Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SXSW in tow, pt 3

(Pictures by Rama and Christina)

Let's talk about the image above. During last year's SXSW I overheard a friend's awe at the crowd in 6th street. I never made it there last year so I was unprepared to witness it on Saturday night. Imagine a downtown street as dense with people as a crowded bar. Imagine it being so crowded that someone decided they needed to chain their bike to the sign post above Mike's bike.

Anyway, I woke up Saturday morning tired, a bit jealous, and wondering about my criteria for good music. I was afraid I'd taken in too much. Like going for one too many helpings of mashed potatoes. Regardless, there was a lot happening today and I wasn't going to miss out. I figured following Rama downtown when he left around lunch time would make transportation easier than yesterday.

Once parked we made our way to the convention center for the guitar trade show. Afterwards, we sat in the SESAC day stage on the same floor as the trade show.


"I am Natccu," she said before bursting into her first song. J-Pop rock with a healthy dose of gurrl. Really reminiscent of anime soundtrack music, so this one's for my anime watching friends. I was digging the show but Rama wanted to leave in the middle of it.

We made our way almost a dozen blocks toward Waterloo park. This year's Mess With Texas party was already underway.

Last year the party hosted 3 stages and introduced me to Yeasayers and Black Mountain. As dusty and crowded as the park was, a long list of prospective bands in one free venue was compelling.

I said in part 1 that you don't go to SXSW to see bands you've heard of. However in a venue this size, even shrunken down from last year, room is plentiful. Last year, Mike told me about an indie punk band called Cursive. He wanted to download them but they had removed themselves from emusic. Their song, The Recluse, found it's way into one of my Pandora stations and I dug it. I gotta say, they play The Recluse better in person than on the album. Rama wanted to leave in the middle of this performance too. I was getting tired of his watching habits.

I eventually found myself alone and watching the death metal band, Trash Talk. I actually find death metal fans more intriguing than the music itself. The mosh pits, the guys jumping at the microphone and even climbing on stage to scream lyrics with the band. There was a rather death metal looking gentleman to my right holding his dog's leash. He was bobbing his head, pumping his fist and shouting "Yeah!" on occasion. We were a few yards away from the mosh pit. "Damn dogs are the bane of my existence," he said. His dog lay on the ground, lazily sweeping sand over an electrical cord.

Thao Nguyen

I've been debating whether I should mention that she's Vietnamese here. On the one hand her name gives it away and it's kinda racist of me. On the other her deep, soulful voice was completely unexpected. It's reminds me of Cat Power or even Feist.

At this point I was simply exhausted from inadequate sleep and tons of walking. My shoes were covered in a fine layer of sand. King Khan & The Shrines, Japanater, Vivian Girls, and Thermals all probably deserving of some mention but at this point I could hardly parse the music anymore.

I needed a palate cleanser and it was 10 blocks away. Christina, Mike and Rama were in line for the movie 500 Days of Summer.

Gosh, I guess this is just how Rama rolls. That's Zooey Deschanel. The movie itself had surprisingly high production values for such a limited budget. During the post show talk the writers revealed that director Marc Webb's innovative techniques came from his music video experience.

With my pallet properly cleansed we walked down the 6th street I described in the first paragraph. Thumping base emanated form venues left and right. Bands with no gigs set up and played right on the street.

Mike looked into one window and saw interesting instruments. Christina looked in the SXSW brochure and determined Moriarty was playing. A friend's recommendation and a $5 cover was enough to convince us to go in.


What can I really say. They put on the best show I saw all SXSW. I guess I'm a sucker for talented folk music. But their stage presence was really the star. Clever coordination and a charming sense of humor.

You see the man in the red tie? He's preparing himself for an intense xylophone solo. During Mess with Texas Rama mused that small shows were better than big concerts. While watching Moriarty, it was hard to disagree. Intimate, live music is really the ultimate way to experience the medium. So much energy of a performance is lost when you cut out the band's presence. By the end of the set, I was sold.

SXSW in tow, pt 2

*UPDATE* The band Solid Gold now has a link.

(Photos by Christina)

Weekday day shows are probably the easiest shows to see during SXSW. Everyone's at work so there are are no lines and venues typically don't have cover at these times. That being said I only actually attended one of these shows last week. Wednesday afternoon, Mike and I were to meet Christina during her lunch hour. 6th street, the epicenter of Austin nightlife, was a sunny and blocked off corridor of music venues. Its concrete lay in wait for the ensuing crowds.

The three of us made our way to Emo's but Christina's first choice was a no show. Off to Plan B:

Here We Go Magic

Kinda psychedelic electronic elements mixed in with upbeat rock. They were interesting enough to get an emusic download from me. But now that I have the album, there's a bit too much psychedelic stuff here.

I've already written what I did that night. Thursday was busy with work. Friday was a half-hearted exercise in what not to do at SXSW:

My sister said again and again, for SXSW, you really need a bike. Imagine parking in any downtown. Now imagine parking in a downtown with thousands of people flocking to hundreds of simultaneous music performances. We began the day trying to figure out or little transportation conundrum. Mike had a bike, I didn't. We finally decided to take the bus downtown so Mike could bring his bike along.

After we met Rama at the Austin convention center for Flatstock Mike rode off to meet Christina. Rama led me the 5 blocks, he'd already walked a few times that day, towards 6th street. He complained about the further 7 blocks down 6th we'd have to walk to meet with Mike and Christina. We stopped and ate a $3 slice of pizza and a $4 bratwurst bought with money from an ATM with a $5 transfer fee. (Note to self: be more prepared next time.) He decided not to follow me the rest of the way.

After finding Mike and Christina we wandered around the "outskirts" of SXSW trying to catch some good free shows. We saw a band called Solid Gold but I haven't been able to look them up. Apparently they share a name with a psychedelic soul group. The band has since contacted me with a link to their site. More psychedelic than I remember the performance being. Sounds pretty good, though.

The people owning a house in this area had set up an art gallery in their front yard and a venue in the backyard. We were greeted with a goat. And these guys:

Flatcar Rattlers

Punk-country or something like that. Wish I knew the genre. Not really my cup of tea, though. After dinner Christina and Mike decided to call it a night. Our initial plan involved me running behind their bikes. Miraculously, an empty cab passed us as we considered this.

The next morning I awoke to hear Rama bumped into a few members of Delhi 2 Dublin and partied with them.


Saturday would prove to be much better.

Monday, March 23, 2009

SXSW in tow, pt 1

(Photos by Rama)

Looking at the Austin Chronicle's SXSW insert, one can be easily intimidated by the music schedule. Like the classifieds of a desperate musical hell, thousands of bands in 9pt font reach at you to lift them from this dank obscurity.

I came to Austin in the hopes that some new music would find me. As I scanned the pages before me like some black and white Where's Waldo, I realized I would have to find the music myself... or at least stumble upon some. I was not disappointed.

Wednesday kicked off SXSW's 5 day musical... orgy. That night Rama and I were dropped off downtown and we made our way to a venue called Back Alley Social. Rama wanted to see Blue Scholars, a hip hop group. He'd heard of them before. In SXSW, if you don't have an expensive, all access badge, you don't come to see bands you've heard of. Any sliver of popularity will attract crowds the small bar venues are ill prepared to contain. The resulting line for 'Scholars quickly discouraged Rama. Off to Plan B.

Rama led me to a bar called Copa. The theme Wednesday was international music. Apparently he was interested in a few of the bands. Luckily for us, none with the notoriety to pack the venue. We found a seats in the venue's plentiful space and dug in for the night.

1001 Nights Orchestra

The band certainly lived up to the international theme. A variety of exotic instruments produced Middle Eastern and Eastern European folk music.


Now this one's interesting. Ashu is a Bombay band named after it's creator, the guy in the middle with the red glasses. Apparently a music video is gathering them a bit of popularity in the Indian community. The venue was filling out at this point in the night. Rama glanced around the room and decried all the Indian faces, as if embarrassed to be at a family reunion.

The band itself had a surprisingly western rock feel.

Ashu ended their performance at 1am. I don't know if there's a correlation between dance music and the wee hours of the night. But when this next band's drummer incited dancing with his Indian drums during the sound check, it was obvious where this performance was going.

Delhi 2 Dublin

What do you get when you mix dance beats, a Korean sitarist in a kilt, a pink haired fiddler, a dhol drummer, and a lead singer flowing in Hindi? A damn good show, apparently. Delhi 2 Dublin brought the house down in spite of the venue's shoddy sound equipment. Energetic beats that get your head bobbing combined with folksy Celtic and Indian instruments. They were just the kind of innovative music I was hoping to find.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Battle Report: Losing

It's an odd feeling when you realize you're out of your league in a fighting game. Where you have no tactics or moves to save you from your opponent's torrent of moves. No branch to grasp as you fall down the side of the cliff. I wish Capcom would hurry up and implement the update that will allow us to record our matches. I'd be able to analyze what's going wrong.

My recent loses with Sakura have left me in a bewildered state. My old tactics are failing. Her moves don't seem as effective as other character's. I'm stuck in a rut. Naturally, I should pick up another character to gain a new perspective in the game. But it doesn't feel right. I love her for her personality but her moves aren't giving me the support I need. I guess we weren't all that compatible to begin with. It's not you, Sakura, it's me. All that time we spent together must feel like a waste. Hopefully we can be still be friends.

I'm trading in the spunky school girl for a Sumo wrestler. He's a charge character so he's more reactionary than Sakura's all out offensive mix-up style. Not that he has no offense. Tricking people into the Oichio throw should be fun. But picking a new character presents a new set of challenges. I have to spend time to learn Honda. Time that is such a commodity in adult life. Time that veteran Street Fighter players have already clocked. Where's the limit to my abilities in these games? How much time am I prepared to sink into this game?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thoughts on the Watchmen movie

The movie was enjoyable. The visual splendor and recreation of classic scenes was fun. But the changes... Well, let's just say I understand why Alan Moore wanted nothing to do with this project.

If you haven't read it, read it before you watch it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thoughts on Flower

I got this funny little feeling while playing Flower the first time. I’m not sure what it is. It’s like a little tickle in my chest that compels me to hang my mouth in awe. It makes me hold my controller gentle hands, careful not to pop the fragile bubble of immersion.

I know what you’re thinking. What a bunch of artsy-fartsy BS. And you’re right. Maybe the feeling comes from a sense of heightened expectations. I’m making myself extra receptive to this grand experience that was promised to me in press about the game. I had the same feeling while playing ICO so many years ago. All the reviewers having emotional reactions and talked about it in “hushed tones.” I had to own this game. Same thing happened with Shadow of the Colossus. My mouth hung open as I rode a horse through its giant planar landscapes.

I have managed to discard this awe on my subsequent play through. I am no longer audience to the grand “initial experience.” I am simply poking into its nooks and crannies to get 100%.

Hype aside, Flower is a game that manages to relax me. The combination of soothing musical score, piano key sound effects, and densely colorful images would melt me into my seat. Well, it would if I didn’t have to keep my arms up and steer the motion controls. But really, at least in one play session, I could feel my muscles loosening up as I swooshed through the mellow first levels. Then I loaded up Street Fighter 4 to face the horde of Ken players. SF4 is adrenaline pumping, heart pounding joystick pumping. So antithetical to the former experience that it gave me a cramp in my diaphragm. An experience I repeated today. I really gotta stop doing that.

Flower isn’t all swooshing around someone’s inner Happy Place. As the developer’s intention it lulls me into calmness before kicking up the mood for the climax. Without spoiling too much, Flower succeeds at eliciting a set of emotions then messes with them. It’s short. But so are poems. I guess we can see Flower as a sort of game design poem. Verses told in game play semantics. Someone stop me if I sound too artsy-fartsy.