Photos by Jeff Turner
Or is it Day 2? The Friday night activities threw me off, man.
Mariachi El Bronx
You can take the girl out of San Antonio, but you can't take the San Antonio out of the girl, apparently, which is how I ended up speeding through several counties to make it to a mariachi gig, of all things.
When LA's hardcore punk outfit the Bronx decided to go mariachi for their fourth studio album last year, everyone thought it was some kind of joke. But singer Matt Caughthran saw it as a challenge spurred by their appearance on an acoustic program on Fuel TV. "...It's like nothing sucks more than rock bands playing acoustic rock songs," Caughthran told a Philadelphia-based music web site last August. "You know, it just sucks. So we did a song mariachi style, and it just opened up this whole thing where we were like 'This is awesome.' So we wrote some songs, and it just became."
Caughthran led the band, which includes all members of the Bronx, with bassist Brad Magers playing horns, and guitarist Joby Vick taking on many of the traditional string instruments of a mariachi band. Additional players helped out with guitarron and violin.
Decked out in black embellished mariachi uniforms, complete with dress shoes and bandanas, the group ripped through their all-original material, with Caughthran's gravelly vocals the only major divergence from a traditional mariachi sound. Their English lyrics also had a lot more punk than the requisite bawl-your-eyes-out sadness of mariachi, but this only made the set more interesting to an audience largely, if not wholly, unfamiliar with the mariachi tradition.
I have a new dream bill, and it's to put these guys on with Pinata Protest. Let's make it happen.
Kaki King didn't give her all at Fun Fun Fun Fest. In fact, she might have given less than 50 percent, which is a shame because her insanely innovative technique could have blown the audience away instead of mildly boring them.
She did bring three guitars, but none that I saw (and I admit not being there for her entire set, but I was there for most of it) were her lap steel. Her virtuosity was matched by veteren experimental instrumentalist Dan Brantigan on an EV/WI, essentially a breath-controlled synthesizer, and anchored by drummer Jordan Perlson. Some of the meh-feeling imparted by King's performance could be her preference to showing off material from her latest album Junior, a lyrically ambitious concept album that highlights her frankly undeserving voice instead of her jaw-dropping guitar talent. Also, the sun was in her eyes.
If we were in California, and Prop 19 had actually passed, we'd all be firing up bongs and baking homemade cat treats in honor of Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino. Alas, we were in the real world and not some stoner paradise, and so all we could offer was our undivided attention.
Despite some canned-sounding back-up vocals, Cosentino and co. sounded infinitely better than their earlier incarnations, which survived mainly on candid drug references and an insane amount of charisma. New drummer Ali Koehler (formerly of Vivian Girls) is able to ground the group and focus the songs. Multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno adds grit to the summery lo-fi pop. As Cosentino put it "poor Bobb, has to play in a girly pop band," and suggested he might rather be moshing to the Bornx playing concurrently on the Black Stage.As if to satisfy "poor Bobb," on the closing song they surprisingly broke into a metal breakdown.
Cosentino's deadpan banter complimented Best Coast's lackadaisical pop. My friend Ian, who taught me alot of what I know about music post-2005, gave his cautious seal of approval, noting "they're the mall version of the Vivian Girls." Coming from the guy who, out of all the songs in the world, chose to digitally preserve a Debbie Gibson tune for future posterity, that's a pretty high compliment.
There was a time where the term "math rock" got pinned on anything with a vaguely complex approach to song structure. I bet that really pissed off Polvo, who some consider the prime (har har) example of the genre.
Polvo, which formed 20 (yikes!) years ago, often incorporates Eastern time signatures and tunings into their American rock 'n' roll, making for sharp melodies and see-sawing discordant riffs. According to its founders, the group isn't even math rock.
During this set, the group, looking no worse for wear two decades later, demonstrated that their sound is more organized than noise rock, less heavy than hardcore, but nothing close to pop or mainstream rock either. Their largely-instrumental work is confrontational, requiring listeners to actively search for the theme; but when you find it, you can't loose it's often-lovely shape, like one of those magic eye paintings at the mall.
Displaying their rust, not for playing but for playing live, it seemed Polvo left the stage early and confusedly wandered back on a minute later to play one more dark, angular jam. Either that or it was the least-demanded encore ever.
Under pulsing and glowing lights, which swirled from red to blue to pink, Deerhunter appeared mostly as lanky black figures sending singer/songwriter Braford Cox's hazy ambient rock over the crowd.
To match their mysterious appearance, the members of Deerhunter didn't make much distinction between songs, each one bleeding into the next as 1,000 joints lit up the audience. (as an aside, anyone who thinks anyone still respects the criminalization of marijuana use has not been to a concert recently. As a punishable offense, smoking weed in public commands about as much respect as jaywalking. Let's just stop the charade, already.)
Tokers were only to happy to sway to the ethereal vocals Cox floated over the crowd and the reverb-drenched guitar work he and Josh Fauver traded. After 25 minutes, Cox finally broke the musical spell for some (seemingly) contractually-mandated stage patter. "It's warmer today than it was yesterday," the frontman, who used to perform in sundresses and fake blood, observed. Then, "that's all I have to say, good bye." Not that I expected warm fuzzies from a guy who just wrote one of the most emotionally-demanding albums (Halcyon) of the year.
Make no mistake, Cox knows his audience, even if he's prefer not to acknowledge them. He ended the set with the new single "Helicopter," a dreamy, haunting story/song. As they concluded, the band walked off the stage without a word, a tiny, tinkling melody still ringing out from ... somewhere.
I love how hard Yelle works the Frenchness. I mean, the drummer is named GrandMarnier for chrissakes. And throughout the performance the tres petite, tres chic chanteuse Yelle was given to telling "Austeen" how much she loved them and trilling "merci beaucoooooooup!"
Francophiles like me would probably dig the group if it was solely a campy Serge Gainsbourg tribute vehicle, but Yelle throws a damned fine party too. Entering the stage in an outfit that from afar made her resemble a black Hungarian Komodor dog , Yelle worked her frothy dance-pop like a newer, weirder Janet Jackson. As if challenging typically dance-averse Austinites to lose their collective cool, she sashayed and fist-pumped, and even played the cowbell, as her band jammed hard behind her.
Necessarily, the set was heavy on material from their one and only LP Pop-Up, including crowd pleasers "Ce Jeu" and "Je veux te voir," but, as Yelle shimmied out of her dreadlock coat and into ... a hoodie ... and then finally something resembling what any red-blooded, skin-baring American pop tart would wear, she also managed to sneak in some new songs of this year's EP and a forthcoming sophomore albume.
The Descendents somewhat mysteriously re-combined to take over Devo's headlining position after Bob Mothersbaugh damn near sliced his thumb off and the group had to cancel.
For me this was a crazy coup. They and the Pixies were the top two bands that introduced yours truly to the wonders of independent music-making when my only access to non-top 40 was a one-hour weekly program called the "Short Bus" on a now-defunct Dallas rock station.
I know, I know, TMI, dude. Anyway, needless to say I was crazy stoked about Descdents reunion and they did not disappoint. They also did not do anything mind-blowing or surprising (pretty sure their getting back together was enough), but they played like every punk band should: fast, loud, and without any bullshit. Well, Milo Auckerman did throw a burrito into the crowd, but that was about as nutty as he got.
They were probably too focused on playing their entire catalogue to engage in much silliness. By my count, they played 25 songs, from their early early stuff off of Milo Goes to College (even the 40 second long "I wanna be a bear") to "Talking" from 2004's Cool to be You, what Auckerman called a "relatively newer one." At one point he introduced a song by saying "this song is 30 years old. Fuck. 30 years old!" at which point I felt old. But maybe not as old as the band, who just seemed pleased they could still play. Perhaps due to exertion, or just a super long set, the band didn't seem too eager for their encore, but they still killed on their cover of Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge."