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  South By Southwest 2012  



Austin, TX


The Blind Shake, My Education, Library Voices, Hooded Fang,
Computer Magic, The Mynabirds, Ganglians, Unicycle Loves You, and A Classic Education

Reviewed by:
  Tracers and PostLibyan  
Photographs by:



As you may have guessed by now, gentle reader, SxSW 2012 wasn’t exactly turning out as expected. Sure we were hearing some really good music and I’ll also confess we were eating good food as well. But, the band scheduling was wreaking havoc, as we ended up with lots of gapping holes in our plans most nights. More importantly, the sheer number of people -- drunken staggering people -- was getting overwhelming. As we moved into Friday, it was clear that perhaps we needed to change our expectations and our plans if we were going to make it through the weekend.

Thinking back to 2011, two of our best random decisions were deciding to check out Rah Rah at the Canada House and deciding to spend Saturday night (historically the most mayhem night at SxSW) on the West side of Congress Avenue, where the crowds dissipate a bit and the ambience is more "upscale" and less "college frat party". On this Friday, we decided to invoke both options.

But before we could do so, we had a fairly lazy and late morning after the Map & Atlases show the night before. This meant that it was probably noon-ish before we wandered down to Ye Olde Korean restaurant so that PostLibyan could get his Bi Bim Bap fix and I could eat yet another meal involving Salmon.

After gorging ourselves, we grabbed an extra iced tea (yum) and wandered over to the place called The Side Bar to see Austin band My Education. It’s sort of funny. Every year we try to see My Education (and usually we succeed) as they plat the orchestral instrumental post rock in which the two primary instruments are viola and bass. The band consistently mixes up their actual songs (both in playing entirely new ones and in playing familiar ones with different arrangements), so each show is something of a treat. Anyway, I confess to being a bit excited to see My Education.

So I was bit surprised that, once we walked down some twisty, twirly corridors, we popped out into a outside yard where . . . a shaved-headed pale trio were beginning to play what sounded like old-school hardcore throbbing punk.

Seeing people have hair makes us angry!

This was clearly not My Education. As we later discovered, this was The Blind Shake from Minneapolis and they were clearly Husker Du damaged. And this was cool. In a fit of showing my age, every now and then, I need a good dose of old-fashioned hardcore that verges on metal, complete with shouted lyrics and frenzied guitars.

Playing under a tent is infuriating!

I grew up on this (well this and The Pogues, but that’s another story) and there’s something invigorating about listening to the music. Of course, when you’re in the mood for instrumental post rock, it’s a bit of a surprise, but not necessarily an unwelcome one. So we stood there for a few minutes watching The Blind Shake.

After a while, I noticed something odd: people kept disappearing around the side of the building and never re-emerging.

Oddly infuriating brick near the stage where The Blind Shake were playing.
It looks sad to be so infuriating.

This implied that perhaps there was another place to see bands. I gestured to PostLibyan (The Blind Shake were loud enough that I had my earplugs in) and we decided to see for ourselves. After going around the side of the building and down this tiny alley we popped out into a large open space (aka a parking lot) that had tables and an awning and . . . lo and behold a band we recognized as My Education setting up. They also had, interesting enough, a very large digital light set up around and on top of the stage, sort of like the large LEDs that we saw once at a Ladytron concert.


Words cannot do justice to this set up, which i think once belonged in a state of the art disco in the late 1970s. Very trippy, dude.

Doesn't is just make you want to do The Hustle?


Anyway, shortly after we made our way through the maze of The Side Bar, My Education began to play and, as usual, they were lovely. My Education, as mentioned above, are one of those bands that we always try to catch when we’re in Austin, because their music has a fairly epic quality in the way the band members interact with each other in a musical format. Likewise, the fact that so much of the melody swirls around a viola makes the music fairly unique. And, on this say, the blinking light show seemed to highlight the vaguely psychedelic nature of their post-rock compositions.

It was nicely done and started the afternoon day show carousel off on a good note.

  They played about four songs, including the ever impressive Concentration Waltz, which got really noisy, the dense music blending nicely with the tripadelic light show. I thought about yelling, "Play something off of Dark Side", but worried that not everyone would get the joke.  

Once they finished, we decided to invoke the "when in doubt, try the Canadians" bylaw of SxSW. So we toddled over to the "Canada House" (where we had originally started off Wednesday evening) to check out the set of band called Library voices, who I wanted to see just because they were from Regina Saskatchewan, which is also the home of Rah Rah, the band we both really liked in 2011. I think I just sort of figured that Regina’s music scene must be fairly closely knit, so it was likely that if we liked one band, it would follow that the other would be pretty cool.

Canda House was air conditioned, naturally.

Luckily, Library Voices were in fact pretty cool. I think they had 7 folks on the stage and were playing some happy fun Indie pop ditties that left me bouncing around and being happy.

They were energetic (especially the bassist! I think he must have drank all the coffee in Canada House) and seemed to be having fun as well. This is a type of music I enjoy, especially when it’s not so cute that it falls over into twee.


Why do people from Regina, Saskatchewan make music that is so darned happy? Library voices were good.

But then, towards the end of their set, i found that i knew the words to one of their songs. After i thought about this for a minute, i pulled out my phone and scrolled through the promo MP3s i had downloaded, and sure enough i had a couple of their songs. Huh.


Ironically, PostLibyan pointed out at one point that he was fairly certain we had a promo song or two from this band sitting amongst our many many requests. Still, for me, this was new and I really liked the cleverly humorous word play in the song along with the poppy melodies. Good stuff.

Somebody across the street from Canada House went a little crazy with the fliers.

Since we didn’t yet have anything else on the agenda for the afternoon, and the Canadian had served us well, we decided to stick around for the next band, who were called Hooded Fang. In retrospect, I’m thinking that had I been paying enough attention to figure out band name before they played I might have suggested we move onwards. But no. I just saw some small musicians, one of whom had seriously 80s New Wave hair, so I though this had potential. And so we stayed.

Once the band began to play; however, I was a bit taken aback. I’m not sure exactly what I expected (oh yes I do: with that 80s hair, I was thinking 80s pop), but what I got was…straight up, almost unironic early 60s American rock. You know the type of music -- it’s when rockabilly was mellowing out and moving slowly into straight up rock. Post-Jerry Lee Lewis or Gene Vincent. Pre-British invasion. I think many folks would think of Eddie Cochran. But, considering we were standing in Texas, I’m going to think an apt-comparison is Bobby Fuller. In fact, a cover of Let Her Dance wouldn’t have sounded out of place at all in this band’s set.

Admittedly, I like this type of music, but I do acknowledge that for people under a certain age, it can be a bit of an acquired taste. And Hooded Fang played the music well, but it wasn’t breath-taking enough to convert anyone who wasn’t already pre-disposed to like them. So after a few songs, I nodded to PostLibyan (who does not have a taste for this music) and suggested we move along and get some coffee.

With a vague musical intermission in front of us, we thought ahead to the evening. Realizing that if I had to navigated 6th Street one more damn time, I was going to murder someone, we decided to keep to the West side of Congress for the evening. This meant that we had to evaluate every band and venue available and put together a schedule that kept us away from the crowds. It was an interesting planning session, in that context, as it meant that we were essentially down to very few venues, many of whom seemed to be specializing in genres of music to which we do not relate (e.g., hip-hop).

Eventually we got a schedule put together. It had a fair amount of time redundancy, which we thought might be necessary since almost all of the shows we’d seen thus far in the week had not run on time. And it ended with us seeing Italian band A Classic Education, a group who we caught in Atlanta a while back and who we both enjoyed.

Once the plan was made, we left the hotel and crossed away from 6th street to enjoy our evening. First, we had a really nice dinner at the somewhat upscale Mexican restaurant we discovered last year. This time around, we splurged on homemade guacamole (yum) as an appetizer, which was a remarkably good choice.

After this meal, we realized it was time to get over to a place called Malverde to see our first band, Computer Magic. From our research, Computer Magic appeared to be a solo project from a NYC-based young female DJ named Danielle Johnson. On the surface, this may not have seemed too appealing. However, the sample track we managed to download seemed more rock/pop than Dj, so we decided to give it a whirl.

The venue, a bar/club called Malverde, was something to behold, indeed. Being a veteran of too many dive bars and small venues, I’m always shocked to walk into something much more upscale. In this case, the “club” had hanging plants, large open windows and a place over on one side of the room that a) had no lights b) looked to be where the bands were playing. Interesting. Outside of the lack of light, the only other issue I had with the venue was that, this being an upscale bar you had a number of folks who were there to drink per the their usual Friday night rituals. In and of itself, I can respect that. However, when you’re yelling over the band, it gets a bit much.


If Malverde were in Atlanta, it would be in the trendy area on the West End.

This place should be near Abbatoir.

  Anyway, in a scheduling shocker, Computer Magic took the stage right on time. There was in fact a rather small lady (as far as I could tell . . . the lights really were that dim) with a keyboard.  

The lack of light disturbed her as well. As i crept to the front to try and grab a few photos, she was complaining to the stage hands that she couldn't see her keyboard.

I think she was actually grateful for the flash.

  But she was backed by a full-on band, including a live drummer. And I have to say her music worked. The track we had previously listened to was very brittle pop, but with the full band it gave everything a more robust sound, which in turn made things more accessible. It was clear that this was a new band (or were the accompanying musicians even really part of the band?), so they played a really short set. But it was enjoyable and a good start to the evening.  
  I really liked Computer Magic. The songs were catchy and synth based.  

However, this new-found timeliness left us with some extra time before our next “want to see” band. So we went and grabbed a cup of coffee and sat outside, enjoying the night air far away from the maddening crowds. As we sat outside the coffee shop, we could hear slivers of music wafting down from some of the other bars and/or venues around, including one act (or recording) that had a nice tone to which drifting in from across the street. We couldn’t figure out who or what it was, so we just sat and listened, until it was time to venture on.

So we walked a quick block over to Lamberts, the barbeque joint where last year we had seen Balmorrhea and had a rather good time. We got inside, climbed the stairs and rand into a wall to wall flood of people, all of whom seemed to be there for The Saddle Creek showcase. In this crowd, we also noticed the guy from Atlanta who used to front Tilly and the Wall and quickly realized that he had been in one of the earlier bands that we had skipped. That was a disappointment in theory, but oh well.

As we maneuvered around the rather stubborn and talkative crowd, we could see that the band we had planned to see were in fact setting up. They were Omaha Nebraska’s The Mynabirds, which is fronted by a lady named Laura Burhenn.

Therefore, this band should not be confused with The Mynah Birds, a 1960s Canadian R&B group. This group of Mynabirds released an album back a couple of years ago, and had a new one on the way which sounded rather promising.

Anyway, being rather short among a rather tall crowd, I couldn’t see much of what was going on up at the stage during setup. But, after PostLibyan slipped away to go grab front space so he could take pictures, I looked up as the group took the stage and was taken aback. Why, you might ask. Well, the main Mynabird (who I assume was Ms. Burhenn herself) was standing on the stage with what looked like a stuffed fox on her head. Indeed. For the first few tunes, I was so distracted by her headgear that I wasn’t paying too much attention to the music.

However, once I got accustomed to her attire (and a really tall guy stepped in front of me so I couldn’t see a durn thing), I started to listen more closely. It seemed to me that The Mynabirds were two different types of music, depending on the song they played. The first type, which seemed to revolve around their older material, was very bluesy/folksy rock, almost like they were trying to channel Janis Joplin by way of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Those songs weren’t bad and it was very clear that a number of the folks in the crowd really wanted to hear this older material.

Mynabirds also had their stomps wired. So Saddle Creek....

However, the new material was in my opinion much better, with less wailing and gashing of teeth but more true rock going on. It was more head-boppingly good, although some of the quieter tunes got lost under the crowd noise (which caused the band to try to hush people, even though it didn’t work). Likewise, they also tried to do a call and response that didn’t exactly take off. But they were still fun and I guess I need to figure out which version of The Mynabirds is truly represented on the new album.

Mynabirds also had an antler on their keyboard.


I have to admit that i liked this band. Sure, about half of what they were doing was country-esque, but there was a depth to the music that you don't always see in that genre. The Mynabirds had a lot of keyboards, and much of their sound was synth-based. Plus, the two female vocalists harmonized really well.

I also love this photo of the drummer, who looks really annoyed to be photographed.


Still, at the end of The Mynabirds’ set, the chatty crowd as a bit annoying, so we decided to take our chance and head out to the venue where A Classic education would eventually play. In one of the stranger turns of SxsW 2012, this venue was sponsored by HGTV, who had apparently taken over and “renovated” an old bar (which just happened to be the location of the Ghost Bar, where we caught Venice is Sinking last year).

Why would HGTV do this? I have no idea. Truly I have no idea. And what renovations did they perform? I wasn’t entirely sure, although it clearly had something to do with pillows. Lots and lots of throw pillows. And putting flowers into converse high tops. Still, The HGTV place was remarkably uncrowded when we walked in.

Luckily a band had already started to play. They were a California based psych-pop band called Ganglians. PostLibyan said he’d heard a few tracks by them and while he liked their actual music, he couldn’t stand the lead singer’s voice. Until I walked into the venue, I really thought he must be over-blowing the issue.

However, from the first sung notes, I had to agree with him. The music itself felt closer to old-style garage than to psychedelia, but either way it was pretty enjoyable. However, that voice. Oh my. It managed to come across as almost Tiny Tim-esque with a cloying almost whiny quality. This was enhanced, so to speak, by the fact that the vocals were mixed really up front.

Still, the benches provided a well-deserved place to sit and the numerous pillows were rather comfortable. So I sat there, trying to find something fun in the music whilst Ganglians played.

What is with the graffiti staying inside each brick today?


I tried to like this band. I listened to the many (many) promo tracks they sent us, and found their harder psychedelia to be pretty engaging. But the vocals... Ugh. Shades of Cymbals Eat Guitars here -- some people just can't sing, and it is up to the bandmates and friends to tell them that.

Please, stop.


Since we had decided to camp out for the night, we got to see the next band (the one in between Ganglians and A Classic Education). They were a Chicago-based trio called Unicycle Loves You and apparently, as the band indicated, they had the dubious distinction of being named the "Worst band name of SxSW" by Myspace (really? Myspace? They still exist?).

Sing a lament, for MySpace hates your band name.


I call bullshit on that. A "name" is supposed to be a unique identifier for something. Go ahead and Google the phrase "Unicycle Loves You". Heck, plug that phrase into whatever search engine you like (unbeliever!). The results will all be related to this band. Now try to search for "A Classic Education", just to pick a band name at random.

All of the results for "Unicycle Loves You" are related to the band. Their name makes it easy to find information about them. Searching for "A Classic Education" brings up universities, and "classics" departments. By that reasoning, Unicycle Loves You is a great band name.


Still, I have to admit that I rather liked the hard almost raunchy sounding rock this band played. It reminded by a bit of some of those old bands like Bang! Bang! or even (at times) The Faceless Werewolves with the male/female interactions. Sure the sound was very very muddy and the some of the songs started to run together. But I have to think they were fun act who I’m intrigued enough about to wonder what they sound like recorded.


What i liked about this act is that they took the hard rootsish rock of Bang! Bang! and added in a heap of good old fashioned Spaceman3-esque guitar freakout. There was one song where the guitarist thrashed about mightily, knocking himself terribly out of tune. Great fun.

  During the Unicycle Loves You Set, at one point, a lady photographer with a big professional camera tried to take pictures of the band. She then ushered people in from outside and went up so she could take pictures of "full" crowd (even if it was really only about 15 or 20 folks who were actively listening to the band). But I think she worked with/for HGTV and I’m sure those pics will be floating around somewhere to show how "hip" the HGTV music venue really is.  

In doing research to write this, we came across the drummer's blog (which is truly hilarious by the way -- make sure you read his SxSW entries).

He tires to explain this outfit in the blog...

He mentioned that the photographer was Courtney Cloyd (her Flickr stream here -- no SxSW12 photos as of our posting, but i am sure they are coming). Anyway, Ms. Cloyd was fascinating to watch work. Her husband had a remote controlled flash on a long pole and she would direct him to stand someplace, then activate the flash with her camera. That gear must have cost a lot more than i can afford on a web 'zine photographers salary!


Still, despite the fun music and pictures, I was good and ready for A Classic education to show up. And once they had time to set up and getting things ready for their set, show up they did. You see, we saw this band a while back at The EARL. PostLibyan had mentioned being interested in them at that time, mainly because for some reason EvilSponge is popular in Italy. So we had tried them out then and I have to say I was somewhat taken by their really reverby pop sound.

But on this evening, amongst the pillows and other décor, A Classic Education brought their A-game. The seemed tighter and if anything more reverby than I recall (we’re talking Rock*a*Teens levels of reverb, dripping from the ceilings, here).

But it was still poppy billsfulness under it all, which made me so happy I bopped around in place and made up my mind to buy their most recent album. I have to say I liked the fact that, just before A Classic Education came on stage, the members of Japanese Gum (another Italian band, albeit a noisy and discordant one) showed up and stood in front of the stage and sung along with the band, showing themselves to be genuine fans of the act. And I think that’s really damn cool.

  Japanese Gum were wearing the exact same outfits from the night before. Ew. But they seemed to know their countrymen, so that's cool.  

After A Classic Education’s set (which seemed really short to me, but then again on this Friday night, everything was running on time), PostLibyan and I looked at each other and realized we really didn’t need to see another band.

A Classic Education had really topped off the evening well and left a pleasant feeling all around, so there was no need to wade into the 6th Street mayhem to find another band. As we made our way back to the hotel and stepped around the spillover of massive intoxicated individuals who spilled off of 6th Street, we began to talk about the next day. It would be St. Patrick’s Day. And it would be Saturday. Historically, these are two very very vile things in the context of SxSW. So, with the way this SxSW had gone, this particular Saturday had the making of an utter disaster.

I couldn’t handle it. Just about the time I was ready to propose to PostLibyan that we possibly find a flight home on Saturday and just blow off SxSW, a brilliant idea seemed to come to us simultaneously. I remember looking around and saying, "Why don’t we just throw the book at the window? Why do we even have to go to any of the main shows?"

PostLibyan immediately jumped on the idea and suggested we could find one of those "not SxSW" full day shows where we could go offsite and hang out and watch music in relative peace.

It seemed like such a brilliant idea that I wonder why we hadn’t thought of it earlier.

Related Links:

Read our entire SxSW12 review:
     Wednesday, 14 March, featuring River City Extension, Typhoon, Apparat, Films of Colour, Soft Swells, LightOuts, Blue Sky Black Death, Daughter, Dry the
River, Mahogany, and The Spinto Band.

     Thursday 15 March, featuring Dead Leaf Echo, Alpine, Sneaky Hand, Cloudeater,
Gold Beach, Films of Colour, Vacationer, Japanese Gum, Wooden Hand, Cardinal, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Maps & Atlases.

Friday 16 March, featuring The Blind Shake, My Education, Library Voices, Hooded Fang, Computer Magic, The Mynabirds, Ganglians, Unicycle Loves You, and A Classic Education.
Saturday 17 March, featuring The Wilderness of Manitoba, Art of Fresh, Abby Mott,
Hatcham Social, Birdcall, Chamberlin, Pompeii, Fort Frances, Eli Mardock, The
Loom, Mariana Bell, and The Ladders.

Band links for today:
   The Blind Shake:

   My Education:
   Library Voices:
   Hooded Fang:
   Computer Magic:
   The Mynabirds:
   Unicycle Loves You: (drummers tour blog: hilarious!)
   A Classic Education:


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