Few musicians take the time to master their instrument in the way that Oklahoma City singer-songwriter Dustin Prinz has; he’s a guitar virtuoso in every sense of the word, and Eleven gives him the chance to show just how far he can push that skill.
Listening to Horse Thief’s previous release — the haphazardly melodramatic Grow Deep, Grow Wild— felt like a chore. Whatever potential the Oklahoma City folk-pop act demonstrated on the EP was obscured behind a formulaic, contrived and ultimately hollow cloud. But it at least offered a glimmer of promise for a band consisting of, frankly, five pretty talented dudes. Critics saw it; the band’s management saw it; its current label, Bella Union, saw it; and its increasingly fervid fan base saw it.
There’s always a sense of danger when debuting songs in a live setting and playing them well. Without having heard the studio versions, expectations are set according to the live incarnations. But capturing the breadth of free-flowing atmosphere and sheer volume on a disc, vinyl or digital file isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially for a band as vociferous as Colourmusic.
As titles go, Churches into Theatersis an apt descriptor for the debut album from Oklahoma City rockers Em and the MotherSuperiors. It’s a reverential record, one that shares the gospel of classic rock, blues and soul but embraces the need to refashion it for modern times, channeling The Dead Weather, Grace Potter and Cage the Elephant along the way.
After three days of hiking all over a dirty, crowded Sixth Street crawling with exhausted hipsters, I decided to hit up the famed Austin venue Mohawk (with its highly convenient indoor-and-outdoor stage setup) for a nice balance of old and new, rock and fusion, folk and punk to cap my excursion to South by Southwest. It didn’t disappoint.
Blitzen Trapper I’ve seen Portland’s Blitzen Trapper twice before — once at Opolis in Norman, again at London’s Camden Barfly, which is a whole ’nother story entirely — and the band has been a longtime favorite of mine for its earlier, more pastoral albums like Wild Mountain Nation and Furr, which are more creative, indie takes on the classic rock radio I grew up on. It’s a seminal band for me, the first whose work first I actively started following online, which is sort of what I do for a living now.
I was hoping Blitzen Trapper would dip back into that catalogue (and it did, playing the vivid murder ballad it will probably be best remembered for, “Black River Killer”), but hung on to its newer, country-riding American Goldwing material for the most part, which I haven’t much cared for. So I split a little early for the Mohawk’s indoor stage to see …
Cloud Nothings After hearing Brooklyn rock monsters The Men with Stephen Carradini on Friday, he and I were wandering around when the unmistakable intro riff to “Wasted Days” suddenly beckoned us around a corner. By the time Dylan Baldi was howling about how he knew his life wasn’t gonna change, we were watching Cloud Nothings play the last song on its set, an eight-minute hardcore epic from its excellent new album, Attack on Memory. We got super-depressed when the band started packing up, so the opportunity to hear one of the loudest acts at the festival inside a closet of a venue got my excitement perked up again.
After a few failed attempts of shooting the band on the decently lit indoor stage, I just said, “Screw it,” and turned on my flash, as there was no possible way of getting unblurred shots of these dudes without it. They were playing songs like “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” much too fast, with too much power to do that.
But the most remarkable part of it all was how Baldi’s voice held up after a week of unrestrained hollering. It sounded just as strained, but sturdy as it does on the album. Unfortunately, Cloud Nothings didn’t inspire the same rambunctious crowd activity as Titus Andronicus did the previous day, but its members are just much too skilled as players for the audience to do anything but focus on them and admire their combination of speed and dexterity, particularly that of drummer Jayson Gerycz.
Bob Mould Playing with the prolific Jon Wurster on the drums, Bob Mould wound through a career’s worth of heavily distorted and purely pleasurable post-Hüsker Dü songwriting, including Sugar’s classic, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” It felt like a reunion that ended all too soon, with an older crowd singing along with the choruses, and Mould shrugging and pointing at his wrist in between the last two songs. There wasn’t any doubt in the guy’s showmanship, however — his pale face turned Fender-guitar red and gushed sweat by the set’s end.
Also worthy of note: I was hanging out in the back of the crowd when I noticed Dylan Baldi wander in from outside the venue, and subsequently watched him take in the show for a few minutes. It was a beyond-cool experience to watch one of hardcore’s latest innovators watch one of its greatest innovators.
The Roots And that all gave way to the top-billing Philly soul-fusion-hip-hop act The Roots, which appropriately played for a rowdy St. Patrick’s Day crowd. I was a little disappointed in the lack of material from their latest, the terrific, socially conscious undun, but not surprised, as this wasn’t the time or place for that stuff. Instead, they played a few of their best-loved easy-listening hits like “The Seed” and covers of “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Apache,” “Immigrant Song” and “Jungle Boogie.”
Also worth noting: Damon Bryson literally taking his tuba for a walk on a solo, as he hiked up and down the Mohawk’s staircase to mix it up with the crowd.