SXSW: Speed racers, zombie eaters and super shuttles

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By: Austin L. Ray

The air was cool and pleasant when we arrived in Austin yesterday. After waiting for a “Super Shuttle” that was decidedly less than super (our consistently befuddled driver took us to an international hostel that no one in the shuttle was staying at, then gave us an impromptu tour of variously sketchy areas of the city; I witnessed a redneck domestic dispute and a woman dressed as lady liberty hawking some income-tax service, all while listening to one of the absolute worst modern-rock radio shows of all time), we made it to our hotel. We checked in, got things situated, made the obligatory Hut’s trip (I chose the delicious Alley Oop this year), and it was time for bands.

Nashville’s De Novo Dahl took over the cramped upstairs space of Nuno’s in the early evening last night, all pogoing, fistpumps, sparkly, colorful clothing and glorious pop. The crowd was unfortunately rather meager (though it did include Atlanta’s Morning State, who got a shout-out from the stage), but filled up the room enough that it felt significant. De Novo Dahl ended its set with a cover of the Speed Racer theme, which was hastily recorded in 24 hours for hopeful inclusion in the forthcoming movie, but was then rejected by the Wachowski Brothers. However, as vocalist/keyboardist Moose Hungate tells it, there are no hard feelings. Especially because he now doesn’t have to forgive them for the second and third Matrix movies.

I met up with an old college pal at the show, and he had nothing but rave reviews of a “Faith No More tribute band” he caught earlier in the day. The band was called Zombie Eaters, and was actually comprised of local, Sabbath-worshipping Kemado recording artist The Sword. According to my friend, the guys stuck to early-period Faith No More (which seems true to their name inspiration), and totally rocked it. I hope to catch The Sword in non-tribute mode at the Kemado showcase on Friday. Thanks for the tip, Greg!

After some drinks and a careful poring over of the schedule, Paste sampler guru Nate Douglas and I decided to catch a few bands we know next to nothing about. First up was semi-local (Denton, Texas, or, if you believe the band’s MySpace page, Dentron, Texas) trio Ghosthustler. Consisting of two skinny guys programming beats and sounds and one skinny guy dancing around singing, Ghosthustler reminded me of The Rapture and Junior Boys, though slightly less fun than both. Unfortunately overmatched by a noisy band located directly behind the venue, I couldn’t get into this, though have a feeling I’d love it on record.

We walked the wrong way for a bit at this point and ended up missing Frontier Ruckus entirely, another band I’m going to try to watch later this week. Instead, we watched a few songs by The Cotton Jones Basket Ride, which is the latest project from Page France’s Michael Nau. I’m not as familiar with Page France as many of my Paste cohorts (who give thumbs-ups all around), but I just couldn’t get into Nau’s new band. Maybe it was my frame of mind or maybe it was lacking, but we moved on.

Based on a recommendation from our collective hour-by-hour music guide, we hurried over to Elysium next to see Brooklyn punk duo Shellshag. The husband/wife pair (he of feedback-drenched guitar and vocals, she of drums and vocals) play standing up facing each other, and I’m sad we didn’t get to see more of this set. Folks in the crowd sang along to every word, and after the final song, the band rewarded them by letting them destroy one of the drums. Not bad at all.

Hunger pummeling us, Nate and I gave in around 10 p.m. and got in line at Torchy’s Tacos. They have something there called a Killer Burrito, and it truly is just that. Also, it’s absolutely worth the 30-minute wait. Just sayin’…

Dragging our now-distended tummies down 6th street, we went to Emo’s IV in hopes of getting a decent spot before Kimya Dawson began her set. Turns out she went on early (the venue’s schedule was all kinds of shuffled last night), and was giggling like she didn’t know how she got there when we arrived. I won’t go into her set too extensively since Rachael is going to write about it more later, but Dawson was more than charming. A longtime Moldy Peaches fan and a more-recent Juno appreciator, I went into this one expecting to enjoy it, then ended up loving it. People in the audience kept laughing at her “jokes” (because she says things that are sometimes vulgar or silly or taboo), but I really think that reaction is borne out of a strange, detached fondness. After all, what do you do when someone says something kind of weird or rude or out of place and you completely agree? Laughter seems appropriate. Dawson’s aesthetic is brutally honest and innocently childlike. I wish more people were like her and it kind of makes me sad.

That being said, she did hint that major labels were courting her but that she will never leave K, “the greatest record label in the world,” as she calls it. Dawson also mentioned that she’ll be putting out a children’s record on the Pacific Northwest indie imprint in August. After she played a few songs from the forthcoming album, I decided that it should be required listening for every parent ever.

(All right, so maybe I still wrote a lot about her. Sorry, Rachael!)

I concluded the night with recent Band of the Week (also now on K) and all-around underrated art-punk outfit, Mahjongg. The last time I saw this band live was almost exactly three years to the day at a former cattle auction house in the middle of Missouri. Such is the mystery of Mahjongg. In that time, almost everything changed for the band. Two core members left, two core members stayed, three new members joined and Calvin Johnson warmed to the group and signed it to his label. Still, if there is one band in this world that knows how to thoroughly rock a dance-laden, polyrhythmic amalgam of Can, afrobeat, Remain in Light-era Talking Heads and other wonderfully experimental influences, Mahjongg is that band. My night couldn’t have ended any better.

That was my Wednesday in a wordy nutshell. And now I have a party to get to…

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