Living off coffee, first day hype, beer, energy shots and two hours of real sleep, I felt very early in the evening that I wouldn’t be moving around much Thursday night. The Team Clermont / Fire Records / Critical Heights showcase at Beale Street Tavern is where I and my crew wound up for much of the night. The vibe was chill, the bill was enticing and the event was a little more exclusive than the others we’d been attending, which meant breathing room. We got to Beale Street early, grabbed some PBRs and cuddled up to a bar spot before Diva began her set.
I was curious to see what Diva (Dompe, formerly of the L.A. band BlackBlack) would do. I’d heard of her crazy costume changes, but had no idea that she’d be acting out all of her songs during those changes, singing simple, borderline montotone words into a headset microphone that somehow stayed on her head, but didn’t abstain from trapping twirls of brown hair. The songs seemed a little long for the crowd, but I was inspired by the fact that Diva operates as a one-person band (really a performer) that writes all of her own material and lives her onstage persona out of the suitcase at her feet. The stage was too small; she kept knocking over the flower lights on either side of her with the bulky, sheer draperies that defined most of her costumes. The end of the set was worth waiting for. She played bass on the second to last tune, showing off her smooth chops. She entered and engaged the crowd on the last song, bringing to life pseudo-sexual, artistic approaches with slight touch and a smile and a faux dance on the bar. This was the fun part. I later learned that Diva is actually the daughter of Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins.
It’s worth mentioning that shortly after our arrival in Austin Thursday morning, I discovered a red phone receiver with a curly cord and a 1/8” jack in the apartment where we were staying. This brought on all sorts of recording ideas. How ironic was it, then, that the vocalist of the next band up at the Team Clermont showcase, Savaging Spires, had one of these devices on stage, and used it as a center vocal mic. Taped to the microphone stand, the phone provided a great texture tone to the English experimental rockers’ set. The drummerless set was accentuated with slide guitar lines and sprinkles of toy piano (the player of it later told me that I could find a model like that at Wal-Mart, which I found humorous). It made her darling and humanized the band, who all seemed humbled to be there, a refreshing, recurring theme at this event. The warmth of a Fender acoustic and pace keeping low notes drove this short set home beneath those phone vocals, and made the super chill vibe a memorable one in my week.
Back-to-back-to-back, Hospitality was the next set I caught, at 10:00pm. The Brooklyn transplanters won my personal award for best guitar tones at all of SXSW 2012, if such a thing existed. This is ironic, and maybe unfair, since the lead guitarist that night was the only non-permanent member of the band. Still, the perfect, classy tones of that American Tele through waves of low feedback Memory Man sounds, sandwiched next to Amber Papini’s low-mid-range Mustang, and her interesting use of the Cry Baby wah as a chorus booster, made my evening complete. This was one of the smallest stages I’d seen so far, and the guitars were so large and lively.
The last thing I fully paid attention to Thursday night was Vanity Theft, and that was a wonderful accident. I was informed about an hour and a half prior that the girls from Ohio would be performing at Darwin’s, across the street from where I was, at 11:30pm. I walked over in time, and merged with a medium-sized crowd that smacked a beach ball around for the duration of the set. The set was well-constructed. I most enjoyed the new songs – the ones I didn’t know – though the half/half mix of older, more r’n’r favorites didn’t bother me. The sound wasn’t as good as it should have been in Darwin’s. I felt that this regular music venue, with a regular stage and a regular sound board, was being outshined by some of the makeshift venues on the block. Brittany’s guitar tones, always better each time I see her play, should’ve been louder. I also felt that the low end of Vanity Theft’s sound, particularly the bass, was flatter than usual. This might be equated to the fact that they are a three-piece band, using a touring bassist to fill those shoes. It was a new guy, and his sound seemed indistinct, unclear. All the same, I’d pulled a friend over who had never heard of the band before, and she was impressed. In the end, bad Darwin’s mix and lineup switchups aside, I’d like to see Vanity Theft go the less safe route and tour as a three-piece in the future. If Elyce (drummer) can handle the current programming triggers, add a linear bass sequence to that puppy and bring that girl to the front of the stage.
After running my mouth in the middle of 6th with friends and strangers for another hour, I made it back over to Beale Street Tavern before the night was out. I was in time to see the ending of Twerps’s set. Again, a much better mix than some of the other venues. Though I’m not very familiar with the band’s material, the remaining patrons seemed to really enjoy it, including the Hospitality guys, who stuck around until the show was over. The threat of waking up late and missing half of my planned Friday activities drove me toward the apartment around 2:30am.
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