Three Imaginary Girls

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

With Matt & Kim, Dark Meat, Spindrift, Emma Pollack, the Twilight Sad, Paolo Nutini, the Fratellis, Amy Winehouse, the Zebras, the Manhattan Love Suicides, BOAT, the Faintest Ideas, Tullycraft

Day three of SXSW began with sustenance. We knew we had big days (Matt & Kim, The Fratellis, the Twilight Sad) and even bigger nights (Amy Winehouse, the Magic Marker showcase) ahead of us. First thing on the list: complementary breakfast burritos at the BBC party at Brush Square Park and free coffee (served in plastic cups) at the SFxSXSW party at Spiros, and then we headed to Red 7 for the Mess with Texas party.

Throughout the weekend, the line at Red 7 was around the block. Any event with a line-up overseen by David Cross with appearances by fellow Mr. Show star Bob Odenkirk and indie-rock darlings like the Black Angels, the Gossip, Matt & Kim is bound to be exciting. When we saw that the line was down to just 30 people, we realized that this was *our chance* to see what was happening on that patio of theirs. Upon entry I was captivated by a spoken word pep talk from Andrew WK. He was headlong into an eloquent, convincing little chat about loving thy neighbor. He used personal anecdotes, talking through his own battles of realizing that hating a group of people because of the behaviors of a hardcore sect of the group isn’t the road to enlightenment. Life’s hard man, and we’re just all trying to get through.

You were captivated? I was puzzled. I felt like I'd walked into some crazy after-school special, and since I had missed most of the pre-funk free-food-and-beverage haps, I was pretty well dyin' for some caffeine/hydration/sustenance. (I did partake of 'coffee in a plastic cup' that I grabbed quickly from Spiro's on the way over. After stomaching a few sips, I had to throw it out. I was certain that the amount of plastic toxins I just ingested equated to swallowing a golf ball.)

And the words of Andrew WK aren't enough to sustain me first thing in the morning — erm, early afternoon, if you know what I'm sayin'.

Tragically, the bartender had no coffee, and no whitening product with which to make White Russians (hey, it's as hearty a breakfast as any of those Carnation breakfast drinks!). And I was out of cash to boot. Resigned, I got a free water and went to stake my spot out on the deck for igLiz's favorite flavor of the moment, Matt & Kim.

In true SXSW style, by committing to see Matt & Kim, we also signed on to South by Squat through the two bands preceding them. This morning's South by Squatting presented us with the hippiest opening line-up to date: Spindrift and Dark Meat.

Spindrift at SXSW 2007. Photo by igDana.And I'm happy to report that neither band South by Sucked! It was a nice early afternoon way to start our days, actually. Spindrift were notable for evoking a mid-70s sensibility in us all as well as for pulling a total Noah's Ark by having two of everything: two drummers, two members in embroidered cowboy shirts, and my favorite, two necks on that guitar (see photo).

I was interested to see them since they reminded me a lot of another band I know named Spindrift; the other band being the one that ruled the Newark, DE music scene in the mid 90’s. The Newark, DE Spindrift logo was even similar to the Spindrift gracing the stage this day (swirling font, circular shape, 1970’s influenced). I suppose that if there were two bands named Hairshirt they would have similar logo aesthetics as well.

Now, back in Seattle and researching this Spindrift phenomenon, I find that they are actually THE SAME BAND! Talk about twisting my melon, man! This band — that I sat through studying their combination Allman Brothers/Wild Bill Hickock attire and had two drummers and dreams of being the next Band of Horses — was the same band that I spinned 7” records of on my wildly small-time college radio show in Delaware.

The ladies of Dark Meat at SXSW 2007. Photo by igDana.Ok, if you want to talk about twisting a melon, I say "Dark Meat."

Clearly, we were fated to see Athens, GA band Dark Meat. They were everywhere we wanted to be.

You may remember our initial encounter with them on Thursday while making a run for the Sauconys. This time the stage was a bit bigger, but the 15 – 18 of them still filled it up like a ladies rest room on free beer night (wait, isn’t every night free beer night at SXSW?).

Do you think that all of them get SXSW wristbands for performing? I wonder if there's a special form the processors in the SXSW office have to fill out when your band roster has more names than most label showcases?

I'm not sure — but I think both sides involved got their money's worth. Dark Meat's songs were as long as the list of players in the band. Each tune meandered with biodegradable fervor. Their stage show was full of flying Mardi Gras beads (I think imaginary Dana wore hers all day) and eau natural fashions.

That almost makes it sound like they were naked, which they weren't. But something tells me it wouldn't have taken much persuasion or too many calls of "drop trou!" to get the band members in their birthday suit finery. And yes, I did wear my long gold dangly Mardi Gras beads most of the day, till they started to make my neck hurt. Those suckers were kinda heavy!

I couldn't decide if Dark Meat was more like a modern day symphony or a hippyfest cacophony. I'd like to think they had elements of both.

Dark Meat at SXSW. Photo by igDana.Dark Meat is on the Orange Twin label, a record label and web site run by members of Elf Power. The label is known not only for releasing that really odd Jeff Mangum Field Recordings album and that awesome Gerbils album a few years ago, but also for their genuine commune ethic. More than just a record label with a roster of bands, they are all one big happy group of friends who love, work, and play together as part of the Orange Twin Conservation Community. I’d like to buy the world an Orange Twin!

The commune aesthetic really exemplifies Dark Meat's sound. They work independently toward the good of the song. Each song gallivants like a picnic jam session with each person joyously smiling and “feeling the groove.” They were so comfortable onstage that in the midst
of a song, the trumpet player answered a call on his cell phone, laughed, talked to the caller and then — presumably when the background groove got too loud — proceeded to text message with someone for the rest of the song.

Do you think he was text messaging with someone onstage to get feedback on what he thought of his trumpet parts?

Or maybe he was texting the sound guy for more saxophone in his monitor?

Matt and Kim at SXSWEither way, all I could focus on was that Matt & Kim were up next… and not a moment too soon. For the last half of the Dark Meat set, I was distracted by Matt & Kim's sidestage preparation for their set. They were so giddy and, well, so was I. Going into SXSW, I had the intention of seeing them at all of their SXSW performances (at last count they had about 72 appearances scheduled) — but unfortunately (spoiler alert), sadly this was the only one that I made it into one of their shows (these kids are pop-u-lar!).

This blinding impulse to fill my schedule up with Matt & Kim-ness was spawned by seeing them at their recent Chop Suey show (in Seattle). It was a rip-roaring good time that converted even the stoic bystanders. Andy Smull’s Flickr set really shows how the crowd was whipped into a Matt & Kim frenzy. I had a feeling it was going to be great to see what they could accomplish on a beautiful sunny day in Austin to a crowd of admirers.

Blood sugar crashing, in the throes of caffeine withdrawal, and stone-cold sober, I was ready for a good indie-pop whipping!!

Matt & Kim. Photo by igLiz.Matt & Kim were over-the-top cute and hip. And the most adorable part was that their admiration extends to their feelings toward the audience. When watching their set, you feel like they would have every one of us over for Saturday brunch if they could. Their good will is infectious. Between this, the Andrew WK pep talk, and the commune-esque Dark Meat, I was looking around the room for folks to hug.

Matt & Kim played all songs from their album, a model lo-fi piece of work that I love. Live, the succinct drum/keyboard combo was choppy and forced the crowd to dance.

I likewise found Matt & Kim endearing, and clearly, those two are the life of every musical party they attend. Their simple yet infectious songs could bring a smile to even the most curmudgeonly sort (seratonein, are your ears burning?), and force him to at least head-nod through the first few songs. I'm guessing that said curmudgeon would likely be quick to point out the relentless cheeriness after awhile because hey, that's what curmudgeons (and blood-sugar crashed) imaginary girls do. But pshaw. When something makes folks as happy as playing music clearly does for Matt & Kim, they should stick with it and continue to delight fans, as they accomplished at this showcase and I'm sure the 72* others they played.

*I have no idea how many showcases they actually played.

High on the Matt & Kim cheerfulness, it was time to head out into the sunshine and take the party down the road to the Scottish Art Council’s party at the Luna Lounge.

The sect of our posse who were already at the S.A.C. event confirmed that the Scots had the Fratellis taking the stage in an hour, and also free quesadillas and drinks. ‘Nuff said.

Emma Pollack at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.We arrived and joined up with our posse. First up was the great surprise of catching the tale end of Emma Pollack's set, the magically voiced chanteuse from the late, great Delgados. I had missed her when she played with Beirut on the opening night of SXSW, and I thought we arrived at this showcase too late for her set. Lucky me, the Scots weren't such good timekeepers today, so we got to hear a song or two from her latest band. The songs sounded a bit less sonorous and more subdued than the Delgados… but of course, still featured Emma's lovely voice. It was some serious SXSW good fortune!

After Emma Pollack was possibly the Next Big Thing Outta Scotland, The Twilight Sad, a band that came highly recommended to me from my pal Matt at Aversion. Their set was probably not as bombastic as they'd be playing at a big venue at night (note: the Scottish Arts Council had their stage outside with chairs in the front with maybe 50 or so folks milling about, most of whom had accents. I felt like I'd been teleported into some bizarre Scottish family reunion in someone's back yard!).

While they didn't rage or scream or move about the stage much at all (couldn't help but notice the bass player was in his socks, even), they were certainly intense, and, for lack of a better word, just so Scottish!

The Twilight Sad at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Those gruff and tumble Scots and their Mogwai /Arab Strap sensibilities. They’ve got the Glaswegian brogue and thick guitars and they know how to use it.

The Twilight Sad carried most of their performance through their vocalist, whose name we didn't catch but who our friend April liked to call "The gorgeous one with the beautiful blue eyes." TGOWTBBE waxed on lyrically with his thick accent and deep voice, sharing his mournful tales with his eyes closed and generally getting us all kinds of excited that the band is touring around the US this Spring (with fellow Scotts Aereogramme), including in Seattle on April 13th.

Paolo Nutini at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Next up was Paolo Nutini, a Scottish singer-songwriter with an Italian name and a face that I'm sure helped launch him to sudden popularity in the US in recent months. Until this day I'd never heard Paolo's music, only seen said gorgeous face plastered on the MySpace music pages. I was excited to hear what sort of voice would emerge from within those lush, beautiful lips.

But I had no idea this barely 20 year old UK artist would be playing… Americana? Now I generally don't trust Brits who play country-flavored music, but with Paolo it was different.

It was at this point in the showcase where they also announced that the Fratellis wouldn’t be making it… and so I was torn. Do I see the acclaimed Paulo, or run over and try to catc
h some of the Apples in Stereo show as part of the Yep Roc day showcase?

Apples in StereoTorn… torn… torn…

OK, I decided it was necessary to run (yes, I can run when the circumstances call for it) over to the Apples in Stereo show. And just in time, as they were in the midst of a set of their greatest hits. There are few bands that channel their inner Beach Boys like the Apples, and the fact they were playing outside on a sunny day with a temperature in the mid 70’s? Well, even Peter Buck raced to the front of the pack to enjoy the sugary-sweet pop goodness.

Paolo Nutini. Photo by Kaley Davis.Back at the Scottish Arts Council bash, April and I soaked up every moment of Paolo's short but incredibly intimate set. We marveled that someone so young could not only write incredible pop songs, but he could also deliver them as if the soul of Woody Guthrie were being directly channeled through that long, gorgeous neck. His songs conveyed such passion and wisdom beyond his years, it was almost eerie.

And all this coming from a performer who could easily coast to fame on his good looks alone!

After the marvelous day with the Scots came to an end, we zipped over to Bourbon Rocks to catch the one Scottish band that didn't make the hometown showcase: the Fratellis. Since there was no line, I quickly texted Liz and told her to run her imaginary bum back to meet us there.

{PS ~ I've seen Liz run. It's pretty cute!}

The Fratellis at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.After another bout of running (in a Family Circus-type pattern since it took a couple of tries before I figured out where Dana was texting me from), I snuck in to a last piece of Bourbon Rocks real estate. I guess there’s power in traveling single, since they could only allow ONE person in before exceeding the maximum capacity. Thankfully, this final piece of real estate was right near the front of the stage.

Although the set list was basically the same as the Thursday evening show, the order was moved around a bit this time. Even with the daylight streaming in, the Fratellis pushed through with their best rockstar performance… again with minimal banter (and what they did say I couldn't make out — I swore he said something about pancakes). Mostly I was excited that my fellow travelers were subject to this prize performance. Finally my Fratellis talk wouldn't be so one-sided.

The Fratellis. Photo by Kaley Davis.And once the set was done, we finally understood why every third word out of Liz's mouth had been "FRATELLI!" since she saw their set opening night. She was all like, "Hey FRATELLI! I'm thinking of FRATELLI! getting some FRATELLI! coffee now. FRATELLI! Do you want FRATELLI! a soy latte FRATELLI! too?" And FRATELLI! now I see FRATELLI! what all the FRATELLI! Tourette's syndrome FRATELLI! symptoms were FRATELLI! all about FRATELLI!

When the set was over we found Liz and, while recapping our favorite parts of the show, we spotted a lone Fratelli a few feet away! It was a matter of seconds before we sucked in our giddiness and requested a photo and signature.

Oh, even retelling the story makes me lightheaded. We met a Fratelli! THE Fratelli at that. Sure he kinda a made a zombie face in the photo and my pen ran out of ink when he was signing the setlist (yes, I even got the set list! Superfandom was in high gear!). But regardless, the moment is filed away as a glorious one.

Wondering what could possibly beat this afternoon, we decided the only thing that would make sense would be to sit down in the comfort of our hotel during their complementary happy hour. Free drinks and comfy seats! Plus I heard Flava Flav was staying there!

I am never one to turn down either of those… so I seconded that motion and we headed to recuperate before the evening’s festivities.

Scott Matthews at SXSW. Photo by Kaley Davis.As we each pored over the SXSW evening schedule, I realized there was nothing I wanted to see more than seeing Amy Winehouse again, by a mile. So after our deserved rest, photographer Kaley and I headed out to La Zona Rosa for Amy Winehouse, part deux. And the experience tonight was sooooo much better, by mucho miles. La Zona Rosa is a great venue, much larger and with much better sound, and with a real press bench for photographers.

I followed Kaley into the press section and sat patiently through opener Scott Matthews, a British singer-songwriter who was most notable to me for NOT being James Morrison, the British singer-songwriter who was on this bill. Word has is that Morrison missed SXSW altogether because of snowy weather in NY. Matthews was fine, though he seemed a bit weary, even commenting, "God I need a pick-me-up or something," and asking the audience, "What do I need?" I wanted to yell back, "A backing band!" but didn't want to seem like the cheeky American that I am. The audience seemed to really dig Matthews' quiet, folksy sensibilities, and compared to the South by Sucking experience of Waiting for Winehouse the previous night, watching Matthews croon was a pleasure.

Amy Winehouse at La Zona Rosa at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.I have no way of counting, but I believe I have seen 1,000s of live shows in my extensive show-going career, and for years now, my list of Top Show of All Time has remained the same:

  1. Nick Cave at the Bad Seeds at the 5th Avenue Theater
  2. Two-way tie between The Magnetic Fields at the Seattle Opera House and Elvis Costello at Bumbershoot 1996.
  3. U2 at the Miami Baseball Stadium (long since destroyed) on the Joshua Tree tour.

And then came Amy Winehouse at La Zona Rosa.

While I don't think any show will ever equal or beat my first Mr. Cave experience (even subsequent Nick Cave shows haven't come close), and I need to put a bit of distance between me and the show before official submitting it into my top 3, I think it's safe to say there are some good odds that Amy and Stephin and Elvis will be sharing that #2 position.

There weren't a ton of differences between this show and her show at Eternal the previous night. The se
tlist was the same, her amazing band was the same, Amy even wore the same jeans (embroidered in hot pink on the back pocket). But tonight's event had such great presence, such an incredibly positive energy — and of course, the killer sound system and the far huger (not exhausted from five hours of waiting) crowd didn't hurt matters.

Amy Winehouse at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.You know how when you hear Amy Winehouse's latest record, Back to Black, you can't fathom how that voice is emerging from a skinny, 23 year old British girl instead of a large old black Southern diva? That effect gets compounded when she performs live. Amy's body is so tiny yet her voice is so huge, so bombastic, so gritty and experienced; it seems impossible that the power behind it could come from her physical form.

Her backing band was the Dap Kings (of Sharon Jones fame) and from the moment they set foot on the stage both nights I saw them, the crowd did an inward gasp. They dressed to the nines and had such a commanding combined presence that power emanated from them. Amy also came fortified with two of the most gorgeous and talented R&B back up vocalists and dancers, who earned even more special bonus points when they broke into the refrain of Lauren Hill's "Do Wop (That Thing)" at the end of "He Can Only Hold Her." It made music that mostly wasn't known to the American audience, more accessible without doing a full-on cover.

Amy Winehouse at SXSW 2007. Photo by Kaley Davis.Amy did one of those too: she covered one of her favorite songs from last year, "Valerie" by the Zutons (available to listen on their MySpace. With her rendition, Amy definitely made the song her own. She seemed genuinely bemused that more of us didn't know the band.

You could tell the audience loved the band, you could tell the band knew the audience was loving them, and you could tell the band loved playing to an audience that was so responsive and adoring… and so on, and so on. It was definitely one of my favorite live shows ever (no small statement, as outlined above), and I would even be so bold as to say that I think Amy and the Dap Kings will remember this show fondly as one of their favorites they ever played. I'd also like to think it's because she recognized me, her new BFF from 6th Ave, rocking out the entire time front and center in the press pit. Seriously, it was like I had my own private Amy Winehouse and the Dap Kings show. It was incredible.

To paraphrase the Big Lebowski (as I'm wont to do), sometimes there's a (wo)man — and I'm talking about the Winehouse here — sometimes there's a man who, well, she's the (wo)man for her time in place, she fits right in there — and that's the Amy Winehouse, in Austin at SXSW.

In an almost intangible way, you could tell this was her moment. Whatever happens in the music career of Amy Winehouse — and I believe her music could be timeless and her career epic — but no matter what, seeing her in this setting at this music festival was one of those perfect moments when everything was gloriously how it should be.

And after a moment like that, how were we supposed to see another show? Razorlight started shortly after Amy's set finished, and Kaley and I stared aimlessly at the stage for several moments before deciding we were done with music for the night, completely sated.

No one else stood a chance.

While Dana was fulfilling her Amy Winehouse fetish, I was committed to indie-popping it up for the night. It's no secret I'm quite partial to the bands on Portland, OR's Magic Marker Records label, so it's no surprise that I found myself at the Magic Marker Records showcase at the Parish II for the remainder of the night. The line-up nearly mirrored the Indie-Pop Hootenanny: The Zebras, The Faintest Ideas, BOAT, Manhattan Love Suicides, and Tullycraft. Tonight's incarnation of the bill found the bands equipped with topshelf gear and soundboard, which allowed each band to really shine in their indie-pop glory.

BOAT at SXSWThe Zebras started it off, and since this was the last time anyone stateside was going to get to see them before they head back to Australia, I soaked in each song. The crowd swelled and swaggered over the course of their set as they effortlessly played their wistful, elegant, jangly set.

With their early Wedding Present guitar jangle spasms and penchant for short songs (most are under two minutes long), Sweden's The Faintest Ideas provided an energetic jumpstart to the line up. The audience was jerking with head bobs to the curt songs and by the end, the silky vocals overtop frenetic melodies left us out breath.

The Faintest Ideas were a fine precursor to BOAT's set. The audience was primed to take on the responsibility of handling one of the twenty-odd handmade shakers with which to accompany the band during the near hour-long set. Again, with guest drummer Jeff Fell (of Tullycraft) on drums, the group covered most songs from their album Songs You Might Not Like, a few new ones and that lovely Guided By Voices cover.

Manhattan Love SuicidesJust as at the Indie-pop Hootenanny show the day before, The Manhattan Love Suicides, as short as their set was, jammed packed it with a lifetime's worth of Jesus and Mary Chain idolizing. The ear heard JAMC signature echoey vocals overtop fuzzy guitars (imagine if Lush's 'Miki Berenyi was around for the Honey's Dead sessions), and the eye saw an aloof foursome complete with Manchester-era black attire and guitarists in sunglasses. Perhaps it was the bright lights of the Parish II they were avoiding, or a performer/audience self-confidence protection technique, but I think was actually it is because they find it most comfortable to mimic the tried and true Reid brothers mantra of "Don't acknowledge the audience and all will be fine."

Tullycraft at SXSWTullycraft was up next. It was a little after 1am and with acts like The Good, The Bad and the Queen, Apples in Stereo, and Polyphonic Spree hitting their respective stages at the same time, t
he crowd at the Parish II took the form of a chummy house party. The club became a comfortably full of living room of people all with the same intention. Whether it was to hear a particular Tullycraft mixtape classic, hear one of the new songs, or because the person South by Selected based on the most manageable queue, we were all there to raise a glass (and the roof) — even Peter Hughes of the Mountain Goats was there to join in the fun.

The band blasted through an hour-long set of old and new songs. One of my personal highlights included a point half-way through the set when lead singer Sean gathered the audience to join in a catchy, campfire-esque song, "If You Take Away The Make-up, Then The Vampires They Will Die." We can only hope that it might just give us an idea of the direction of the new album (due for release in September). We danced, we sang along, and I think there some folks even made out afterwards. I myself just headed back to the hotel, exhausted from the full day of music, running, and the dancefest (I think I even pogo'd a little bit!).

We still had one more day of SXSW-fun to look forward to… and more music madness!