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Heartbeat: NUVO at SXSX, Day three



"You know why 6th St. is great? It's great, because i've always wanted to listen to six bands at once. Except, not at all. It's like a marching band that never moves; you have to walk by it."

Doug Benson (comedian and host of of comedy podcasts Doug Loves Movies, The Benson Interruption, and other generally funny endeavors) summed up my general feelings on Friday evening at Esther's Follies. He was joined by Scott Aukerman (czar of Earwolf, a comedy podcast conglomerate), Austinite Brendon Walsh, Chip Pope, the Sklar brothers and Ari Shaffir on stage for a funny (and at times very funny) podcast filming. The Benson Interruption generally includes performers doing part of their sets, but this functioned more as a series of short interviews.

Don't worry, I hear you screaming,"But Kat, you're supposed to be seeing music!" Yes. Yes, I am. But eleven solid hours of music can drive you inside a comedy theater for a short, drum set-less reprieve. Before seeing the Benson Interruption, I caught the last half hour of the Sklar brothers' podcast Sklarborough Country, which featured a gratuitous dramatic reading of Jose Canseco's completely insane tweets ("Only a small amount of the population can see beyond the fascade or smoke screen.can you ?").

My day started off with some Hoosiers; I had lunch with the lovely gentleman behind The In Store, a relatively new Indy music site that combines beautiful videography and interviews with local artists (their next event will feature Husband&Wife at Locals Only) and proceeded over to MOKB's showcase at Peckerhead's. I arrived just as unicorn man/musical centaurAndy D was wrapping his set. He's promised new show dates in Indy soon.

Gardens and Villa was set up next on stage. The lead singer had a sling of wooden flutes strapped across his back, and, for how unbelievably twee that was, they delivered a totally solid set. The wooden flute solos by the vocalist/guitarist sometimes careened their sound into Moody Blues-y territory, but the cascading keyboards and sweet vocals kept me engaged the whole set. They've just wrapped a score for F.W. Murnau's silent film Faust, which they premiered in February. This band does things like camp for weeks outside their studio (after which they said things like, "no showers, no kitchen, but all the magic you could ask for"). After listening to some of their recordings upon returning home, I've determined that their synth-heavy, alto-voiced tracks actually work better for me live. They're a cleaner version of a lot of the dirty psych-rock happening in Indy right now. Think GloryHole-ers Learner Dancer and Bloomington boys Chandelier Ballroom.

Speaking of being engaged throughout, I really appreciate the shorter set times that SXSW brings. I'm a terrible product of my generation, a distracted, over-committed Millennial, constantly multi-tasking and a bit worn out with hours-long performances with multiple encores (I'm lookin' at you, Wilco). Although a few acts, including Titus Andronicus and Nas, got a bit feisty about their short set times, I felt that it kept the energy moving in the venues, and allowed listeners to pop in and out between sets. On a separate but related note, I cannot believe the sheer organizational power exercised by the minds behind SXSW. I was gifted with (presented with? belabored by?) a massive, 400-page SXSW manual in my official festival gift tote that had a full-page spread of all of the volunteers in approximately Size 4 font. It seems a combination of luck, money and sheer force of will that keeps this festival running. In all of my wanderings, I rarely encountered a show that started five minutes before or after the announced set time.

Father John Misty is the next project of Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman. After a skirmish with the sound guys (which soured more than a few members of the audience to his performance), he climbed on top of the amps and played a few completely unplugged, un-miced acoustic ballads. His voice was clear and sweet, his lyrics biblical and vaguely dirty, his legs super long, his hair super tousled. He's an acoustic guitar rock star with angst about life and death, God and Satan. I just wish he hadn't taken part of his short time onstage to abuse the kind sound guys.

Great Lake Swimmers create that great, round sound that comes with the addition of string instruments, in their case, an upright bass and violin. After the conclusion of their set, they announced they'd be back in Austin within the month. This was a typical announcement at SXSW; so many bands move through Austin so regularly that a missed set doesn't feel nearly as crushing as in other cities that are less frequented.

Check out a video of the Great Lake Swimmers' performance.

My favorite part of the MOKB showcase experience was how everyone looked vaguely familiar. It was a perfect opportunity to use the new Highlight app, if I was the kind of person to install something that stalkerish on my phone. Like the app would have confirmed, I had a sixth sense that Hoosiers were everything, and it was refreshing to see so many familiar faces.

Mess With Texas is one of the biggest free venues, and I wandered over to catch Titus Andronicus and Built to Spill. It was incredibly, incredibly loud, in an actual, "I'm scared about what this is doing to my ears" kind of way. Titus Andronicus, as I previously mentioned, was upset about the brevity of their set. They destroyed with the short time they had though, including a rousing conclusion featuring their track "Titus Andronicus Forever." I am concerned a bit for the eardrums of my fellow listeners, but even if we all lost a few frequencies, it rocked, hard. My first experience with Titus Andronicus was at a house show in Bloomington in 2008, where lead singer Eric Harm spent most of his time writhing on the floor for the audience of about 12. They were no less energetic (enraged?) then than now, for thousands.

Built to Spill was a must-see for me at SXSW. From the moment they came on stage, with basically zero in0between song banter and massive, soaring riffs, they created an extremely pleasing set. They seemed removed from the set, the crowd, even the entire festival; this was probably because they're simply too big. Not too big for the festival - more like too big for Earth.

I didn't make it inside the Fader Fort (a wrist-banded affair for which I had no band on my wrist), but sitting outside was almost as good. Kimbra was on stage when I was listening outside. I knew her mostly from her Gotye collaboration on "Somebody That I Used To Know." I'll be honest, I don't have anything revelatory to say about her set or the Fader Fort, since I didn't actually make it inside.

Sixth Street is lined on either side with clubs, and inside of those clubs are bands. Outside the clubs, though, are also bands. I saw dozens of street performers, but right after the leaving the Fader Fort area, I saw two of my favorites. One was an unnamed two-man metal band set up right next to Vino's creme brĂ»lée food cart and in front of Death Metal Pizza (the owners of whom I developed a strong affinity for throughout the course of the weekend). Vocal-less and with an electronic drum set, these street performers recalled a heavier Dream Theater, both in terms of technical skill and style. I sat just feet behind the drummer, which allowed me to observe his feet/bass drum pedal in a way that I had never had the chance before. I wish that I had grabbed their name, but just as quickly as they had set up, they were gone, wheeled away down the street and inside Death Metal Pizza.

I saw Skinny Lister, a five-piece band of Londoners without a full-length to their name (a skinny discography, one may say?), but with a charming accordion/mandolin/ukulele-based sound. Surrounded by a clapping and stomping crowd and completely unplugged, Skinny Lister would be perfectly placed as an opener for fellow alt-country Londoners Mumford and Sons.

Around this time, I made my way over to Esther's Follies to catch the aforementioned comedy shows. It was a relaxing break from the tunes.

I ended my night on a curb inside the Heart of Texas Rockfest compound, a chain link fence-enclosed parking lot complete with not one, but two Berlin-inspired kebab food trucks. I checked in with Devolver, a four-piece basic rock band that was largely unspectacular, but was endearing because of how pleased they were to be there. By this point in the evening, the streets had begun to gain a peculiar smell (one I later identified as being of regurgitated liquor, trash and discarded kebabs). It was time for me to get myself home, and after a bit of trouble flagging a cab (but no trouble at all finding so many pedicabs), I did just that.

I'm sitting here writing blissfully in silence, but in just a few hours I'll be back, prowling 6th St. and listening to six (or seven, or eight, or nine) bands at once.


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