Grizzly Bear (photo by Wendy Lynch Redfern)

Grizzly Bear, Akron/Family, We Have Band, Here We Go Magic, BLK JKS, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Girls

SXSW 2009 Day 2, March 19th, 2009

Mar 31, 2009 Web Exclusive
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Day two of SXSW for us began where day one ended, at the Central Presbyterian Church. The night before we had seen there the appealing trio of Department of Eagles, St. Vincent, and Camera Obscura. This night we also saw three bands at the venue, but only one was great. As we had missed M. Ward the night before at the same venue by not allowing enough time to navigate the long line, we were determined to arrive in plenty of time for Grizzly Bear’s 8:30 P.M. slot at the eMusic showcase. That meant that we had to sit through two other bands we had no interest in seeing, including one we’d never even heard of before.

Girls

First up was San Francisco’s Girls, who were actually a bunch of guys, and whose music was as generic as their name. They performed one of the worst sets we witnessed at SXSW 2009. Everything about them was wrong—from the lead-singer’s barely intelligible vocals, to the guitarist’s ridiculous oversized hat, to the lack of memorable hooks, and their poor attempt at being a shoegazer band around song three (they just sounded loud, with a mess of poorly calculated feedback and bad vocals). Girls seemed to want to be some kind of ’90s throwback band, but were either referencing the wrong parts of the decade or couldn’t successfully emulate the right parts. At some point I decided to head to the lobby, as I was starting to get a headache and my ears couldn’t take much more of their racket. These are some Girls who you don’t want to take home for the night, let alone take home to meet mama.

Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage was up next and faired slightly better. I’d never heard of them before and their folk-rock was pleasant enough, if on the bland and forgettable side. The trio featured singer/acoustic guitarist/keyboardist Nils Edenloft, drummer Paul Banwatt, and singer/keyboardist Amy Cole (who jerked around the stage and clapped her hands a lot). The band was predictably from Alberta, Canada, but now seem to be based in Toronto. “These songs are about Alberta. If you’re not from there I hope you’ll enjoy them as well,” said Edenloft. My initial reaction was to yawn and think, ‘Bring on Grizzly Bear already!’ My next thought was that they could benefit from throwing an electric guitar in the mix and that if I wasn’t taking notes for my review that I likely wouldn’t remember them in a week. “This is a song about some kids who are trying to bike to Edmonton, and that’s a really long ride,” prefaced Edenloft about one song that was about as exciting as his description makes it out to be. But The Rural Alberta Advantage came into its own when the band members went sans microphones and went out into the audience. The trio walked down the aisle and stopped in the middle of the church, playing acoustic instruments and belting it out a cappella-style. The moment straddled the line between being precious and special, but at least it was memorable, unlike the majority of their set. 

Grizzly Bear

Then came the main event. “It’s nice to be back at SXSW. We played it four years ago, not even officially, it was at some pizza parlor,” said Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste as the Brooklyn-based 4-piece took the stage. A lot has changed for Grizzly Bear in those years—they’ve gone from buzz-band status to releasing one of the most anticipated albums of the year (as well as gracing Under the Radar’s cover this past January). The band’s ghostly harmonies were perfectly complemented by the church’s setting and acoustics. Grizzly Bear was in another league and from another world, when compared to the two generic bands that preceded them.

Following Grizzly Bear we tried to check out one of this year’s buzz bands, Crystal Stilts, who were playing at the Red 7 Patio with Suckers, Chairlift, and Harlem Shakes. Alas, Crystal Stilts were running late and when we got there some poor ramshackle duo was filling in to kill the time, something we didn’t realize at first. At first I thought, ‘Wow, this is Crystal Stilts? They don’t sound anything like their record and, actually, they sound like shit.’ Then we realized that wasn’t Crystal Stilts and that the band hadn’t even showed up to the venue yet, even though they were supposed to be on stage right then, so we decided to move on.

Akron/Family

Next up was the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans showcase at Mohawk Patio. We walked in as South Africa’s BLK JKS were playing, but really started to pay attention when Akron/Family took the stage and got the crowd going with their tribal chants. When they played SXSW last year it was as a 7-piece live band, but following the departure of Ryan Vanderhoof, Akron/Family is now a trio and they performed as such. This meant that their set was less manic and delirious than when I saw them last year. But following Grizzly Bear’s beautifully controlled restraint, it was a welcome change to see three energetic bearded guys jam out in front of an American flag (well, the tie-dyed looking one that graces the cover of the band’s new album, Set ’Em Wild, Set ’Em Free, their first for Dead Oceans). The band played Set ’Em Wild highlight, and opener, “Everyone Is Guilty,” which was a different beast live without its string section (as Akron/Family are not the kind of band to use sampled string sections).

We Have Band

British buzz band We Have Band (who Under the Radar interviewed last fall) was already playing when we walked into the NME showcase at Latitude 30 to catch them. There was something fresh about We Have Band, even though they have an ’80s art-rock meets synth-pop vibe that’s certainly been heard before. The London-based trio looked detached and cool, with co-vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dede WP shaking her maracas as if in a trance. But they got the crowd dancing. “That was an easy one wasn’t it?” joked co-vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Darren Bancroft after the band played their infectious single “Oh,” a song in which the lyrics primarily consist of the word “oh” being repeated. The trio then pulled out a great cover of Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls.” While that was definitely one of the cooler moments of SXSW, I also couldn’t stop thinking of Flight of the Conchords’ “Inner City Pressure,” which deftly parodies the Pet Shop Boys’ classic. At the end of their set we decided that, yes, we’ll have this band.

Here We Go Magic

We ended the night with a set from Here We Go Magic, who failed to deliver on the promise of their self-titled debut album. Part of the problem might stem from the fact that frontman Luke Temple recorded the album himself, directly to four-track, and then assembled a band to perform it live. Perhaps some more band practices were in order, because the group seemed awkward playing live. The bassist tried to clap along to one song, but couldn’t seem to find the beat, which kind of sums up the band’s performance. We left after a few songs that went nowhere, but perhaps they got better.

Of course, there is a multitude of great bands who perform each night at SXSW. Other artists who we could’ve seen that night, included: Peter Murphy, Vivian Girls, M. Ward, Young Galaxy, Primal Scream, Howe Gelb, J. Tillman, Ed Harcourt, Passion Pit, Peter Bjorn and John, That Petrol Emotion, Slaraffenland, Tori Amos, Bishop Allen, Phosphorescent, Casiokids, Chikita Violenta, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Matt & Kim, My Latest Novel, Suckers, Chairlift, Harlem Shakes, No Age, Handsome Furs, Blitzen Trapper, Wavves, Richard Swift, Cold War Kids, and, of course, Crystal Stilts (if they ever ended up showing up to the venue). 

Click here for a full gallery of photos from SXSW day two.

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San Diego Weddings
August 5th 2009
6:04pm

I loved Grizzly Bear!  It was so calm and intimate in that space

sobakawa pillow
October 4th 2009
11:24am

wow, San Francisco’s Girls must have been very bad. It has been a while since I have read such a damning review of any band