SXSW, Day 1: Fat Possum, the Thermals, Dan Auerbach and School of Seven Bells
I ventured out of my hotel, into the heat and straight to the Fat Possum Records day showcase. The label has put together an impressive roster of young talent and it could be argued that the bands I caught are more vital than, say, FP’s more established artists like Heartless Bastards or Andrew Bird [Um, no.—Ed.].
First up was WAVVES. The buzz ‘n’ fuzz man behind the project, Nathan Daniel William, maintains a Daniel Johnston-like opaqueness on record, but live (with a drummer) his songs really fill out and clean up. It’s a different band.
Austin’s own the Strange Boys followed and, boy, did they live up to the name—in a good way. The lead singer, Ryan Sambol, has a whiny yawl, like a child who’s candy has been taken away. He might be crying, but I was smiling.
Thomas Function was impressive, as usual, but the sound at Emo’s wasn’t up to the task. Their strongest song, “Belly of the Beast,” lacked its normal punchy crispness.
Next, I ventured over to Club de Ville for a packed Thermals set. The Portland band has a good new record coming out, but, as expected, the fiercest songs live were from 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine.
After the illuminating (previously discussed) set from Iceland’s Sprengjuhöllin, it was time to go to a “big show.” Friends reported that the M.Ward/Deparment of Eagles/St.Vincent/Camera Obscura show was fire-department-violation packed and a friend had to pull some strings with his own label to get into the Heartless Bastards/Decemberists affair. As I contemplated my next move walking down 6th St., a friend from New York pulled me into line and I found myself at Dan Auerbach’s show.
The Black Keys frontman presents a typical problem: While his “side-project” material isn’t bad, he needs to get Jack White on the phone and agree to go back to work in their respective, color-minded main gigs.
I finished out the night with a sonically (and visually) beautiful performance by Brooklyn’s School of Seven Bells. While the Deheza twins and Benjamin Curtis were super-duper annoying at the the beginning of the show—they kept a verbal tennis match going with the sound man for a good 15 minutes—the persistence paid off and blissful vocals shepherded me off to a good night’s sleep.—Colin St. John