Japancakes, Emo's Jr., Wednesday, March 14

Live Shots: South by Southwest 2001


Emo's Jr., Wednesday, March 14

What's the closest you can come to sucking without actually sucking? That's how good (or bad) the Athens, Ga.-based outfit Japancakes was. It might not have been that bad, it might have just been the sound, but from the very first notes of opener "The Waiting," from the band's latest, The Sleepy Strange, the bass all but overwhelmed everyone else onstage. The band's patented brand of orchestrated yet improvised instrumentals had a driving quality to them instead of the lazy amble that makes Japancakes' albums so comforting. Worse, the pedal steel, the sonic signature that gives the band's music its distinguishing watermark, was almost completely inaudible beneath the low-end overkill. Despite problems that might be attributed to the purely technical aspects of the set, the arrangements sounded arranged; the beauty of Japancakes is how seemingly random pieces fall into place effortlessly. Their music is almost like a Jackson Pollock painting: All this clutter and confusion comes together to form this beautiful thing. In fact, if the band's previous LP If I Could See Dallas were inert, you'd frame it and hang it on your wall. Something obviously gets lost in the translation onto the stage (that might be the leitmotif for SXSW 2001 -- bands with great albums, the Glands, Idlewild, Japancakes, who didn't pull it off live). The bigger noise was slightly befitting of songs like "Soft N EZ," but it generally obscured the subtleties that make the band's music so strangely attractive. Things calmed a bit toward the end of the set as the pedal steel took its rightful place out front, but for a short showcase set, the damage had already been done. What little there was left to enjoy was just that: too little to enjoy.

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