OKGazette.com Blogs - OKSee http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/blogs-1-1-1-1.html <![CDATA[Festivals in brief]]>

While it’s old news that Portugal. The Man and Hayes Carll are headlining the fifth installment of Norman Music Festival, the festival’s publicity committee announced the lineups for the Main Stage and Jack Daniels Stage last week (sorry I’m late to the game, but I was out of the office covering SXSW like a madman all last week). Here they are, alphabetically:

Main Stage
Portugal. The Man
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
• Weekend Hustler
Rainbows Are Free
Crown Imperial
Modern Rock Diaries
Other Lives (pictured)

Jack Daniels Stage
• Hayes Carll
• The Giving Tree
• Parker Millsap
The Damn Quails
• Alejandro Escovedo
• Krystal Keith
• Possum Posse
• Camille Harp
John Calvin

Scheduled performance times and the full lineup of NMF bands will be announced in early April. NMF5 will take place April 26-28.

Also, set for April 19 at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University Wellness Center in Weatherford is SWOSUPalooza 13: “Raps and Chaps.” It’ll feature the following artists.

Stoney LaRue
Josh Sallee
• Curtis & Luckey
• Delvin Sirleaf

Tickets to SWOSUPalooza are $15.
<![CDATA[SXSW: Saturday at Mohawk]]>

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.

<![CDATA[SXSW: Oh Look Out / Whiskey Shivers]]>

On Oh Look Out's debut album Alright Alright Alright Alright Alright, the band's geek-inspired power-pop is a blast of alternately sincere and tongue-in-cheek fun. Their live performance of the material from the album is perhaps even more entertaining. The band, which sported four different keyboards in addition to their guitar/bass/drums standards, created a cheery, upbeat environment with their performance and stage banter.

The audience in the tiny bar responded with glee; a woman "in her 60s" danced jubilantly, while other younger audience members gobbled up the free CDs that the band offered from the stage. With clear vocals, interesting melodies, solid songwriting and palpable enthusiasm, there wasn't much to dislike. Closer "Bass, Not an Eight-Track" is a perfect nostalgia anthem; it's got pounding choruses, yell-along verses, and that x factor that makes a song a hit. If you're a fan of Weezer, Dr. Pants, Anamanaguchi or video games, you'll be really into Oh Look Out. I look forward to hearing more from them and seeing their audience grow (as it should and will). 

I rushed across downtown to check out Holy Fiction's set, and was treated to about half of Whiskey Shivers' set. The audience at the bluegrass five-piece's set was even more enthusiastic than at Oh Look Out, as multiple couples were two-stepping, swing-dancing and slow-dancing to the band's vibrant sound. I'm a big fan of bluegrass that draws cues from modern melodies, and Whiskey Shivers delivered a home run on that template. In addition to being incredible instrumentalists and vocalists, the band had a remarkable sense of humor. One of the band's tunes was diverted in the bridge into a three-way conversation that functioned as a small, hilarious play with everyone talking over everyone else. It felt impromptu and lively, even if it wasn't; the band was clearly having a blast. Their cover of Tom Waits "Long Way Home"  sounded magnificent, as well; It was an incredibly apt and well-performed choice. Even though I only caught half their set and hadn't heard of them before, Whiskey Shivers delivered one of my favorite sets of SXSW; it's hard not to love a band that has earned the adoration of everyone else in the room, especially while witnessing what made them adore. And they were all barefoot. What's not to love?

<![CDATA[SXSW: Holy Fiction / The Tontons]]>

After the energetic blast of Whiskey Shivers, Holy Fiction calmed the room with their spacious art-pop. The band composes sweeping, room-filling tunes without heavy instrumental trappings; while the band include a violinist, the string contributions were never overly featured. The violinist instead contributed to the atmosphere, the goal of many Holy Fiction songs. Synth washes, guitar, drums and bass added to the sound, but none particularly was featured. The song is all for Holy Fiction, and as a result it was easy to sit back and let the songs surround me.

The songs were not all mid-tempo; a few incorporated more upbeat elements such as dance-rock drumbeats. Even a single change can push Holy Fiction's tightly constructed songs in a different and interesting directions, so the upbeat elements were welcome. The set was a strong one, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (although in a very different way than I enjoyed the two previous bands!). Fans of Other Lives, Shearwater and Radical Face will also enjoy the tunes of Holy Fiction. (Bonus: Holy Fiction has at least one member from defunct Oklahoma band Ethan Durelle.)

Houston's The Tontons took the stage after Holy Fiction, serving up a blend of Motown and psych-rock that went down smooth. The central point of the band was the female vocalist, who cooed, cawed, sang and danced her way through the set. She never stopped moving her arms, waving them sinuously to accentuating the mood and timbre of her vocals. She was a mesmerizing presence, commanding all attention. I took a couple shots of the other three members of the band, but it was hard to tear my eyes from the lead singer. Her poise,  composure and power simply drew me in. The songs were solid, as well, but seeing them performed is simply incredible.

<![CDATA[SXSW: Megafauna / Vox and the Hound]]>

The Austinites in Megafauna should not to be confused with Wisconsin psychedelics in Megafaun, because if fans to the latter ended up at a show of the former, they would come away baffled. Megafauna plays a riff-heavy, shred-friendly rock/punk/metal blend that was incredibly impressive. The power trio cranked out incredibly technical work that still retained melodic and rhythmic strength; this is rare for the genre, and made my ears perk up almost immediately.

The female guitarist/vocalist's instrumental chops were counterpointed excellently by the bassist's frantic bass runs, and the drums held it all together with a furious pound. The vocals were the least integrated part of the sound, used sparingly; I was mesmerized by their incredible instrumental interactions, and therefore didn't bother too much with the vocals. This seems also to be the band's strategy. I don't normally listen to this style of music, because it becomes monotonous quickly to me, but Megafauna kept the set varied and interesting for the duration. I highly, highly recommend them to fans of loud, heavy rock.

Vox and the Hound was the last band on my SXSW schedule for the week, and they sent me out on a high note. The band plays a mix of indie-rock, country and punk that makes for a varied set. What doesn't vary is the high quality of the tunes, which are excellently arranged to take advantage of the listener's uncertainty of what Vox will do next.

The lead vocalist snarled and howled with fervor, and the band responded in a passionate-yet-precise way that enabled their set to be more than punk singalongs and country drink-alongs. They're high on my list of bands to watch, as their songwriting and arranging is among the best I've heard of its style. Fans of Old 97's and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit will find much to love in Vox and the Hounds.

<![CDATA[SXSW: The Men / Cloud Nothings]]>

On recommendation from Matt and Pitchfork, I headed up to the set by The Men as the opener of the day. The four-piece was a stoic bunch, not saying much, but they cranked out a fantastic rock brew. The sound, while still distinctly and definitely rock, was grounded in optimism; although the vocalist relied mainly on yelling, the set still felt upbeat. Their sound is aggressive, but not rebellious; powerful, but not angry. It's the type of rock I'm most fond of, so I had a great time watching the non-descript four-piece hammer out their tunes. Because they didn't say much to distinguish between their songs, the set moved quickly and the crunchy tunes were over all too quickly. It was a strong set from the bunch, who have just released a new album called Open Your Heart. 

Continuing our rock day, we headed over to the stage where Cloud Nothings were banging out the last of their set. In stark contrast to The Men, their set was angry, rebellious and dissonant; it was no less engaging, but it was certainly of a different timbre. We caught the last song, but even from one tune it was easy to see that Dylan Baldi and company are a tight, hard-working group. I'd like to catch a full set of theirs in the future.

Photos by Matt Carney

<![CDATA[SXSW: We Were Promised Jetpacks]]>

Following Cloud Nothings was We Were Promised Jetpacks, who have long had my award for the best name in rock. Their set was also tightly-constructed, riding a line directly between The Men and Cloud Nothings in mood. The bouncy, perky mood of the songs was balanced by the lead singer's soaring, keening voice. The tunes were injected with a gravitas both from his tenor and the melodic riffs that each of the guitarists and the bassist contributed.

The band also had several very long instrumental sections that banked heavily on the interplay between the three guitars and drums. These sections were especially interesting and moving, as the tension built to the breaking point before the band released it (either through vocals, a new riff, or a drop to nothing). The tunes had a turn around each corner, and the set was incredibly enjoyably because of it. If you're a fan of artsy, upbeat, complex rock, We Were Promised Jetpacks is worth your time.

<![CDATA[SXSW: Titus Andronicus]]>

I've previously praised the hysterical, historical, incredible punk compositions of Titus Andronicus in these pages, but seeing them live was a whole other animal. Lead singer/guitarist Patrick Stickles has a limitless amount of charisma, and the audience loved every second that he pinballed around the stage, off the stage and even into the audience. His between-song banter caused laughs, and his requests that the audience sing along were raucously approved. Titus Andronicus traffics in unusually long songs that ramble and wander all over the place at the whim of Stickles, but the tunes almost always come to a concluding phrase that can be screamed repeatedly. This was true for the phrases "You will always be a loser," "Rally around the flag," "Your life is over," "I'm going insane," and "My eating disorder."

Those last two refrains may be unfamiliar to many Titus Andronicus fans, as they are from two new songs. (The repeated phrase was the name of the song in both cases.) One of them will be released on a 7" record, and the other's release schedule was not noted. The new songs were fascinating, retaining many aspects that TA fans have become accustomed to, while introducing pop-punk tempos, Irish inflections in the melodies, and a bit of metal influence in some of the guitar solos. I and Matt are both thoroughly looking forward to the songs' releases.

The audience was whipped into a fever pitch from the first moment of the show, and their passion boiled over in the tune "Titus Andronicus." Stickles yelled, "Your life is over!" into the microphone repeatedly while he crowd-surfed through the audience; it was a near-perfect convergence of bands and fans. They delivered him nicely back into the press pit, and he climbed up on stage to break down. The audience walked away in a dazed haze. Matt and I agreed that it was one of the more impressive shows we had seen at SXSW (and Matt suggested ever, for him).

Photos by Matt Carney

<![CDATA[SXSW: David Ramirez]]>

There is no possible segue between Titus Andronicus and David Ramirez except to say that they sound absolutely and completely nothing alike. Ramirez's gentle, fingerpicked acoustic folk was impressive, especially considering that he was saddled with one of the worst spaces to play in South by Southwest. Booked in the hotel restaurant of the Hilton, Ramirez was separated from the audience by a near-constant train of waiters who were bringing food out from the kitchen, passing in front of Ramirez and snaking through the audience. For songs that hang on every note from an acoustic guitar and voice, this was not optimal in the slightest.

However, Ramirez was a good sport about it and still played an admirable set. Even though the spaces between notes were filled with the clanking of dishes, his resonant voice, heartbreaking lyrics and deft playing shone through. He has a calming, warm voice that seems effortless; even with the noise, it was clear that he has an immense talent. "Strangetown" and "Shoeboxes" were head and shoulders above the rest of his tunes, imparting a mood to the room despite the noisy atmosphere. Fans of Joe Pug's quietest stuff, Damien Jurado and Damien Rice need to take note of David Ramirez.

<![CDATA[SXSW: Wild Belle / Zulu Winter]]>

After a break for dinner and a passing stop at Matt Corby's set (that dude can wail), we headed to Antone's to hear Glen Hansard (of the movie Once and the band Swell Seasons). Before he took the stage, we were treated to Wild Belle and Zulu Winter.

Wild Belle's set was an impressive mix of female vocals, reggae, and indie-pop. Much like David Ramirez, the songs introduced an infectious mood to the room; in contrast to the former artist, Wild Belle's mood was one of good times and chill vibes. The band was incredibly professional, putting the music before their image. Even though they had a beautiful woman as their lead singer, they respectfully didn't play this element up in their visual or musical identity; she was a member of the band like the rest of the members. This is refreshing in the pop music world.

Their songs were augmented by keys and some tasteful electronic elements; it was clear that the rhythm and overall texture of the piece was more important than any one sound. They succeeded in that endeavor, creating a tight set that left everyone in a good mood.

Zulu Winter quickly set up and capitalized on the audience's good mood. LCD Soundsystem was a clear touchstone for the band's sound, as the bass guitar and atmospheric synths played a huge role in their dance-rock. The band's songs created interesting tensions, which is a fundamental element of good dance-rock; the drums, bass and guitar often played off each other. The vocalist had a solid set of pipes, but the main draw was the instruments; to this end, I would have liked to hear more instrumental interplay and less vocals.

But on the whole, it was a fun set that had some in the audience shimmying, and I was happy to have seen it. I'll keep a close ear to their music to see if they will develop into the band that takes up LCD Soundsystem's mantle as the thinking-man's dance band.

Photos by Matt Carney

<![CDATA[SXSW: Glen Hansard]]>

Glen Hansard took the stage solo, accompanied only by his trademark acoustic guitar. He played two of his own songs, asking the audience to sing along with him. His Irish tenor was on full display, and the audience swooned. But the set really got going when he invited Jake Clemons onstage for a cover of a Bruce Springsteen's "Sad Eyes." (The cover was apt and meaningful because Clemons is the nephew of recently deceased, longtime E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons.) When Clemons had a chance to solo, he did so ferociously, riling the crowd up with his powerful runs and melodies. It was a hair-raising, moving experience.

Hansard added to the intensity by roaring his way through that and the next song, Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks." Hansard amped up the excitement even more for the latter tune by inviting several members of Lost in the Trees to guest on drums and bass. Even though they men hadn't practiced together, the newly-assembled band attacked the song, eliciting screams and cheers from the audience.

The two covers rocked on for so long that Hansard only had time to finish with an a capella tune of Irish descent. The tune, sung from the perspective of the corpse at a funeral, was a celebratory tune; Hansard taught the audience to sing along, and they did so with gusto. In contrast to Hansard's emotive side (which was on display in the first two tunes) and celebratory side (the next two), the final tune was tinged with a wistful respect; Hansard is a man who can thrive in any musical mood. He toasted to his father at the end of the song, and Clemons toasted with him; it was a fitting end to a magnificent, tremendous set.

Photos by Matt Carney

<![CDATA[SXSW: Talking to Turtles / Mother Falcon]]>

After a break to rest those tired feet and catch up on writing, we stepped into Bethell Hall in St. David's Episcopal Church to watch Talking to Turtles and Mother Falcon.

German twee-pop duo Talking to Turtles performed charming tunes that relied heavily on hummable melodies, romantic lyrics and twinkling arrangements. The eclectic array of unusual instruments and configurations ensured that the set was full of surprises. The resonant hall elevated the strength of these tunes, much to the audience's delight. After a full day of rock'n'roll, it was a wonderful surprise to be treated to some delicate, considerate tunes. The male singer often took lead, but the female singer sung true counterpoint instead of simple harmony; it was just as interesting to listen to her vocal lines as it was his. I thoroughly plan on finding some of their music when I get home from SXSW; the melodies and lyrics were moving and memorable.

One member of Mother Falcon joked that the band was probably as tired as we were at their 1 a.m. set, as it was the fourth performance of the day for them. Despite the herculean effort required to get 18 people to four different places on time in the same day, they showed no signs of fatigue while performing a majestic set. The resonance of the hall only added to the towering quality of their songs; it truly sounded like an orchestra performing instead of a folk band with orchestral arrangements. They played four or five songs that they weren't able to fit into the previous set of theirs that I saw, and I was thoroughly glad I saw them a second time because of that. I will echo my previous recommendation: if you like strings or horns in your music, you need to know Mother Falcon. It was a beautiful way to end the very long day.

<![CDATA[SXSW: G-Eazy / TOPS]]>

A large part of SXSW's fun is wandering into a show that you didn't know existed. I had G-Eazy on my to-see list, but I didn't have a specific show marked out until I stumbled upon one as I was cruising shows on Sixth Street. It was happening as I stood in the street, so I headed up the stairs to the show.

G-Eazy's rap is most interesting to me for his beats; he flips everything from Tennis to "Runaround Sue" into beats, making his songs consistently interesting. His flow is pretty solid, heavy on the puns. A large crowd was assembled for his set, and they gave him interaction when he asked for it; they were into the set. Generationals' "When They Fight, They Fight" powered G-Eazy's tune "Make-up Sex," and Tennis' "Marathon" powered G-Eazy's "Waspy," both of which were highlights of the set.

I ducked into PopMontreal's M for Montreal stage next, because that's my go-to fallback. With all the great music coming out of Canada, it's almost a sure bet. I caught the last song of TOPS, which was a beachy, hazy, female-vocals, teen-inspired tune that felt like a less snotty Best Coast or a more solid Beach House. Rad.
<![CDATA[SXSW: The Ettes / Sea of Bees]]>

The Ettes play a no-frills, to-the-point form of garage rock that gets in, gets down and gets out. The female guitarist and vocalist, female drummer and male bassist cranked out nuggets of fuzzed-out, aggressive goodness that the audience absolutely ate up. They powered through a twenty-minute set, and had multiple audience members come up afterwards and regale them with some variation of "f*@#ing fantastic!!"

Sea of Bees was the attitudinal inverse of The Ettes: the two-girl acoustic/electric songwriting duo cracked jokes, smiled, thanked everyone copiously, and generally charmed the audience. Their gentle, swoon-worthy tunes provided a calming agent after the rock'n'roll of the Ettes, and I thoroughly enjoyed the members' instrumental and vocal interactions. If you're into Cat Power, Samantha Crain or the like, you should check them out.  

<![CDATA[SXSW: Little Scream / Barr Brothers]]> Seeing a set at St. David's Episcopal Church is a must at SXSW; the atmosphere is wonderful, and the sound is glorious. I was excited that one of my must-sees, The Barr Brothers, had a set there, so I rushed over after Avalanche City.

I got their early enough to catch the end of Little Scream's set. I saw them last year at Swan Dive (another of my favorite venues, but admittedly heavy on the back half of the name), so this constitutes a step up for the band. Their orchestral indie features a bass flute (!) and is versatile enough to appropriate various disparate sounds. I walked in during a reverent, slow-moving, resonant tune, then witnessed them rock out the next one with distortion, drums and power. Their final tune was a mash-up of two of Mary Margaret O'Hara's songs, and the band treated both with a deferential, affecting awe that filled the chapel. Little Scream's unique sound fit very well with the space; fans of dynamic female vocalists and complex arrangements would find much to love.

The Barr Brothers took the stage and immediately stole the audience's heart. The sound's basis is the folky, wry strum of Josh Ritter with a harp added, but The Barr Brothers took this palate and expanded it, adding pump organ, rock-outs, and glorious guitar tricks. The last element there constituted a spool of thread: in certain tunes, the lead singer/guitarist would loop a piece of thread under a guitar string, then hand the string to a band member (or guest, as Richard Reed Parry of Little Scream/The Arcade Fire helped) and ask them to pull it. The vibration of the thread across the guitar string created a ghostly, warbling sound out the guitar that was mesmerizing. It was an incredible visual effect, as well.

But to not mention the harpist would be to short the band: she blew me away. Her cascading, emotive work gave The Barr Brothers' music a dimension that I hadn't yet heard at SXSW; her sounds tied all the elements of the band's sound together beautifully. She left the harp to sing back-ups on the band's final song, which was a whole song composed out of the guitar style with the string. It was a powerful, moving piece about death that ended with a surprising twist: the lead singer pulled out a lighter and burned the threads that were making the noise, ending the song with two concluding notes. It was a perfect end to an absolutely incredible set: the band received a rightfully-earned standing ovation.

<![CDATA[SXSW: Gold Beach / Avalanche City]]>

Gold Beach's indie-rock has a pensive, moody sound that is often associated with The National. It's a pretty hip sound right now, but Gold Beach pulls it off well. They augment the usual instruments with a cello, and that makes a big difference in their sound. They also have M83-esque keys in some tunes, making for some unique textures. Their closer "Skin of Yours" used both elements to great effect, creating a memorable, evocative tune.

Avalanche City is one of my favorite bands, so I was stoked to be able to see them at SXSW. They're from New Zealand, so it's not every day that I'm able to swing out and catch a show. (Although they are touring with fun. after their run here at SXSW, so maybe I will be able to see them more often!) The trio composes charming, enthusiastic, beautiful music out of instruments that should give away their style: acoustic guitar, two glockenspiels, accordion, banjolin, keys and vocals from both genders. Imagine all the indie glee of Death Cab for Cutie's Transatlanticism funneled into indie-folk arrangements, and you're near where Avalanche City lands.

Their songs are almost all love songs, but not in the sappy, goopy sort of way. They're all tied into the love of life, adventures (their album is Our New Life Above the Ground), and seeing the world through a wide-eyed wonder. Their upbeat melodies are instantly arresting, and their arrangements are beautifully executed. I sung along with almost every tune, and had a blast. The band sounds just as good live as they do on record, even with the slightly modified arrangements. It was in the top five best sets I've seen at SXSW so far. If you're a fan of happy music, acoustic music, Ingrid Michaelson, or charming indie twee-type stuff, apply within. They're on my list of bands that will be maxing out SXSW showcases next year.

<![CDATA[SXSW: The Buffalo Lounge Day 2 in photos]]>

They came, they saw, they rocked.

The Buffalo Lounge boasted a way diverse lineup yesterday, both during their day party and in their official evening SXSW showcase.

Unfortunately due to the festival's strict photo regulating and some miscommunication on their side, OKSee wasn't able to shoot any of the Wednesday night bands, but all the photos from Thursday's Buffalo Lounge acts are now available on the blog. Have a look-see!

<![CDATA[SXSW: Buffalo Lounge: The Rockettops]]>

The Rockettops play a brand of pop-rock that fans of The Fray would enjoy, as the sound is built on piano-based songwriting, deft bass lines and soaring guitar lines. Vocalist/pianist/acoustic guitarist Jordan Smith's impassioned voice also soars, and it's his vocal melodies that get precedence in these songs. But the rest of the band doesn't slack in its support role; the instrumental interplay is strong, especially for a band in the pop/rock vein.

The band clearly was having a blast, as the members were smiling and laughing throughout. The upbeat atmosphere filled the room, especially when the band ratcheted up the distorted guitars in big crescendos. The Rockettops know how to build and release tension, and that serves their pop-rock songs very well. The tension never feels forced or smarmy, either; the sound feels organic and loose. They can also break it down for emotive moments; they aren't a one-trick pony. Fans of Lifehouse, Goo Goo Dolls, and Matchbox Twenty will perk their ears up at The Rockettops' sound.

Photos by Matt Carney

<![CDATA[SXSW: Those Nights/Canailles]]> After getting some free food and drink from a barbeque sponsored by CNGNow.com, I headed out for an evening of non-Buffalo shows.

My first stop after refueling was a street show by Those Nights. You don't have to blow a trombone too loud before I come running, so they their brass hooked me immediately. Their sound had a high-desert rumble to it, which was accentuated by the soaring vocal lines that I heard. The crowd was roped in to singing and clapping, ensuring my love for them. It's more American than Tejano music, but less American than Bon Iver folk; it exists in an extremely Texan space. I loved it.

I heard some jubilant music coming out of the M for Montreal show, so I stopped in; they gave me a ticket for an American beer (Miller Light), spoke to me in French, and presented a zydeco band named Canailles. (Thoroughly international.) And although a zydeco band from the great white north sounds like an odd proposition, the members of Canailles can play a banjo, accordion and washboard with the best of them. The fact that they were yelling out group vocals in French only made it more charming and festive. The band taught the audience to say things in French in between the hollering and stomping; it was an absolute blast of a set. Their set will be on my end of fest bests, for sure.

Their rampant enthusiasm caused me to decide I was only going to see upbeat music the rest of the day.  
<![CDATA[SXSW: Pomegranates / The Black and White Years]]> The members of Pomegranates are super energetic and incredibly positive. Their rock'n'roll has no traces of anger, rebellion, or moody angst. Instead, they pinball around the stage like they're rocket-powered, dispensing riff-laden blasts of youthful glee. Several times during their set I laughed out loud because watching them made me so happy. "This song is called 'Sisters.' It's about loving the people around you," the bassist announced for one tune, and they weren't being facetious. They are genuinely amped about life. I can get behind a band like that.

I certainly can't stay in front of them. The three guitar-wielding members of the band were so active on stage that I couldn't keep them in the frame to photograph them. The only time I could consistently shoot pictures was when all three of them jumped up to their respective microphones to sing multi-part harmonies. Short of blowing up beach balls and throwing them into the audience, Pomegranates did everything they could to leave the crowd happier than they found it. They succeeded on me. Their new album Heaven (positivity!!!!!!) comes out soon; you should check it out if you're into love-of-life rock'n'roll.

The Black and White Years started their set with a blast of similar giddiness before settling down into some thoughtful power-pop. Fans of OK Go's approach to music (aside from the videos) will appreciate TBAWY's music: witty and thoughtful enough in composition and lyric for thoughtful adults to enjoy, but with enough synth melodies and tambourine to keep the energy high. They opened with two old tunes, then launched into their newer material, which has a little more thoughtful and a little less energy. Still, they never lulled the audience to sleep, as their tunes built in energy to big finishes. Quite a satisfying end to a long evening of upbeat tunes.