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  South By Southwest 2009 - Day 1  



Austin, TX


Dancer vs. Politician, Twin Tigers, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Vivian Girls, Harlem Shakes, Themselves, Fol Chen, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Armada, The Besties, Rotary Downs, Venice is Sinking, My Education, Maserati

Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  
Photographs by:



For the second year in a row, we started our SxSW experience with the familiarity of our local scene. This year's Stomp and Stammer bash was called "Last Party Ever" and was held at B.D. Riley's. So there we were, in an Irish Bar the day after St. Patrick's Day, and as we walked in Athenian act Dancer vs. Politician was on the stage.

This is the latest act of Sanni Baumgärtner. I am sure you are familiar with her -- she is that German girl who keeps singing in various Athens band. I swear i have seen her perform two or three times before, each time with a different act.

Frauline Baumgärtner.

Well, this is her latest ensemble, a four-piece that has frauline Baumgärtner on vocals and guitar, along with a viola-ist (who also sings), a bassist, and drummer. The music is what i have come to expect from Baumgärtner: a light folkish pop with some lyrics in English and some in German. Pleasant on the whole.

The violinist of Dancer vs. Politician.

After a few minutes Twin Tigers took the stage. This is what we had come to see, and Twin Tigers broke into their noisy post-punk shoegaze, which seemed deafeningly loud after the mellowness of the previous act. Loud, noisy, and far more energetic, as this young Athenian band tore into it, hammering away at it.

Twin Tigers rock the last party ever.

The mix today was good for them, with bass playing tiger Aimee Morris way out front, the distorted guitars a hazy layer underneath the bass, and echo dripping off the voice. They played a few old favorites, and also hit a few new tunes, which struck as being more Echo and the Bunnymen-esque than before. Well, Echo and the Bunnymen if that band knew how to rock! Twin Tigers have that same sort of mopey darkness, especially in the vocals, and add some guitar fury to the sound.

Notice the Austin Duckboat unloading behind Aimee Morris.


Like Postlibyan, I thought the mix, and small enclosed space, worked well for them. With these boundaries, the music seemed more intense somehow, as if the Twin Tigers' sound were being compressed by a trash compactor. Likewise, the darkness of the music was somewhat mitigated by the bright Austin sunlight pouring in from the windows. All in all, though it was a good set.

Sunshiney noise pop a la Twin Tigers.


Another wonderful set from this band. The will have an album out on a few months. Who knows -- we might even get them to play Atlanta when it comes out!

Jeff Clark tosses out free shirts.

Twin Tigers still ringing in our ears, we said goodbye to the local crowd and walked down the street to Maggie May's, the venue where we ended SxSW08, only this time we were headed inside. In all my years of coming to Austin for this event, i have never been in the inside part of this establishment before. It's a long room with a bar near the street and a stage at the other end. Apparently there is a kitchen back there somewhere, as the room was filled with the scent of cooking bacon.

We were there to see one of Tracer's semi-random picks, the awesomely named We Were Promised Jetpacks. The first thing i noticed about the band is that they look young -- in fact i wondered if they could legally drink in bars in Texas. If not, i bet that would really piss them off, as they are Scots who no doubt like a pint every now and then. I was also struck by the fact that the concept of "the bad indie rock hair cut" has infected the British Isles. Dammit people -- why is it so hard to use a comb every now and again?

Their combs were confiscated by the TSA!

When they started to play i was struck by two things. First, that the drummer hits really heavy for a smallish looking blond Scot, and secondly that the lead vocalist has a great voice. No, really, the kid has some pipes on him, and from the way he used his dynamic range throughout their set, i would wager he has some kind of training. Perhaps he sang in the school choir or something.

He really could sing.


Other than the band name, all I knew about this band was that they were Scottish and allegedly had a post-rock sound. Well, the first of these traits was definitely true, while the second one…not so much. We Were Promised Jetpacks was more like an 80s-esque pop band than Mogwai. And this is not inherently a bad thing. What set them apart, as Postlibyan suggests, is the lead singer's vocals. This young man could really sing, both on-key and over quite a range. In some ways, it reminded of the lead singer of Sleep Therapy, albeit with less mopey-ness.

So how about those jetpacks?

But for a random, very young band, they definitely kept my attention through their set. I suspect that as they grow and mature, they'll end up being tighter and their music will become more interesting. Certainly, the secondary guitarist had some interesting riffs going on through out the set.


On the whole the band played fast, energetic indie rock. They were rather good, but after a while i felt that their songs started to run together. There was a certain sameness to the tunes which is something that a band can overcome given time. For a young band starting out, they do very well. I am curious to see how the band develops.

No jetpacks, but lots of pedals.

After that rather enjoyable set, we had some time to kill, so we decided to just hang out inside Maggie Mays. As we were standing around waiting for the next act to set up, we noticed that there was a loud female-fronted punk band playing on the upstairs patio. And by "noticed" i mean "they were so loud that it was hard to talk, inside, downstairs". So we did the logical thing and headed upstairs to get closer to the noise.

I struggled through the small crowd gathered in front of the stage to see an all girl power trio play a few songs. They sounded okay, but i think the problem was with the set up. The main issue was that the three members were having trouble harmonizing, and i bet they were having trouble because it was so loud that they could not hear each other well enough to harmonize. Still, they didn't sound bad, and i bet would have been kind of fun with the appropriate harmonizing in place.

A later consultation of the schedule tells me that this band was called Vivian Girls. We never saw them perform again, but various members appeared at several of the shows we went to.

After Vivian Girls wrapped up their set, and we could actually hear each other talk again, we headed back inside to catch the next indoor act. The sign on the wall said that this band was The Harlem Shakes. The only thing i know about The Harlem Shakes is that they use one of the promotional companies that sends me a lot of emails. I have read dozens of things about the band, and it never really seemed like my thing. Still, why not stick around and give them a shot?

They are a large band -- six members including a keyboardist, a saxophonist, and a lead singer. They had a good sized crowd there to see them, so i had high hopes… Which were dashed the minute the "singer" started singing. Or yelping, or whatever the heck he was doing. They guy couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, and the rest of the band sang back up with falsetto. Ugh.

Harlem Shakes in action.

Still, i toughed it out for a few numbers, enough to get the impression that The Harlem Shakes are trying to make lush pop a la Magic Bullets, but failing at it. I wonder why this band has a buzz about them? I certainly saw nothing worthwhile….

  The Harlem Shakes weren't a particularly bad band. Musically, they were trying to do pop with a slightly loungey air, which could have worked had the lead singer taken the musical persona to heart. I think he was trying, but just couldn't quite get out of the "hip" headspace he was stuck in. Either way, it seemed like there was a strong disconnect between the music and the vocal lines, which made it hard to take in the band as a whole.  

After a few tunes we headed out to Red 7, where i wanted to catch The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. He had a little while to wait, but i figured that it would take a while to get in…

After we fought our way through the line, Tracers ventured into the restroom. I was stuck inside the venue, noticing that a rap act was on stage. But not just any rap act, but Themselves, one of the few rap acts that i have enjoyed in recent years. I spent a few minutes watching Dose One bounce around on stage rapping very fastly while Jel fiddled with electronics. The sound mix was not great -- it favored the voice to the expense of everything else.

Dose One in action.

After Tracers showed up, we headed out to the patio. When we got there a band was on stage. Everyone in the band had black raccoon masks painted on their faces.

Fol Chen are mesmerized by a trash can off stage,
that they can root through after they finish playing...

Painting a raccoon mask must be the hot new trend this year, as this was only the first such band we were to see! (Okay, to be fair, there was only one other, and i never saw them perform. But still -- what are the odds that two bands would do that kind of face painting? Weird.)

  At Red 7, I began to experience one of my enduring themes for this year's SxSW: being stuck in a crowd surrounded by people who were a lot taller than me. So my main impression of Fol Chan is "You mean, there was a band on stage? Who knew?" Yes, I am that short.  

They were a five-piece act featuring a keyboardist.

The racoon on lead keys in Fol Chen.

The keys kind of dominated a lot of the proceedings, making them seem like a synthpop act. The music was catchy and fun, and i was enjoying their performance. But then it started to sound familiar, and after a few songs i realized that we had this bands promo! Sure enough they are called Fol Chen, and someone had sent me a download link to this record. I have listened to it a few times, and i enjoy it somewhat, but seeing them do it live was a welcome surprise. I know that they played Winter, That's All, and it sounded great.

So -- Fol Chen, a raccoon band. Huh. I will have to give that promo a few more spins, because what they were doing live was interesting. After that, we stood in the packed crowd waiting for the main event of the day shows, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I have been enjoying this band for a few months now, ever since Tonevendor recommended their EP, and i was very impressed with it. I was very curious to hear what they sounded like. Would they be able to recreate their dreampop sound in concert?

The answer, gratefully, is yes. In fact they pretty much recreated their recorded sound faithfully. The band is a four-piece act, and they all seemed very short from where i was standing at the back of the crowd. Their noisy pop sound flowed from the stage, and the crowd seemed to be really getting in to it. At times various songs reminded me of Lush, Celestial, or Dinosaur Jr. It was a haze of light vocals, fun keyboards, and heavily effected guitars. My only complaint is that the female voice was poorly mic-ed and was hard to hear.

The lead vocalist is very pure at heart.


Postlibyan really wanted to see The Pains of Being Pure of Heart, and he was quite concerned as he suspected they might become one of the "buzz bands". And if you're a buzz band, it's hard for us mere mortal who hate to stand in line to see you. So I know he was glad to get a chance to watch them.

The view of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart from where we were standing.

I wasn't too familiar with this act prior to this set, but I thought they came across quite well. The noisy, slightly muddy mix suited their sound quite well, as it reminded me a bit of any number of proto-Indie bands from the early 90s, especially with the guitar sound. I can see why people would like them so much.


Otherwise, they were as good as i expected them to be. I will definitely be going to see them at The EARL in a few months.

Joyous keys dominate The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

And then, after the first truly great set of SxSW09, We headed out to have really good Cuban food at Habana Calle 6. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. Everything i have had there has been excellent, and tonight was no exception. Arguably the best Cuban restaurant i have ever been to.

We then grabbed a coffee, and headed back out into the maelstrom for the first night's events.

Once again we started with the comfort of home, going to see Athenian post-rock act A. Armada perform at The Soho Lounge. A. Armada are a four-piece, this time featuring the bassist from Cinemechanica. The music they do is melodic, ebbing post-rock in the vein of Explosions in the Sky. I would describe their music as "thinking man's metal, with funk breakdowns". The basswork tonight sounded very good, becoming very complex at the points when the guitars wound down.

Melodic guitar in A. Armada.

This band is much improved since i first saw them at Corndogorama last year.


I thought A. Armada came across particularly well tonight at The Soho Lounge. It seems that since the last time I saw them, the metal aspects of the music have been toned down a bit, leaving the core of melodic post-rock in place.

A. Armada in action.

This is a band that relies on the interplay of their rhythm section, which grounds the music so that it doesn't get too noodley or spacey. In short, I think they've moved more towards the sound of their label-mates Maserati, although A Armada's songs and soundscapes tend to come in more easily digestible chunks. All in all, they were definitely worth seeing, and will be worth seeing again in the future.


However, we left before the end of their set because i really wanted to see The Besties perform down the street. I have been a fan of this quirky synth-pop band for a few years now, and this is the first chance i have ever had to see them. So we cut short an enjoyable set by A. Armada in order to catch The Besties.

Instead, however, we encountered something that i had not yet seen in my five years at SxSW: we saw a sound guy breakdown and delay a show.

The Besties confer on whether or not they should lynch the sound guy.

The Besties were set to play the inside of Maggie May's, where we had seen We Were Promised Jetpacks earlier in the day. When we arrived, The Besties were setting up. And then they tried to soundcheck, and then the sound guy had to do some more wiring. But he seemed in no hurry, which annoyed the SxSW volunteer responsible for the venue, who tried to help out…

Bestie Kelly is exasperated by the delays.

In all we stood waiting for 20 minutes waiting on the show to start. That has never happened before… And the poor Besties soldiered on as best they could, tolerating the incompetence of the sound man. When they were finally ready to move on and start, the sound guy said something about one of the amps not being adjusted right, guitarist Ricky snarked, "Yeah, well it's your mic. Let's start…"

Ricky and Marisa finally start playing.


Postlibyan is being kind regarding the incompetence of the sound guy at this venue. It was particularly egregious. As an example, at one point, he had to change out the cables to microphones, but couldn't figure out which end of the cable to plug in. Likewise, once he got things plugged in (allegedly), he still had to keep coming back to the stage to reset equipment. I've never seen a professional or amateur have that many issues.

Marisa had to sing louder than Drunk Ranting Guy.

Of course, part of my issue with the wait is that we were stuffed into the crowd next to some exceedingly drunk folks, including one guy who kept ranting at loud volumes about how all the popular bands (such as The Hold Steady) just steal their music from others and don't actually write or do anything new. Now I'm not a huge fan of The Hold Steady, but I have to say that I found his comments a little ironic, considering that the band we were hopefully about to see isn't necessary the most original one on the planet. Just saying.


And they played. And the sound was mud. And i really enjoyed it. But, dammit, i know that they could have sounded better, and i had waited years for this…

The Besties are now a five-piece, adding a horn and a drummer to their two keyboard and guitar original trio. I like the hint of depth that the horn adds, just a touch here and there. They played a lot off of Home Free, including a very nice rendition of What Would Tim Armstrong Do?

Would Tim Armstrong play the trumpet while Kelly sings?

So i enjoyed the show, but i had wanted more… Frustrating.

  Since I have not been waiting to see The Besties for years, I was better able to deal with the sonic mud and just enjoy their set. The music sounded fun, and the anger that emanated off the stage (towards the sound guy) enhanced the edgy persona. I couldn't hear much of the vocals, but I could tell that the general music sound could be best described as pop-punk, with a slightly silly/bouncy air. As I said, it just seemed like fun, although I'd like to see them again to be sure, preferably at a better venue.  

Moderately annoyed we headed to the next venue, Ace's Lounge. Due to the staggered show schedule at Maggie May's, we got there in time to catch the last few songs by Rotary Downs. They were performing a vaguely angular indie rock, kind of like a catchier, more melodic math rock. We saw maybe 10 minutes, but this band impressed. I will be on the lookout for them.

Rotary Downs try not to kick the liquor down.

This venue was strange. It was obviously a dance club full time, featuring a nice DJ booth off to one side. There were two bars, and the stage was actually on top of one of them. I wonder what they do with that space the rest of the time?

So we hung out and waited for Venice Is Sinking to take the stage. This is a five-piece Athenian act that plays slow pop with added violin, piano, horn, and male female vocal harmonies. I had seen them play once before, and was favorably impressed. But that was a few years ago…

Venice Is Sinking.

Tonight, they were transcendently beautiful. The sound in the venue was sparkling clear, and the various layers of their sound ebbed and flowed. I stood there and let the sound wash over me, echoing waves of tinkling piano, soaring violin, delicate guitar, rolling rhythms, and hushed vocals. It was utterly entrancing, like some sort of natural high. I didn't want their set to end.

Violinist and vocalist.


I had wanted to see Venice is Sinking, just to see how much they had changed over the years. I recognized several of their songs from back in the day, and thought they came across well.

The keyboardist looks on.

But the new stuff? Wow. It was just gorgeous, reminding me more than a little of Knife in the Water. I've heard these folks have a new album out, and I most certainly want to pick it up.

Violin and guitar.


I will definitely be looking for more from this band. Supposedly there will be a new album in a few months, and hopefully they will make the trek down 316 to play Atlanta.

Notice the nice guitar. Must be Athenian.

After that magnificent tranquil set, stepping out into the chaos of Sixth Street was shocking. The crowds and the incessant chatter of thousands of drunk people bringing me out of the peaceful reverie that Venice Is Sinking had placed me in. I hate it when that happens.

  I know exactly the feeling Postlibyan references here. Venice is Sinking was an act that drew you in and led you into their musical world. It was totally involving, and in the mostly empty Aces Lounge it was like there was nothing in the world outside of the band. And then we stepped outside and there was noise and people and bright lights. I had to shake my head for a moment just to come back to reality.  

We headed back to Soho Lounge to catch a set from My Education. This is a local Austin act that we have been raving about here on EvilSponge for a few years now. They are an orchestral post-rock act, playing long instrumentals that seem to rotate around a viola. I have enjoyed them live many times, and tonight was no exception.

My Education in action.


Of all the times we've seen My Education, I think my favorite was at last year's SxSW, when they played a hotel conference room. It just suited them. Also, I think that was when I first noticed the stitched cat sitting on top of guitarist Brian Purington's VOX amp. I don't know why I found it so memorable, but my main question on seeing My Education again is would the cat still be there? (The answer is that indeed it was, and it made me happy).

Brian Purrington. (Amp cat not pictured.)


They have added a new member, an Asian girl hidden at the dark back of the stage playing keyboards and the occasional cello. This is not a big change in their sound, but rather a welcome refinement.

My Education's drummer wonders, "What the heck is that guy photographing during setup?"

They played five tunes in their allotted 45 minutes. The first three were off of their just released Bad Vibrations album, but they followed that up with excellent renditions of two older songs: Concentration Waltz and Thanksgiving. I normally consider Thanksgiving to be their classic, but the loping Concentration Waltz really did it for me tonight. The song seemed to stretch out in waves, helping me recapture some of the magic i felt during Venice Is Sinking.

You do have to concentrate to waltz, if you do it right.

Really, this was another fine performance by an interesting band.


The thing about My Education is that, like Venice is Sinking, they just totally drawn the listener in. Postlibyan tells me that the band played for 45 minutes. To my mind, once they started going, it felt like 15 minutes at most. That's how involved their music is. I recognized most of the songs, and thought that the ebb and flow of their set was particularly well orchestrated. I have to say My Education are one my favorite instrumental post-rock acts at the present.

My Education feature pedal steel guitar as well.

  It was getting late at this point, and there were still two more sets to go! Up next in the same venue was Maserati, yet another Athens band, but one that rarely performs live. Maserati are always entrancing in concert, so i wondered what they would do tonight.  
  I like Maserati as well as the next person, but the thing is that they always reinvent themselves. So most of the time, I can't say that the particularly good set I saw 6 months ago will have any reflection on the set they play on any other evening. In fact, if I recall correctly, back at their Corndog show, Maserati were starting to play with their sound, so if anything I was a little concerned about which Maserati would show up on this evening.  

But first the venue started to fill in. No, i mean it got packed. I have always known that Maserati are a popular band (they get consistently good write ups on numerous blogs) but i usually see them play to a crowd of 30 or so towards the end of Corndogorama. They packed out Soho Lounge, which is good for them.

Maserati love to stay at the Y.M.C.A.!

And the answer as to what they are doing different is: disco. Everything was sped up, the drummer and the bassist playing at a breakneck pace. Played that fast, the echoed guitars seemed more syncopated and less psychedelic. It was disco a la Pink Floyd's The Wall. To me it seemed as if they played their normal 70 minute set, but crammed it into a 45 minute time slot. Weird.

  Ah, Disco Maserati! I have to say I didn't see that coming at all. It was the most disconcerting musical change I've heard since The Selmanaires went from being Wire-influenced to Talking Heads-damaged. All Maserati needed were falsetto vocals and it would be time to head to roller skating rink. And I do have to think it's a little odd that A Armada was more like Maserati tonight than Maserati themselves.  

And there was more weirdness to it. They went on at a reasonable hour. There were lights shining on them -- not much, but they did not play on their normal totally darkened stage. It wasn't 5000 degrees when they played. And, last but not least, they talked to the crowd! I have seen Maserati play numerous times, but i have never, ever, seen them use a microphone even to say hi. Tonight they did. How odd.

He can actually speak to the crowd. Who knew?

So for a Maserati performance, it was very disconcerting. And i have to admit that i think the breakneck pace of their set tonight ruined much of the beauty of their performance. Oh well…

And with that, i decided that i was too tired to see anyone else. So we headed back to the hotel room to catch some sleep. There would be more bands tomorrow….

Related Links:

Read the entire SxSW09 review:
     Day 1 featuring Dancer vs. Politician, Twin Tigers, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Vivian Girls, Harlem Shakes, (Themselves), Fol Chen, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, A Armada, The Besties, Rotary Downs, Venice is Sinking, My Education, Maserati
     Day 2 featuring O + S, The Carrots, Death is not a Joyride, Foot Patrol, Azeda Booth, Ohbijou, My Latest Novel, Tungsten Coil, That Petrol Emotion
     Day 3 featuring Winter Sounds, Ulrich Schnauss, Longview, The Union Trade, Western Keys, I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, School of 7 Bells, Ladyfinger, O + S, Lonely Deart, Headlights, Asobi Seksu
     Day 4 featuring Natccu, Great Northern, Low Line Caller, Peel, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, The Love Me Nots, Efterklang, An Horse, Lou Barlow, Say Hi, The Rosebuds
   Extra: Photo gallery.
Band links for today:
   Dancer vs. Politician:
   Twin Tigers:
   We Were Promised Jetpacks:
   Vivian Girls:          
   Harlem Shakes:
   Fol Chen:
   The Pains of Being Pure at Heart:  
   A Armada:
   The Besties:
   Rotary Downs:
   Venice is Sinking:
   My Education:


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