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  South By Southwest 2006 - Day 2  



Austin, TX


Black Heart Procession, Rahim, Earlimart, Mazarin, Xiu Xiu, Palaxy Tracks, Black Lipstick

Reviewed by:
  Tracers and PostLibyan  
Photographs by:



The second day of SXSW06 was somewhat skimpy on the day shows. That is, the only thing i really wanted to see during the day was Black Heart Procession play at Emo's. Emo's is sort of a legendary indie rock club, and i was expecting something along the lines of The Echo Lounge in Atlanta, or maybe the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Instead, Emo's is a shack with a patchy tin roof, and is mostly open to the elements. I suppose that works in Austin, TX, but it still seemed, well, like a dump.

Anyway, despite all of that, Black Heart Procession put on an enjoyable set. They were a 5-piece today, adding a keyboardist/violinist to their regular, guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards lineup. The music was moody, dark, and very fun. I am mostly familiar with their second album (the aptly titled 2), and they did not play any tunes i recognized. Nonetheless, they were enjoyable.


I skipped out on the day show, as I had made the mistake of buying a new book the day before called The Great Mortality by John Kelly. It's a narrative history of the spread of the black plague across Europe in the late 1340s and is utterly fascinating, if you get into that sort of thing (Yes, I'm a history geek: get over it). Unfortunately, the Black Death trumped Black Heart Procession, and I curled up in the hotel room and read to my heart's content.

  We started off the regular showcases at The Soho Lounge, a New York City themed bar, appropriately seeing a band from Brooklyn called Rahim. This was a three piece consisting of bass/synths/vocals, guitar/vocals, and a drummer. They played quirky dance rock with really complex rhythms. Overall, i liked the songs with the synth melodies (about half of the tunes) better than the ones without them. Still, Rahim were enjoyable overall, and i would compare them to Atlanta's own Rizzudo in that they seem to combine synth-pop and math rock. Fun.  

Thursday night's random 8 PM band was Rahim. We chose them due to band description (Dischord-influenced post punk) and location (next door to the Earlimart show). It was a good decision, as I liked the interplay of the two vocalists and the different aspects of each voice.


We then headed next door to catch Earlimart. We had seen this act before, and although they were enjoyable, their set was kind of a downer. The band were friends with Elliot Smith, and their show in Atlanta was shortly after that musician's suicide, so understandably that was something of a dark show. Well, they have made their peace with Elliot's passing, and Earlimart proved to be one of the better pop rock bands around. I think it helped that on this night the band was obviously having a wonderful time, but they were also loud (the sound system was a bit too loud for the club), and really catchy. Earlimart make toe-tappingly good rhythms with hummable melodies, all sung with a voice reminiscent of the hushed singing style popularized by Death Cab for Cutie and Belle and Sebastian. This was a good set.

Earlimart: vocalist.

Earlimart: bassist.

We stuck around to catch Mazarin play next. I had heard one tune by them before, the vaguely psychedelic yet very catchy New American Apathy, which they played a very good version of as the second song of their set. They played wonderfully, adding a tinge of psychedelia to a strong guitar rock. I was saddened to see that very few of the large Earlimart crowd stayed to watch Mazarin. Both bands were equally good, but i guess that Earlimart has a bigger buzz factor. I really enjoyed this set as well.

Mazarin: not exactly apathetic.


Of the two band we saw at Buffalo 's Billiard, I enjoyed Mazarin more. Earlimart is a great band, and their new material is filled with all sorts of goodness. Yet, performance-wise, Mazarin showed something more. Of course, both the lead and rhythm guitarists were playing lovely-sounding instruments. And they had an excellent drummer as well. With that skill, their music reminded me of a mellower Neutral Milk Hotel, or perhaps a less weird Akron/Family. Either way, I liked Mazarin greatly, and like PostLibyan, wished more people had stayed to enjoy them.


We left their just before the end to cram into Emo's Annex (which is a tent in a parking lot) to see Xiu Xiu. I have wanted to see this band for years, but for some reason every time they play Atlanta i am too busy to go see them. (They are in sync with my exam schedule, damn them.) Anyway, i was very excited for this set, but nervous about the crowd seeing as the line for Emo's Annex was almost around the block. Once we got in (thank goodness for having an actual badge) the club was not full at all. Wierd.

Xiu Xiu set up as a two-piece. There was a guy on vocals, guitar, and some synths. I think he is the main force behind the band. He was joined by a short-haired girl who played drum machine, assorted percussion, and some synths. I didn't know what to expect of their set, seeing as the two Xiu Xiu records that i have vary widely in the types of songs that they do. What they actually did was play a sort of rave emo music. That is, the beats were loud and throbbing, the synths rich and lush, and the voice achingly delicate. Tracers said that they reminded her of "The Octopus Project with vocals", and i think that's a good comparison, although The Octopus Project are much more of a dance band, while Xiu Xiu are not quite dancey.

Xiu Xiu: dance music for emo kids.


To my ears, Xiu Xiu are in fact a dance band, but that probably says more about me that is does about the music. Of course, I'm not at all familiar with their recorded output, nor had I ever seen live, so I wasn't really sure what Xiu Xiu would sound like. I really enjoyed the odd percussion parts, which blended well into the overall sound. That unexpected blend is what led me to think of The Octopus Project. They were one of the few bands who I was sad to see leave the stage.


Apparently no one else knew what to think of Xiu Xiu either, as they cleared the tent. Still, i really enjoyed it, and am glad that i got to see them. Hopefully the next time they play Atlanta i won't have a test the next day!

Leaving Emo's we headed over to the heavy metal club Redrum to try and catch Portland, Oregon's Stars of Track and Field. I have heard really good things about the keyboardy pop these guys make, and was looking forward to see them. However, they were having serious technical difficulties -- at 12:20 the band was still unable to get their keyboard and laptop to work. The sound guy was obviously annoyed, and the band was getting more and more frantic as time wore on. I felt kind of bad for them, but really -- if you are going to have that complicated of a set up, bring a tech support guy with you!


As I have mentioned previously, during the evening hours, SXSW runs on a pretty tight timeline. Bands start on the hour, play a roughly 35-40 minute set and then change over to the next band while the crowd quickly migrates to the next venue if desired. There's not much leeway, and that's why equipment issues which normally might not be more than an annoyance become absolutely maddening during SXSW. When you're standing around, looking at the band scramble and look frustrated, all I can wonder is, "Why don't you have a 'Plan B'?"


Frustrated, we left and headed to the Peek-a-boo Records showcase at Latitude. We got there in time to see the last half of the performance by Palaxy Tracks. This was the third time i had seen this Chicago act, the first two having been at SXSW05. I maintain my opinion of them: they are a catchy dreampop act who are much better live than on record. I love their swirling guitarwork, but i am not so fond of the vocalist. His voice is kind of whiny, and on record it is way out front, while live it is buried in the mess of guitars. Still, i enjoyed what i saw of their performance tonight.

Palaxy Tracks rock Latitude.


I don't think I've ever heard a full length set by Palaxy Tracks. This is a shame, as I agree with Postlibyan, this band improves on stage. Nothing meanders along, instead all of the music has an urgency that is sometimes missing from their recordings. Likewise, the fullness of the instruments meshes well with Brandon Dearham's distinctive vocals. However, I do wish they would actually play Atlanta some time.


Up next still at Latitude was the one band that Tracers most wanted to see at SXSW06: Black Lipstick. This is an Austin / New York band that was born from the ashes of The Kiss-offs, who we saw play at The Echo Lounge many years ago. Black Lipstick are a four-piece with a female drummer who is very competent. The real treat of the band is lead guitarist and Peek-a-boo Records label head Travis Higdon, who is a phenomenal guitarist. Their music is a deep, rich, catchy garage rock. The music soars with Velvet Underground style guitar syncopation, and is dark and rich...

Black Lipstick: Travis Higdon in action.


When we planned out this trip, I told PostLibyan that I only had to see two bands: Black Lipstick and Superchunk. I've always enjoyed Black Lipstick's recordings, and I had a suspicion that their music would translate extremely well to a live environment. I'm glad that hunch turned out to be correct. Primary vocalist Phillip Niemeyer bounced around the stage, showing sheer enjoyment in playing. Drummer Elizabeth Nottingham showed a lively style, which meshed well with the bass of Steve Garcia as well as the focal guitarwork of Travis Higdon.


And then their bassist sang a few songs. The man is not as dynamic a performer as the normal vocalist, but the songs that he sang bear an indelible Superchunk influence. The first song he sang ended with a long guitar rock out that really reminded me of Like A Fool. Great stuff.

Black Lipstick: sounding like Superchunk.

At one point later in the set, Tracers and i were standing comparing notes on the band, and suddenly we noticed that the song they were playing was an actual Velvet Underground cover, Sister Ray. If anyone in all of Austin could do that song, it's Black Lipstick. Awesome.

  Black Lipstick ended their set with time to spare. They conferred and then began playing again. And after a good minute or so, I perked up, looked over my shoulder at the band, and then asked PostLibyan, "Isn't that Sister Ray?" We both listened for a bit, and were duly impressed. What a great end to a great set!  

They were great, and a fine end to our second day at SXSW06.

Related Links:

Read the entire South by Southwest 2006 review:
    Day 1: Dayshow
    Day 1: Night showcases
    Day 2
    Day 3: Dayshow
    Day 3: Night showcases
    Day 4: Dayshow
    Day 4: Night showcases
Added bonus material:
    Photo gallery: Signs around Austin
    Photo gallery: hollow-bodied guitars at SXSW06
    Photo gallery: Pedal fetishism
In addition, some of these acts have been reviewed before. Links within the review point you to the appropriate places.


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