Sonic Youth's most-of-the-time frontman Moore, Thursty as I like to call him, climbs on the Red 7 stage carrying a 12-string guitar, exactly on time. “All right, let's get started,” he says, and he's only played a few full measures before it's completely apparent he doesn't really need anything else. Where many musicians seem to adopt a 12-string as an aesthetic choice â?? strumming barre chords on this one make me look all classically trained an shit â?? Moore's figured out how to make his an orchestra. He creates discordant notes that find melody as they reverberate off one another and lets the instrumental opening swell.
The crowd lined up outside an hour or more before the show, and they're crowded in close. Several of them are the kind who come right out and call the photographers assholes for holding their cameras above their heads â?? no one waited this long to watch Moore on someone else's iPhone screen â?? but they've all grown quiet by the time Moore's started singing. When he's finished the song, he shuffles through a stack of lyrics printed out on computer paper to choose the next one. “Death Valley '69!” shouts some asshole in back, requesting the brutal Manson Family inspired track Sonic Youth recorded with Lydia Lunch, a song released 25 years ago.
But Moore appreciates the joke. “I don't do covers,” he replies. “It's not that I don't want to, it's that I don't know how.” Then he asks if someone can turn the stage lights up because he's having trouble seeing what he's doing. “I really depend on the dots on the side of my guitar.” They're turned as bright as they're going to get, but Moore, who's old enough to've fathered a good chunk of the audience, seems to get by just fine. “Fri/End” follows, and if you aren't paying attention the “I'll always be your friend/ At least just till the end” chorus might make you think Moore has mellowed too much in his old age, but “Blood,” which references a kidnapping and insists “blood never lies” suggests Moore hasn't gotten any cheerier since Bad Moon Rising.
All right, I'll do two more,” he decides after discarding to much disappointment a Woodie Guthrie song he brought along, but warns, “They're both undone. It's gonna be fucked up." “Without” describes finding a diamond in the gutter and melting it in your mouth, and the plight of a woman who wants only for you “to love her without shame,” and it's about as close as Moore gets to sounding like the prototypical shaggy-haired guitar strummer Nick Drake. “Circulation,” which builds in intensity like a heart attack patient's EKG until the chaos bursts and flatlines, is something else.
When it's over, a fan asks for the setlist. “Are you kidding me?” Moore laughs, scooping up his stack of loose paper and attempting to make his way past the autograph seekers. As head of Ecstatic Peace, the label being showcased tonight, Moore seems content to let the kids (Black Helicopter, Awesome Color, the Entrance Band) make the noise for him tonight.
“My daddy was a rock 'n' roller,” Ontario's Collett proclaims in his inexplicable southern drawl to a largely indifferent crowd. A significant chunk of them are clearly just waiting him out till the better-known rest of Broken Social Scene shows up, and they're chattering over his acoustic guitar, many not even bothering to use their inside voices. From where I'm standing it's easier to eavesdrop on about five separate conversations than it is to hear Collett, but it's hard to claim I'm missing much it seems. “Rave on Sad Songs” leave no real impression either. When he's joined onstage by Zeus (who sounded a lot louder when they played by themselves beforehand) things pick up some, and they throw waves of guitar at “Love Is a Dirty Word” and “Long May You Love” until they're musically complex enough to stick, but there's not much to recommend, as far as I'm concerned, but to be fair this wasn't exactly optimum conditions to see him in. It's not hard to imagine someone really liking this, but I can't say who or why, exactly. After the first few songs I was just waiting for BSS too.
Broken Social Scene
Kevin Drew's first act upon taking the mic is to hand it off to a free-verse poet, a large older bearded man who may also be Santa Clause or a professional fly-fisher. “We're about to do a two-and-a-half hour set” Drew announces, and asks for silence while the poet, didn't catch his actual name, reads. Those continuing to talk are violently shushed by the rest of the audience.
“We're Broken Social Scene,” Drew said before the set begins in earnest, “and we believe in all of you.”
The band, an impossibly large conglomofuck of basses, guitars, horns, and probably some cool shit I don't even know about absolutely tears into “Superconnected” from their 2005 self-titled album, but it's a little disappointing when Reverie Sound Revue's Lisa Lobsinger, the band's new go-to female vocalist, comes on to take Leslie Feist's part in “7/4 Shoreline,” though she does a more than passable imitation. When the song's finished, Drew insists the audience put away their cameras. “I don't want to see anymore blinking red lights,” he says, and the crowd cheers, and as far as I can tell complies. “I just want you to experience tonight for what it is.”
“Texico Bitches, ” from their upcoming Forgiveness Rock Record (May 4), in my experience, is also a little disappointing. On first listen, it sounds like one of the of semi-ridiculous self-consciously course tracks (“Handjobs for the Holidays,” “I'm Still Your Fag”) BSS fans indulge between better, more meaningful songs, but first single “World Sick” is pretty awesome, if a little subdued by the band's standards, and Lobsinger sounds fine when she's not trying to sound like somebody else. Brenden Canning's “Stars and Sons” is maybe still the best song they've got, though.
Matt Pond PA
You might mistake a Matt Pond PA song for an obscure but instantly catchy track from any number of more famous late '90s/early '00s alt-pop bands. They play the kind of music that people used to call “indie rock” before the largely meaningless term came to mean Auto-Tuned prep-school students playing disco synthesizers: likeable power-pop that was too literate or accomplished or something to really live up to the “pop” part of its name. “Spring will return again,” guitarist-vocalist-namesake Pond insists in “Brooklyn Stars,” “I'm not gone yet/ I want more of everything.” So does the audience, most of them college-age or just a little older, and they sway and sing along. “This is the best crowd we've had at South by Southwest,” he says, and he's not pandering. “We don't normally do so well here. There's like 200,000 more people than usual he says. The Galaxy Club is pretty packed, but he's exaggerating by at least like 199,700 or so.
They all groan when Pond announces they've just got one more song. “That's how it is,” he says, sounding genuinely regretful. “It's a business. There's got to be a way to make some money off these guys.
I'm convinced there's an alternate universe in which “Halloween” was a number-one hit and the Jonas Brothers are getting Cs in high school geometry. Shout out to the version of me there, you lucky son of a bitch.
Of Montreal multi-instrumentalist James Huggins III's show had to have been the most disappointing of the festival for me. If I didn't have pictures proving I was there, I'm not sure I could swear that I was. Opener “Window” is all right, but it will only replace a God-closed door if it led somewhere pretty unexceptional. Not surprisingly, it sounds a lot like Of Montreal, but Satanic Panic-era Of Montreal, before Kevin Barnes decided the band's typical Elephant 6 Brit-pop worship had largely outlived its usefulness. I have to cop to zoning out a few times during his set, but I caught plenty of “baby baby baby”s, “whoah oh ohs” etc. and what I'm pretty positive was a cover of Rodgers & Hammerstein's “Something Good,” but I can't say for sure because I often recreate scenes from The Sound of Music in my head when I get bored. I won't tell on the class cut ups, but a certain someone kept making funny faces and trying to poke with his drumstick a bassist who shall remain nameless during the set. When your band is goofing off, trying desperately to amuse themselves behind you onstage, it's probably time to shake things up a little. At least take a cue from Barnes and make everyone dress up like intergalactic sex addicts.
Bergen, Norway's Casiokids have a name that could describe practically every freaking buzz band in existence today: keyboards, a love (the irony of which is sort of ambiguous) of the cheesiest shit the '80s had to offer, and members who just recently started shaving. And their clothes â?? itchy wool sweaters, pink T-shirts, and skinny jeans all around â?? make them easy to prejudge. But their instruments â?? several keyboards, most of them battery-powered toys duct-taped to speakers straight from a Goodwill and priced-to-sell pawnshop guitar and bass â?? give them a real DIY appeal. Nothing's more accessible these days than music made for cheap.
Their actual music is too sophisticated (their MySpace page cites heavyweights like Paul Simon, King Tubby, and Fela Kuti, and the influence is believable but not really indicative of their sound) to be accused of Don Johnson revivalism; the opening song, a swirling collage of keyboards, drum loops, and vocal samples sounds more like the Books than OMD. They swap instruments and vocal duties and prance around the stage acting out the songs in interpretive dance moves that make me think the Norwegian words for “bad ass” and “humiliating” are actually the same thing. If Napoleon Dynamite creator Jared Hess ever gets a talk show, they should be the house band, but they seem less like hipster trend-jumpers than a band that could only survive in the current unapologetic dweeb culture. Their enthusiasm trumps proficiency playing style screams punk-rock ethos, but these guys probably wouldn't have survived three songs at a Minor Threat show.
Still the frantic ass shaking Casiokids incite gives the club an air of sweaty community similar to a hardcore mosh-pit without anybody throwing a punch. The songs consist of simple instrument parts, single chords, standard rhythms layered into complexity like semi-live techno. A single dude could probably create them in Garage Band with a MIDI keyboard, but as Casiokid's 2007 album title says Fuck MIDI â?? it sounds too much like work. It's depressing to constantly feel like raw, rude guitar rock is an endangered species, but it's hard to mourn a lot of the narrow-minded dick-swinging that goes along with it if we're evolving beyond it. In Utopia, everybody's gonna act like a wuss.