Saturday, March 17, 2007

Strip Down And Unplug

It’s been a few days into the all-you-can-hear musical buffet that is South by Southwest, and I’ve managed to see some pretty great acts. I’m still waiting to be stunned and amazed, but there’s a little time left before I surely succumb to my death by second-hand smoke.

March 16 – Essential Listening:
The Apples in Stereo – “Energy”
Scissors For Lefty – “Ghetto Ways”
Honeycut – “Shadows”
Bonde do Role – “Melo do Vitiligo”
The Faint – “I disappear”
The Good the Bad and the Queen – “Herculean”

I wandered down to Habana to get a dose of snap-happy rock from The Apples in Stereo. With their feel-good tracks “Can You Feel it?” and “Energy” at the start of the set, The Apples in Stereo’s sound lies somewhere between Sister Hazel and The Flaming Lips. While the keyboardist took the stage in a silvery pseudo-space suit with cape and yellow-lensed glasses, the rest of the band seemed exceedingly normal – a bunch of middle-aged guys happily singing about the “Same Old Drag.”

Spiro’s hosted a special showcase of San Francisco bands – including Minipop, The Lovemakers, Audrye Sessions, Honeycut and other local faves. Scissors for Lefty opened it up outside – playing their sixth of seven gigs at South by Southwest. If the boys were spent, you wouldn’t guess it, as they piped out “Lay Down Your Weapons” and went on to “Ghetto Ways.” While The Lovemakers’ Lisa Light sucked on a cigarillo, SFL’s lead singer, Bryan Garza, oozed a merry falsetto into the CB radio attached to the microphone, and jumped into the small crowd near the front to dance with the ladies. When he unbuttoned his jeans, I feared a Jim Morrison re-enactment, and shielded my eyes at the glare of tighty-whiteys. Keep ‘em buttoned, man.

Scurrying into the back of Antone’s I joined the crowd in front of the stage for Margot And the Nuclear So and So’s. They played a few new tunes, all working in their sound of mellow non-diagnosed depression, and then onto “Paper Kitten Nightmare” and (my fave) “Skeleton Key” from “The Dust of Retreat.”

When I heard that Sufjan Stevens’s collaborator My Brightest Diamond was performing, I was intrigued enough to lend an ear, and what I got was the pure vocal prowess of Shara Worden. While she surely can’t be more than five feet tall, her voice is huge, best evidenced when she covered Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” toward the end of the set.

There was a line around Beauty Bar extending up past the next venue, as concert-goers turned out to catch Brazilian sensation Bonde do Role, and avert-your-eyes topless rap divas Yo Majesty. Go figure.

Licensing, schmicensing. Sao Paulo group Bonde do Role mix Portuguese rap over often-recognizable tracks like AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and selections from the “Grease” soundtrack with such flair that it’s a wonder ASCAP doesn’t just waive the normal constraints. Like the better-known CSS, Bonde do Role gives an edgy sound to highly danceable tracks, best exemplified on “Marina Gasolina.”

Squeezing into the Eternal just before The Faint took the stage, the venue was hot and about to get hotter, as groovy kids and older groovy kids danced to “Call Call” and “I Disappear.” The show was good and energetic – the right mix of psychedelic imagery in moving lights and pictures and reflective synth beats. And seriously, only a handful of men can get away with wearing eye liner after age 25 – David Bowie, the dudes from Depeche Mode, and Todd Fink from The Faint.

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