Free Week Speed Dating

Watch Out for Rockets, Black Books, Clouds Are Ghosts, Red Leaves, Lacuna Incorporated, My Education, FM Campers, Paper Shapes, the Kickback, and Intimate Stranger

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Jan. 14, 2011

Intimate Stranger
Intimate Stranger
Photo by John Anderson

Free Week Speed Dating

Beauty Bar, Jan. 8-9

Free Week's the musical equivalent of speed dating: no obligations or financial commitments, plenty to choose from, and only about 30 minutes to make an impression. It's best to approach such circumstances with low expectations, especially when the bill offers a random grab bag, like Beauty Bar's Saturday lineup, where the only obvious headliner, Watch Out for Rockets – the provocative lo-fi pop project from Murdocks drummer David Jones – loaded out before most Red River clubs even opened their doors. Black Books was an early surprise, recalling Phil Collins-era Genesis approached from a post-rock perspective, spacious yet dense, with a singing drummer that used enough reverb to warrant Jim James comparisons. The synthesized melodrama of fivepiece the Clouds Are Ghosts inhabited similar New Age territory but proved pretentious and overbearing, like trip-hop interpreted by choir boys and their classically trained friends. Despite a tightened rhythm section, the wiry indie rock of veteran quartet Red Leaves didn't fare much better, but the outside stage offered a consistent reprieve. Lacuna Incorporated picked up where its former members of 1990s shoegazers 7% Solution left off – floating in space. The addition of singer-composer Lisa Lipkin added another layer to their headphone psychedelia, which peaked with a telling, closing rendition of Spiritualized's "Come Together." That set the scene for the titanium suites of instrumentalists My Education, who were more immediate and forceful as a quintet than its Sunrise soundtrack suggests. In between, FM Campers added oddball electro-rock of the Hype Machine variety, while Paper Shapes closed with the driving, linear post-punk spasms from last year's overlooked Be Vigilant. There's nothing sadder than a touring band landing in Austin on the final Sunday of Free Week, opening no less, but Chicago's the Kickback took it in stride with wry indie rock and self-deprecating humor. At least the commute was better for Intimate Stranger. The Anglo-Chilean quartet just moved to town – signed to Austin's Fringecore Records – and made quite the first impression. In obvious radio singles "Nighttime" and "Under," the international fourpiece mixed the glossy energy of New Wave with a modern, alt-rock edge, anchored by Croatian singer/bassist Tessie S-Woodgate. They won't be strangers for long.

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