SXSW 2012, Saturday night March 17

White Ring

My final night at SXSW 2012 began with me watching Atlanta’s Board of Whores perform. The band consists of two guys who are the real deal when it comes to rockers. Willis Corley plays crunchy, thick punk rock guitar licks live, over an underbelly of programmed beats and sequences that he brings to the stage. Eddie Edwards fills the frontman shoes. And Saturday, I watched him run around the stoutly constructed stage, off of it and around the lot, into the faces of listeners, as far as his cable would allow, as he belted the driven, hooky melodies.

Immediately following Board of Whores’ set, I dashed to the other side of the East Avenue Lounge space to watch Zoo Animal. Intrigued by the band in New Orleans the night before my arrival in Austin, I wanted to pay attention to the details of the trio’s set, see if it was the same and figure out how I really felt about their music and which genre might best describe it. For starters, it is Holly Newsom who holds the band together for whatever it is. Her vocals are flowing and often unclear. She pushes grungy, Fender sounds a 15-watt Trace Elliot Velocette (or at least she did on tour). I wanted her to turn up at the outside show, but the tones she got from intensely picking those strings and kicking her pedals around when they acted up was a sincere one.

Zoo Animal has the sound of some borderline underground emo group in the late 90s – before emo bands were composed of overly dramatic white boys up front with bad haircuts and fake suicidal tendencies, backed by hair-in-face familiars who knew few notes, but played loudly and obnoxiously anyway. Zoo Animal has heart. It comes across as something honest, even though it’s fairly simply constructed, and nobody steps on anyone elses toes, sound-wise, live. It makes sense as a live construction, and now I’m itching to check out some recordings.

My evening was rounded out on East Avenue when Atlanta friends Gun Party played. I knew vocalists Abbey and Hunter would be making their way off the front of the stage and into the lot of audience members eventually, but I didn’t expect them to start in that position. Personally accustomed to the band’s anarchic style of performance, one-off instrumentation introductions throughout the set and infectious dance-oriented underbelly, I wanted to stick around to see how others reacted to it. What I got was a mixed bag of goodies. I enjoyed the folks who stood far back, under the edges of the venue’s shadow, so as not to make eye contact with either the band members or those of us who were enjoying what they were doing. I enjoyed the rolling chair that I was in. I enjoyed that the members of Fort Wilson Riot, my new favorite band from Minneapolis as of that day, pulled up and chair and were enjoying the show, too.

All of these things making me happy, and feeling strangely close to home, my watch reminded me that that there were a couple of pressing sets left to discover before our short trip was finished. Taking care of the gear and insisting that a cab driver ‘go faster’ a couple of times, we eventually made it to the far east side of downtown Austin, to Hotel Vegas for the very last of the ongoing Brooklyn Vegan four day event.

One of the most anticipated new bands for me was White Ring, and I walked in on the second song that Saturday. A schizophrenic rain of white lights and suffocating fog plagued the low-ceiling room, which was unusually empty, I thought. The people that were there were packed in up at the front of the stage, were I went and weaseled in a space for my short self. Many guys held cameras high above themselves, higher above my head, around me, but I was still able to see them through the cracks in the bodies.

It seems that Bryan Kurkimilis is the sinister brain of White Ring, crafting sounds and noise onstage, and contributing vocals at times, too. My first impression of Kendra Malia was some conglomerated mix of art and humanity and humility – intense and fearless. White Ring is akin to Crystal Castles to me, except more loose and ambiguous on record. She moved from crouching onstage to standing tall and forward, only sometimes, to disappearing behind/off stage into the darkness and sweltering murkiness that the music and the lights and the fogs created. Both Kurkimilis and Malia presented strong characters that hid somewhere between dark detail and indistinguishable art. I loved it. Highlights included “Ixc999,” a sort of single from their 2010 EP, and a song over which Kurkimilis raps – a really unexpected turn in the set that brought his shaded face out of the extreme darkness for a second and gave the audience a switch up to which they could sing along (the tune contains “white ring,” lyrically). All in all, White Ring was definitely worth the hype for me, and one of my most impressionable SXSW 2012 musical moments.

Though I was vying to get back over to E. 6th by 1:00am for The White Eyes, I began to realize that it wasn’t really realistic. So I settled down inside Hotel Vegas for one last beer and a set by New Orleans band, Kindest Lines. These guys push themselves as new wave, but it doesn’t really fit. The most impressive element of their live set was Justin Blaire Vial, who held down programming and punched drum loops in and out, all while playing key melodies through a family of analog toys that any electric head would stand up at the opportunity to frisk through. The guitar tones were fun, but went over as colorful textures misguided toward melody – nothing a couple of volume/tone tweaks couldn’t fix, and I assume maybe not an issue in other, less stringent show settings.

Kindest Lines’ keyboardist/vocalist Brittany Terry came to the stage and the microphone that White Ring’s Kendra Malia had been using and, consequently, Malia’s settings. It was after the very first song that Terry asked the sound guy to remove all the reverb from her mic, but I think that was a detrimental mistake. The first song sounded killer, vocally, larger than life, even. The others, barring some slight pitch issues and a little bit of weird feedback, were flat comparatively. I wanted those vocals to come at me more lush. Still, it was a fitting followup set, and I’m glad I got to experience the band live.