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  South By Southwest 2012  



Austin, TX

  Dead Leaf Echo, Alpine, Sneaky Hand, Cloudeater, Gold Beach, Films of Colour, Vacationer, Japanese Gum, Wooden Hand, Cardinal, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Maps & Atlases  
Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  
Photographs by:



As day two of SxSW dawned i had a lot to look forward too. A band i have enjoyed for several years was playing, and since they otherwise never leave New York, this might be my only chance to see them. They are Dead Lead Echo, and i reviewed their debut EP back in 2006. I knew the band lineup had changed, but from the random tracks i had been hearing, i knew that they were still a noisy shoegaze band. And what is a trip to SxSW without me dragging Tracers off-strip to see weird shoegaze bands in odd bars? (Would there be plaster elephants this time?)

But first, it was time for our annual pilgrimage to Marrakesh-- not the city, sadly, but rather the excellent Moroccan restaurant near the capitol building. It was a much shorter walk from the Omni, and i was looking forward to a good falafel sandwich to fortify myself for an afternoon of noisy guitars. Instead, we walked there and it was closed. Gone.

I was disappointed. Not only did this mean i would not be getting my excellent falafel, but it meant we needed to find someplace to eat. In a daze, we walked back down Congress, trying to think of a place to go. We passed a window that had a fish tank with robotic jellyfish dancing in it.

I thought that the idea of robotic jellyfish is rather brilliant -- all of the interesting motion without any of the stingy nastiness. I stopped to take a picture. Tracers stopped and looked at the menu. It was a sushi bar called Silhouette, and we went in and ate. I had some sunomono and an assortment of vegetarian sushi, all of which was yummy. Tracers ate fish, and it looked good. So even though i am very disappointed that Marrakesh is gone, this was a good meal.

  I have to say that the Sushi I had at Silhouette, was some of the best I've had in a while. The Nigiri were thick and rich-tasting while the basic rolls had a flavorful balance. Nice.  

Thus fortified, we headed back to the Omni to get the car, and drove out to Vortex. This was only a short distance outside of downtown, but it seemed miles away from the chaos on Sixth Street.

Vortex is a kind of community theater in a big building, with a wooden porch and a large yard.

And a lot of hula hoops...

There was a stage on the porch and one in the yard. As we walked in, a few people were standing around on the yard stage, while pasty gothic types were setting up on the porch stage. I knew that had to be Dead Leaf Echo, even though i had no clue what they looked like. We stepped inside to the bar area and grabbed a beer, then went to watch the band. They were still tweaking things, but started soon enough.

Live, Dead Leaf Echo are a swirling mess of guitar sound (three guitarists at times) all fed through pedals. This is backed by a light rhythm, and topped with the somewhat high-pitched voice of singer/guitarist LG. The songs were catchy and distorted. Just the kind of thing i liked. I am glad i got to see this band.

Still more pictures of Dead Leaf Echo ( i had a lot turn out good, due to the outdoor lighting):

The rare "good drummer shot" of Aligator Joe's replacement.

Gotta make the girl play tambourine...


Dead Leaf Echo were exactly as advertized: shoegaze. They had distorted guitars and the vocals seemed down in the mix, which was more than o.k. with me. I think for me, the funniest thing was that the guitarist/vocalist kept getting shocked by the mic, so he had to wrap a cloth around the mic, which made the vocals even hazier than I think they intended. Really cool, even if seeing shoegaze in bright sunlight seems somehow off.

LG singing through a t-shirt.


After they finished we debated our options, and decided we liked the venue. It kind of reminded me of The Contemporary Art Gallery, only without the weird art and instead lots of old movie posters. It also kind of reminded me of hanging out at our friends Tim and Heather's place. I kept expecting their old, half-blind black lab to run by.

We watched another band set up on the yard stage, and listened to the album by The Wedding Present. Apparently this was a "listening party", and the band came there to eat lunch, then stand around a merch booth under a tent, looking British and squinty in the partly sunny Texan day. The new album, well, it sounds like a Wedding Present album. You should know what you are getting into by now.


Yes, it was definitely a Wedding Present album. Sounded pretty good,too. And, more importantly, I neither tripped over nor fell on David Gedge. YAY!

Nor did Mr. Gedge hula hoop -- at least while we were there.


The band setting up on the day stage a few interesting things going on. First off, they had a lot of gear in very heavy-duty, expensive looking cases. Secondly, there was a girl standing around them who had on the ugliest outfit i had seen at SxSW so far. It had apples on it and looked like something a six-year old girl should be wearing.

Seriously -- that would look cute on your neice, but not so much on a rock star.

After the Wedding Present album ended, the band introduced themselves as Alpine, from Melbourne, Australia. This explained the gear cases - no doubt rented to get their stuff across the Pacific. And when they played, well, they sounded great. Really good in fact.

Even if he looked bored, the keyboardist did good work.

They had a lot of gear, but their sound was not dense. It wasn't minimalist either, instead i would call what i was hearing "balanced". The bass drove things along, and the guitarist played a chiming sort of bright sound that reminded me of Magic Bullets. Over this the girl in the ugly pantsuit was joined by a pasty goth girl, and the two of them sang.

Ugly pantsuit girl actually had a really good voice, and the two of them harmonized well.

I really enjoyed their set, watching the band play catchy tunes while the goth singer girl slowly got sunburned. Afterwards, they gave away a few copies of their EP, and i scored one. Alpine were a very pleasant surprise.

  This random Australian band was one of the great accidental finds of SxSW. Their music was very poppy, with reverbed/chorused guitars and thumping drums highlighted by the joint female vocals. Very very nice, and I wish we could have seen them on a full set instead of this truncated day show.  

Seeing random bands like that is one of the best things of SxSW. Satisfied with that set, we headed off to where it all began.

That is, we drove over to The Hole in the Wall, a dive bar across the street from the University of Texas, which is where we saw our first ever South by SouthWest unofficial performance on Tuesday 15 March 2005. We have actually been back to this place a few times -- it has a nice large outdoor area, a couple of rooms with bars, and a great beer selection. Today at THITW we were going for the purpose of drinking a few pints of good beer while watching some Atlanta bands. It seems silly to travel 750 miles to see bands we can see at home, but i wanted to catch a set by Bosco, who do not seem to play out very often.

We walked in, and there was a ska-punk band playing in the back room. No, really -- ska-punk! The lead singer was even wearing a skirt as he thrashed around.

He was actually wearing just the skirt... as far as i could tell.

It has been ages since i have seen a ska-punk band. I honestly did not even know that anyone still made this kind of music. I wonder where, in Atlanta, does this band perform?

We saw two songs of energetic, thrashing fun. Afterwards i talked to the band, who are called Sneaky Hand. I had forgotten how fun this type of music is live. I will have to look for them to play around home some time.

  Ska-punk is something I listened to a lot back in the mid 90s. Since it sort of disappeared from the local scene (or at least the local scene that I encounter), the style sort of fell off my radar. Having said that, ska-punk is something that is inherently bouncy and enjoyable, which made it a nice start to this Atlanta-based SxSW extravaganza.  

We had a bit of a break waiting for the next band, so Tracers and i took the time to talk with the bartender about Austin beers. We sampled a few of them. We tried the 512 Brewery's Pecan Porter, which was really smooth with a nice hint of pecannishness, and Circle Brewing's Envy Amber, an ESB. I really liked the Envy, and enjoyed several pints at quite a few different venues during this SxSW. It was smooth and crisp, with a hint of good beer bitterness. Very drinkable in the somewhat stuffy confines of The Hole in the Wall.

We sampled a few other Austin beers, but those are the two that stuck out in my mind. And if you ever find yourself at The Hole in the Wall, the tattooed bartendress at the back bar really knows her beer. She was a wealth of information on local breweries and varieties.

The next band set up and began to play. They were a five piece band that added a singer with electronics to the rock band lineup.

Their sound though was kind of fascinating. The vocalist sang soul music. He had a rich voice and he knew how to work his dynamic range. The band played post-punk, with angular guitars and thudding rhythms. The mix of soul with post-punk really worked. I found myself entranced by what they were doing.

The band is called Cloudeater, and i will definitely be looking for them around town. Fascinating stuff.


I really like what Cloudeater were doing, as it was a combination of sounds you don't normally mix together. The mix at The Hole in the Wall was a bit muddy (as if the soundguy wasn't sure how to blend in all the electronics), but if you stripped away the wall of sound, it was clear that this was a really interesting blend of mathy guitars and strong vocals.


After that we sat around waiting for Bosco. We watched the band set up their instruments, and saw Ms. Brittany Bosco sound check the microphone. It seemed to be taking a long time, and i should note that the show was already an hour and half behind schedule at this point. It was nearing time for food again, but we wanted to stick it out to see Bosco perform.

We also checked out the neat underwater mural in the yard:

Why are jellyfish a theme for today? Isn't Austin inland?

And then, after everything seemed all set, the band got off the stage and went into the front room, where a DJ began playing dance music. I said, loudly in my irritation, "Seriously?" So we were supposed to wait for this other artist to finish, putting the show at two plus hours behind schedule, and running into our evening plans.

Instead, we bailed, annoyed at whoever was running the show (Hijacking Music and Treefingers Entertainment, according to the flier). We were among the few people at the place who did not work there or were not in one of the bands, and we had to leave because of the scheduling problems. This is one of the problems with SxSW day shows.

In order to get over our irritation, we headed to Zen for Japanese fast food done American style. I love this place, especially the "build your own noodle bowl". And we drank all of the iced green tea they had in the dispenser.

  One of the other nice things about Zen is that it's not all stir fry and noodles. I was able to get some sushi (more fish!) and an appetizer to satiate my appetite.  

The Zen north of the university is across the street from a Starbucks, so were able to stop and get coffee to take on our ride back to the Omni. We made it back and had a few minutes to rest, re-apply deodorant (something i wish more people would do) and finish our coffee before heading out for the evening showcases.

As we headed out we saws the line for The Central Prebyterian Church, which was hosting Pitchfork night:

Please note that the block and a half line was there a full 75 minutes before the first act took the stage. And that act was Fiona Apple. I cannot imagine waiting that ,ong to have to listen to her. There were some neat acts later in the night (including Blouse and Grimes) but i looked at this line and knew that we would never get in, unless we wanted to devote hours to this one showcase.

Tonight we started with a tight schedule, heading to Buffalo Billiards to catch fifteen minutes or so of Gold Beach. This is a band that we had received some promo materials on, and involves member of Balmorhea and My Education. EvilSponge really likes both of those bands, so seeing a band consisting of members of each sounded like a great idea.

Cellist in Gold Beach and keyboardist in My Education.

And it is a great idea, but they just haven't figured out the application of it yet. That is to say, Gold Beach had a lot of interesting things going on in their complex orchestral pop songs, but they just never jelled. Both Balmorhea and My Education somehow manage to pull this stuff off live, but Gold Beach were, well, kind of boring.


Here's the thing: I think Gold Beach is a relatively "new" band, which means that they hadn't figured out how to create tension within their relatively straight-forward, slightly twangy sound. Likewise, since I suspect the songs were young, they focused more of the acoustic guitar and vocals of the lead guy as no-one had quite determined how to add the correct music accents that wouldn't overwhelm the main melodies.

Still, as PostLibyan indicates, Gold Beach seemed like they had a lot of potential, but they weren't quite there yet.


Oh well. We had to leave soon anyway to trek up to Tiger Beach (the former Habana grotto) to see that folkish British band from the lobby the previous evening. They are called Films of Colour, and i was looking forward to seeing a full set.

We weaved our way through the throngs on sixth street and made it to the grotto in plenty of time. Of course, at 8:30 PM there was already a one in one out policy, but that venue has always been swamped with campers. After we got in i realized that i really needed to use the restroom after all that iced green tea and coffee. Unfortunately, they were not allowing people in the grotto to use the downstairs bathroom -- i had to leave the venue, cross the canal, go up to the street, and then into the bakery part of the venue.

No problem. When i got there, one other person was standing in line. This person was wearing an apron and was lightly covered in flour. He also occasionally had to yell something through the swinging doors to someone else in the bakery kitchen. "It might be a minute," he said to me as he entered the one person restroom. No problem, i thought, i can wait.

Well, the bakery employee went into the restroom and, apparently, took a shower to rinse the flour off. I was the only person in line when he went in there. Fifteen minutes later then were nine guys standing around with full bladders, getting impatient. This was a logistical toiletry nightmare, another one of bad things about SxSW. They probably need to put some porta-potties out in the grotto in the future, to take care of this issue.


While PostLibyan braved the bathroom (and was gone so long I was starting to wonder if someone had made him into a gingerbread man), I found a mostly out of the way place to camp while waiting for Films of Colour. Eventually, the band took the stage and began to playÖ.loud British rock.

That was most unexpected, considering that they had sounded echoey and folky when we had encountered their acoustic set the previous day. It wasn't bad by any means (and I could hear the occasional interlude that would invoke the melodic prettiness of the day before), but it wasn't what I wanted to hear from the group.


When i finally made it back into the venue, a loud rock band was playing. I tracked down Tracers, and she assured me that this was, in fact, Films of Colour. Huh. This sounded nothing like the delicate folk rock they had made in the lobby, with lovely harmonies reverbing as the drummer playing subtle beats on an iPhone. With a full setup, the drummer really beat the crap out of his kit, playing, fast and hard and loud, almost like he was in a Black Sabbath tribute band.

He is a little louder when not playing an iPhone.

The guitars were still lightly effected and chiming, but they were much much louder. This loudness destroyed the delicacy of the bands vocal harmonies.

I recognized the last two songs of their set as being the last two they had played stripped down the night before, but i think something was really lost in the translation. I don't know if the natural acoustics of the Omni lobby helped them that much, if the natural acoustics of the grotto hurt them so much, or if the band is just better acoustic. I enjoyed this set a lot less than the previous night's performance. Oh well. Win a few, lose a few.

The next band on the agenda was Japanese Gum, who were performing at The Hideout, a decent six block trek away, in an hour and a half. We headed out into the mayhem, dodging the throngs of people staggering around Sixth Street, and actually made pretty good time. The Hideout is a theater -- i think they normally do plays and the like. The front half of the venue is a coffee shop, and at this point i was crashing from my earlier caffeine buzz, so i stopped for another cup and we sat outside, watching the sparse crowds here off the strip.

We then went inside in time to catch most of the performance of Vacationer, a Philadelphia rock act who were on before Japanese Gum. They were kind of old school, doing late 1950 early 1960s rock. I found them catchy, but what made their performance stand out is that the band appeared to be having a lot of fun. The layout of The Hideout is such that in order to leave (to head out, get a drink, or use the restroom) you have to walk down the stairs of the stadium seating and pass right in front of the band on the stage at the front of the room. At one point a few people headed out while Vacationer were tuning, and the lead singer joked, "Hey, that's fine. We're not offended." The crowd laughed, and they continued with their set.

It was also really dark in The Hideout, making it hard to take pictures.

  Vacationer were remarkably fun, with a laid back style and easy rhythm that just washed over you. It wasn't particularly earth-shattering, but after the previous two acts, seeing something that I just plain enjoyed was a nice change. Especially, considering I was camped out in a theater seat with some nice AC blowing down on my head.  

They were not that innovative of a band, but they made for a fun, entertaining show. I am glad we got to see Vacationer.

And then we had a kind of long intermission while Japanese Gum set up. Japanese Gum are an Italian electronic band who i reviewed back in 2008. At the time, they were a duo who made interesting, mellow electronic music. However, i had heard more from the band, stuff that i had not reviewed. They had added a third member, and they now had a lot of vocals, and were generally noisier. I know that the type of stuff they do does not appeal to most people, but i was really curious to see how they pull it off live.

Well, they have a guitarist, and a singer with a few drums, and a lot of electronics.

They were noisy and loud and aggressively different. I would not say that this was a great performance, but it was pretty much what i thought it would be. They were able to recreate the oddness of their recordings live, and do it well. I appreciate that these Italian boys are pushing the envelope, but as i realized while watching their performance, i enjoy their instrumentals better. I just wish that one guy wouldn't sing so much. Still, kind of neat to see live. I am glad i saw them.


Japanese Gum were . . . different. Aggressively weird. And loud. But I liked them (especially since my earplugs seemed to muffle the vocals a bit). And I think my favorite part of their set was watching the folks who had come into The Hideout to take a seat and enjoy the AC flee in droves as Japanese Gum got weirder and stranger. I also appreciated the fact that this electronic group managed to set up in less than 20 minutes (unlike Apparat), proving that the feat wasn't impossible.


We then had a bit of a gap and a long trek, so we headed out, and by this point Sixth Street was mayhem. It was almost wall to wall people -- so many people, lurching about irregularly due to drunkenness, fascination with their phone, or both. Navigating the crowd on the street had become difficult.

We made it to Beale St. Tavern, a venue i had never been in. Apparently the term "Beale St." has something to do with Elvis Presley, as the walls were decorated with Elvis memorabilia. It was like being inside The Star Bar's Elvis Vault, only more spacious.

When we got there, Wooden Wand was on stage. Let me start out by saying that his promo company sent me a download of the latest Wooden Wand record, and i was able to make it through about one minute each of three songs before i realized that this record of whiny-voiced country folk was not for me. I had no desire to hear this artist, but whatever.

On record, Wooden Wand is one person, but tonight, he was playing with a female accompaniment, who's name i did not catch. And i have to admit, live with the female harmonies and additional instrumentation, it came across as decent Americana. Not exactly my favorite genre, but i thought this was more enjoyable live than on record.

After that, a four-piece band set up on the small stage. The singer of this act was Richard Davies, from Cardinal, ostensibly here to promote the new Cardinal record. Except that it was just Mr. Davies, as the other member of that band does not tour.

I love this shot of Mr. Davies as he steps into the crowd to hear how it sounds as the band sound checks.

Plus, Mr. Davies was a little drunk, and kept going on about trying to write melodic pop during the punk scene in late 1970s Australia. I was unfamiliar with anything this man had done going in, but i think what i heard was a lot of songs from his old band, who i think were called The Moles. In fact, here is the actual setlist:

I think he also played a few tunes from the two Cardinal records.

The entertaining Richard Davies (from Australia).


This show choice was entirely my fault. I really like the most recent Cardinal album and wanted to see how it came across live. Unfortunately, I missed the part wherein the set was only going to be the one guy, so I was a bit surprised by the format of the set. Having said that, I enjoyed Mr. Davies live as he reminded me a bit of Robyn Hitchcock in his solo moments. And it was quite fun to watch the backing musicians (who clearly hadn't played with Mr. Davies previously) trying to pull the whole thing off and, I confess, they acquitted themselves quite well in this endeavor.


Mr. Davies has a lot of charisma, and he stood up there on stage slightly drunk, grinning from ear to ear, telling stores and making the crowd laugh. He put on a very engaging performance, and the band behind him did a fine job of keeping up with him. Whatever i saw was a lot of fun.

Cardinal was over in half an hour, so we had a slight gap before Maps and Atlases, the next band we really wanted to see. So we headed out for the four-block walk to The Red-Eyed Fly.

Sixth Street, at this time, was wall-to-wall people, cavorting, staggering, yelling. It was chaos, and it took us about twenty minutes to fight our way through the crowd. Twenty minutes to walk four blocks! At least twice i had to jump out of the way as it looked like someone was going to hurl in the streets and splash on my Chuck Taylors. (I did not actually see people vomiting, but i did see many who looked close.) Who were all these people, and where did they get so drunk?

  PostLibyan also forgets to mention the carnival-esque atmosphere of 6th Street around this time. There were people twirling hula-hoops, religious folks preaching how everyone was headed straight to hell, hippies having drum circles, and of course the ever-present guys with guitars trying to play music. Iím sure some folks enjoy it (if they're sober enough), but all I could see was people getting in my way as I tried to walk.  

We finally made it to The Red-Eyed Fly in enough time to catch the last song and a half by Cymbals Eat Guitars. I snuck up to get some photos. I stand by my previous thoughts on this band, which is that they make some pretty interesting rock music, but they desperately need a new singer. Whoever told that guy he has a good voice needs to be slapped. Ugh. I would like this band a lot if they were instrumental, because i just cannot listen to that voice.

Please stop singing.

So Tracers and i grabbed an ice cold PBR and stood towards the back, waiting. Eventually some locals nearby in the crowd struck up a conversation, and i found myself talking with two college age guys who were curious about the words "" on my badge. I am sure that Brendan would be pleased that i did some marketing, trying to talk this 'zine up to these kids.

But then they asked how i was enjoying Austin, and i expressed my incredulity with and dismay at the "party" atmosphere on Sixth Street. And then the shorter of the two guys said something that boggled my mind. He said, "Yeah, it's worse than most weekends. Almost like a game day."

Wait, did i hear that right? This level of street carousing is common in Austin on game days?

He replied, "Yeah, they block of Sixth Street every Friday and Saturday night, and you get people, but not this many."

I had no idea that Austin had a standing Mardi Gras style street festival every weekend. Amazing. I thought that the illegality of public drunkenness was highly enforced in Texas. Guess not.

  The afore-mentioned conversation stuck in my brain, if only because it suggested that circumstances weren't going to get better as the week progressed. This did not portend well.  

Eventually Maps and Atlases took the stage, and their complex, melodic math rock sounded great in the cool evening.

But in the distance i could hear the roar of the crowd. And at one point, two drunken guys climbed onto the roof next door, the one visible over the outside bar. They did some break dancing for a few songs, then climbed back down.


I liked Map and Atlases; they sounded exactly as I recalled from last year. However, by this point, the crowd was getting raucous and was somewhat off-putting (see the guys dancing on the roof or the girl huddled up at my feet looking like she was desperately trying not to be sick). So although I loved the math rock, I couldn't exactly lose myself in it, and that was a bad thing. Luckily, Maps and Atlases are coming to Atlanta at the end of May and I'll get to see them in the comfort of the EARL. Yay!

Soon we will see these people in the confort of our home bar.


Afterwards, we headed back up the hill to the Omni, Sixth Street a roar of chaos off to our left.

This great replica of Fred's van was parked just up the street from The R.E.F.
The thing on the window is to allow passers by to leave donations to keep it going.

I felt a headache coming on from the people noise. Time for bed.

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:
   Dead Leaf Echo:
   The Wedding Present:
   Sneaky Hand:
   Gold Beach:
   Films of Colour:

   Japanese Gum:
   Wooden Wand:
   Cymbals Eat Guitars:
   Maps & Atlases:


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