By Abbie Kopf
I'll have to admit that today I was out of sorts. I misplaced my schedule and was flailing without my properly marked printout of bands that I wanted to see, arranged by hour. I perused the SXSW pocket guide, looking for a name I remembered from my lost agenda. I saw She Rides, and I thought that this band sounded like a singer-songwriter or gentle duo that would purr to me about the countryside in June.
I schlepped over to Spiro's Bar to watch me some She Rides, and it wasn't long until I realized I had made a mistake. The pre-show songs sounded like Mastodon had children with Pantera. The concert-goers around me were wearing shirts that said things like “The Satans” with pentagram tattoos and five-inch boots straight from the Hot Topic spring catalogue.
Luckily for me, I'm hypersensitive to hurting people's feelings, so I bared down for 30 minutes of what I was sure was going to involve scary songs about impaling babies' heads and eating them with gravy. Or something.
The Rhode Island-based band hopped up to the stage, said “fuck” about six times in succession, and started in. For the first song or so, I was somewhat terrified. Their brand of hardcore punk is deafening and intense, with five head-banging men attacking their instruments and, it seemed sometimes, themselves. A curious transformation happened to me while getting my hardcore cherry popped â?¦ I started to dig these guys.
The lead singer of She Rides explained that they had already played two other shows that day. In fact, between January and March they will be playing around 70 shows. I couldn't understand, watching them from front row, how anyone could keep up this much energy and rawness once per day, much less three times in one day. These rockers were wild-eyed (and I think pretty fucked up on some shit) and animalistic in their delivery. From the shirtless drummer who had the imperious air of a scientist to the screaming, gesticulating lead singer, She Rides was an assault on the pansy-ass emo boys and girls who can barely get it up for one show.
I don't think I'll be buying a hardcore album anytime soon, but She Rides is everything that art should be. They transplanted me out of my hippie paradigm to CBGBs in New York City, hearing this bare, garage punk rock for the first time. Lead singer Joe Krewko is truly a performer who, whether it was drugs or momentum, cultivated a whirlwind of excitement and screamy delight.
This band has recently been signed to Stillborn Records, so if you're into this freaky shit, I say check them out.
Next I sidestepped to Emo's Jr. for some music that seemed a little more up my alley. Garotas Suecas is a Brazilian band that crosses genres from power-pop to soul with a little big band thrown in. I was highly hopeful for this sextuplet (five guys and a girl) of cool Brazilian youngsters, but unfortunately they fell a little flat.
Every once in a while, they would kick out a lovely melody that echoed the Monkees, or would get down in a Sam and Dave like collaboration of funk and soul. They especially hit the G-spot with their cover of Aretha Franklin's “Respect,” to which they added their own flare. I would consider it disrespectful to cover Ms. Franklin in most instances, but Garotas Suecas have mastered this peculiar genre of Brazilian Motown.
Unfortunately, I've been at a festival where it isn't uncommon for a band to walk up to the stage and blow the crowd apart with electricity and “that thing,” whatever that thing is. I wasn't feeling a lightning strike with Garotas Suecas, but if you're going to the beach soon, this is a pleasant, non-offensive CD to take along. NPR gave the band a thumbs up, (really, the NPR crowd will heart this band), and they suggested you listen to “Eu” and “Bugalu.” I think that's Portuguese.
This anti-climactic experience got me thinking while on the long trek to catch Tori Amos at La Zona Rosa. This festival has more than 2,000 bands, some of which are signed and some of which, despite their talent, won't ever get a record deal. Is it really just luck that some bands find international stardom, while other groups end up fat and alone at 40, playing gigs at the local roller rink? Is this music thing just a racket? I was still pontificating over the music biz when I arrived at La Zona Rosa just in time to see blogger extraordinaire Perez Hilton waltz onstage and introduce Tori Amos.
I'm pretty sure there's something fucky about Perez Hilton, but I'll have to admit it was a thrill to see him. I wasn't expecting him, and I certainly wasn't expecting him to have anything meaningful to say in his introduction of the singer-songwriter goddess. However, Hilton said that one of Tori Amos's albums, Little Earthquakes, literally changed his life. I agreed with him. This album changed mine, too. And from the look of the heads nodding in agreement, I could guess that she had affected many more. And that's when I realized that there are some artists that had no other option than to become world famous. They are just that good. And those are the ones who will make it every time.
A thin, straight-haired Amos ascended to the stage and very quickly took her seat at her grand piano; a fortress that I assume this seemingly shy girl finds solace in when onstage. From the first note, the crowd almost audibly gasped. Her voice rings out like a storm siren tellin you to take cover; something big is on the way.
Amos treated the audience to several songs from her new album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, which will be released on May 19. The new songs were classically Tori, pensive and moody, serene with intermittent spasms of anger, and sometimes downright funny. The song “Mary Jane” is about a boy's love affair with pot. Her other songs “Lady in Blue” and “Curtain Call” seemed to mark a return to the Tori Amos of the '90s, before she went all Bjork-y on us and began experimenting with her music. Perhaps it's being a mother, or the wisdom that comes with age, but Amos seemed perfect and in her element.
Luckily for those like me who have Tori Amos crushes, she played a few of her classics including “Crucify” and “Silent All These Years.” During the latter, perhaps her most recognizable song, Tori drew out the notes in a languid lover's voice while she presided over her song, which she attended like a baby. It seemed like Amos has deeply missed performing her music (she hasn't performed since 2007), and wanted to drag it out just a little longer. She concluded her set by singing the line “She has risen, she has risen.” Ain't that the truth? Check out her album.
I was still on a Tori high when I scuttled to Vice to check out Kraak and Smaak, a Holland party band that's like bumping a line of cocaine off of an Adderall brick that's been dipped in Red Bull. The DJ was a masterful whiz-kid, weaving concentrated beats that escaped the clichÃ© and monotonus unh-che, unh-che, unh-che that people associate with electronica. The rest of the plaid-clad band rocked a bubble-gum-fun personality and exchanged playfully with the crowd.
I didn't quite understand the set up of Kraak and Smaak. This is what it says on their SXSW site: “Although Kraak & Smaak originally started out as a studio project for the founder members Oscar De Jong, Mark Kneppers & Wim Plug it quickly became one of the hottest live properties in dance music. The live band has the addition of Ro Krom — drummer & vocalist, Rose Spearman — vocalist and Marc on the bass guitar and Paul Jan on the guitar.”
Whatever the case, vocalist Rose Spearman is not only drop dead gorgeous, but she's got a voice on her that's as powerful as Whitney Houston and as intuitive as Allison Krauss. She huffed and puffed and blew the house down, while her backup boys goaded her along with the tried and true mix of keyboard, synthesizer, drums and scratchy record. The entire club was bouncing up and down, high on this house-music that was unpretentious booty-shaking fun. They were just the right amount of funky to bring a new dimension to the electronic without becoming a caricature of themselves. Kraack and Smaak is a perfect way to start or end a night on the town, especially this town.