SXSW Music Fest preview guide
Emo's Main Room, 11pmWhat does Octopus Project's impending new album sound like?
"Weird sounds and guitars, balloons, and tiny animals," proposes guitarist Josh Lambert.
Propelled by the synthesizers and other-worldly theremin of Lambert's wife Yvonne and Toto Miranda's rapturous percussion, Austin's slippery instrumentalists fashion a helium-induced, 21st century electronic utopia.
Tiny animals must be where producer Ryan Hadlock (Stephen Malkmus, Blonde Redhead) comes in. The Project left home to record with Hadlock at Bear Creek Studio outside Seattle, completing a 10-city West Coast tour in the process.
"We've done all our records at our house or with friends in Austin, and that's always been this really long, extensive process," reasons Lambert. "This time we were really excited to go somewhere far away and spend a short, concentrated time working on a record and to leave with a finished product, rather then spend a year working on it."
SXSW has charted the local Project's five-year growth from just another fish in the sea to a leviathan swimming its way into legend. The 2006 Coachella veterans' Fanatic showcase Saturday (Elysium, 10pm) marks another maiden voyage of sorts: the live debut of The House of Apples and Eyeballs, their LP collaboration with colorful Pennsylvanian pop ensemble Black Moth Super Rainbow.
"We just piled things on top of each other and went back and forth that way until we felt like the songs were done," Lambert says. "I'm not sure how it's going to work out yet." Austin Powell
La Zona Rosa, 12midGhostland Observatory's pendulous paradise of two-man thrash is grounded in a hedonistic yin/yang dichotomy. Thomas Turner plays mad scientist, caped crusader, and wizard behind the curtain, producing GO's ecstatic electro-clash rhythms and handling the brunt of the Austin duo's numerous DIY business ventures. Aaron Behrens is the prima donna, "Candy Rider," and sexual showstopper whose piercing falsetto quivers between shriek and scream. Combined, their complementary forces produce a near out-of-body live experience.
"It's a struggle to get into some kind of euphoric state, a constant release in order to relax," Behrens says of his androgynous, charismatic performances. "I take what bothers me in the world and ask what the lead singer of Ghostland would do to deal with those problems. He'd cruise down the street in his freakin' T-Bird with music blasting."
Turner, who got his start throwing raves, approaches matters a bit more systematically. "We have to treat every show the same," he says. "We get out there and kick out the jams. Luckily people just feel it. They're dancing, weaving, and smiling. It's more like a giant party."
Ghostland has every reason to celebrate. In 2006, besides dropping sophomore effort Paparazzi Lighting, they blew minds at both Lollapalooza and the ACL Music Festival, then sold out Hogg Auditorium for January's laser spectacular. Just don't expect their recent success to change River City's new hometown heroes.
"I'm a regular dude, no frills, no thrills, a regular small-town country boy lost like everybody else, trying to find a reason to live," raps Behrens. "I just happen to like to play dress-up and dance." Austin Powell
Alejandro Escovedo & Friends
8pm, Austin Music Hall Ballroom After battling a debilitating case of hepatitis C for a period of years, 2006 saw Alejandro Escovedo's full return. The Austin-based singer-songwriter released The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch) to universal critical acclaim, its bold tracing of his journey from near death to health alternately intimate and enlightening. Jim Caligiuri
8pm, 18th Floor @ the Hilton She's just 18, but Sahara Smith has the Austin singer-songwriter scene abuzz. Her songs are only available on MySpace and at the occasional gig, but the high school senior has still generated label and critical interest a testament to the improbable polish of her music and the maturity of her lyrics. Jim Caligiuri
8pm, Momo's Between the childlike growl and beyond-her-years perspective lie this Kerrville Folk Festival veteran's honeyed meanderings that dapple across those places in life that one hopes, in her mere 25 years, she has not yet had to reside. Her latest, The Brightness (Righteous Babe), indicates that perhaps she has. Kate X Messer
8pm, Elysium San Francisco's Kid Beyond approaches his craft beat-boxing, singing, vox effects with childlike fervor, and his piehole is a veritable Swiss Army knife of vocal sounds. Thanks to a galvanizing live show and debut EP, Amplivate (Love-Million), he recently opened Imogen Heap's tour. David Lynch
Cry Blood Apache
8pm, Co-op Bar This may be the first time you see Cry Blood Apache anywhere near Co-op Bar. The Austin quintet has gone from electronic drum machine bounce to stripped-down junkyard noise and back around with a little of both in each fingerless-gloved hand. Last year's Performing Diversion Acrobatics was a danceable vision of the future, where no metal is urbane. Audra Schroeder
8pm, Emo's Main Slam poet turned rapper, Sage Francis composes "black music intertwined with a white man's line dance." The socially conscious lyricist follows in the footsteps of his Anticon debut, Personal Journals, with third LP Human the Death Dance, which hits streets in May and features cameos from Jolie Holland, Mark Isham, and Buck 65. Austin Powell
8pm, Ale House Rebecca Gates first achieved indie rock prominence with the Spinanes' 1993 Sub Pop debut, Manos. These days, you're likely to see her hosting residencies at the Knitting Factory alongside fellow travelers like Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen. Greg Beets
THE HIGH DIALS
8:30pm, Maggie Mae's Montreal's High Dials have quickly established themselves as one of the sharpest psychedelic pop bands going. The quintet's 2005 epic, War of the Wakening Phantoms (Rainbow Quartz), is the 21st century answer to the Zombies' Odyssey & Oracle. Greg Beets
Black Joe Lewis
9pm, Lava Lounge Patio Inspired by friends and fellow Austinites the Weary Boys and Scott H. Biram, Black Joe Lewis lays down a variation of talking punk blues that yielded an EP on Italian label Shake Your Ass and a self-titled CD on Weary Records, released in 2006. Jim Caligiuri
9pm, Elysium Thomas Dolby is The Sole Inhabitant. After his Eighties hit "She Blinded Me With Science," the eccentric Londoner quit the biz and ventured into the ringtone industry. The electro wizard released a live CD and DVD last year after an extensive tour with BT and now returns with new material and gadgets galore. Darcie Stevens
9pm, Buffalo Billiards Former Hüsker Dü/Sugar frontman/onetime Austinite Bob Mould keeps house in D.C. these days, collaborating with ace remixer Richard Morel in dance-pop duo Blowoff. The former pro-wrestling scriptwriter and Daily Show theme composer revels in confounding expectations, and his touring band, featuring ex-Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, can take you to that "Celebrated Summer" in a heartbeat. Greg Beets
KB da Kidnappa
9:45pm, 401 Guadalupe Some rappers are nothing short of beasts on a microphone. They eat up tracks like Rodan on an all-out rampage. Killer Mike comes to mind, the late, great Fat Pat as well. The beast at hand here is KB da Kidnappa of Houston's Street Military. KB's latest, Spittin' Venom, revolves around "Wood Grain Grippin'," a collaboration with Z-Ro and Trae that has instant classic written all over it. Robert Gabriel
10pm, Light Bar A Canadian original, Carolyn Mark was long ago fitted with an alt.country tag. In reality, the Victoria, British Columbia, singer possesses eclectic tastes that could fit in ragtime or honky-tonk. In the past year, Mark has toured Europe and completed a new album due this summer on Mint. Jim Caligiuri
10pm, Cedar Street Courtyard Heralded as an acoustic/instrumental string savant, NYC's Kaki King burned the maps for her third album ... Until We Felt Red (Velour). She embraced the electric, lap steel, and vox; regardless of her artistic compass, she's got skills to land her Conan O'Brien and David Letterman. David Lynch
10pm, Habana Calle 6 Annex Swept out of relative obscurity by Domino Records, D.C. bartender and singer-songwriter Benjy Ferree backpacks through traditional Americana themes on fantastic debut Leaving the Nest. The troubadour certainly knows how to walk the line, bridging the gap between Jack White and Tom Waits. Austin Powell
10pm, Emo's Main L.A.'s Dengue Fever plays world music but not the kind you listen to on NPR while driving your Volvo. Led by Khmer-singing Cambodian pop priestess Chhom Nimol and interpolating spaghetti westerns, New Wave, and Bollywood, the group successfully transitioned from covers to originals with 2005's Escape From Dragon House (BRG). Greg Beets
10:30pm, Parish A Starsailor shows usually involves a blue-hued stage and flashing strobes while singer James Walsh emotes in a velvet suit. The pared-down solo version of the Manchester quartet's sensitive-boy rock, most recently heard on 2005's On the Outside (EMI), puts our money on a lonely piano and, if we're lucky, that suit. Melanie Haupt
SAM THE SHAM
10:45pm, Red 7 The most famous count-off in rock history belongs to West Dallas native Domingo Samudio, aka, Sam the Sham, whose Tex-Mex choogle "Wooly Bully" was 1965's top tune. The Memphis-based Samudio is a man of many turbans, including preacher, writer, motivational speaker, and oldies circuit mainstay. Greg Beets
11pm, Hideout New York-based guitarist Peter Walker came up in the East Coast Sixties folk scene, when he recorded two albums for Vanguard best described as American folk-raga. Tompkins Square has just issued A Raga for Peter Walker, which features four new tracks along with original compositions by guitarists Steffen Basho-Junghans, James Blackshaw, and Thurston Moore, among others. Jim Caligiuri
11pm, Continental Club There's hardly a more sterling example of pure country in a modern sense than Jim Lauderdale. With one custom cowboy boot planted firmly in traditional hard-lovin', heart-achin' Sturm und Twang and the other knee-deep in silky bluegrass, the Nashville singer-songwriter is a rarity. Last year's simply titled Bluegrass deservedly grabbed a Grammy nomination. Margaret Moser
Nina Nastasia & Jim White
11:30pm, Central Presbyterian Church Last fall's On Leaving, Nina Nastasia's fourth release and Fat Cat debut, is her most assured yet. Co-produced again by Steve Albini and featuring the percussive touches of frequent collaborator and Dirty Three drummer Jim White, Nastasia's songs become more heartbreaking as she matures. Nastasia and White release a new album later this year. Doug Freeman
11:45pm, Red 7 Their Goner Records live LP is a must-have, and that's how to see this Asheville, N.C., steamroller: in its element. 2004's Too Much Guitar's a good start too: Greg Cartwright's soul growl paced over combustible garage rock makes for damn fine sounds. As an added bonus, they'll be backing Mary Weiss live and recently recorded an album with the former Shangri-La. Audra Schroeder
12mid, Cedar Street Courtyard After a seven-year hiatus during which she married, bore a child, and then divorced, Paula Cole is returning to the thing she loves: making music. Throughout most of the Nineties, the singer-songwriter's career ascended with pop hits and a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1997. A new album, appropriately titled Courage (Decca), is ready for June. Jim Caligiuri
12mid, Dirty Dog Bar Ode to Ochrasy, Mando Diao's third LP for Mute, ratchets up the irresistible Lennon/McCartney quotient from the Swedish quintet's 2005 U.S. breakthrough, Hurricane Bar. "Tony Zoulias (Lustful Life)" will confirm that, electrifying the exuberant mop-top-pop of these live dynamos. Shake it up, baby. Now. Raoul Hernandez
12mid, Soho Lounge The dualistic sophomore album from Atlanta fivepiece Deerhunter, Cryptograms (Kranky), is chronically sequenced from two sessions done in 2005. Combined, layers of elongated guitar passages connect dancey drone to shimmering pop, guided by the puzzling vocals of frontman Bradford Cox. Highly recommended with drugs, any drugs. Austin Powell
12mid, Bourbon Rocks This Brooklyn-by-way-of-Austin quartet hits more than a few high notes on its self-titled Kemado debut. Combining the narrative of "Tombstone Blues" Dylan with dueling guitar, Vietnam rolls over you like an electric wave. Album highlights "Mr. Goldfinger" and "Priest, Poet, and the Pig" could pass for pop in a perfect world. Greg Beets
12mid, Emo's Main Room Beth Ditto's Portland, Ore., trio thrashes and rolls with the fervor of a Sixties underground revelation. The Gossip's third LP, Standing in the Way of Control (Kill Rock Stars), got sweaty last year beneath Ditto's growl and guitarist Brace Paine's persistent chug. Darcie Stevens
12:10am, Whisky Bar This Austin-based quartet barreled into town a couple of years ago with big-rig harmonies, honkin' vocals, and 18 wheels of roots-rock bravado. Last year's Broke, Not Broken was a diesel-powered kick in the pants, bubbling over with enough honky-tonk heartache, country blues, and asphalt rock to fuel a fleet of Freightliners on a run to the Yucatan and back. Margaret Moser
12:15am, Copa Rollie Pemberton's alter ego, Cadence Weapon, fits just as easily into indie as he does hip-hop. Honing his chops on last year's debut, Breaking Kayfabe (Upper Class), the former music critic toys with sounds, beats, and rhymes without giving a fuck. And he's not afraid to mash his own tracks up in Ghostface's mug. Darcie Stevens
12:30am, Club One 15 Austin's D-Madness, aka Dwayne Jackson, plays drums, bass, keyboards, and sings, often at the same time. Channeling Stevie Wonder's charm and Prince's audacity, these are soulful excursions through Jackson's most intimate funk fantasies. Robert Gabriel
12:30am, Emo's Annex Chicago instrumental metal outfit Pelican gracefully soars through epically proportioned suites on 2005's The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw. The quartet's long-awaited follow-up, City of Echoes, is due in May, along with a live DVD, After the Ceiling Cracked. Austin Powell
South Austin Jug Band
12:45am, Jovita's There's no jug involved, but the South Austin Jug Band is one of the best acoustic outfits in Texas. The young fivesome stays true to its influences (Walter Hyatt, Bob Wills) while combining genres. SAJB is currently working on a sequel to 2005's Dark and Weary World (Blue Corn). Jim Caligiuri
C-Mon & Kypski
1am, Copa Hailing from Holland, C-Mon & Kypski is a quartet of BPM-based musicians. Inspired by a Moroccan road trip, the band has augmented its sound with rock, jazz, and funk, found on latest Where the Wild Things Are (Penoze). A pastiche beat collective, where drum 'n' bass meets klezmer. David Lynch
What Made Milwaukee Famous
1am, La Zona Rosa When Michael Kingcaid opens his throat and lets his words spill out, he's Austin's most precious export. Fourpiece What Made Milwaukee Famous went back to the basics with 2006 re-release Trying to Never Catch Up (Barsuk), a classic reinterpretation of all things good in life with a little hip-shaking and a lot of addictive choruses. Darcie Stevens
Do Make Say Think
1am, Soho Lounge Do Make Say Think isn't grandiose or frivolous. With the help of vocals from Akron/Family and Tony Dekker on fifth LP You, You're a History in Rust (Constellation), the 11-year-old Torontonian fivepiece has entered into another dimension: post-folk. Darcie Stevens
The Bird And The Bee
1am, Opal Divine's Freehouse The Bird and the Bee are vocalist/songwriter Inara George, daughter of Little Feat's Lowell George, and multi-instrumentalist/producer Greg Kurstin, who's played with Beck and produced the Flaming Lips and Lily Allen. The L.A.-based duo just released a self-titled debut of stylized electro-pop. Jay Trachtenberg
1am, Continental Club Who are these masked men? Well, they're no strangers to SXSW, and they're among the leading purveyors of pure instro music not just surf but killer twang and rumble. Their latest, Rock en Español Vol. I (Yep Roc), makes them square pegs in their round-hole hometown of Nashville. Margaret Moser
1am, 401 Guadalupe Port Arthur's Pimp C and Bun B have yet to share an Austin stage since Pimp's release from prison in December 2005. The longstanding duo rolls out Underground Kingz, their first joint album in more than five years, and the UGK standard continues to push "Bobby by the pound and Whitney by the key." Robert Gabriel