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  South By Southwest 2011  



Austin, TX


Rah Rah, Little Tybee, Sealions, Simon Says No, Resplandor, Magic Bullets, Royal Thunder, The Wooden Birds, Say Hi, and Maps and Atlases

Reviewed by:
  Tracers and PostLibyan  
Photographs by:



Ah, St. Patrick’s Day, also known as "Amateur Night for Drinkers", also known as "the night Americans pay tribute to my ethnicity by getting hammered in public". That last one is really flattering, let me tell you. But when in Austin, you just have to roll with it. This St. Paddy’s Day dawned grey and slightly cloudy, which was good as we had some outdoor activities planned for the afternoon.

After coffee and a relaxing morning watching the crowds, we headed to Paradise Cafe for the Canadian Blast Day Show at Canada House. It was so Canadian themed they had a moose sticker on the floor. Sadly the free food was breakfast tacos. I could have gone for some good poutine, but oh well.

The rare Canadian Guitar Moose.

I don't know what this little orange ribbon was doing on the floor,
but i am pleased with the way this photo of it turned out.

We were experiencing this Canadianness in order to see Rah Rah, the band with the animatronic cat that had impressed us at the Trade Show the day before. I was curious to see if their light pop would translate well to a non-acoustic setting. As they set up, i noticed they had some nice guitars, and that the frizzy-haired singer/tambourinist from yesterday is actually the drummer.

And boy can she beat the drum kit! For a little woman, she has some energy. At 12:30 the band tore into it, playing a very catchy half-hour of complex pop. Vocal harmonies intertwined with violin, accordion, and keyboards.

I really enjoyed their set, but the highlight was the last song. The frizzy-haired drummer girl took over the keyboards, and she sang. She had a deep, soulful voice with a hint of a country feel to it, and she sang alternating verses with Rah Rah’s very young lead singer. It was the chorus that struck me though:

"It is fashionable
To be single
In big cities
But not in small towns
In Regina
I fell in love
With her frown."

The whole band sang along on the chorus, yelling SUH-SKATCH-A-WAN for added fun and regional pride. I like the wordplay here on this tune, and in general throughout their set. To make it even better when i Googled the lyrics i discovered that this song is called Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel. How cool is that? I just love this band more and more.


I too was even more impressed with Rah Rah on this second go around. Unlike the previous day, they could make more noise and, as PostLibyan notes, the added full drumming made a big different both in their volume as well as in their pacing. In fact as we stood there watching, it struck me that the poppy wittiness and hooky melodies were what Austin band Peel (a favorite of mine) always wanted to sound like, but could never completely accomplish. Definitely one of the best accidental finds of SxSW 2011.


Positively buzzing from sheer enjoyment at that set, we headed off to Clive Bar for the ATL day show. Clive Bar is south of the Convention Center, in a veritable no man’s land that we had never been in before. We crossed Cesar Chavez Street and headed into a quirky little neighborhood. Clive Bar appears to be a converted house in a neighborhood where many of the houses seem to have become other things.

They were serious about not parking in the neighborhood.

As we walked up, a pop band were playing. The music was not bad, but not too remarkable either. The band said, "We’re Little Tybee from Atlanta, thank you!", leaving the stage just as we were talking with the door guy to get in. I had never seen this act before, but oh well. We grabbed a free beer and stood around waiting for Sea Lions to set up.

And we waited. And waited. Sea Lions are an Atlanta act that use a laptop in addition to guitars, etc. Wiring a laptop into a soundsystem is one of the most difficult challenges a sound guy will ever face, and very few of them know how to do it reliably. This is not the first time laptop wiring has thwarted us, but it was a pleasant partly cloudy day on the patio. We stood in the breeze, sipping our beers and watching the wiring mayhem.

Curse you, red Dell laptop!

Sea Lions were supposed to go on at 1:30, but it was a little after 2 when the laptop (a Dell i might add) reluctantly started cranking out sequenced beats. The band started right after that. Sea Lions were a duo back in 2009 when EvilSponge first encountered them, but are now a standard rock quartet. The two original members seem to split song-writing and vocal duties. The guitarist with the scruffy facial hair and lovely red-brown hollowbody did songs that came across as melancholy indie pop with a bit of post-rock thrown in. Very similar, i think, to the poppier side of what Lights Out Asia were doing. The other front man, the one with the problematic Dell and the keyboards (and sunglasses) does happier, dancier songs. His part of Sea Lions set would have fit perfectly on the bill with Sun Airway and Small Black the previous night.

Lovely deep red Gretsch.

I really enjoyed their set, the two sounds flowing into one another, preventing Sea Lions from becoming either too mopey or too generic of a dance rock act. A nice balance is struck in their sound. And as an added bonus, we got a free download of their debut record, which will be released soon(ish). Look for a review to follow.


I like the way Sealions have mixed up their sound since the last time we encountered them. Although on the surface you'd think an alternating mix of poppy, synth-based tunes and dreamier, darker guitar melodies might be a bit disconcerting. However, the rhythm section carried through enough similarities that everything sounded very organic and natural. Being a day show, their set was a little too short for me, but otherwise they were quite enjoyable and definitely worth the longish trot over to the venue.


Satisfied with two fun day shows, tipsy from a few beers on an empty stomach, we headed off in search of food. Fortunately the Chi’Lantro truck was in front of the Hilton. I grabbed a bowl of rice and spicy pork and an order of Kim Chee Fries. Let me repeat that: Kim Chee Fries. Kim. Chee. Fries. Potatoes topped with caramelized kim chee, topped with spicy pork, then cheese, then a spicy Korean sauce, sesame seeds, and fresh scallions. Wow. Just, wow. These are amazingly tasty, and if you are in Austin i recommend tracking down one of these trucks and getting some for yourself. You can thank me later.

You know you want some! (Photo by Tracers.)

This food utterly hit the spot, and we whiled around the rest of the afternoon watching the crowd and relaxing. We had a free Macallan scotch, which was yummy, and then went for Mongolian barbecue to have a firm layer of food in the stomach before heading out to the night showcases.

We stopped at a real Starbucks (not the Hilton cafe, which just "Proudly Brews Starbucks Coffee" -- and not exactly to Starbucks high standards of quality i might add) to try the new Tribute blend. It was a lot milder than i had thought it would be, but that might just be because i had been drinking burnt, sludge-like Sumatra from the Hilton cafe. Still, it was nice.

Tonight featured an act i really wanted to see: Peruvian shoegazers Resplandor. Resplandor were on at 9 PM, which left the 8 PM slot completely open. I could care less what we did, as long as i was safely ensconced to watch Peruvians play with lots of pedals, so we simply headed to 512 to just wait.

On before Resplandor were a Norwegian shoegazer band called Simon Says No. They seemed tall (but i always get the impression that Scandinavians are tall people) and they had really nice instruments. Their music was pretty good, referencing The Chameleons a lot, with perhaps a bit of A Place to Bury Strangers thrown in. One song ended with the band members going briefly into heavy metal riffing: Swamp Thing merged into Metallica’s One. Very nice. The vocalist sounded a lot like Mark Burgess, although on the last song he sounded like Stories For Boys-era Bono. They were competent and enjoyable, if not earth-shattering.

At this point EvilSponge split forces. While i really really wanted to see Peruvian shoegaze, Tracers was dying to see pop act Magic Bullets. I had introduced her to them at SxSW back in 2008, and she has really stuck with the band. So while she headed off to Emo’s Jr. for their 9:30 set, i grabbed a beer and settled in to watch Resplandor set up.

The first thing that struck me about the band was that they seemed short compared to the Norwegians. The second thing that struck me was that the lead singer looked very Incan. He had chiseled facial features, light reddish-brown skin, and thick jet black hair. I thought, “Yeah, his ancestors help build Machu Picchu,” which made him seem exotic and strange.

Little known fact: Machu Picchu actually has great natural reverb.

Resplandor set up as a four-piece, although from what i can tell from their websites, the lineup varies. The drummer tonight had long hair in a ponytail, and played in a way that made me think that he normally plays in metal bands.

As i was waiting, something genuinely weird happened. Resplandor were all set, plugged in, and soundchecked. They were ready to go, but the soundguy said over the monitors, “You actually have 8 minutes until 9, and you can’t go on before then.” A band was ready early, and told to wait. Never in my life have i seen such a thing! Resplandor took it in stride, and left the stage to fetch drinks and check their smartphones.

Promptly at nine they were back, and tore right into it. They created a wonderful miasma of sound, wall after wall of effected guitar crashing into me as i stood there. The bass was a supple thing, a thumping background to the guitars, and the drums were a steady thudding. The voice was just a hint, barely heard above the layers of guitar. They were able to replicate their recorded sound very well.

I recognized a surprisingly large amount of what they played, a set that was heavy on music from Pleamar. They ended with a smashing version of Twilight, the long opus that ends that record. They started off playing to about ten people, but as the show progressed more and more people stopped to listen. For example, at 512 there is an upstairs patio venue and an indoors stage in the corner in front of the stairs. Resplandor were indoors, which meant that people wanting to go upstairs had to pass directly in front of the band. At least two groups of people started to pass, and then stopped to listen. I think that says it all. They were impressive.

Resplandor at the foot of the stairs.


In the meantime, I headed over to Emo's Jr to see San Franciscans Magic Bullets. PostLibyan is right: he's the one who introduced me to them musically at a previous SxSW and I've really enjoyed their music ever since and have wanted to catch them live. Now, normally, Emo's is not one of my favorite venues, as it's a bit of a pit. However, on this evening, when I got to Emo's Jr, I was most pleasantly surprised. The bathrooms were the clean (and much cleaner than any of the bathroom I had encountered on the previous evening) and had plenty of paper products. And to top it off, they had $3 Magic Hats in a bottle. Sweet.

So, once Magic Bullets had set up, I was already in a happy place. And then they began to play and I was even happier. Magic Bullets focused on songs off their most recent, self-titled album. Songs like Lying around and A Day Not so Far Off came across with more pep and energy than on the record; this enthusiasm was only helped by the way lead singer Philip Benson bounced and danced around the stage. Combined with cheer shown by the rest of the band, I was just thrilled to see them perform and it made me think that perhaps the tunes on Magic Bullets weren't as melancholy and mopey as I had first thought. Then, as they got to the end of their set, they had to come up with one more tune (according to the sound guy) and they launched into Altered Images 1980 New Wave tune I Could Be Happy and all was right with the world. I was kinda sad I didn't get to see Resplandor with Postlibyan, but Magic Bullets more than met my expectations.


Very please with Replandor's set, i headed out down Sixth to Emo’s Jr. I made it in time to see Magic Bullets still playing. They did one song i did not recognize, i guess off of the new album, then covered Altered Image’s I Could Be Happy with the band members gyrating around the stage in ecstatic dance. I was very pleased with the brief performance i saw.

Buzzing on our enjoyment of the music for that day, we grabbed a $3 Magic Hat Lucky No. 9 ($3 Magic Hat at Emo’s Jr. ? Hells yeah!), and stood around comparing notes. The next act at this venue was an unknown Atlanta band called Royal Thunder, and we stuck around to give them a chance.

There were a power three-piece, all heavily, almost absurdly, tattooed. The drummer had a giant gong, and the band played heavy metal. Ah, the Mastodon influence on our city. This is not a scene i am in to, but i didn’t think Royal Thunder were that bad. On the contrary, the female vocalist/bassist, clad in some kind of shawl and surely sweltering in the heat of Emo’s Jr. actually had a really good voice. She sang deeply and richly, reminding me of Johnette Napolitano and Grace Slick at various times.

We stayed to see the drummer hit the gong, which was woefully anti-climactic to me. You see, he had a gong maybe three feet in diameter. It he really walloped that thing, it would be almost deafening. Instead, i could barely hear it over the guitar and bass growl. A damned shame really, as a gong like that deserves to be well-played.


I didn't particular get Royal Thunder, but I was particularly disappointed in the lack of drama in the gong. That was a "rock star" gong and it only went "ting". It sort of sums of my impression of the band as whole: lots of sound and fury signifying very little in the end. But, admittedly, this music was not my thing at all, so I certainly couldn't appreciate it properly.


We headed up to the Red-Eyed Fly to grab a seat at wait for Say Hi. EvilSponge has been reviewing Say Hi back when the act was called Say Hi To Your Mom. (That’s four years ago to those keeping score at home.) However, i have to admit that i haven’t been keeping up with the band lately. There are lots of reasons for this, most notably a lacklustre performance at SxSW 2009, right after i had “lost it” with the crowd. Intellectually i know that it is unfair to blame the band for the foul mood i was in and my dark memories of that time, and yet i kind of do. Sorry about that.

Since we left before Royal Thunder were over, we were able to catch the last few songs by Austin act The Wooden Birds. I am not familiar with them, and could not see the stage from where we were ensconced, but i liked what i heard. They were a light pop act with rich vocal harmonies. The overall effect reminded me, ever so slightly, of Knife In the Water, an Austin act i really loved. I suppose that i need to investigate The Wooden Birds more to see if the KITW comparison really holds. However, they paled in comparison to what was soon to happen.

We were able to grab some space near the bar, under the awning and up a step, so that we could actually see Say Hi perform. This time the band consisted of Eric Elbogan (who is Say Hi, really) on drums and guitar and samplers, with a bassist and a guitarist/keyboardist. He played a competent and fun set of pop tunes from his latest record. I found myself bopping along and enjoying it, although in my heart i really just wanted him to play pop songs about vampires.


I'm a bigger fan of the newer version of Say Hi than PostLibyan; yes, Eric and company have gotten away from the synth heavy tunes we originally heard and have become more minimalist and guitar oriented. Nevertheless, despite the change in tone, underneath it all Eric Elbogan knows how to write a catchy, witty tunes and the most recent stuff is no different, even if it doesn't involve vampires.


We stood around and waited for the next act, Maps and Atlases, who i kept getting confused with Maps and Diagrams, a band who sends us press releases but has made no real mark on my awareness. Completely different bands with unfortunately similar names.

Maps and Atlases are a standard four-piece rock act, from Chicago. And yet, they are so much more. Every member of the band is a virtuoso of their instrument, and each one has a distinct style. The music they played was not exactly like anything i had ever heard before. It had elements of post-punk and math rock and jazz and post-rock and pop and folk all thrown together. It was complex music, well crafted and deliberately executed. My only complaint as they started to play was that the lead singer is slightly high-pitched in a way that reminds me of Dave Thomas in mid-era Pere Ubu. Thomas is able to pull off that type of voice due to his powerful stage presence, while this singer just sort of stood there and sang and played guitar, hiding under a massive beard. It did grow on me though, as the high treble tones of his voice were a part of the overall sound that the band was pursuing.

Everything they were doing jelled for me on what i the second to the last song of their set. This tune started off like a normal Maps and Atlases tune, but in the middle the bassist put down his instrument and started beating a kick drum on a keyboard stand next to him, while the guitarist/keyboardist started hitting a floor tom. At the same time, the drummer was doing some intricate pattern that complemented the odd beats the other two were playing, while the frontman sang along and strummed his guitar. It was as if, after years of searching, a math rock band had somehow discovered how to bring melody to complex time signatures. It was catchy, but in a completely different way than most songs. I, quite simply, loved it. Look for future reviews from this band on EvilSponge. And if you have the chance to see them, you should take that chance.

  Maps and Atlases were one of those bands that was a bit of a revelation. Per my discussion with the Chicago native standing next to me, originally Maps and Atlases had been very mathy (my guess is "Slint damaged") but had become more accessible on their last album. This was borne out by their performance. I could hear various unusual key signatures floating around their music, but on top of that they had some absolutely lovely melodies. It is a combination that could be awkward, but the talent of the band pulled it off and made it so entrancing. I was glad that this random act turned out so very good and made a note to find their most recent record.  

They played one more song that really got the vocal and inebriated Chicagoans going , some older tune from their time as a bar band in that city I guess. But all seemed right with the world after Maps and Atlases left the stage. We grabbed another beer to fit in with all the other people getting wasted to celebrate our ethnicity (Tracers is of Irish descent as well) and waited for Menomena to take the stage.

And waited. And waited some more. It seems that they were having problems wiring, and you’ll never guess what was giving them issues? A laptop. I don’t think it was a Dell, but still.

After 35 minutes of waiting, we gave up and headed back to the hotel and went to bed. I don’t know if Menomena even played. I guess the laptop was that essential to their sound. Whatever. This was a great day, and i went to sleep relaxed and content.

The view of Austin at night from the window of our hotel room.

Related Links:

Read our entire SxSW11 review:
     The Introduction.
     Tuesday, 15 March.
     Wednesday, 16 March, featuring Judgement Day, Rah Rah, King David, Gold Motel, Ólöf Arnalds, Summer Camp, Dry the River, Eisley, Sun Airway, Small Black, and Parts & Labor.
     Thursday, 17 March, featuring Rah Rah, Little Tybee, Sealions, Simon Says No, Resplandor, Magic Bullets, Royal Thunder, The Wooden Birds, Say Hi, and Maps and Atlases.
Friday, 18 March, featuring The Fling, The Dears, Eulogies, Gold Motel, Pontiak, Shimmering Stars, Los Impostors, Class Actress, Oh No, Oh My, and Elizabeth and the Catapult.
Saturday, 19 March, featuring Matthew and the Atlas, Reptar, Dry the River, Venice Is Sinking, Cheap Girls, Colin Stetson, Wires Under Tension, and Balmorhea.
Band links for today:
   Rah Rah:

   Little Tybee:

   Sea Lions:
   Simon Says No:


   Magic Bullets:

   Royal Thunder:
   The Wooden Birds:

   Say Hi:

   Maps And Atlases:


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