Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

With Imperial Teen, Langhorne Slim, Jamie T., Lily Allen, the Broken West, Peter Bjorn and John, and Paper Moon

South by Southwest 2007 put another dent in our collective imaginary hearing losses, and also gave us another crazy lineup of new band crushes to tell you about. Join us while we take you through the four-day musical extravaganza that was SXSW with TIG.

And before we dive in, huge props to photographer Kaley Davis for shooting the event. She rocks for all the good photos you'll see in our SXSW coverage. All the crappy point-and-shoot ones were taken by igLiz and/or me. Check out the rest of Kaley's SXSW photos on her Flickr profile.

Even with the carefully crafted spreadsheets, highlighted printouts, and pocket map, it's easy to overwhelmed by the number of possibilities at SXSW. You can go from unknown South Carolina band, to NYC hip-hop, to NME heartthrob at any moment, and being a fan of all of the above only makes things more frenetic and exciting. During our adventure we coined a few new imaginary terms for navigating SXSW, which we will provide for you below to help you understand our ramblings:

  • South by Selecting: The balancing act between serendipitously finding the next great band and fulfilling the need to see the well-known rock 'n roll pioneer.

  • South by Stressing: When South by Selecting, you may experience South by Stressing about the bands you're going to miss. Or about how long you need to South by Squat in order to not miss a band you positively *can't* miss.

  • South by Squatting: Refers to camping out at a venue one or two opening bands ahead of time in order to secure a place in the venue for a certain band (likely super-hyped). Also, when there's any worry about getting someplace early enough to South by Squat effectively, that is called South By Squatting Anxiety.

  • South by Sucking: When South by Squatting and you're forced to endure a band that blows, said band is South by Sucking — as in, sucking the life out of you.

  • South by Skating: Everyone has a friend at SouthBy who South by Skates. He's the one who refuses to endure any South by Sucking by South by Squatting, leaves his staked spot at a key show, and then always manages to eek his way back into the club for the main act, no matter how close he cuts it. We envy the South by Skaters, but were never confident enough to try it ourselves for our favorite acts (and hence, endured our fair share of South by Sucking).

But enough with the vocabulary lesson. Let's talk about the shows!

As much as I believe in lexicon, I'm also a strong believer in omens and beginnings. I tell you this so you'll understand that the first show of SXSW was an important one for me; I felt certain it could make or break the festival for me. So imagine my dismay when I booked it across town for the Pipettes show at La Zona Rosa at 8:30pm, only to miss their closing notes by mere seconds. Curses!! Was this going to be a SXSW full of frustration??!?

Buck up, little camper! I wasn't worried.

I knew the Pipettes would be playing at least 27 showcases in the next 72 hours, so I was nonplussed. Missing the Pipettes just opened us up for more cross-town rock and roll adventures.

Really, our trip even before the first show (or lack of first show) was a sign of good things to come. Did you all hear about SXSW-sponsor Yaris and their crafty campaign to make us fall in love with them? They took reservations to give folks rides from the Austin Airport to their hotel. For free — tips weren't even accepted! I mean, who isn't already in love with a fuel-efficient car with that new car smell? (Me, falling for marketing?) But one that meets you outside baggage claim (on time!) with a sizeable trunk ripe for large luggage and a friendly driver that takes you to your hotel hassle-free? Nathan, my group's driver was a peach!

And then we looked at our schedules and realized there was a Yaris party to head to right off the bat, one with poster screenprinting and free drinks! Yeah, we missed the Pipettes (this time) and free food, but the Yaris goodwill and SXSW high hopes were still intact.

Yeah, I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say Liz was right: we had plenty of moments for Pipettes, and it didn't turn out a bad omen at all. Silly superstitious me.

Neither Liz nor I nor our respective posses stuck around for the next band at the Yaris party, the Rapture (I'm sure somewhere an indie-rock angel has lost its imaginary cred wings for admitting that), and Liz and I parted ways. She headed to see Langhorne Slim at the Beauty Bar, while Kaley and I headed a couple bars down to the Merge Records showcase at Antone's to catch Imperial Teen.

Lynn Perko of Imperial Teen at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.As a huge fan of all-things power-pop, I've always enjoyed Imperial Teen, but have never seen them live. Upon entering the club, the most immediately apparent and noteworthy fact was that drummer Lynn Perko was quite obviously expecting! Now that's something I've never seen before!

She was seriously the hottest pregnant thing I've ever seen, pounding her kit and singing along throughout the set, obviously blissed out by playing and not all encumbered by being with child. What an inspiration for all women!


I wonder what power-pop sounds like through the amniotic fluid?

Imperial Teen at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.I know right?!? I have no idea, but I'm sure that if there's any truth in either the nature or nurture theories, that baby's a kicker!

This was Imperial Teen's first show since July of last year. "And we know we sound fantastic!" quipped the band, charmingly.

And they did. They have mastered the art of effortless power-pop. All members of the band chime in for gloriously bright boy-girl vocal harmonies, and they frequently enjoy a good game of musical instrument Chinese Firedrill. The band announced that they're working on a new record for later in 2007… I wonder if it's coming before or after the baby?

While we were enjoying ourselves immensely at the show, I was starting to feel panicked about the shows we weren't seeing (I had a big bad case of South By Squatting Anxiety). So after 4-5 pop gems, we headed on out and back toward 6th Street.

First off, we headed to Emos to try to get into the Beirut/Emma Pollack. But Beirut have gotten way bigger than their (barely of age) britches, and we were denied. Damn you, you music-blogger- hyped, incredibly talented, not coming near Seattle any time soon band, damn you!!! Ahh well. You know when a show has a mile-long line for badge hol
ders even on Wednesday night that things are going pretty crazy well for said band, and from what I've heard from friends who did make the show, it couldn't have happened to a more talented group. I sure hope there's a Seattle show coming soon.

My South by Squatting Anxiety, reinforced by missing Beirut, made us decide to arrive at Stubbs early to catch Lily Allen. This was to be Ms. Allen's only official SXSW performance, so I wasn't taking any chances. Amazingly enough, there was no queue to get in — but as we came to find out, the price to pay for early admission was some serious South by Sucking while South by Squatting.

Langhorn SlLimWhile all that was going on, I was at the Langhorne Slim show at the Beauty Bar. Last year's Jane Party at the Beauty Bar was a highpoint and has been oft recalled over the last year. So, it was exciting that the first live performance I see at SXSW 2007 was here. The inside is decorated in an ingenious hipster retro beauty salon motif that makes me feel fancy just walking through the door.

The Langhorne Slim show was in the backlot tent. It was poetic to have the cool Austin night breeze softly touching the crowd as Langhorne and band evangelized through song. In the same school of "Tom Waits Old Soul" as Two Gallants, Langhorne Slim rip through lyrics like they're tearing pages from a bible. Each line is drenched with the blood and tears resulting from a lifetime of heartache and despair. Sure, a little heavy for the post-Yaris high, but also a grounding reminder of the power of song and a stand-up bass.

Then, about three-quarters through the set, it was time for some South By Selecting. Imaginary Dana text messaged with "At Stubbs, no line!" I showed this to my companion and we knew what we had to do… jet over to Stubb's to South By Squat for Lily Allen. We'd agreed that seeing her at SXSW was a priority, so getting there before a line formed was an exciting prospect.

Of course, what did we find when we got there? The aforementioned South by Sucking in the form of opening act Jamie T. I had only read the Jamie T. headlines in the British music tabloids, so thought he couldn't be that bad (classic Anglophile defense technique). Alas, we were wrong. And the crowd surrounding us warned us as much. Other than the nearby group of four girls who were singing along the whole show, we were surrounded by heckling Brits throughout the set.

Jamie T. at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Yeah, just before the show started a overheard a Brit say, "The "T" stands for twat." I thought he was just being cheeky and British, but as it turns out he has a pretty accurate way with words (imaginary note: why can Brits say "twat" and "cunt" and it sounds completely charming, but on American tongues the words sound so crass and shocking?).

I could think of a few more selective "T" words for Jamie: why not start with "terrible"? Or tedious? Or totally tired? Or tinnitus?

Jamie T. was our first South by Sucking experience. He was like England's answer to Ben Kweller (physically) meets Sublime (the band, not the adjective). And because we'd staked our front-row claims for Lily Allen, we ended up standing next to the speaker throughout the set, which made my entire body vibrate (unpleasantly) and I'm pretty sure I was having base-induced heart palpitations. I'm going to send him my cardiologist's bill if I notice any lasting effects.

Jamie looked about 14 years old, and my friends and I were half-wondering if he the real-life version of Lily's brother "Alfie" who we'd heard so much about in song? It would at least explain what he was doing on this bill. I guess he's pretty big in the UK and I know KEXP has started spinning him a bit, but in my humble opinion, dude was very lucky to get to play in front of such an amassed crowd -– and what an uninspired waste of a great opening spot.

Overall, 'twas an uncomfortable and unpleasant show. Damn South by Squatting! But next up, LILY!! I was excited!!

Lily Allen at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Lily Allen was high on my list of things to see at SXSW. With her Seattle show sold out, I knew this was going to be the only time I was going to see her in any time soon. I had seen her on Saturday Night Live a month or so ago and found that performance to be lackluster — although, really, who actually comes off well as a musical guest on SNL? Bands give it their best but either nerves or a weird sound system steps in and makes them look fairly boring and off-tune. Which, in Lily's case, happened. During the SNL performance, she stood in one place (I blamed a poor footwear choice — high heals are scary!) and looked fairly indifferent (not to mention her dress choice wasn't all that flattering).

So, with that, I pretty much expected to see a stationary girl in not-so-sensible shoes/dress counting the minutes until her set was done. But Lily in full-set form was so much more. She came out and instantly charmed us toting a beer bottle and lit fag and calling the show's corporate sponsor, NME, names (not so nice ones). Anyone who has the balls to comment on the penis size of his/her show's sponsor is a great performer in my book. And, hmm, how odd that NME's recap of the show didn't catch that part?

And her live renditions of album favorites was spot on. With beer and cig in hand at all times, she effortlessly swayed with the ska-influenced rhymes.

Halfway through her set, she lovingly introduced her backing band, the Lilettes. Do you think it is coincidence that the back-up band was staffed with hunky models dressed in a rainbow of pastel golf shirts?

A boozed-up Lily Allen slags off NME at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.I liked Lily, but I didn't *heart* Lily by any stretch. Maybe it's because I missed the SNL appearance and had higher expectations? I think her debut record Alright Still is remarkable, with stellar sampling, fantastic and saucy lyrics, and Lily's dulcet voice providing the perfect sweetener to hold all the schadenfreude and naughtiness together. The simple sophistication of the pop songs seems wise beyond her years.

After seeing Lily live (I think I get to call her by her first name since we were so close throughout the set), my hunch is she likely just got very lucky when her cute poems were set to music by some folks who were way more musically talented than she is.

Lily was cute and obviously drunk — and in case anyone in the audience didn't notice, she made a point of proclaiming just how drunk she was. Her performance was nice enough
(she could still hit her notes and recall the lyrics), but overall, it was a bit uninspired. Her band was great: three horn players, a bass player, and a drummer sounding their Dancehall best. But I got the feeling they were all bored, wondering how they ended up backing up this silly white girl.

On the fashion-side of things, taking the stage clutching a bottle of Bud and smoking a fag is one thing, but wearing quite possibly the least flattering mumu sundress ever is another. I've taken final exams in more flattering outfits. She doesn't need to be a supermodel or anything, but geesh, she could have made some effort. For a moment I wondered if I was seeing my second pregnant performer of the evening, but with all the Buds, I'm hoping no.

Then Lily bemoaned how bored she was with playing her hit-single "Smile" (this Aversion article about Lily's ennui is hilarious and says it all). To which I say… L-A-M-E. And unlike most of the US-based audience (and imaginary Liz) who seemed titillated by her calling NME — the sponsor for tonight's showcase — a bunch of C-Bombs, I was underwhelmed. As I said, I think it's cute when Brits say "cunt," and Lily has said it so many times in reference to NME that there's simply no shock value left. Besides, NME should have known better than to stick her on their bill without telling her (as she alleged), she's slagged them so many times. But then I'm sure they love it when Lily calls them a bunch of cunts.

All in all, I enjoyed the set alright (still), but left feeling increasingly suspect of how much she had to do with the actual writing and crafting of her songs.

We might have had different impressions of the show, but at least Lily Allen united our two posses. Another SXSW tidbit: it's hard to wrangle 10+ people who all have different show-going needs and levels of South by Stressing.

The Broken West at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Totally! After Lily Allen we parted ways, and Kaley and I went across Congress Ave. and back to the Merge Records showcase at Antone's where the Broken West were playing. They've been a new power-pop fave of mine since I first heard "Down in the Valley" on KEXP a few weeks back and proclaimed it as one of my favorite new songs of early 2007 (along with Nicole Atkins and the Sea's "The Way It Is" and Sleeping in the Aviary's "Gloworm").

The band satisfies a musical void that falls somewhere between the Long Winters and Wilco, which is particularly fantastic since they'll be touring with the Long Winters this Spring (Seattle readers, look alive for their Showbox show on 4/14).

The rest of the songs I heard during their set had a bit more of an American / roots flavor in their pop tones. Their debut full-length release on Merge is called I Can't Go On, I'll Go On and it's highly delicious. While I had to leave this set early to ensure I could catch Peter Bjorn and John, you can bet that this imaginary girl will be at the Showbox on 4/13 to watch the Broken West play with the Long Winters.

On the way out to the next show we saw Imperial Teen unloading their gear. I think I proclaimed, "You guys were AWESOME!!!!" or something equally lame and dorky as I walked past.

Imaginary Dana is nothing if not a good superfan. I'm sure you made their nights!

Did you take a photo?

Peter Bjorn and John at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Nah, I didn't want to be that girl. Even though I am that girl.

Instead we booked it to La Zona Rosa where I was again shocked not to see a queue, this time for Swedish pop heavyweights of the moments Peter Bjorn and John, who were headlining the Yaris party where we'd started the night (by missing the Pipettes). I must confess I had my doubts as to how Peter Bjorn and John would translate to a live setting. I of course know "Young Folks" inside and out, as any KEXP listener in January 2007 would, and have liked the other tracks I've heard from their latest, indie-star making release, Writers Block {review}. But I thought their live show might come across a bit tepid, without the benefits of studio magic. Boy, were my worries unfounded.

Peter Bjorn and John were great showmen. They oozed class, decked out in fabulous (sweat-soaked) outfits, and transformed the large venue with a huge sonic dance party. No lo-fi fest here. Their sound so much more lush and satisfying than I even expected it to be.

This was not the performance of a one-hit wonder band. They have loads of substance and class. They were even better than Cats. I want to see them again and again!

Later in the festival, I heard from Kevin Cole at KEXP that the band had their bass guitar stolen after this show. People, c'mon! It's not nice to steal, but there's an especially warm sub-level in hell for peeps who steal band gear. So uncool!

Paper MoonAfter the fairly sizable Lily Allen production at Stubb's (which I think is the most arena-like of the SXSW venues), we decided to kick it low-key and began the hunt for something unknown. Our South By Selecting lists aside, we wandered 6th Ave in search of something unexpected.

After a couple stops at packed parking lots and some nearly empty metal shows, our friend Curt suggested Paper Moon. The Winnipeg-based band has members of the mildly indie-cred'd B'ehl and they are quite hot on the Manitoba music scene; they recently beat folks like Justin Timberlake and RHCP in a notable Winnipeg radio top 10 countdown. Yet, tonight at SXSW, the band performed an intimate set for us and friends (and heck, by the last song, I'd say we were kin!). Paper Moon's sweet That Dog vocals overtop Cardigan pop licks made for a light, soothing set of pop songs. Their keyboard overtones stayed away from hipster moog and veered towards the more mature spectrum. The intimate setting was just right to round out the night.

Then we headed back to the hotel, exhausted and already excited to start it all up again on Thursday…

** Stay tuned for the Imaginary SXSW 2007 Report, Day 2:
Featuring our first-ever Three Imaginary Girls SXSW showcase. Plus igDana meets Amy Winehouse, igLiz catches her first Fratellis show, free Sauconys save our lives, and much more. We're writing as fast as we can!