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South by Fair West
Fair West: A neighborhood of Albuquerque, west of the fairgrounds.
SXFW: There’s plenty else happening, both new and old. Life goes on.
Gaytheist with Gusher – Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice – Tuesday, March 12, 2013
First, we (the early assembled few) sat on couches in a safe community space and listened to Death Grips’ NO LOVE DEEP WEB (a great party album for all time, I think it can now be said). That album’s famous cover image became a good metaphor for the bands that followed: A non-threatening display of the most violent aspects of the male.
Last time I saw local band Gusher (opening for Ceremony), I enjoyed the shoegaze-y passages in their music, less so the sludgier ones. Now I learn there’s a name for this synthesis, grunclecore, which is, as it sounds, an extreme devotion to the music of your grunge-loving uncle. And I appreciate the versatility on display, but still not the really heavy parts. Unlike The Men, whose blitzes through decades of punk noise they sometimes approximate, Gusher haven’t mellowed or started writing songs in the past year, but at one point they softened enough for a single transition-laden number to recall Mudhoney’s “If I Think.”
Gaytheist were the Minutemen of this imagined Mudhoney/Minutemen double-header. There was the complex, precise drumming of Nick Parks (their George Hurley), the workmanlike (working class?) bass of Tim Hoff (their Mike Watt) and the scratchy guitar, the genial presence and shape, the things-needing-said of Jason Rivera (their D. Boon) and together they make a song-oriented (the songs: very short, and not exactly tuneful, but very unto-themselves, with titles like “Poocano” and “Taking Back Sunday from Taking Back Sunday”) spiky noise that approaches perfection. Also, they reminded that the best punk musicians are always the nicest ones. One audience member apologized for not being able to get any pushing-and-shoving going in the tiny crowd, to which Rivera replied, “Oh, that’s okay.”
Parenthetical Girls, et al. – Low Spirits (Albuquerque) – Sunday, March 10, 2013
This showcase of six bands heading to South by Southwest left me asking not how they would all fare in Austin, but a more immediate question: Did Marty Crandall get any good photos of Parenthetical Girls’ Zac Pennington? Yes, the Sad Baby Wolf singer/former Shins guitarist was hanging out, helping bands transport gear, and was most visibly excited, as any sane human would be, during that band’s set, as Pennington, easily the most flamboyant frontman I have ever seen perform live, swallowed his microphone, walked along the top of the bar, smashed a beaten cymbal into the floor, etc. And Crandall was equally fearless with his camera. Between songs, Pennington talked as if we all must despise him for his antics, when really he was the only thing the whole night long worth taking notice of. Sorry, we’ll be done soon, he would say, eliciting groans not of anticipation but of fear. Fear of losing this one brief shining moment, re-plunging into stupor.
His band didn’t even have to try very hard, given the entirely unmemorable bands that came before and after (though one of them, Field Tripp, peculiar name, have modest Built To Spill aspirations and were pretty endearing; on the other end of the spectrum, one band I don’t want to name, but who will soon be riding the Mumford & Sons wave to fame, had a song containing the sinful line “I know I’m a better man than most.”). Pennington thanked everyone for coming to see this “panoply of modern pop music,” though only his band has much claim on the word “modern.” The rest were timeless, in the sense that no time could possibly want them.
David Bowie – The Next Day
David Bowie is not Scott Walker, although some people might like him to be. In place of the challenging terms of Walker’s recent work, Bowie finds hallowed terms (and yet, particular to his unique history, and sometimes harsh) for his response to old age. So, note if you please that old artists are often overlooked in favor of young ones, but then, in the realm of music, find room to celebrate both the Walkers and the Bowies, or threaten to put artificial limits on what the old musician should want to say and how he should reckon with or dispense with his past. Like Neil Young or Patti Smith (who both released albums as good as The Next Day last year), Bowie long ago settled on a mode of expression, and he again intends only to subtly mutate it, not upend it. I don’t know what “Where Are We Now” is more, familiar or transcendent.
Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
Album #2, and as with any second album, it’s easier to think of its moments as intended for each other and stop painstakingly tracking every tiny fluctuation in production. So the decisive moment is where the album picks up, and this one begins with the end of R.E.M. Remember, those guys hadn’t yet called it quits when Veronica Falls released their debut album, so now the younger band has their first chance to launch a proper tribute. They do that full-force on opener “Tell Me,” with the ringing pulse of its main guitar riff. As a result, James Hoare’s backing vocals now sound less like the commiserations of Roxanne Clifford’s invisible friend, more like Mike Mills. Beyond that, there’s an endless profusion of lovely melody. There were no awkward transitions on the debut, but this is the moment where Veronica Falls truly achieve flow.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – “We The Common”
The group’s name seemed like a red flag, but I can’t imagine better music existing under it. A more familiar, comfortable tUnE-yArDs, in a way, but no less exciting.
Beach Fossils – songs from Clash The Truth
Their coolness capital plummeted with the rise of DIIV (blame the commentators, not the music), but this is the more practiced dream pop act of the two. They’re not as formidable a rock band but, just now, after many nice and indistinguishable singles, EPs, an album, they’re making their bid as the project with the greater sleepy variety to its art.
Bettie Serveert – Private Suit (2000), Log 22 (2003)
Fingerprints on the album cover: Discarded oils of some former occupant can’t be lifted from discarded paper, but maybe something was kept.
Velocity Girl – Simpatico (1994)
97-cent price tag: We buy and sell it cheaply, but we still place some value on the past.
Neneh Cherry – Homebrew (1992)
Jewel case dirt scratching the sleeve: The dust of a bright new era has settled.
I never gave Justin Timberlake any consideration as a musician before his just-ended week on NBC (five nights on Fallon, and one on SNL), but he seems safely enough his own person now, with an impressive adult face, that I won’t challenge his right to stand in front of any group of musicians he might assemble, nor his right to a victory lap before his album’s even out. That’s appropriate: Fun as these songs are live, it’s still hard to tell if they’re any good, but they’re so generously borrowed and re-shared that they might as well be classic. The comedy bits were even better, leading me to hope, unwisely, that The 20/20 Experience has not just interludes but skits, too.
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