SXSW Report: Saturday with PJ Harvey and Beyonce's Little Sister, Friday with New York Dolls and Camera Obscura
Probably. Harvey, along with long time friend and collaborator John Parish, focused on new songs from the forthcoming A Woman, A Man Walked By, starting off with "Black Hearted Love," a seared, Plathian rocker, with martial drums, heavy on the toms and eerie banjo riffs. Then they flew into another new song, with chanted lines "There's No Laughter in the Garden!" and on into "Urn with Dead Flowers in a Drained Pool," a recitation/song from her 1996 album with Parish, Dance Hall at Louse Point. Though the set had none of her landmark material, the new songs and obscure, forgotten tunes were riveting, even when at their most absurd and Dr. Suess-like, as with the title track from the new album: "He had chicken liver balls, he had chicken liver spleen, he had chicken liver heart, made of chicken liver parts..." lines no other singer I can think of, and no other band, with its spare, hard improvisations, could pull off.
Solon Bixler and Rachel Stolte took a fierce shoe-gaze turn, but their unforced chemistry sustained the lush drone.
|Little Steven introduces St. Louis' the Living Things at the Antone's day party.|
A final day party of Friday took me to Antone's, for Little Steven's Underground Garage show, featuring the affable Silvio Dante himself, and St. Louis's own Living Things, who played just three songs, all hard and chunky but, alas, not free from political gratuity. Lead singer Lillian Berlin has gone from burning pictures of George Bush on stage to burning dollar bills (a $20 would have been somewhat more impressive). If you'll pardon the cliche, their music should and could have done the talking.
Rochester, New York's The Chesterfield Kings followed, as loud and splashy as a DC-9 landing in the Hudso. They opened with "Up and Down," the strongest song from their most recent album Psychedelic Sunrise, and overall slashing together early Stones and eternal Ramones, with lead singer (and skinniest androgynous hipster at SXSW) Greg Prevost kicking cups and flinging napkins, in some kind of rock tantrum explained by a stone-faced, motionless, un-rock and roll crowd. That doesn't mean, however, they weren't fantastic. They were.
I spent Friday night's first showcase amid the terrible sight lines of the Cedar Creek Courtyard, trying to hear the plush and whispery Beach House.
A cabbie got me to Loney Dear's set at Habana Calle in time to witness the lederhosen kid yelp and strum over a band-in-a-box laptop (he had a rhythm section and a keyboard player, but apparently Emil Svanängen prefers karaoke) and I was so far from feeling it I thought I'd pass out from the cute, not-trying-and-proud-of-it anti-attitude.
|David Johansen of the New York Dolls at the Smoking Lounge.|
The night was not lost, however, as the New York Dolls were still to play at the Smoking Lounge, and play they did, for over an hour, with strong new material and indelible oldies like "Personality Crisis," and David Johansen smiling and growling, Sylvain Sylvain, hamming up every solo, and song after song hitting like the band -- or what remains of it -- really did invent punk rock.
I could have ended Saturday then and there, save that I wanted to catch Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers at the Alehouse, and was happy to have done so, though it meant sitting through the sub-open-mic tunelessness of LA's Terra Naomi and the mildly entertaining vaudeville folk of Miami's Rachel Goodrich. Crain and band, however, rocked the freaky folk much harder than I expected.
After PJ Harvey's set, I scrambled to make it into the first ever show from Jimmy Webb and the Webb Brothers, the father-and-son team, at the miserable basement bar Prague, and though they only had time for half a dozen songs, the songwriting master sounded splendid on "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman," two of the greatest songs in the English language (which Webb just happened to write). If the forthcoming family album sounds half as good as their South By set, it will be Best of 2009 worthy.
The Rosebuds began the wind-down of the night, in the Parish club crammed with dance rockers who responded quite well to a couple of almost country-ish acoustic numbers but mostly loved Ivan Howard's electric chord chopping and Kelly Crisp's thick keyboard surfaces. The band is expert but perhaps a little cool and disarmed, and the crowd deserved just a little more enthusiasm from the duo (I'm one of those old fashioned types who believes such things).
Instead of closing out SXSW as usual with the Waco Brothers chaos at Red Eyed Fly, I headed across Sixth Street for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, a soul and blues band who are beginning to pick up steam outside their home town of Austin and who were slated for 1 am.
Black Joe finally made it to the stage around 2 am, and promptly introduced his first song: "This is for Solange, who doesn't know when to get off stage. Bitch, I love you!"
But instead of doing that most notorious of his novelty number, the band just blasted through a shortened, sound check version, with the horns and bass locking in, and Black Joe raking his guitar with punk-blues speed. The Honeybears are not the tightest soul band on the planet, but they can still electrify, especially when Lewis gets down on his knees, James Brown style, for their original homage to "Please, Please, Please."
After three songs, it was past closing time, but the crowd wouldn't let them go, and someone's manager came up on stage to give them another three. The set -- jumping, angry, focused, fun and loud -- was the kind finale SXSW more than deserved.