SXSW 2012: Day 4 – around the world in one afternoon on Sixth Street and Latitude 30 – 16th March 2012
Only at SXSW can you manage to travel to multiple countries in a span of a couple hours. Well, not literally of course, but it is possible to see bands from many different corners of the globe in one afternoon. I achieved this in just hours on the club-filled Sixth Street, followed swiftly by the Discovering Scotland showcase at Latitude 30. Sixth Street is every bit as legendary as the tourist trap t-shirts that advertise its amazingness. Everywhere you turn, you will either run into a band hanging out, playing a gig in a club with the doors wide open, busking on the corner, etc. etc. etc. It really is like a Disneyland for gig-goers. To get inside the venues, you’ll need a wristband like I had or a music badge. But if you were a local and had neither, you’d probably be just as happy walking up and down the street, stopping wherever you heard some music blaring out of a club you like.
And sometimes you just want to walk around and see what’s on offer. The loud, punky guitars emanating from Spill Bar, which turned out to be M for Montreal’s home for the week. But in the meantime, Spill was playing host to a Planet Quebec showcase, and I’d stumbled in right smack dab in the middle of Machinegun Suzie’s set. I’ll admit, my planned schedule didn’t include me specifically seeking out hard rocking bands, let alone female hard rocking ones. This Canadian Web site describes them as being purveyors of stoner-rock, which I don’t really agree with. The Montreal band basically play as loud and as fast as humanly possible, best typified by the song ‘Bad Stripper’, with all the instruments up to 11. They’re the kind of band my mum would be afraid of me liking…
I got a little tired of them speaking mainly in French – err, I totally get you want to talk to your countrymen, but as a frustrated American shouted in a purposely mocking, fake French accent, “I don’t know zee French, speak English!” – and went a-walking. I heard the heavy dance beats of Ishi, a Dallas dance band. I queried the doorman to ask if it was a band or a DJ in there, and he replied “DJ”, so I kept moving. Sorry to Ishi if you were actually performing in your four-piece lineup, but going on the word of the guy at the door, I didn’t feel like watching some dude scratching records. So I kept moving, mostly people watching and enjoying the sun.
After their Northern Ireland showcase appearance Wednesday night I’d been personally invited by Cashier No. 9 to watch them play the Music from Ireland showcase at Irish pub B.D. Riley’s, and after such a warm welcome from Angela Dorgan – and free Irish breakfast! – I planned to head back to the watering hole for an afternoon of bands. So after I left the PRS brunch, I arrived at the Irish pub in the middle of Squarehead’s set. A trio from Dublin who self-describes themselves on their Facebook as “JUNK POP”, they’ve got a strange name, don’t they? My guess is that ‘squarehead’ is equivalent to the American derogatory name of ‘blockhead’, but hearing their music, I’m not really sure what the connection to what they sound like is to their band name. (Very confused.) They’ve got a classic pop sound and I might have passed them by if I’d seen the names of some of their songs – ‘Midnight Enchilada’? ‘ – but if you like the sunny, surf-y mode of the Beach Boys and/or the reinterpretation via the Drums, this is the band to check out.
Next up were my dream Norn Irish line-up: General Fiasco, followed by Cashier No. 9. They played in this order the other night at the Tap Room at Six. The difference? This time they played in the best possible place for them – an Irish pub! – with the windows opened outwards towards the street. The raw, unbridled energy of both of these bands, framed by the beautiful rays of the sun, was quite a sight to behold. Seeing them play Wednesday was great, but this showcase appearance was even better, packed with people who had no doubt heard about the Wednesday night show and were curious about these groups of Northern Irish guys playing infectious pop and rock. General Fiasco gave their new song ‘Sleep’ (video below) its only second time ever live airing, and it was great – it sounded like classic GF. Well, as much as classic as you can after a great debut album and some amazing singles and EPs.
Cashier No. 9 started with the inspirational ‘Goldstar’ (video below) and their version of ‘The Lighthouse Will Lead You Out’ this afternoon dazzled even more than the other night, with percussionist and harmonica player Philip Wallace going to town with his bongos, curious folk peering into B.D. Riley’s to try and figure out what was going on. In between bands, I introduced myself to Jenny Huston, the famed RTE 2fm (Irish national) radio presenter who I’d recognised from video interviews she’d done in the past couple years at Oxegen. She was surprised and shocked I recognised her but was quite happy to hear that her interviews were getting out outside Ireland. (That they are, Jenny!) I was more than honoured when she emailed me the week following after I’d returned to DC and asked me to give my top 3 bands of SXSW (you can listen to that segment below as well).
I felt terrible leaving, but after Cashier No. 9, I needed to rush over to Latitude 30, as I’d been extended another personal invitation – by Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway, no less – to come down for the Discovering Scotland showcase. This was the second of two Scottish-themed showcases, the first being the Wednesday night Easy Tiger Patio showcase with We Were Promised Jetpacks as the headliner that I caught earlier in the week. Three Blind Wolves were just completing their set and left the stage to allow the Xcerts to set themselves up. As on Tuesday night’s Xtra Mile Recordings showcase, the Scottish rockers didn’t disappoint, with Murray Macleod belting the lyrics out as if his life depended on it. Great band live, I hope enough – and the right – people saw them in Austin and will offer them a record deal.
But I was really there to see the Twilight Sad. This band was supposed to play in Washington in DC in February, but then we got the awful news that their visas had not been approved in time and the show had been cancelled without even being rescheduled. Enjoying ‘No One Can Ever Know’ (album review here) immensely, I wanted to see it performed live. Instead of regular mike-checking (“hey hey!” “one two, one two!” “yeah YEAH!”), frontman James Graham instead recited the value of pi up to at least 10 decimal places. I lost count after a couple numbers because I was spellbound as he was saying this in his Scottish brogue. (Hot.) I don’t think I was standing in the right place – the wall of sound and guitar grinding sounded muddled to me. You can watch older song ‘And She Would Darken the Memory of Youth’ below. Sadly, I was disappointed. Also kind of sad: I was looking forward to parking my bum on a church bench that very evening. Definitely getting old.