Jon Amor – Borderline, London

With the strength of interest in guitar rock at the moment, it’s a mystery why Jon Amor seems to have hit a plateau of popularity beyond which the public stubbornly refuses to move. Yet songs are pouring out of him like a jackpot from a fruit machine, and when the UK’s best live act hits the Borderline’s stage with the merciless kick in the balls that is the as-yet unrecorded “Fool Enough”, the already up-for-it audience is slack-jawed with amazement. Not since Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” has such a rifftastic creation opened a show in the cellars of London.
Amor fans, horrified at the band’s stated intention of dropping the show-stopping “Hit So Hard” from their set, were threatening physical protests, but the result is a happy one. They’ve pared this brilliant song down to its bare essentials and made it even more dramatic. And what other band could overcome a mid-set amp failure without any loss of momentum? Following the running repairs, they simply pick up the bullet train that is “1999” from where they’ve left off and continue the aural assault. By the time the muliti-orgasmic climax of “Hard Hat” is reached, the entire band has entered orbit, Jon playing in a frenzy of dexterity that is almost superhuman.
What with one thing and another, it’s clear that Jon Amor is a troubled soul. In “Sweep The Room”, he sings about the “words left unspoken of the bones that I’ve broken and the pain that I’ve caused”. There’s nary a hint of a twelve bar, but this is still the blues in the truest sense of the word.

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Athlete – Shepherds Bush Empire, London

You know that feeling which overwhelms you occasionally, when whatever it is you’re experiencing is so perfect that you are desperate to preserve it in your memory forever? The words that come into your head are: “Oh, this is beautiful, I’ve got to soak it up”.
So when Athlete display the genius to write a song with exactly that chorus, that’s good enough. When they add it to an irrestibly anthemic tune which forces the audience to bellow it en masse, the subject of the song somehow ends up describing itself. It is beautiful and we are soaking it up.
And who can pretend they haven’t identified with the chorus of One Million: “It was just one of those days I needed to deal with”? First, we had to deal with interminable performances by two of the worst support bands ever to sully Shepherds Bush. Good thing nobody knew who they were, I might have had to be cruel about them. Athlete, though, warming up for the V Festival and taking a brief break from recording their second album, were just perfect. Not just “part of the rock scene” (Westside), they tower above all the competition right now, a model of unpretentiousness and letting the music and songs speak for themselves. To follow the Mercury-nominated “Vehicles and Animals” might seem a well-nigh impossible task, but new songs such as “Tourist” bode well. You almost felt like joining in on first hearing, but you were already too hoarse from yelling about the doubtful merits of El Salvador and Dungeness. Not that I would do anything like that, you understand.
A truly knockout set of killer tunes and genius lyrics. You can’t ask for much more.

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PJ Harvey – Zodiac, Oxford

What would it be like? No one had any idea. Last time around, touring “Stories From The City”, Polly had assembled a pretty motley band which alienated many of her followers. Then, in Summer 2003, she hit the road with a classic 3-piece which really did the business. But now she’s gone and recorded an album all by herself. Could she come on like John Shuttleworth and do a solo show? Not as daft as it sounds, because nothing is beyond PJ Harvey.
There are scores of concerts planned for PJH this summer. Warm-ups are usually conducted in her home town of Bridport, but this time there is a minor dispute with the locals on account of noisy rehearsals, so the faithful with their ears to the ground have congregated on Cowley Road, Oxford for the world debut of this new line-up. It’s nine o’clock and the mood is teetering on the edge of ugliness, as the crowd has been here since seven and there’s no support act and still no sign of any music. Frantic activity takes place around the rebellious keyboard stack in an attempt to coax it into life. “Sod the keyboards”, shouts someone, “Gerronwithit!”
And so they did. The new band turns out to be a quartet, with faithful (and brilliant) Rob Ellis on drums, a new guitarist called Josh Klinghoffer and the Fall’s bassist Dingo. They love their nicknames round these parts. Rob Ellis used to be called Rabid and long-term sound engineer Dick Bullivan rejoices in the soubriquet of Head.
Head is crucial to the success of this show. “Uh Huh Her” is quite a thin-sounding record and the band’s recent appearance on “Later” was almost tinny, but in the confines of this small venue, the huge volume and the outstanding echo effects make for a gigantic, deep sound which more than does justice to a long trawl through the best new songs and classics from the past, such as the evergreen “Dress” and a nicely lugubrious “Down By The Water”. Of the new songs, the single “The Letter” is a stunner, and “Who The Fuck” makes a lot more sense than on record. Polly herself (continuing her habit of singing without a guitar more often than with) is on ace form, and Klinghoffer is the best sideperson she has found since the much-missed Jeremy Hogg, despite the prevalent habit of continually swopping guitars with little noticeable effect on the sound.
For Polly Harvey and her band, it’s going to be a very long, hot summer, but the start could hardly have been better.

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Grandaddy – Ancienne Belgique, Brussels

The aroma of joss sticks wafts out from the stage over the largely – um – relaxed audience. The set is adorned with stuffed crows sitting atop TV aerials. The weird pile of wheezing keyboards and effects gadgets which form Jason Lytle’s console sports a blackbird and a cat. The surreal backdrop cranks into action and Modesto’s finest take the stage in all their accustomed sartorial inelegance. “We love your drummer”, shouts a lady and Aaron Burtch smiles with a mixture of shyness and pleasure. He may not be a sex symbol but he is the undisputed chain-smoking champion of the world. This tour has been going well and an air of confidence and general joy at how much they are loved pervades the band. Tim Dryden and Kevin Garcia give absolutely nothing away, but both Jason and guitarist Jim Fairchild are visibly emotional, the latter doubtless because this year he has survived being run over by a truck.
“So many songs, so little time”, sighs Jason in response to the audience’s shouted requests, and it’s true, any band which can afford to omit “Hewlett’s Daughter” through insufficient time has one hell of a catalogue. Spanning gems from “Under The Western Freeway” and items from “The Software Slump” and “Sumday”, the albums on which their rural-techno-prog identity was truly established, the biggest cheers are reserved for “Standby”, “The Crystal Lake” and my personal heart-stopper “The Group Who Couldn’t Say”. The place erupts as Jason’s duck decoy signals “Now It’s On” (introduced as “one of the best songs written on the day this song was written”), while the supremely atmospheric “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot”, dedicated to the band’s friend and musical antecedent Elliott Smith, makes a winning coda.
“We’re nobodies from nowhere, thank you for welcoming us to somewhere” is Jason’s self-deprecating comment on the evening. Nobodies? I don’t think so.

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Spiritualized – Southampton University

This evening’s audience consisted mainly of extremely mature students who probably had finished their studies at least twenty years ago. I fear that today’s freshers have musical tastes which don’t include Spiritualized. But how happy all these gentlepersons were to discover beer at £1.60 a pint. “I’ll have a quadruple whisky”, said the guy next to me.
But why do I keep coming back for more Spiritualized? Judging by the size of the crowd, there’s a diminishing returns scenario in progress. And hell, I just know those horrible strobes are gonna give me a three-day headache.
The trouble is that the incomparable opener of “Electricity”, just gets you every time. What follows nowadays is a really pleasing sequence of the “new” Amazing Grace-era Spiritualized, which – whisper it – incorporates elements of folk, country and even blues, interspersed with selections from “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space”, the album which is destined to remain this band’s meisterwerk. “I think I’m In Love” is a reliable heart-stopper.?
Any band which ploughs its own lonely furrow with such determination deserves support, but the current “clean living” Spiritualized (a contradiction in terms, but apparently true) is, with the help of Tim’s luxurious keyboards and Tom’s vibes, a hypnotically tuneful proposition, spiritual both by name and nature. And there’s something about those intermittent triple-pronged guitar whiteouts that other bands which attempt similar things just can’t match. As for Jason, well, he can’t really sing, he sits around boringly and he’s probably a bit of a grumpy sod, but you just can’t help but love him.
All great bands defy explanation, and Spiritualized is a great band.

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Flaming Lips – BIC, Bournemouth

Isn’t it horrible when a band you view as your own personal property starts getting popular and you have to go and see them in barn-like conference centres? But the Flaming Lips, bless them, have been at it so bloody long and are just so plain loveable that you can forgive them and magnanimously allow other people to benefit from the rays of pure sunshine they emit.
The Flaming Lips are one of the few bands one can dare to call “unique”, which is probably why the audience ranged from 16 to 60, all curious to put a finger on that mysterious x-factor which makes them so special. Is it the understated but staggering virtuosity of Steven Drodz? Is it the incongruousness of Michael Ivans, who manages to convey the air of a university professor despite being dressed as a snow leopard? Or is it the fact that Wayne Coyne is the man you would most like to go to the pub with? It certainly isn’t all those furry animals, although they are part of the fun. Oh heck, all right then, it’s the glorious music.
No band has ever created a bigger knockout punch of a set opener than “Race For The Prize”. It ensures that the audience experiences an almighty adrenaline rush from the first instant, which is then miraculously sustained for the next one and a half hours. Me, I had other worries, because this was my first ever experience of a photographers’ pit, and being covered in confetti, splashed with fake blood and smashed in the face with huge rubber balls was quite a challenging initiation. The feeling? The purest, purest joy.
With the shoulders of his crumpled suit resembling a cricketer’s crotch after the new ball has been taken (they obviously don’t take a dry cleaner on tour), Wayne introduced the BIC audience to the art of community singing in a venue which presumably normally only sings along to “Things Can Only Get Better”. The song was “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”, but soon it was “Happy Birthday” and, oh joy, “She Don’t Use Jelly”, during which Coyne’s latest madness entails blowing a gigantic balloon until it bursts, showering the audience with yet more debris. As the giant mirror balls spin into action for the finale of “Do You Realise?”, we find ourselves involved in a singalong chorus of “everyone some day will die” (honest). And on that theme, it is a measure of Coyne’s communication skill that, amongst all the mayhem, he still commanded an emotion-filled silence for a charmingly cogent anti-war speech and a moving dedication of “Waiting For Superman” to Elliott Smith.
This is one band that you can’t ever imagine letting you down. Why, they even still set up their own gear. “Thanks, everybody!”.

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John Parish – Columbiafritz, Berlin

The Columbiahalle is in the old American sector of Berlin, just opposite the diplomatic and military buildings from where the Berlin airlift was launched. That’s why the Underground station next to it is called “Platz der Luftbrücke”. As we emerged from said station, anticipating a select and low-key evening with John Parish and his band, we were startled to find ourselves surrounded by thousands of rowdy, grungy, beer bottle-throwing youngsters. Blimey, John has a bigger following in the German capital than we anticipated.
And then it became clear: The Columbiahalle has a little brother called the “Columbiafritz” lurking in its shadows. Here was the venue for the John Parish show, while the stoners were out in force for the Queens Of The Stone Age next door. We treacherously toyed for a moment with the idea of pretending that our guest passes were for the main hall, but, having travelled half way across Europe, settled for the more discerning, better behaved, more intimate gathering in the “Fritz”. Two credibility-boosting things that John’s band has which the Queens don’t, however, are: 1. Their tour bus is bigger and more densely populated. 2. They got busted on their way through France and the Queens didn’t.
Well, you know that thing that only happens on rare and magical occasions? I’m talking about when the encore have been done, the house lights have been switched on and taped music is blasting out over the P.A. It’s obvious the band isn’t going to come back on, yet still the audience refuses to go home. Short of cracking open the tear gas, there’s no option for John and co but to re-appear one more time. “That’s it”, he gasps, “you’re all invited backstage for a drink. Every last one of you”. “Westward Airways” is reprised and the evening has been a winner.
This is no ordinary band, oh no. Just look at the state of them. The more “experienced” members (John, Jeremy Hogg and Portishead’s Adrian Utley) mainly keep their heads firmly bowed to concentrate on their enormously complicated foot pedal boards, thus revealing their uniform state of follicle fallibility. Then there are loads of youngsters like Jesse Morningstar (who also doubled as support act) and Ben Shillabeer (who also doubled as T-shirt vendor). Finally, the ensemble is completed by the demure Claire McTaggart (violin) and Tammy Payne (drums and vocals).
Last time John hit the road, he had a diverting backdrop of visuals from the film Rosie, but this time, with no stage antics and no particular visual focal point, it’s solely about the music. And the music is so strong and so atmospheric, (there are nine of them, you know) that there is a tangible feeling of affection and emotion throughout the hall as almost all of the new album “How Animals Move”, plus a good chunk of “Rosie” is performed with precision and spirit.
You might think I was mad to travel all the way to Berlin for a gig. Well, I wasn’t. I was bloody sensible. You should have done it too. 

From AMPLIFIER magazine

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Doves – Portsmouth Pyramids

In a country where Mercury Rev’s “The Dark Is Rising” has recently been adopted as the station ident of one of the leading TV channels, it’s perhaps not surprising that Doves are popular enough for their album “The Last Broadcast” to debut at number 1 in the charts and stay there. We Brits like a good tune, you see.?
There are a couple of results of this. Firstly, it means that the audience doesn’t care that Doves are a charisma-free zone. That’s nicely reassuring in an industry dominated by plastic, manufactured bands, and maybe bodes well for possible acceptance in the less fashion-conscious US. The fact that the US single Top 100 in May contained not a single British record caused front page news, TV investigations and much soul-searching and self-flagellation within the UK music industry.?
Secondly, it means that the audience is as eclectic as it is possible to be, consisting of nice middle-aged couples attracted by the soaring melodies and the fact that they cover King Crimson (I think they sound like Camel, and I’m sticking to it) plus a healthy (or unhealthy) proportion of out and out druggies attracted by the dance elements. The guys round us where so high I thought they were going to take off and float round the room.?
What? The music? Well, there the news is all good. Given that both the new Doves album and the previous one (“Lost Souls”) are masterpieces, the only question was “Can they hack it live?” and the answer is an emphatic yes. The lack of traditional rock poses on stage (bassist and lead vocalist Jimi Goodwin looks like your average garage mechanic, or, to put it another way, a member of Grandaddy) is more that made up for by a stunning light show and a highly imaginative movie backdrop which had me pining for the Cure or even Pink Floyd. Yet these are hip guys from Manchester who claim never to have seen a ship before arriving in Portsmouth.?
Highlights are hard to pinpoint, since there wasn’t a dull musical moment at all, unless I missed it in the queue for the bathroom. A substantial proportion of both albums was played, including a beautiful mood-altering acoustic interlude on “Friday’s Dust” and then, in the encore, they employed a trick familiar to Electric Soft Parade and … And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: Drummer and lead vocalist swapped places for a jaw-droppingly brilliant rendition of “Here It Comes”, introduced by a celluloid John Cooper Clarke. A brief tongue-in-cheek Moby / Sub Sub pastiche and they were gone.?
Doves appeared totally shell-shocked at their unexpected but richly-deserved surge in popularity. And this is only the beginning.?
From Amplifier Magazine  

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SXSW 2004

Here’s a taste of the uniquely enjoyable madness that is South By Southwest. Every evening, all evening, at the Junction of Sixth and Trinity, a group of Christian evangelists try to convert the many thousands of sinners streaming past. As every building is shaking to the bone-shattering volume of punk bands, rock bands, metal bands, blues bands and Japanese Hardcore Transvestite Glam-Slam bands, the only way they can convey their message is to shout. But they are not alone. Permanently challenging them is a wizened old hippie dressed in nothing but a skimpy leopardskin chemise and a thong. His method of countering God’s word is to shout even louder than them. He roars terrifyingly into their faces for as long as they are there, which is a long time. It’s great entertainment, but there’s no time to spare, for we have 1200 bands to see.
The madness continues. In an event where eccentricity is almost de rigeur (Robyn Hitchcock comes across as being perfectly normal), London act Paul The Girl, dressed in a silver lamé dress and a trilby, is playing a looped Led Zeppelin song to fifteen people on the 18th floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. She is warming up – I kid you not – for Jamie Cullum.
At Elysium, the singer of one of the many Japanese all-girl groups present is reading her between-song patter from cue cards. The front row of the audience is having a great time. “Say ‘rock & roll’”, they plead.
SxSW is famously impossible to review, because at any one moment, scores of bands are playing concurrently in different places. Teeth-grinding dilemmas are a permanent reality. Franz Ferdinand or Athlete? Razorlight, the Veils or the Gourds? How do you decide? Why, you drink loads of beer and do whatever seems right at the time, which is almost certainly wrong. My best example: Choosing Drive By Truckers rather than the Polyphonic Spree, on the basis that it would be easier to get in. It was, but the Truckers were a load of sub-Lynryd Skynryd bombastic country rock, of a standard lower than hundreds of other bands around this weekend.
So what is the “real” SxSW? Is it the industry bashes where labels, and, increasingly, national cultural agencies show off their new artists? These ones are good to suss out, because they invariably dole out lashings of free beer. The UK Showcase “pre-party” (may have got the terminology wrong) saw snooty music journalists mingling with Radio 2 DJs and the likes of Tom McRae and Thea Gilmore being terrifyingly cool. Refreshingly uncool and just charming were Aqualung, who played this event acoustically. “We’ve never played at a wedding before”, observed Matt Hales.?
Nearer to the “real” SxSW was the brunch party at Maria’s Taco Express, hosted by Aljandro Escovedo, a respected Austin musician who is currently much in the limelight on account of a serious illness. As breakfast burritos crunched all around, the huge but cuddly Nicolas Tremulis pricked the bubble refreshingly with some swampy Chicago blues. “If there’s anyone influential out there”, he cried, with unusual candour, “don’t sign us, we suck!”
Even closer to the “real” SxSW (maybe on account of being miles from anywhere, conducted in the Church of the Friendly Ghost, a prefab on a suburban trailer park), was the Ba Da Bing party, featuring those lovely Sons and Daughters, a Glasgow band who are relishing the increasing attention their hugely entertaining mutant punk-folk is receiving. They have the added advantage of being frienfs with Franz Ferdinand, which means that they are going to be heard by lots of people. Seldom has a band deserved it more (and seldom, incidentally, has a band been more drunk).
Ah, Franz Ferdinand. The event in which an act that no one has heard of is booked into a little venue but then turns out to be the hottest ticket in town is definitely part of the “real” SxSW. The mayhem of this show is hard to describe, and there is absolutely no doubt that FF is a great band, but there is a certain arch knowingness about them which takes the edge off. Credit where it’s due, but once you’ve got it into your head that Alex Capranos is actually Wilco Johnson and Nick McCarthy is a member of Spandau Ballet, it’s hard to concentrate. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to stare out the bassist – he’s scary. So allow me to observe that the band immediately before FF, namely Clearlake, stole the show as far as I was concerned. With their pastoral melodies, melancholy lyrics and unstudied, low-key delivery, this is a band whose patience will one day be rewarded.?
If you can get over the feeling of “Oh God, what if there’s a fire?”, Stubbs Barbecue on Red River is probably the best place to be. Here, I contrived to see Detroit’s Von Bondies twice – one of the few bands for which the expression “You rock” is truly apt. Las Vegas’ semi new romantic revivalists The Killers impressed too, as did the showbiz-dedicated Hives, trying out some new songs on us.
One really rewarding thing to do at SxSW is go and see a band that you’ve liked before and find that they don’t let you down. Stellastarr* opted to play a little show at the Red Eyed Fly rather than a schmoozefest showcase, and it worked. This is a band you should take someone to see who wants to understand what rock and roll is all about. They are just incendiary. Bassist Amanda Tannen would stir unworthy thoughts in the most respectable of gentlemen, while Shaun Christensen really should invest in a trouser roadie. Similarly un-disappointing was Jesse Malin at the Cedar Street Courtyard. This New York ex-punk is charming, literate and humorous, plus has a lovely voice and great songs. A new album from Jesse later in the year is indeed something to look forward to.
Mentioned in dispatches: Sarah Sharp, whose “do-it-yourself” ethic has resulted in “Fourth Person”, an astonishingly accomplished album which will kick-start her career; International Noise Conspiracy, deft masters of the art of scissor-kicking, microphone-lassooing and vying with the Hives in the “Scandinavians in daft outfits” stakes; Robyn Hitchcock – so it’s true he’s still big in the States; the Black Keys, whose “turn it up to eleven” distorted blues couldn’t have found a more appropriate home than Antones; American Music Club, who gave the lie to the notion that legends shouldn’t re-form (as unfortunately demonstrated by Big Star); representing the huge Aussie contingent, a shockingly well-behaved Sleepy Jackson. After two technical breakdowns, even the mildest-mannered band would have smashed their instruments, but the Sleepys’ mood was positively mellow. Great, though; … oh, and a couple of dozen more.
Disappointments: The Veils (it just doesn’t work); Graham Parker (he’s been at the same thing for too long); Electrelane (amateurism is sometimes good, but not in this case); and Cerys Matthews, who looked and sounded virtually unrecognizable in her perfunctory set. And by the way, if this all seems a bit indie for you, it’s worth mentioning that other artists appearing included NERD, Kris Kristofferson and – yes – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
No two reviews of SxSW will mention the same bands, and certainly none will agree on a highlight. Mine had the unexpected bonus of being a bolt out of the blue. The scruffy, Grandaddy-style unkempt bunch of apparent Austin slackers called Centro-Matic didn’t look promising at all, but the explosive performance of their anthemic songs – think Radiohead meets Neil Young with a healthy dollop of grunge thrown in – caught the soporific audience on the hop, chewed them up and spat them out, exhausted.
It was a low-key afternoon affair at the Red Eyed Fly, so there probably weren’t any cheque book-waving A & R men shouting “sign ’em”. But there should have been.

From LOGO magazine

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SXSW 2003

If drums and wires rather than milk and honey in the Elysian fields is your idea of Heaven, then South By South West is the place for you.
Comparisons are often made between SXSW and Glastonbury, but apart from evil toilet facilities, they don’t have much in common. In Austin, the 110 dollar wristband which gets you into most events is good value, but there’s no camping, so you have to find your own accommodation. That’s either central and pricey or non-central and inconvenient. Either way, you’ll spend your four days in a frenzy of charging from venue to venue and stamping with frustration that the only five bands you want to see are all playing at the same time in different extremities of the city. Have you made the right choice? You’ll never know.
I counted 1243 bands playing, and that’s just the ones listed in the official programme. The furthest I had to hike in one go was from Stubbs on Red River to the Continental Club on Congress, a distance of about three miles. There were showcases from Japan, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, the UK and countless other countries, as well as presentations from scores of individual US towns and cities. There was folk, jazz, rock, indie, country, metal, rap, dance, thrash metal and any other musical subculture you could care to imagine. So any review of SXSW can’t fail to be be a reflection of one person’s experiences. Here we go …
First, the peculiar things. The Joe Jackson Band played a storming free open air set to a huge crowd, and then a paying one indoors just a few hours later. This was surely a flawed managerial decision, and so it proved. The indoor show at the Austin Music Hall was sparsely attended and Joe had lost his voice, cutting short the performance. Stranger still was Grandaddy’s appearance at a V2 showcase at La Zona Rosa. They were so woefully unrehearsed that they struggled through a disastrously disjointed show and were plainly relieved when the stage manager made the cut-off sign. All other bands used this as a signal to do one more number, but Grandaddy gratefully scuttled for the exit. What a disappointment from a great band.
The “secret” appearance of Blur, also at La Zona Rosa, was fascinating. Alex James had failed to obtain a work permit, so a stand-in bassist was used. What with new guitarist Simon Tong being so understated as to be virtually invisible, this was the Damon Show in a big way. Luckily, he was up to the job and Blur satisfied everyone with old favourites like “Song 2” (Introduced as “Fuck You”) and a slur of new songs (all, contrary to rumour, perfectly accessible). It would seem that the new album is a killer.
The essence of SXSW is cruising the bars of Sixth Street, sticking your head into each one (earplugs a vital necessity) and seeing what gems you can discover. You catch snatches of scores of bands whose names you never find out, but some you remember, for diverse reasons. Here’s my list: Austin’s Andrew Kelly at Mercury (for being quiet); Kinski and Maserati at Emos (both for being magnificently noisy and sonically ambitious); Spiraling at the Hard Rock Café (whose big showcase moment to an empty room was hit by an exploding PA half a song in); Pineforest Crunch at Maggie Mae’s (for being sweet, Swedish and using a Stylophone); Voyager 1 at Spill (for being the only post-Gong space rock band at the entire event); The Features at Spill (for being like XTC and for the feeing I’ll one day be boasting about seeing them when they were “small”); and New Jersey’s Rye Coalition (for being the hardest-rockin’ muthafuckers of very many hard-rockin’ muthas).
Being in Texas, it was vital to catch some country rock. It was odd, then, that the best country came from Canada (Kathleen Edwards), from Australia via the UK (Grand Drive) and from Devon (Peter Bruntnell). Edwards, despite her engaging personality, upfront lyrics and rocking band, gave little real clue as to why she has so suddenly burst forth from a very crowded and competitive market. Of equal interest was a young Austinite called Sarah Sharp, who popped up all over the place. Grand Drive stole the show at a UK showcase at the Ritz, admittedly not much of an achievement, since this over-promoted but under-attended event featured some of the UK’s most sludgy, uninteresting rock bands. And as for Peter Bruntnell … well, I’m a fan, that’s all, and unashamedly caught three of his four performances.
Now the bit my editor hates, namely the cool bands which I missed. Excuses include: inability to locate the venue, clashing with something possibly inferior, and having to eat or else fall over. Here’s that list of shame: Kaito, Cat Power, Raveonettes, Longwave and Drive-By Truckers. Other categories include those where overcrowding meant it was physically impossible to get in (The Coral at Stubbs); ones where I didn’t think it would be good but apparently it was (Leona Ness, complete with Peter Buck), and bands I missed on purpose because I hate them (British Sea Power).
In an environment which was often more that a tad self-reverential, some welcome humour came from the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. The excellently geeky dad, accompanied by his young drummer daughter Rachel, are a Moldy Peaches-type novelty act, which certainly puts a new perspective on White Stripes / Kills-style duos. Their songs are written round old 35mm slides which they find at flea markets and, as the man from the Austin Chronicle said, you ain’t lived till you’ve heard a nine-year-old girl demanding “more vocal in the monitors”.
The rejuvenated Camper van Beethoven, also at La Zona Rosa, were another high point. Not only was David Lowery one of the surprisingly few people to make a clear, unequivocal and impassioned anti-war speech, but they also did a roaring “Take The Skinheads Bowling”, following up with their unique take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and, yes, Status Quo’s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”. And then, in an event overflowing with yawnsome sound-and-light freakout grand climaxes, they produced by far the most explosive and entertaining one of all. Phew!
All of which brings us to the answer to the inevitable “What was the highlight?” question. Luckily, there was no competition. On their home turf, completely selling out the huge Music Hall and then making it impossible to get anywhere near Stubbs, the Polyphonic Spree proved that they are one of the most original, intelligent, charming and just plain brilliant acts in the history of rock music, ever. And boy, were they on form. We worked out that you’d have to see them 23 times to fully appreciate them, as each member merits study for the entire performance. My friend Paul’s tip: front row, extreme left of the choir. My tip: the theramin player.
That’s SXSW, then. Hope I’ll get my breath back before next year.

From Amplifier magazine

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