Okkervil River, Roky Erickson, Minipop, Soundtrack of Our Lives at SXSW
(I lied; here's the last SXSW post, by Roy Kasten. Find more of his musings at Living In Stereo.)
Let’s do the math: Start with four days, or 96 hours. Subtract 6 hours a day for sleeping, maybe 2 hours a day for eating, another 1 hour a day for blogging and hangover nursing, another hour (roughly) a day standing in line not seeing bands or standing in line to get Red Bulls and Vodka, maybe an hour a day going from one venue to the next. That leaves you with, what, 52 hours for bands at SXSW?
I feel gypped. I also feel like I’ve been hit by some band’s van, repeatedly.
But three nights ago I was getting hit by Okkervil River. I rolled with it along with the rest of a good-sized crowd at Stubb's -- better, at least, than the disappointing turnout for the Old 97s the day before -- and realized that Okkervil is that rare thing: a hand-clapping, indie uber-darling that doesn’t annoy the crap out of me. I'm guessing that owes to Will Sheff's unscripted exuberance, his IQ, his heart and his band's understanding of trad-rock forms even as they shred them as surely as Sheff ripped the strings from his Martin guitar on the final number. This wasn’t the same band I saw at the Way Out Club three years ago. This was rock.
And three nights ago I was smiling as Roky Erickson followed Okkervil; I didn't even care that the Great Gabardined Satan, Beatle Bob, introduced him. If you don’t know Erickson’s story, stop reading this blog and go order I Have Always Been Here Before and You’re Gonna Miss Me, the former containing some of the crown jewels of psychedelic and garage rock and the latter being one of the best rock & roll documentaries ever made. That Erickson was standing on stage at all is a miracle, given years of institutionalization and very bad drug trips; that he can still sing with a force that sends all demons, devils and two-headed dogs back down into the pit is a miracle x 666.
With a Papa Noel beard, a hugely unironic mullet and a sparkle in his eyes, he was alert, focused and ass kicking -- as was his band, the Explosives, who recorded with Roky back in the day. He played most of his hits, leaving out only “I Walked With a Zombie,” but including a crunchy “Starry Eyes” (the definitive power pop song not written by a power popper), a fast “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” (the definitive metal boogie) and a furious and melodic “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (the definitive Nuggets track). Erickson is planning a new album with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons. If the producer stays out of the way, Roky will deliver.
Soundtrack of Our Lives:
Afterward, a stroll up to Club Deville made clear that '70s funk icon Darondo was sold-out, so I went for more psyche in the form of Soundtrack of Our Lives, who were rumored to be performing new songs from the forthcoming Origins Vol. 2 (album is essentially finished; release date not set) and who came through. The new songs are thicker on the groovy and lighter on the trippy, if a jammed-out, amps-at-eleven set at a comedy club on Sixth Street is any indication. Singer Ebbot Lundberg stalked about the stage in Dungeon master robe, jumping down into the crowd a few times, letting some dude shout, “Free Tibet! Free Tibet!” into the microphone. (I hadn't read the news, but apparently dude had and was right.) I would have gladly spent the rest of night with Lundberg, but wanted to catch one last band elsewhere. I don’t know if a video will surface of the Swedes' set, but if it does, the idiot nearly tripping over Lundberg's mic cable -- he had taken a seat in the dark of the club -- would be me.
That one last band elsewhere was San Francisco’s Minipop, by name and style – indie-groove pop -- a low-key end to the night. While I’m not sure they’re doing anything Mazzy Star or Bettie Serveert haven’t done much better, waifish singer Tricia Kanne and unruly guitarist Matthew Swanson have a weird chemistry that nearly makes up for a tepid drummer. If they keep sharpening their songs and focusing their rock bursts, they’ll deserve another South By slot -- and I’ll save half an hour, but no more, for them next year.