The Austin Chronicle

Messin' With Texas and Wisconsin Boys

By Darcie Stevens, March 21, 2008, 1:01pm, Earache!

As the myriad day parties become just as much of a draw as South by Southwest itself, the quality of the shows gets better and better. While backyard keggers and parking-lot impromptus still sprinkle around town, the sponsored, high-dollar parties reign supreme, and this year, Transmission Entertainment's Mess With Texas took the cake. Sure, NPR's Right Side of the Brain had the best sound I've ever heard at any live show – partly due to Chris Payeur's insane talent and impeccable ear and partly because of the live radio broadcast – but Waterloo Park had tons of band, lots of Tecate, and plenty of sunshine.

Those who enjoyed December's Fun Fun Fun Fest are familiar with the setup: three stages, two of which were split in two to allow for immediate band switches; punk rock at one end, indie in the middle, and an eclectic mix of comedy and indescribable rock to the north. The difference was that while Fun Fun Fun Fest soared with locals (and some folks who flew in just to see Murder City Devils), Mess With Texas – Mess With Texas 2, if you wanna get technical; last year debuted in the much-smaller Red 7 – filled to bursting with thousands of festivalgoers and nonfestivalgoers alike enjoying a low-key Saturday afternoon.

At least until Philly's Pissed Jeans took the stage. There's something not quite right about seeing singer Matt Korvette's naked belly in the midday sun, but he threw down as much punk as possible. Jay Reatard showed all those poseurs how it's done: Calling out song after song, the trio zipped through a supertight 20-minute set, perfectly succinct and fucking ripping. As more folks showed up for the NOFX headlining set, we headed down to the middle stage.

Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound was a pleasant surprise of near-shoegaze, a nice contrast to the blasting – and, dare I say, annoying – beats of Gil Mantera's Party Dream on Stage 3. Can somebody please explain to me the allure of grown men in capes? I'm asking you, Ghostland Observatory. I understand the nature of wanting to put on a good show, but capes? Really? We can talk about the dangerously nut-tight wrestling singlets another time. That is, if anyone wants to go there.

I came to see Brooklyn's Yeasayer one last time, but compared to the aforementioned NPR day party, they sounded like shit. Not their fault, obviously, as the outdoor show is always a tough one to pitch, but with all the beautifully delicate sounds and three-part harmonies coming out of their modern world-beat-meets-Talking-Heads sound, there in Waterloo Park, it sounded like a muddy mess.

Next to Justin Vernon's heart-wrenching performance at both the NPR show and his Eau Claire, Wisc., live threepiece, Bon Iver, at Mohawk (Bon Iver is Vernon solo on record), Yeasayer came in second. It's so nice to hear something fresh and exciting coming out of NYC, even if it takes cues from forebears. But Bon Iver … Jesus Christ. How Vernon took the quietly painful songs off his tear-jerking debut, For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar), and made them soar and sweep and implode onstage is beyond me. He has so much tenacity and passion, it was awe-inspiring. And we hear he's a real nice guy, to boot. If you haven't heard For Emma yet, for Pete's sake, if you've a sensitive bone in your body, go buy it immediately, and don't miss his next Austin show, whenever that might be. The juxtaposition of the album and the show is astounding. OK, enough fawning for now.

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