South by Southwest is really only about one thing: overindulgence -- in bands and booze. We partook of so much of the latter that we had to stow our liver in the overhead compartment on the flight home. It's a good thing we were taking notes.
Leading the handful of local artists at SXSW were Kent instrumentalists the Six Parts Seven, who played to a packed house at the Suicide Squeeze Records showcase at the La Zona Rosa, a club with a capacity of more than 1,000. One of the few area bands that got to play for a large crowd, the Six Parts Seven benefited from having an opening-night time slot right before temperamental Seattle rockers Modest Mouse.
The same can't be said for 23-year-old Cleveland blues/folk phenom Clarence Bucaro, who opened the Rounder Records Showcase the following evening at Caribbean Nights, a bi-level club with black lights, a disco ball, and a mirrored backdrop, which gave the place the feel of Barry White's bedroom. An 8 p.m. time slot means you can hear toenails growing between songs, and Bucaro performed in front of only around 50 people. He did his best to engage them, sweating through his clothes and shuffling his feet as if stamping out a fire. Backed by Cleveland sax prodigy Tony Koussa Jr. , an upright bassist, and a poodle-haired conga player, Bucaro road-tested tunes from his forthcoming sophomore album of lithe acoustic funk. "It's basically my biography for the past year," he says of the new disc, due in May. "I was new to touring, new to keeping a full-time band. This record is about that."
On Friday, Cleveland's Alternative Press magazine threw one of the biggest parties of the day with a La Zona Rosa showcase that was taped for broadcast on Fuse and recorded for a live CD to be included in an upcoming issue. Headlined by prog-emo hair farmers Coheed and Cambria and impassioned rockers Sparta, the show was one of the few that was open to the public with no SXSW badge necessary, and drew a decidedly young crowd. More of the audience had braces than beers, and kids were literally lined up around the block to get in. "This is what the British call 10 minutes of prog wankery," Coheed's bassist announced as the band laid into its sprawling tunes, basically reimagined Rush without the Ayn Rand references. Sparta closed the show with driving, dramatic selections from Porcelain, its superb second disc, due out early this summer. Later that night, Akron's Black Keys packed them in at the hipster hotspot Antone's.
On the final night, Cleveland expats Twine opened the evening at Zero Degrees, a dark discotheque with a frosty motif of cold blue hues, white curtains suspended from the ceiling, and a stone bar. Though the duo of Chad Mossholder and Greg Malcolm left Cleveland a few years back, they've become one of the town's most notable exports for their dark, evocative IDM, which has gained international renown via such esteemed electronic imprints as Ghostly International and Hefty Records. They have since relocated to opposite coasts (Mossholder to San Diego, Malcolm to Baltimore), where each performs under the Twine moniker; they collaborate via e-mail. At SXSW, it was Mossholder who manned the laptop, simultaneously crafting slithering, fractured beats and projecting nonfigurative visuals that resembled melting celluloid and continually morphed with the music.
"I was looking for something abstract and very immersive, so that you're not being distracted by imagery that you recognize," Mossholder says of his visual presentation. "I've seen a lot of video with music live, and to me, a lot of it isn't very thematic; it's just random images that's fun to look at. I wanted something that was more representational of what was actually going in the music."
During SXSW, just about every structure with a roof and an electrical current on the town's busy Sixth Street is turned into a rock club. At midnight, Canton's Lovedrug began its set at Sake on Sixth, a sushi joint with a makeshift stage erected on its back patio. The emotive art rockers certainly got the shaft here, playing in front of a handful of onlookers in a place that's better known for its octopus platter. The band seldom made eye contact with the audience -- and there wasn't much to look at -- but its lush, propulsive jams will eventually get noticed. Just not on this night.
At the same time that Lovedrug was struggling with its substandard setup, Cleveland's Brandtson was playing at the Copper Tank, a brewery with a sports-bar clientele. The band, essentially, was rocking out the Parma BW3, though it acquitted itself well, thanks in part to the considerable crowd: About a hundred fans mouthed along to the forceful, melodic post-punk, a set every bit as strong as our 50-proof breath.
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