Like I said, it was business as usual last night along 6th Street. Bands made tacit comments about the previous night’s carnage (where two people were killed and 27 injured when a car drove into a crowd on Red River St.) and there seemed to be a more-intense-than-usual police presence in the streets. Everywhere you looked cops stood in pairs with arms crossed at the ready. And it seemed like more streets were cordoned off throughout the SXSW district. Everywhere people talked about their personal brush with death — and by “brush” I mean “Dude, I was like, right there an hour before it happened.”
By late in the afternoon, Mohawk announced it was going on with its evening schedule “with a heavy heart” and why not? Canceling SXSW wouldn’t bring anyone back to life, and showcases were an opportunity to ask people to give blood. And so on. I wonder if anyone other than those directly affected will remember the incident when SXSW15 rolls around.
After a grueling previous night, the simplest remedy for recovery was to return to French Legation Park for another day of the Pitchfork Day Party. The afternoon roster kicked off (for me) with EAGULLS. Their bio says they were influenced by Dinosaur Jr. and PiL, but the only thing I could hear was the ringing/chiming guitar styles of early Cure and Flock of Seagulls, and that wasn’t a bad thing.
From Leeds, the band’s 2014 self-titled debut on Knitting Factory Records is one of the hotter indie releases so far this year. If you closed your eyes you could imagine you were hearing a post-punk band emerge circa 1984, the kind of band you’d catch on MTV’s 120 Minutes back in the day. Complete with attitude — frontman George Mitchell barked at the poor sound guy throughout the set — very rock star.
According to Pitchfork, JEROME LOL — a.k.a. Jerome Potter — “has been identified as a representative of the Seapunk movement, a well-documented combination of 90s fashion, internet 1.0 imagery, early aughts R&B, and house music.” For his first 15 minutes I thought it was simply a DJ spinning between sets. Then I noticed someone singing alongside him, presumably Sara Z, who sings on his EP Deleted/Fool (Friends of Friends), though he never announced who she was. His set was pleasant, if not easy to ignore as we dined on chopped pork sandwiches and microbrew and watched the puffy clouds float by.
As innocuous as Jerome’s music was, it was a veritable symphony of pop compared to Dead Oceans artist MARK MCGUIRE’s one-man New Age indie stylings. But to be fair, his set pretty much reflected the full-on blandness of the former Emeralds’ guitarist’s debut, Along the Way (Dead Oceans, 2014). Pleasant and ignorable.
On the other end of the spectrum was FUTURE ISLANDS’ set. The band is riding a tidal wave of popularity after a recent unforgettable performance on Late Night with David Letterman that showcased frontman Samuel T. Herring and his unique dance moves. So taken was Letterman by the performance that he now uses clips of Herring’s dance steps as a running gag, introduced with Dave yelling “Let’s Dance!” Whether Letterman is making fun of Herring or not is questionable (though doubtful, as he gushed over Herring after the performance).
Herring and Co. were in full flight yesterday on the big stage. I stand by my original description of the band and Herring when they performed at TWR in November 2011: “He looks like a young Streetcar Brando combined with Deliverance Burt Reynolds and Kirkian Shatner, but with the intensity of a Rollins or Morrissey. He owned the stage like a Shakespearean actor performing a spotlight soliloquy with a voice that ranged somewhere between Richard Burton, Pee Wee Herman (in la-la-la-la mode), a monster and Billy Idol. Like a caged gorilla pacing with knuckles dragging on the floor, Herring leaned down trying to glean any sort of eye contact from anyone who would look at him, shifting from one to one to one to one.”
There's no phoning it in for Herring, and no one like him currently performing on stage anywhere — indie, pop, whatever. And this Letterman thing is only going to make him huge. The crowd went nuts not only for Herring but for the music, which recalls early Factory / New Order electronic dance. The band rolled out a number of songs off their soon-to-be-released album Singles (out March 25 on 4AD), each slayed in its own way. Let’s get them back to Omaha.
I turned to Teresa and said “How would you like to follow that?” Well, Classixx did it, and did it well. The LA DJ duo’s music and mixes are so infectious and danceable that it got the crowd bouncing around the smaller second stage area. Disco meets house meets electronica, if they wore shiny helmets they’d be as huge as Daft Punk.
That was it for French Legation Park. We rode our B-Cycles back over the river and walked down to the mammoth Butler Park Stage at Lady Bird Lake to catch Vintage Trouble, a band recommended to us by Jeremy Buckley, not realizing that there was a massive festival going on sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service — thousands of people and their families were out catching a set by Los Lonely Boys. The scene was reminiscent of a Memorial Park Concert, complete with food stands and booze tents.
That said, whoever was running the stage didn’t know what s/he was doing, as the break after LLB was an eternity. After 20 minutes of mic checks and people plugging and unplugging orange power chords on stage, we gave up and left the park.
We emerged on 6th Street later than expected to catch PURE BATHING CULTURE, one of the most talked-about acts at this year’s SXSW. Seems everyone had caught their set and loved it. We found them at Hype Hotel, a makeshift club with an alley entrance that gave away sponsored drinks (Miller Fortune for me) and Taco Bell.
The Portland band’s music has been compared to Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins, two bands they don’t resemble. Instead, PBC strives for a Lilith stage with its feature-less music. They were amazingly boring, still people were nodding their heads to the streamlined, lite beats.
Next it was across the street to Swan Dive for Jeremy Messersmith. But first we caught a set by NINA NESBITT. The 19-year-old acoustic singer/songwriter who hails from Edinburgh apparently already has had one hit on the UK charts. No doubt talented, her music was run-of-the-mill singer/songwriter fare well-sung but unmemorable. Something tells me we’ll be hearing more from her, however.
JEREMY MESSERSMITH is on an upward trajection since the last time I saw him play at Slowdown Jr. His new album, Heart Murmurs, was released on Glassnote earlier this year and seems to have momentum behind it. Heck, he was named one of Time Magazines “14 artists to watch for" (or something like that). He’s come a long way from the guy I saw do a solo set with Mark Mallman on a dumpy east Austin stage at SXSW2009. In fact, last night was the first time I’ve seen Messersmith with a full band, and what a band it was, complete with his own version of Paul Schaeffer on bass. Tight, on-mark perfection.
But for Messersmith, it's all about the songs. No one writes sweet-hearted hooks quite like he does, sung with a voice that puts Ben Folds to shame. While the crowd of a hundred or so were milling about during the beginning of his set, they were mesmerized by the end. Messersmith was messer-merizing. Along with Future Islands, it was the best set I saw on Day 3.
Finally, as a lark, we thought we’d try to catch Blondie on the Yahoo! Brazos Stage at midnight. I figured our chances were slim to none and I was right. After waiting in an unmoving line for a half hour surrounded by people who spoke nothing but French, a woman came out and told us we could wait if we wanted to, but that the club was at capacity with little hope of letting up.
We ducked out of line and took an invigorating, life-flashing-before-our-eyes pedicab ride back to our hotel.