Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Sisters of Mercy / The Membranes - Live 2017.09.12

I've been a fan of The Sisters of Mercy ever since I first heard the ridiculous incessant drumbeat that opens "Dominion/Mother Russia", years before I started this blog. But considering how rarely the Sisters tour the USA, and that the band has apparently never played any American city I've lived in, I never had the chance to see them until now.

Artist: The Sisters of Mercy
Venue: Columbiahalle
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 12 September 2017
Opening Act: The Membranes

The Membranes' setlist (thanks to
1. The Universe Explodes into a Billion Photons of Pure White Light
2. Dark Energy
3. In the Graveyard
4. Do the Supernova
5. Space Junk
6. Black Is the Colour
7. The Hum of the Universe
8. Myths and Legends

The Sisters of Mercy's setlist:
01. More
02. Ribbons
03. Doctor Jeep → Detonation Boulevard
04. Crash and Burn
05. Walk Away
06. No Time to Cry
07. Body and Soul
08. Marian
09. Alice
10. Arms
11. Dominion/Mother Russia
12. Summer
13. First and Last and Always
14. Rumble [Link Wray cover]
15. Flood II
16. Something Fast

17. That's When I Reach For My Revolver [Mission of Burma cover]
18. Temple of Love
19. Lucretia My Reflection
20. Vision Thing
21. This Corrosion

The Membranes might have claimed to be cut from the same cloth as Joy Division, The Fall, and The Sisters of Mercy, but Blackpool is a resort town, not a post-industrial wasteland. Vocalist/bassist John Robb, carrying the torch as the band's only original member, performed with gusto while his bandmates mostly hid in dark corners. The two guitarists rarely took what one might consider a traditional solo. They instead preferred to make odd sorts of sounds, albeit mostly of the thick and distorted variety. The bass work was simple but rhythmically effective, which is more than I could say for the vocals. I caught some whiffs of Swans or even Bauhaus in their heavy drone, and their occasional sparser moments had me thinking they had more to offer. The set mostly consisted of songs from their latest album, Dark Matter/Dark Energy (2015), with simple lyrics marveling at galactic complexities.

[The Membranes.]

Despite that The Sisters of Mercy haven't released a new album since Vision Thing in 1990, let alone a single since 1993, they haven't given up or even really slowed down. They tour almost every year and regularly play new songs. (There were three such songs on this night.) Their setlists are full of classic hits and album cuts, often with a few unusual covers thrown in the mix. This tour has gotten some attention for the inclusion of their early single "Walk Away", which they hadn't played since 1985. They're a strange and unique band, and they've captured my amusement by straddling the line of serious-minded, politically charged, club-oriented, hard-edged rock and campy, dramatic, over-the-top, ironic gothic rock.

When the house lights fell, a large black curtain fell to the ground to reveal a huge installation of mirrors. Meanwhile, the band emerged from a cloud of fog machines. As the band started into "More", the crowd became wild with excitement. So far, the show was just as I'd hoped.

The two guitarists, Chris Catalyst and Ben Christo, were both more interested in showmanship and heavy-handedness than I'd like, but the Sisters have always been about putting on a show, so that didn't bother me. The lack of a steady bassist over the last decade or two has become as much of a joke as the lack of a drummer since the band's earliest days, so Ravey Davey's comical role at the helm of a series of laptops was also no surprise. Andrew Eldritch maintained his odd demeanor, ever-present sunglasses, and only looked slightly more like a goblin than I had anticipated.

However, about a minute into that first song, I realized something was wrong: Eldritch can't sing anymore.

Something must have changed since the last time I listened to a live bootleg from the band. While the guitarists pranced and Davey danced, Eldritch merely struck farcical poses and croaked into his microphone. Instead of his booming bass vocals summoning some sort of anarchic revolution, all he could produce was groans, whines, and an occasional disturbing yelp. It was hopeless to try to discern lyrics. A bare minimum of melodic content was provided by the guitarists, who occasionally sang the backing vocal hooks.

Without Eldritch driving the songs, the show lost any magic it should have had. The music devolved into aggressive beats and stereotypical distorted guitars. What would have otherwise been an impressive setlist became only marginally distinct from generic hard rock. To further make matters worse, songs like "More" and "This Corrosion", which depend upon a long build-up to deliver their full dramatic power, were performed in truncated versions, cutting short any energy the band tried to invest in them.

While the light show was good, smoke and mirrors can only go so far. Was this, too, just another opportunity for Andrew Eldritch to troll the world?

[The Sisters of Mercy]

The Membranes: C+
The Sisters of Mercy: D

P.S. Thanks to the Sisters Wiki.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Patti Smith - Live 2017.08.15

Just over ten years ago, I wrote my second-ever record review about Patti Smith's then-new album, Twelve (2007). It's a terrible review, and I was clearly still learning the ropes, but it does prove my passion for a unique artist. Since then, I've bought all of Smith's albums and enjoyed them all in greater or lesser capacities, even if, just as I feared in that mess of a review, none of them match the power and perfection of her debut, Horses (1975). I've anticipated seeing her live since way back then, and since her health is apparently gradually declining, I consider myself lucky that I got the chance.

Artist: Patti Smith & Her Band
Venue: Zitadelle Spandau
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 15 August 2017

01. Wing
02. Dancing Barefoot
03. Happy Birthday [Patty and Mildred Hill cover]
04. Ghost Dance
05. My Blakean Year
06. Mothers of the Disappeared [U2 cover]
07. Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter) [Sun Ra adaptation]
08. Beneath the Southern Cross / Within You Without You [The Beatles cover tease]
09. A Day in the Life [The Beatles cover]
10. Peaceable Kingdom / People Have the Power [first verse]
11. Summer Cannibals
12. Because the Night
13. Gloria: In Excelsis Deo/Gloria [Them adaptation]

14. Can't Help Falling in Love [Elvis Presley cover]
15. People Have the Power

The show took place in a 16th-century Renaissance fortress that required traversing a moat, so as soon as I entered I knew this would be a special show. As I walked to the stage, I realized that Lenny Kaye was DJing 7" records from the same stock as his Nuggets compilations. He left the stage right at the scheduled start of the show, 7pm, but was merely replaced by house music. For the next hour, every time a song began to fade, the audience started to cheer. The later it got, the louder the audience voiced their impatience. It wasn't until after 8:15 that Patti Smith and her band finally walked out.

They started with "Wing", which set the mood for the evening. The slow, contemplative, lyrical song presaged a set full of mystical, meandering readings that followed Patti's whims. Although she never got as far as the abstract exploration of "Birdland" or "Radio Ethiopia", she seemed to prefer the slower and weightier side of her catalog over the sheer, raw power of songs like "Till Victory" or "Gone Again". This fit with the general aesthetic of her last album, Banga (2012), although she only performed a single track from it ("Tarkovsky").

The second song of the night was nonetheless one of her most upbeat songs, the classic "Dancing Barefoot". While it was a pleasure to hear, it seemed to lack some of the strength and energy of the recorded version. It also felt conspicuously slow. Patti then announced that it was Wim Wenders' birthday, so she led a round of "Happy Birthday" in his honor before beginning "Ghost Dance". Although it's a personal favorite of mine in part due to the complex vocal parts, the live arrangement seemed somewhat simpler. Nonetheless, Patti still made it feel alive. "My Blakean Year" and "Tarkovsky" both approached a transcendental state, and while I would've rather heard another original than a U2 cover, I appreciated the subject matter of "Mothers of the Disappeared", and Patti shaped it well.

"Beneath the Southern Cross" was given an extended reading with a lengthy guitar solo from Patti's son Jackson Smith. He topped it off by joining with bassist Tony Shanahan in interpolating the melody of George Harrison's "Within You Without You". After that song, Patti departed and left the band on their own for another Beatles tribute: "A Day in the Life", in which Lenny Kaye sang John Lennon's part and Shanahan sang Paul McCartney's. They were just a bit shaky, but judging by the music stand that Kaye required, their choice seemed decided upon under short notice.

Patti returned for another downtempo groover, "Peaceable Kingdom", at the end of which she began chanting the first verse of "People Have the Power". It was unclear if she was preparing to launch into it with full power, but instead, the band came to a gradual stop before launching into a run of higher-energy songs. "Because the Night" brought out the cameras for seemingly everyone in the crowd, but "Gloria" was the real treasure of the night. Patti still works it like she had something to prove with it, and her blend of classic rock, religious self-determination, and gender non-conformity sounds as relevant today as ever.

The encore started with an explanation: Patti claimed that she originally was no fan of Elvis, but that she'd come to appreciate him, and the following day marked forty years since his death. Thus, the band did a faithful take on "Can't Help Falling in Love" that brought out the classical elements of the song. The nuanced waltz time was quickly overpowered by the fulfillment of a complete version of "People Have the Power", Patti's perpetual rallying cry of hope. It was a fitting conclusion, even if I still wanted more.

Throughout the show, Patti still appeared vibrant and lively, even if there wasn't quite the level of immediacy and strength that she once had. Her music always has the power to capture my attention, but on this night it seemed slower than necessary, and the mix lacked a punch. Only "Gloria" felt truly full and complete; the others were either a touch too loose or were missing something.

Her band, too, was well-honed, but perhaps less adventurous than they once were. Kaye rarely took solos and instead left most of the job to the youngest of the band, Jackson Smith. However, Jackson's style was a bit too conventional and careful for my taste. He is certainly talented, but he played his parts with a finesse and care that seemed inappropriate for the material. I would've gladly seen a little more wild abandon!

At age 70, Patti Smith is still an impressive performer. Her casual style, passionate performance, and earnest discourse make her readily endearing. Her and her band might not be in top form, but they still have most of what counts, and I appreciate that they haven't packed it in or merely offered a predictable set of greatest hits. There wasn't a bad moment in the show, and they had my complete attention for all of it, but if they'd only played "Gloria" and nothing else, I still would've walked away satisfied.

Score: B+

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Melodica Festival Berlin 2017 Day 1

Event: Melodica Festival Berlin 2017 Day 1
Venue: Klunkerkranich
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 29 July 2017

I'd been aware of the Melodica Festival for a while and finally now had a chance to experience it firsthand. It was also my first time at Klunkerkranich, the chosen venue for this year's Berlin edition. I was immediately intrigued by the directions that instructed me to go to a shopping mall, find a specific elevator, and take it to the top of the parking garage. It turns out that the place is a rooftop bar with a fantastic view of Berlin. Part of it is covered and forms something like a café, and inside is the stage.

First was Oh Lonesome Me, a singer-songwriter trio from Berlin. The guitar and keyboard interplay was pleasant, but the real draw was the dynamic harmonies of the two women vocalists. The drummer occasionally offered some backing vocals as well, but he held his own with his kit, which helped keep the songs moving.

[Oh Lonesome Me.]

Next was Lisa Kudoke, a solo guitarist/vocalist also from Berlin. I liked her fingerpicking style, but the tone was too bass-heavy and got lost in the noise from the crowd. There might have been something entrancing in her songs, but without any flourishes, the performance came across too monotonous.

Third came Next Stop: Horizon, a bit of a break from the expected folk and singer/songwriter genre. The Swedish trio delivered upbeat, dancable electro-pop with a few slower, sparser songs as well. They expanded their guitar/bass/keyboard instrumentation with a drum machine, programming, vocoders, and a lot of effects. They sounded polished, confident, and oddly convincing.

Ida Wenøe from Denmark initially appeared solo with just her acoustic guitar, but after just a few songs brought out Ian Fisher to provide harmonies, guitar, and banjo. Another song also featured her roommate Espen on vocals. The added interplay embellished the songs quite fortuitously, even though the stage was becoming increasingly harder to see and hear.

[Ida Wenøe with Ian Fisher and Espen.]

Tom Klose from Hamburg came next. Although his bluesy, percussive style had some promise, it became so loud and difficult to see that I couldn't understand his words and could barely even discern the music. Eventually I gave up and decided to just enjoy being on the rooftop with a nice view.

Oddly, it was entirely impossible to see the stage from almost anywhere on the rooftop except in the covered section, and although there were speakers outside to spread the music, they were rendered practically inaudible from the crowd. Hence, my willpower was overcome and I entirely missed the performance from Jonathan Kluth.

The Klunkerkranich is a really cool venue, but not quite ideal for an intimate singer-songwriter performance. The Melodica Festival is similarly a great idea, and being able to see a bunch of good musicians for 5€ is certainly a bargain, but the choice of venue this year might not have been very well suited to the goal. I enjoyed what I saw, but I wish I could have taken it in with less distraction.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Merchandise / B Boys / Street Themes - Live 2017.06.14

Yes, one more show in Austin...

Artist: Merchandise
Venue: The Sidewinder (outside)
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 14 June 2017
Opening Acts: Street Themes, B Boys

01. Lonesome Sound
02. Unknown →
03. Schoolyard
04. Right Back to the Start
05. Green Lady
06. In Nightmare Room
07. Little Killer
08. True Monument
09. Flower of Sex
10. Anxiety's Door
11. Unknown Dead Side cover →
12. My Dream Is Yours

Street Themes started off the night with a brief set of sludgy hard rock and metal. I detected a trace of The Jesus & Mary Chain in the drummer's cocksure vocal style and the cacophonous, steady throttle of the instrumentation. The heavy feedback and effects made for some interesting noise, but the aggression didn't work for me, and the vocals were mixed too low to understand a word.

[Street Themes.]

I was initially disappointed by the goofy, simple punk vibe of B Boys, but I gradually realized that they were actually playing a very tight, measured, mechanical, constrained brand of punk that has largely fallen out of vogue since the late 70s. They played direct, minimalist, uptempo songs about mundane matters in unusual perspectives. They reminded me thoroughly of Wire or even early Talking Heads. The two vocalists weren't particularly melodious, but I actually like their disassociated technique.

[B Boys.]

I saw Merchandise twice just three months ago at SXSW. Despite their complaints of lacking their full setup, they still played strong sets that incorporated live arrangements of new material and an overview of the best of their back catalog. This time, I was hoping for a more thorough set with some deeper cuts and more time for the new songs.

While they did end up playing four songs from A Corpse Wired for Sound, they only played three recognizable songs that I didn't see at the recent SXSW shows: "Right Back to the Start", "Green Lady", and "Flower of Sex". However, they also threw in two shorter pieces that appeared to be covers. I couldn't identify the first, but the second was announced as a Dead Side cover. Otherwise, I was left wanting more. "Schoolyard" was a great throwback to their earlier days, but nothing else was much of a surprise. Furthermore, they didn't even play for an hour. They stopped a little after 10pm without an encore despite that the venue had claimed the show would go until 10:30.

Instrumentally, Merchandise was in top form. Dave Vassalotti always brings his best game, and new drummer Leo Suarez balanced the clean and processed drum sounds well. He also seemed to be driving the samples, which helped fill out the songs a bit more than I would have guessed. They were mixed well and never overwhelmed the live instruments, which was just the right thing for their sound. Bassist Patrick Brady contributed backing vocals to several songs, which also helped expand their sound.

The weak link was unfortunately frontman Carson Cox. It was his 31st birthday and he appeared to have indulged in a few substances. This wasn't the first time I've seen his recklessness negatively impact a show (namely the 2015 SXSW set I saw), and while he didn't perform terribly, his vocals were a bit sloppy and slurred. I appreciated his good mood and humor (he introduced that band as being from El Paso), but he seemed to be taking the show for granted.

When Merchandise get the balance right, they shine and soar. They rarely fall completely flat, but sometimes they do misstep. I've enjoyed watching them grow rapidly in the last few years from the first time I saw them at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2013, and I appreciate that they can still play some of the older songs with full force. They still performed a convincing set this time around, but I've come to expect just a little more from them.


Street Themes: C-
B Boys: B+
Merchandise: B-

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ten Years of Music Reviews

Today marks ten years since I posted my first review on this blog: Morrissey's 48th birthday concert at the Pageant in St. Louis, Missouri. It's hard to believe that I've managed to write almost 200 posts on this blog in the meantime. I have no plans of stopping now, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in the process of moving to Berlin, where I expect to continue growing my tastes and expanding my interests. I will miss the wonderful festivals and the plentiful concerts by local and touring acts that grace the Austin music scene, but I suspect that Berlin has its own treasures to uncover.

Quite a bit has changed in ten years, both personally and in terms of the music industry at large. Ten years ago, when I was at the peak of my collector's mania, I was living in St. Louis and second-hand vinyl was plentiful and cheap. Hence, I amassed a huge collection of vinyl often purchased as cheap as a dollar per record. Online retailers such as iTunes were already growing in popularity at that time, and CDs were already clearly on the way out, so they were generally also plentiful and cheap.

Now I'm in the midst of packing my things in preparation for an international move. While I'm considering what to take, I'm substantially trimming my physical music collection. Those cheap 90s CDs with terrible packaging that I criticized in one of my first posts were some of the first things to go. As previously mentioned in my post about selling my old Devo records, my tastes have also changed somewhat, which made getting rid of some things easy. However, my preferences on how to collect have only continued to evolve, and since that post I've even gotten rid of the Hot Potatoes greatest-hits album that I advocated for.

In that case, I at least kept a digital copy. Since hard drives are so cheap, it's an easy choice to keep a lossless copy of a CD whose packaging is unimpressive but whose musical contents are still worthwhile. (I've written about that before, too.) Even vinyl records have started to lose some of their appeal to me. At this point, I only want to keep my absolute favorites, the prized rarities, the limited presses from my friends, or the ones with the incredible artwork. Considering how expensive new vinyl is, especially compared to lossless digital downloads, it's rarely worth it for me anymore.

Ironically, I still love record stores, even as they continue to transition to selling more and more vinyl and there is less and less that I actually want to buy in them. There's still an appeal to the hunt and the random chance that leads to a new discovery. And anyway, I no longer feel obligated to indefinitely keep everything I buy: I can always spin an album for a few months and then decide to pass it back into circulation. This gets to the heart of a complicated issue: the matter of collecting versus curating. The reality is that there is too much good music to possibly own it all.

Streaming is a convenient middle ground, but I'm not entirely sold on it. On one hand, the low royalties associated with it are well-documented and the source of much consternation. On the other, it does make music widely accessible in a legal manner that was never possible before. Some royalties are better than none, and the discovery aspect is real. Despite my hesitation, I can't deny that Spotify is incredibly useful at times. I still love SoundCloud, too, even if I'm concerned for their long-term stability.

The increasing market share of streaming services reinforces the question of the ephemerality of music. For better or worse, I still cling to the notion of possessing music, but now I accept digital possession as valid in a way that I never let myself before. However, even that concept of possession is changing for me. Do I really need to have a flac or mp3 of every song I like? Is it really worth tracking down every obscure b-side of a new favorite band? Why bother, when I can just find those tracks on a streaming service on the rare occasions that I actually want to hear them?

Obviously, I haven't quite made final decisions on these matters, and I suspect my preferences will continue to change. In the meantime, I'll still be going to concerts and writing up reviews when I can. After ten years, I'm happy to report that I still enjoy live music and critical analysis thereof. I'll still be listening to as much recorded music as ever in one format or another, and I will probably continue to occasionally get inspired enough to write about that, too.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

ChameleonsVox / Frank the Baptist - Live 2017.05.10

No more secrets: I'm in the process of relocating to Berlin. While I've been mostly focused on finding a job at present, this was a concert I couldn't pass up. I was also amused that the venue is named after the third album from Ideal, the classic Berlin-based Neue Deutsche Welle band. It's conveniently but unexpectedly located underneath the above-ground subway station Schlesisches Tor, although there is hardly any signage to alert passersby of its presence.

Artist: ChameleonsVox
Venue: Bi Nuu
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 10 May 2017
Opening Act: Frank the Baptist

01. Swamp Thing
02. A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days
03. Monkeyland
04. Dali's Picture
05. Looking Inwardly
06. Thursday's Child
07. Caution
08. Soul in Isolation [including teases of The Doors' "The End", David Bowie's "Be My Wife", and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby"]
09. In Answer →
10. I'll Remember
11. Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In) [including teases of The Clash's "White Riot", Joy Division's "Transmission", and something else I couldn't quite discern]
12. Denims and Curls

First encore:
13. Second Skin
14. Nostalgia

Second encore:
15. In Shreds [including a tease of The Beatles' "Please Please Me"]
16. Don't Fall [with guest vocalist]

Opening band Frank the Baptist has been based in Berlin for a decade despite their roots in San Diego. I was curious to about what they might offer, but was quickly disappointed by their fairly generic hard rock sound and weird carnival sideshow aesthetic. Some songs started out with a promising atmosphere, but inevitably were quickly quashed by heavy aggro guitars. There were occasional hints of gothic rock that in their best moments reminded me of second-rate Sisters of Mercy, but those moments were rare. Frank sang with strength, but he only had one tone, and his words were hard to understand. I was amazed they were allowed to play for a full hour.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to expect with ChameleonsVox. Since original Chameleons drummer John Lever died earlier this year, and guitarists Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding have seemed unwilling to participate in further reunions, this project only features bassist/vocalist Mark Burgess from the original band. When he formed ChameleonsVox in 2009, Lever was on drums and regular collaborator Yves Altana joined on guitar. Their obvious intention was to resurrect old Chameleons songs, although in 2013, they released the M + D = 1(8) EP, featuring three new compositions along with a cover of "Across the Universe". Lever had left around that time and is not credited on the EP.

The current lineup features Altana on drums, Chris Oliver (who also played on the previous EP) on guitar, and Neil Dwerryhouse on guitar. This lineup has just recorded and released a new EP, Where in the World, continuing the Chameleons tradition of reissuing and repackaging the same songs in a million different versions and collections by featuring re-recordings of four of the more obscure original-era Chameleons songs. (Oddly, "Ever After" isn't on the physical 12" vinyl, but is included with the digital download.) The press release claims the original versions were demos, which is a bit hard to believe since all of them except "Dali's Picture" were never described as such until now.

"Denims and Curls" and "Free for All" are new versions of tracks from the amazing Tony Fletcher Walked on Water EP, originally recorded in 1987 while the band was breaking up and finally released in 1990. This same EP was included in the Dreams in Celluloid compilation released in 2013. That compilation also included "Dali's Picture", a demo from circa 1981, first released on a compilation of the same name in 1993. "Ever After" was originally a bonus track on some editions of Strange Times (1986). As one would hope, the production values of the new recordings are markedly superior. Mark's voice is as strong as ever and the musicianship is just as solid. The admittedly dated-sounding drums from the Tony Fletcher EP are gone, but so are most of the keyboards. The new arrangements are mostly very similar, although "Denims and Curls" and "Ever After" feature extended outros. The EP makes for a great listen, although "Dali's Picture" sticks out a bit for being older and less ethereal than the others, and one can't help but wonder how necessary this project was.

Upon consideration of the new EP, the live show largely followed suit. The setlist exclusively featured songs from the original era of the Chameleons with nothing from their early 2000s reunion nor the previous M + D = 1(8) EP. That being said, they do a terrific job keeping the old songs alive. Since the beginning, Burgess has always including improvised segments in some of the songs, which he usually uses for teasing lyrics of other songs, often to reinforce the intended political sentiments. "Soul in Isolation", for example, included lines such as, "Lost in a Facebook wilderness of pain / And all our leaders are insane". Most of the arrangements haven't changed much since the beginning, except that "Denims and Curls" featured the same extended outro as the version on the EP, and several songs, such as "Nostalgia", featured more wordless vocal parts during instrumental sections.

Although I wouldn't complain if they played some newer songs, they played almost all of my personal favorites (except "Tears"). They balanced their spacey side with their rawer edge. The irony of playing their first b-side "Nostalgia" was not at all lost on me. We were even graced with a second encore featuring two of their punkier songs, which really got the crowd going and closed the evening on a strong, energized note. The closing number, "Don't Fall", featured a guest vocalist whose name I didn't catch. He mostly sang in unison with Burgess, so he didn't particularly add much, but it was still cool to see the two vocalists play off each other.

The band played the songs tightly outside of a few minor flubs. I don't know if it is a testament to the skill of Burgess and his bandmates that they can summon the familiar sounds so effortlessly or if that implies that the original band is simpler to replicate that I'd expected. Certainly the sounds they made in the 80s were innovative for their time, but I imagine the wealth of effects pedals available today make reproduction easier than ever. Whatever the case may be, their transcendent, astral splendor still captivates me as much as it did the first time I heard the original recordings over a decade ago. It also makes me wonder if they were a precursor to shoegazing bands like Ride and Slowdive.

[ChameleonsVox with guest singer.]

Frank the Baptist: D+
ChameleonsVox: A-
Where in the World EP: B+

Thursday, March 23, 2017

South by Southwest Music Festival 2017 Final Thoughts

Once again, I'm going to do a brief overview of my South by Southwest experience this year. Here's a complete list of everyone I saw:

Day 1 (Monday): RF Shannon / Hot Nut Riveters / The Kraken Quartet / Fragile Rock / Hard Proof / Holladay Brothers / Madame Gandhi / Suzanne Ciani
Day 2 (Tuesday): Dude York / IAN SWEET / Diet Cig / Creepoid / Little Simz
Day 3 (Wednesday): Tim Darcy / Forth Wanderers / Aldous Harding / Merchandise / One Week Wonder / Sylvan Esso / Chastity Belt / Albin Lee Meldau / Die Heiterkeit
Day 4 (Thursday): Cosmonauts / No Joy / Free Mint / Merchandise / Death Valley Girls / Boogarins / The Blind Suns / Vedett / Frankie Rose / Ringo Deathstarr / Tempers / Indrajit Banerjee / Golden Dawn Arkestra / Matt Hollywood & the Bad Feelings / Survive
Day 5 (Friday): Let's Eat Grandma / Middle Kids / Spoon / Perera Elsewhere / Agnes Obel / Robyn Hitchcock / Ela Minus / Priests
Day 6 (Saturday): Khruangbin / Ray Wylie Hubbard / Survive / Anna Meredith / The Living Hour / The Dumplings

This was the first year in which I was (mostly) free from work for the whole week. Hence, I took my time and saw more bands than I had in any previous year. I could've seen even more, but tried not to overdo it nor stay up too late. I saw a lot of really good music, and this may have been my best year yet.

After two years of seeing and hearing about less hype, fewer big names, and a general (relative) lack of excitement at SXSW, this year seemed to put rumors to rest that the festival was losing its edge. There's still plenty of room to complain about corporate takeover, but the selection of performers was strong. On the other hand, the police presence this year was more intense than ever before, and even more than last year, I frequently heard talk of fire marshals and venues at capacity.

Correspondingly, there were many shows I wasn't able to see. Part of this may have been because film and interactive badge holders were allowed into music showcases, or it may have been that the strong lineup and increased hype meant there were simply more people at the festival, or it may have been that venue capacity limits were being enforced more strictly.

As always, there were more bands that I wanted to see than I had time for. I would've liked to see Real Estate, Jay Som, Weaves, and plenty others, but it just didn't work out. As always, there were several interesting bands that canceled after being announced (Anna von Hausswolff, Yemen Blues, Imarhan, etc.) and a few that I was planning on seeing that canceled at the last minute (Trementina and Soviet Soviet) because of visa problems that seemed to stem from the recent political shitstorm in the USA. Then there was Mammút, who canceled last-minute due to weather and travel delays, and James Chance & The Contortions, who canceled last minute without any sort of explanation that I could find.

Lastly, I will share one anecdote. While at the Levitation showcase at Hotel Vegas on Thursday, I got fairly close to the stage during Golden Dawn Arkestra's set. (I've never hidden my adoration of that band.) However, whenever I am able, I take notes and try to write down the setlist. Well, on this occasion, while looking down and writing a lyric to help me remember the name of "Dimensions", the lead singer stage dove in my general direction. Thankfully, the people around me caught him, but you can see the effect on my notes:

Pardon my bad handwriting; I could hardly see what I was writing. Anyway, that was supposed to say "Come and Join Us"...

P.S. Thanks to Jacob, Mustafa, Peter, Andrew, and Eric!