John Roderick / Portostatic/ Silver Scooter / Tahiti 80
Fiver / Experimental Aircraft
Various venues in Austin, Texas
March 15, 2001
Review by Squid
SXSW Thursday got off to a shaky start when we learned that our beloved Kingsbury Manx weren't going to be performing due to "illness". Not good. After a few hours of serious depression and moaning, we decided to take a different perspective and think about the myriad bands we could see. The following is a beer-soaked reconstruction of one of the downright wackiest evenings we've had in a long time.
Squid was first to chug her pint and bolt away from the dinner table for an 8pm gig at Buffalo Billiards. She had seen John Roderick perform a fantastic song with This Busy Monster in SF and was interested in hearing more. Buffalo Billards was, well, a place to play billiards, at least at first glance. Hidden upstairs was a large "performance space within a space" with vaulted ceilings and deep walk-around bar. The stage was narrow, but set far back and high up enough to be seen from across the room. Roderick himself looked like a tortoise shell version of Grant Lee Phillips: the thick glasses, the jeans, the joking attitude...just all in a lighter color scheme. He was accompanied by This Busy Monster's Sean "Christopher" Nelson, an incredible singer in his own right, and...(Squid later discovered, because she is slow and needs things spelled out for her), the lead singer for Harvey Danger. But we digress. Suffice it to say that there's a whole hell of a lot of imagery going on in Roderick's lyrics, which is something you don't always get with your garden variety singer/songwriter. A perfect example was "Scent of Lime" which managed to sound multi-layered and beautiful with just two people performing it. Happily, he concluded his set with the song that we loved so much back in SF, the clever'n'catchy "Medicine Cabinet Pirate". Discovering Roderick was one of those happy accidents that can make this music thing worth while, and we look forward to the release of his upcoming album. Since Roderick has primarily been busy on the road with Harvey Danger, you can actually learn a little bit more about him on their website.
Daz and Marc decided to check out Portastatic at Mercury Ent. at Jazz. Daz described the space itself as similar to Slim's...if Slim's was three times bigger. (The tremendous size of Austin venues ended up being the overarching theme of our trip. They're all fucking huge, at least by SF standards.) Portastatic was founded by Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan and also featured Matt Suggs from Butterglory, as well as Paul Burch and Paul Niehaus, both from Lambchop. Daz much preferred them live, as there was a lot less polish and no synthesizers to pretty things up. Niehaus, it should be mentioned, added a great layer of sound with his pedal steel playing. Indiegeek supergroup that Portastatic is, the place was packed to the gills by fans and famous alike. Why, Daz stood next to Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard all night. She was polite and kept to herself (and her beer), unlike Squid who at this point was leaving Buffalo Billiards and tear-assing all the way the hell over to Opal's to see...
Silver Scooter! Austin's favorite indie sons. (Okay, so none of them are natives, but they all live there.) Opal's Freehouse was really more of a pub than a performance venue. The stage was a tiny little thing off to one side of a wooden patio, and when more than twenty people wanted to see the band, visibility was shot to hell. Thing is, how many times do you get to see bands under the stars in SF? Not often. Squid adored this place for that reason alone. The Scooter are a trio founded by singer/guitarist Scott Garred, who seemed to be, at least from everyone that Squid talked to, *the* poster boy for nerdcore around these parts. We spotted that guy everywhere during our trip. They offered up quality versions of their particular brand of sweetpop without being overly cute. Squid happily noted that Garred's vocals sounded just as strong and clean as they did on the albums, which is always a plus. Check them out if you dug the Go-Betweens or even if you're just jonesing for happy music to use for Sunday housecleaning. Squid left with happy feeling and their new cd, The Blue Law.
The superpowers reunited at Waterloo Brewing Company, where (yet another) massive outdoor tented area was hosting Daz' beloved Frenchies, Tahiti 80. Daz calls them her guilty musical pleasure on account of their pop stylings that teeter every so often towards disco. Squid was quick to remind Daz of the "50,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong" axiom, whereby the credibility of a cutie group is significantly increased by their ability to "rockit" to a large crowd. And rockit they did. They were just as cute as Daz remembered them, but seemed a lot more polished and confident. Somewhere in the middle of the set, Squid turned around and stared widemouthed at the sight of roughly 300 people dancing along and cheering. There were even a few people who knew the words to the songs! Considering that the last time we saw them was at Foley's with a crowd of 50 people tops, it was pretty unbelieveable. Enthusiasm swelled to a veritable bubblegum frenzy as they performed their instrumental finale. "Why do they always do this one last?" Daz wailed above the spacerocking din. "Because it's them doing Stereolab better than Stereolab?" Squid offered lamely. 300 Tahiti 80 fans just can't be wrong.
Now starting to feel the effects of the two beers chugged during Tahiti 80, Squid and Daz sloshed back to Opal's for an audience with...Fiver! We consider it our moral obligation to point out that there's room for more than one famous band from Modesto, and Fiver should be at the top of the additions list.There hasn't been a single person that we've turned on to Fiver who hasn't thanked us profusely. And that's just the albums. We love seeing them in a live environment where the sweeter side of their indie pop gives way and their sound becomes harder and heavier. More noise than pop, you dig? They're just a damn good band, so it floored us when they took the stage and there was barely anyone there. Guess we're just used to seeing them pack out places back home, but it seemed like the crime of the century to us. In spite of the audience turn out, Squid was grateful for the chance to hear some of her favorite songs under the stars. It was pretty amazing. Additionally, we felt that the most appropriate way to demonstrate approval was to get the band drunk. We tried, at least. On that note, this is as good a time as any to say that we were in awe of all the bands that drove 18+ hours to perform in Austin only to turn around and drive straight home again. We're not worthy. Check out both Fiver albums: Eventually Something Cool Will Happen, and their latest, Strings For Satellites.
And lo, a great deal of drinking then took place at Opal's. A whole lot. There were discussions of camping and Mississippi and the feared "Zachsquatch". And over all of this debauchery spun the gorgeous music of Experimental Aircraft, another Devil in the Woods band. Their self-titled album is simultaneously a tribute to the our shoegazing past and a hint at some sort of blissed-out sonic future. Sure, there are traces of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and Chapterhouse, (how couldn't there be?), but Ex-Air have moved past the early 90's hip-hopped percussion and focused more exclusively on guitars and what distortion does to them. Lead singer Rachel's dreamy vocals and lyrics remind you that music is safe when the world isn't. Theirs is beautifully controlled noise that can pretty much insulate you from whatever attacks. It hasn't left Squid's discman since she left Austin. There's really never been a more perfect end to an evening.
Read our Tahiti 80 review from September 2, 2000 at Cellar at Johnny Foleys