The Worst Moments from SXSW 2012
You were a little flat at the end of your performance of "Happy Birthday" there, Wolf Violinist
Yawn at Bar 96 Standing up for indie rock in 2012 is like pledging allegiance to Joseph Kony, and we have bands like infantile Chicago quartet Yawn to thank. The pleasure of Bandcamp is that we get to peruse hashtags like "animal collective, avant-pop, beach boys, brian eno, electronic, of montreal, vampire weekend, yeasayer, avant-pop, dreampop, electronic, indie pop, Chicago" and theoretically end up with something that resembles those terms. (Don't forget "andrew bird" and "beirut," guys.) The downside is that a slickly produced EP like Yawn's self-titled collection and last year's Open Season get out to the masses too fast. Tongue-wagging tastemakery takes over, and suddenly folks trying to fill out lineup cards at festivals end up latching onto goobers like these guys without seeing them perform.
Yawn's live act confirms they are a fraud. Thursday's appearance at Bar 96 was the art of trying as hard as possible to seem like they weren't trying. Imagine four unremarkable white dudes with unkempt hair having a rehearsal consisting of directions like "can you make your voice crack a little more when you add some unnecessary harmony to the second verse," or "make sure to introduce that song that obviously isn't slow as a 'slow jam.'" Further banter clunkers: "This is Terry Gross and you're listening to NPR" and "We're in Austin right now, but let's imagine we're in Africa." Even the guy convulsing and spazzing in place to these dilute ripoffs must have been a paid extra. Such earnest attempts to make flippant music -- well, it's enough to make you... yawn. -- Reed Fischer / City Pages
I don't mind a Red Bull party or the Extreme Miller Lite Super Sud stage, but a monstrous faux-machine was like a hotel-sized "fuck you" to human spirit for five days in Austin. It was bad enough that we had to contend with the lame-dick amateur drinkers in "Blow Me I'm Irish" shirts they got at Spencer's on the way to Sixth Street. The acts that played in the vending venue machine weren't bad, I mean I saw White Denim and Gemma Ray in there even, but what was worse was that they tried to treat the inside of the lot it was on like a posh, exclusive venue. If I am going to see a band inside a vending machine, don't charge the kids for water, and you better give away one of those comically-large bags of chips away at least, or implode at as the finale. I guess what I am saying is, I wish that the kids working the gate offered me free Doritos on my way out. -- Craig Hlavaty / Houston Press
The Endless Parade of Technical Difficulties / Every venue Look: Here's indie-folk singer Sharon Van Etten playing at Mohawk with her vocals so submerged as to be inaudible! Here's Bay Area electronic soundscape-artist Tycho performing to a full crowd at Clive Bar through a P.A. with no sub-bass! Here's electro-noise duo Peaking Lights standing on the Red 7 stage in despair because they spent their entire set struggling to make, you know, sounds happen! Granted, there are always going to be problems at any event as huge and tightly scheduled at South By Southwest, but this year, it felt like every other set was marred by some kind of technical issue. It was routine to see artists spending their shows throwing up hand signals to their sound crew, only to get it right just as their timeslot was ending, or to play sets with crucial parts of the music inadudible through the house mix. The blame for this doesn't lie in any one place, of course: Londoners New Build made a point of saying that their soundman ran shows for LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip and thus knew a thing or two. Even after a barrage of gear-related frustrations, Dan Deacon graciously complimented his sound techs on their work, and implored his audience to thank them as well. (Deacon also gets the prize for making the funniest asides while sorting through the problems.) Still, with as large and expensive and corporate as SXSW has become, tech problems should be the exception, not -- as they seemed this year - the rule. -- Ian S. Port / SF Weekly
Youth Lagoon - Hotel Vegas Because there are thousands of performers at SXSW, there is something to literally everyone's taste. And lots that isn't. Most of the time you can avoid something you don't like, but sometimes you can't. While working on another assignment, I happened upon Youth Lagoon Friday at the Brooklyn Vegan party on the Eastside's Hotel Vegas and quickly ran out of synonyms for "boring." It seems cruel to say it was the worst thing I saw last week, because singer-songwriter Trevor Powers is so young (22) and has struggled with anxiety. But from what I saw Friday, "navel-gazing" would have been putting it politely. I hope he changes my mind someday. -- Chris Gray / Houston Press