The first rule of covering South by Southwest is to realize that you cannot, in fact, cover SXSW in any comprehensive way. Hell, Clark Kent wouldn't be able to cover the Austin massacre—1,700 musical acts playing thousands of sets in roughly 86 delirious hours—and he has, like, X-ray vision and shit. Instead, you glean what you can out of the feverish chaos. Some local highlights:
Before his Night Marchers took the stage at Emo's Jr. on March 13, John Reis—sporting clean-cut business casual while talking on his cell during sound check—looked more like Johnny Businessman than Johnny Rotten. A few seconds later, he and the Marchers became a writhing, vein-throbbing whirlwind worthy of their headlining slot. Not that they were particularly impressed with the SXSW spectacle. “Dude, we're totally going to get signed,” Reis deadpanned between songs.
Grand Ole Party literally stopped people in their tracks as a large crowd filtering out of a Helio Sequence show in the back room at Red Eyed Fly ran headlong into GOP just as they launched into “Gypsy March” in the front room. Many stayed for the entire sweaty set—featuring staples like “Insane” and “Nasty Habits” along with newer material—including one spectator who asked nobody in particular when and where she could see the trio play again.
High above Austin—in the 18th floor lounge of the Hilton Garden Inn, to be exact—Steve Poltz and his band of Truckee Brothers held court in one of the few Austin venues that doesn't require a tetanus shot upon entering. “We've been on the road for three months and we're doing 12 shows in three days,” Poltz told the crowd. “It's been awesome.”
Poltz insisted he wasn't tired, saying “I have a weird energy source” before launching into more catchy, quirky tales about baseball, childbirth and watching a guy get his tooth pulled out by a monkey in Morocco.
In a testament to the absurdity of SXSW, people stood in line for 20 minutes to get into Maggie Mae's on March 15 only to find the room where The Muslims were performing was mostly empty. I had previously caught the last chords (or missed them altogether) of shows by Jon Foreman, Delta Spirit, Transfer and Greg Laswell thanks to similar shenanigans. But not everybody missed out on songs like “Extinction” and “Nightlife”—a review in the Austin Chronicle of the band's previous set at a Vice Records party called The Muslims a “standout surprise.”—Nathan Dinsdale
View from a stool
The Boredoms have a devoted cult following in both the U.S. and their native Japan and a stellar live reputation, so it was a shock to see 'Canes half-empty for the band's performance last Saturday night.
This lack of attendance can be attributed to one of two things—either 'Canes is a less-than-desirable venue for a show of this type (after all, they did play Bob Seger's “Night Moves” during the gap between performances), or San Diego music fans have a very low tolerance for The Boredoms' proggy, psychedelic free-noise.
“Tribal” would be the word for a Boredoms show, and while they are initially captivating, their three-drummer setup can become grating for all but the die-hard fans and those who've ingested psychotropic drugs. However, they are nothing if not inventive. Ringleader eYe slams on a seven-necked (!) wall of guitars with a long, double-sided drumstick as he yelps unintelligibly into the mic, all while tooling with an effects board that spits fractured samples and drones into the mix. Alternately cheerful, freaky and detached, the act is a unique experience, yet one you have to be mentally prepared for.
On the other hand, openers Human Bell were not nearly as difficult to enjoy, with their droning desert blues anchored by the beautifully understated guitar work of former Lungfish bassist Nathan Bell and current Arbouretum member David Heumann. Using repetition as a weapon, the band channels later Earth and occasionally Giant Sand, starting their songs in a dry, muted tone before eventually building up to crescendos of clanging, clashing glory. I can't imagine these guys ever attracting a huge fan base, but my Magic 8-Ball tells me that future soundtrack work is “Most likely.” —Todd Kroviak
Slab City madness
Sonic performance artist Braden Diotte captures live radio transmissions, then loops and mixes them in real time, often using up to six different transmissions. It's tricky business, but the man knows what he's doing. Diotte is currently completing a double major at UCSD in cognitive science with an emphasis in human-computer interaction and computing in the arts for music. Sounds heavy, right?
Surprisingly, though, his sonic creations are listenable, not to mention exciting, since his source material is always live and unpredictable.
Diotte is about to embark on a few out-of-town shows that are worth the drive. On March 21, he'll play the Koos Art Center in Long Beach. Then he heads out for his self-imposed residency in fabled Slab City on the eastern shores of the Salton Sea. Slab City has long been a refuge for society's outcasts and others who just don't want to be found.
So why choose to perform in such a desolate and isolated locale? Diotte likes the challenge, as well as the wide range of frequencies streaming through the stratosphere of the Imperial Valley, from God-focused radio to Mexican pop to the public broadcasts of the local military bombing range.
Grab an overcoat and a pair of dark shades and join Diotte starting at 6 p.m. March 23 through 29 for his Slab City Sessions. Check www.myspace.com/bradendiotte for directions. It'll be something to tell your grandkids about. —Ryan Severance
The Kinsee Report
The San Diego Museum of Art's Culture & Cocktails quarterly event is widely known to be more about the cocktails than the culture, and last Thursday's installment wasn't any different. Hoards of young professionals crowded into the lobby of SDMA, as close to the bar and DJ Sergio as humanly possible, while just a few seemed willing to put down their drinks long enough to wander through the galleries. Those who did manage to escape the mingling masses, though, got an eyeful—the museum's current Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose (1882-1966) exhibition is a gorgeous showing of the modern painter's body of work, both his mythological creations and his more political pieces.
And speaking of political, SDMA's Inside the Wave: Six San Diego/Tijuana Artists Construct Social Art exhibition is a brain-invading collection of conceptual works that I plan on revisiting outside of the blah-blah-blah, did-I-give-you-my-business-card-yet party scene.
Saturday night was busy for Patricia Rincon, who was running around The Warehouse in Barrio Logan (a private venue with an unpublished address) trying to herd the sold-out crowd into place just minutes before The Myth Project III: American Dreaming began.
The site-specific, multimedia performance piece that followed was entrancing. For the opening segment, Rincon's Dance Collective (www.rincondance.org) rolled and leaped around the dusty concrete floor, moving in ways that symbolized hard, monotonous work while a shadow of an oil pump teetered up and down like a possessed seesaw in the background. With the help of visual artists Teri Hughes and Marcela Villasenor and composer Don Nichols, Rincon and her dancers broke down the myth of the so-called American Dream and touched on political issues like immigration while maintaining an aesthetic that even the most red-necked immigrant hater could appreciate. In short, “The Myth Project III” was a subtle and beautiful success. Rincon and crew head over to their next site, a historic landmark schoolhouse in Encinitas at the corner of Fourth and F streets at 8 p.m. March 29 and 30. Don't wait around to buy tickets; if it's anything like the last performance, they will sell out.—Kinsee Morlan