Thursday, March 13, 2014

SXSW 2014 show reviews: Florida bands You Blew It!, Against Me!, Sunbears! Plus Perfect Pussy, Coachwhips and more

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 2:58 PM

Rule No. 1 of SXSW: keep your phone charged. I learned this one the hard way when my phone died just as the sun set on the second day of SXSW Music. Not only was I not able to photograph the phenomenal nighttime showcases I attended, but my wife was worried sick waiting for me to get home after news broke that a drunk driver plowed through a crowd of music fans on Red River, killing two and injuring 23, at 12:30 a.m.

A tragedy like that makes talking about the 15 different shows you saw today seem frivolous, inconsequential, even straight-up sinful. But at SXSW, the show always goes on – surely the rest this week will feature plenty of thoughts and prayers for the victims and middle fingers raised in the face of drunk driving. So let’s dive right in. First, the Florida bands.

click to enlarge You Blew It! at SXSW 2014
  • You Blew It! at SXSW 2014

You Blew It! at SXSW 2014

You Blew It! lead singer Tanner Jones celebrated his birthday yesterday, and at the Orlando band’s afternoon show at Liberty Bar in East Austin, their tightly wound blend of heavy/melodic emo-punk had everyone celebrating (the free beer from Brooklyn Brewery didn’t hurt). These genial gentlemen, who big-upped Gainesville friends Frameworks several times, also qualify as the most normal-looking band I’ve seen yet at SXSW – only one beard among the four of ’em – which says a lot at this giant hipster fashion freak show.

Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! made her own “fuck-you” fashion statement during the Gainesville band’s hard-charging 1 a.m. headlining set at Red 7 Patio. Wearing a form-fitting tank top with a pair of disembodied breasts plastered across it, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Grace is the fiercest woman in rock & roll right now, even if new songs deal with her transition to transgender life in stomach-churning ways. But at 6’3” in black boots with a tangle of tattoos, fiery red hair and the most aggressive stage presence I saw the entire day, dedicated fans chanted every word of classics like “Don’t Lose Touch” and new jams like “Black Me Out” off recent album Transgender Dsyphoria Blues with equal fervor. I came away convinced that Against Me! might be the most anthemic punk band currently tearing up the stage.

click to enlarge Unconditional love: Photos from Against Me! at the Beacham
  • Unconditional love: Photos from Against Me! at the Beacham

Unconditional love: Photos from Against Me! at the Beacham

Jacksonville’s SUNBEARS! played an outdoor show on the beautiful creekside patio of a high-end Mexican restaurant at 11 a.m. yesterday, but the biting north winds and sparse morning crowd put a bit of a damper on the band’s cosmic Flaming Lips-esque psych-pop. Those challenges fell away, however, come 8 p.m. when the band put its enchanting light show to full use inside Javelina, a hip but welcoming bar in Austin’s no-frills Rainey Street District.

Now for the rest of the best:

  • EAGULLS and Protomartyr, two dark, jagged rock bands from Leeds and Detroit, respectively, had the full impact of their dark industrial scuzz impacted by bright mid-afternoon sunshine. In Protomartyr’s case, that was only compounded by the fact that they were performing at the Pitchfork day party at East Austin’s French Legation Museum, possibly the most beautiful piece of property in the city.

    click to enlarge Eagulls at SXSW 2014
    • Eagulls at SXSW 2014

    Eagulls at SXSW 2014

  • Somehow, neither the stunning downtown skyline views offered up at the French Legation nor singer Meredith Graves’ prim polka-dotted outfit could temper the abrasive nature of Syracuse noise-hardcore band Perfect Pussy. Graves sings in a throat-shredding howl most of the time, but on “Interference Fits” she lets a potent quotable float above the abrasive haze: “It was amazing/And I almost cried.”

    click to enlarge Perfect Pussy at SXSW 2014
    • Perfect Pussy at SXSW 2014

    Perfect Pussy at SXSW 2014

  • Final dispatch from the rolling green hills and historic buildings of the French Legation: Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer broke garage rock down to its most primal and frenetic elements with his reunited band the Coachwhips. One shitty keyboard, one bare-bones drum kit, one freaky see-through guitar and a couple of bona fide practice amps set up in the grass in front of the stage attracted 100 or so diehards for what Dwyer called the earliest set the Coachwhips had ever played.

  • If there’s one thing I’m guilty of as a music fan, it’s an insatiable love for Baltimore synth-pop band Future Islands. Their 2:25 p.m. set at reggae bar Flamingo Cantina on 6th Street was illuminated by sunlight streaming in through tall windows, while their midnight headlining set at KCRW’s Official Showcase at Haven overcame minor technical glitches to turn into pure dance club madness. All of that success is predicated on singer Samuel T. Herring’s self-flagellating, chest-pounding performance style, which somehow connects directly with every member of the audience in his sight.

    click to enlarge Future Islands at SXSW 2014
    • Future Islands at SXSW 2014

    Future Islands at SXSW 2014

  • Predictably, Black Lips’ 5 p.m. set at the Converse/Thrasher Death Match showcase at Scoot Inn was a riot of flying beer cans, rowdy mosh pits and doo-wop-infused flower-punk. But the Atlanta band reliably draws one of the most diverse crowds around, from drunken middle-aged skateboarders to buttoned-down lawyers slumming it to teenaged punks in wide-eyed thrall.

  • I had my picture anonymously taken for possibly the first time in my life outside the Billy Reid showcase at Weather Up, which is quite the compliment because the crowd gathered for the J Roddy Walston & the Business performance was easily the best-dressed I’ve seen all week (Reid is one of America’s hottest menswear designers). Walston and his longhaired band specialize in a swampy, electrifying mix of Skynyrd boogie, My Morning Jacket crescendo and James Brown showmanship. And if rock & roll has a sexed-up, uber-confident Matthew McConaughey figure enjoying a slow-simmering career renaissance, it’s Walston, who pounded his piano and implored the crowd to “make something fantastic happen!” before telling the crowd, “I’m like a doctor – hopefully this is what you need.”

  • Using the word “soul man” should be strictly reserved for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, an Alabama six-piece that updates soul, gospel and horn-driven R&B for the 21st century. Frontman Paul Janeway’s voice is a battering ram that glides from blistering highs to gut-punching lows with ease, mixing his roots as a preacher-in-training with sweaty rock & roll panache.

  • Finally, the avant-garde prog-metal of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan obviously translates better to a full-blown club than an outdoor tent. But the band’s ability to mix pummeling instrumentation with soaring atmospherics, precise performance and facepaint was on perfect display with the epic “Whalesong,” which is the perfect entrée to YT//ST’s more challenging rock operas.

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