
I was lucky enough to find a cab just outside the Longbranch heading back over 35, so I hopped in and went all the way back to Opal Divines for Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens. He was playing as part of the Dog and Pony show which is put on by many local Austin musicians. I think it is the 3rd or 4th year for this non-SXSW event, and it was hosted by Penny Jo Pullus.
I have a friend who used to live in Scotland, who has since emigrated to Chicago to marry the woman he loved. He told me about Dean several years ago. I was hooked from the first time I heard Dean's first solo release from 2001, The Droma Tapes. Dean didn't have any copies of his newest release My Town, which comes out this May, so I guess I'll have to order that one online.
His set lasted about 30 to 45 minutes and featured many new songs and lots of gems from the Droma Tapes. Since it was St. Patricks Day, he decided to give one nod to the Irish holiday by playing a killer acoustic cover of The Undertones' Teenage Kicks. Not may people realize that it's an old Irish folk song :)
Rob had a chance to tell me all about the Portastatic taping after Dean ended his set. Surprisingly, only about seven people showed up for it. Portastatic in this case was simply Mac MacCaughan with an acoustic guitar Britt Daniel (Spoon) had been kind enough to lend him.
He played I Wanna Know Girls and one other song from Portastatic's 2005 brilliant release Bright Ideas, and two of their earlier tunes. Rob was thrilled to be there, and was obviously not disappointed. I'm sure the Current has the show archived somewhere.
Our next destination was The Parish on 6th Street because I needed to catch at least one performance by The Bellrays. We got there a little early and caught part of the Spores set, at least that's who I think it was. They were a three-peice with a chick singer on bass. Pretty heavy stuff for me, but still interesting. Between bands we also got to experience these two rapper/hip hop white kids from Kansas City (I think). They had a friend dressed in a bear suit handing out freshly fried bacon during their rhymes. I found the whole presentation pretty cool.
I went outside and ran into Allison Locey, who was also there for The Bellrays. We tried to figure out how to get Allison inside the club, since it isn't exactly wheelchair friendly, and she was told to go around to the side entrance. Several minutes after I went back in, I noticed Allison wasn't there yet, so I found someone who worked there to find out what was going on. Luckily, we got her inside before The Bellrays took the stage.
What an incredible freaking band they are! It was like going to church! A totally religious experience packed with joy and excitement!. I can't believe I have never seen them live before now. Definitely my best new discovery this year, thanks to Alex Millar. The lead singer is a black woman who was totally dolled up and reminded me of Donna Summer during the disco era. She has some pipes! She's married to the bass player who looks a lot like Garth from Wayne's World. Their guitarist was also incredible and looked a little like George Thoroughgood.
After the set, we got Allison down to the street without too much trouble, and went in search of dinner. We discovered another great place called the Mongolian Barbeque a little off the beaten path. You pick out all the meat and vegetables you want and they have a sauce bar so you can decide how you want your dinner to be spiced, and they cook it up for you on a big metal grill. Another great dinner and we really enjoyed the chance to sit and have some nice conversation with Allison. She told me a few stories about the interesting people she has met at the hostel this year. This is her 7th year volunteering at SXSW I believe, and she had been in town since March 9th, so she had a lot to say.
Rob decided he should see Brakes, so he left us early to catch their showcase at 8:00 p.m. He was not as impressed as many of our friends seem to be, but said it was a pretty good show. I still think the first British Sea Power cd is easily one of the worst things I have ever heard, but their newest Open Season, isn't nearly as bad to my ears.
I had no real plans for Friday other than wanting to see Centro-matic at Maggie Mae's at 1:00 a.m. After Allison went her way, I wandered over to Maggie Mae's to see what was happening there. Rob joined me there after Brakes. The Mendoza Line were still playing when I got there, and I have to admit, their set was definitely better than some of the ones I have seen in the past years. They are just one of those bands that sounds really good on record, but just can't really pull off an interesting live show.
I also caught a little of Great Lake Swimmers and Phosphorescent, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention to the music at that point. Our yearly gathering at Maggie Mae's has always been more about waiting for Centro to play; getting to hang out with friends; and chatting with the bands. I had an opportunity to ask Scott Danbom about the rumors I had heard about their Saturday show, and I believe he told me he had no idea what I was talking about. Yeah, right! It was a good time, but I wish I had known about Dave Dewey's open bar tab.
We attempted to wander out to 6th Street and see what else was happening, but there were lines everywhere we went. No Band of Horses or P.O.S. for us that night. We did run into Tony Nelson and Chris Reimenschneider and had fun chatting with them briefly, but headed back to Maggie Mae's since getting shut out of Centro-matic was definitely not an option. There was actually a short wait to get back in. I guess other people are actually starting to realize that they are the best damn band in the world! I thought it was just me all these years.
As always, Centro-matic rocked the house! While it is true that they can do no wrong in my eyes, all you have to do is see them live and you will know that this band is at the top of their game right now. They've been together for about 10 years and have released about 13 Centro-matic albums in that time, as well as a few side projects under the South San Gabriel moniker. Will Johnson (their lead singer and songwriter) has also put out two solo albums in the past five years. There is not a stinker in the whole bunch, not even a bad song that I have to skip when I listen to them. I think that says a lot, but of course, your mileage may vary.
Their new cd, Fort Recovery, which was released on Misra in March, is a bit more mellow than previous Centro cds. But they have this ability to build up their songs in layers, and the sound turns into this crashing crescendo that never fails to rock your face off. That is exactly how David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) looked after their set was over when I ran into him. David shared a recent bill with Will and Scott on the Undertow Orchestra tour, and had never seen Centro before. I think it is safe to say they gained another fan in David that night. I am going to Chicago to see Centro-matic on Saturday, and I can't wait!
We were able to get into the American Sprits after-party at our hotel thanks to the genius of the amazing K-Fly. We hung out there for a bit with our friends and free cigarettes. I think I left a free cd I had gotten earlier in the day in the cd player there. Too bad, because I think it had The Bellrays on it. We finally crawled up to our room at about 4:00 a.m.