SXSW Music 2011: Saturday

After I gobbled a slice of pizza for breakfast, I made it down to the Rusty Spurs to see the Shondes. I was moved by this Brooklyn four-piece ever since I heard a graduate school acquaintance champion their music. Even with the success of acts like Bruce Springsteen, Rage Against the Machine, and Sleater-Kinney, many folks dismiss politically conscious music is whiny and trite. This assumption has sexist and homophobic underpinnings, as people tend not to make these criticisms against Ted Leo, an indie folk hero in our time. I'm impressed by the group's ability to bridge their political convictions toward queer equality, Jewish liberation, and feminist ideologies to make impassioned, full-bodied music that incorporates classical violin into a traditional rock set-up. As I told the group during my interview with them following their set, what resonates the most with me is the group's sense of warmth and humanity. It totally registers in concert. After all, many of our best performers are moved to take the stage by a larger cause.

The Shondes

Following an hour-long conversation with the Shondes, I met up with a friend who urged me to check out Grayceon at Lovejoy's. I knew nothing about this San Franciscan progressive metal trio and was pleasantly surprised by the transportative properties of their brooding music. At the risk of singling out a member on the basis of gender, I was especially interested in Jackie Perez Gratz, who sings and plays electric cello. Unfortunately, the sound was not exceptional and Max Doyle's guitar and Zack Farwell's drums dominated the mix. I await hearing them on record to get a fuller sense of the band's power.

By seven, there was already a line around the block at Elysium for the Chimera showcase. With good reason—how often do we get to see Yoko Ono perform? I reasoned I didn't want to see anything as much, so I got in line. Once inside, I camped out for the evening. Since I didn't have an official photographer badge, I couldn't take pictures. However, this allowed me to fully concentrate on the music. I saw Sean Lennon perform as a member of Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and Consortium Musicum. As a long-time Cibo Matto fan, I was excited to see If By Yes, Yuka Honda's new supergroup with Nels Cline, that dog's Petra Haden, Cornelius' Hirotaka Shimizu, and drummer Yuko Araki. Honda also took the stage with Cline, who recently started a new project called Fig. If By Yes were lovely, blending pop sensibilities with experimental inclinations to make easy listening music for smart people. I was also mesmerized by MI-GU, which features Shimizu on guitar and Araki delivering spoken word interludes between amazing drum passages.

Then it was time for all of the musicians in attendance to take their place as part of the Plastic Ono Band. But before they began, Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner of tUnE-yArDs put their indelible mark on "We're All Water." This was maybe the most exciting moment of the festival for me, as it was unexpected and exhilerating. Garbus' musical optimism works perfectly for Ono's message of peace. Shortly after, Ono came out and showed every band how it was done. Echoing many of the sentiments shared in the Bitch article "Oh Yoko," I don't think we can overstate her influence on music. She gave punk a blueprint to build upon, challenged the way women could sing, and invented a new vocabulary for electronic music. At 78 (!), she is still as vital to the music that predates her and in her own right. Given that a riot broke out at Beauty Bar during Death From Above's set that same night, I was very happy to be in the company of a feminist icon who continues to devote her life to peaceful resistance.

by Alyx Vesey
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