You can always tell when Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad is off the road, because there are multiple Dan Keller sightings as the GPGDS guitarist sits in with various bands around town. On Friday night I caught the cat tickling the ivories beneath a porkpie hat with the Greener Grass Bandat the Firehouse Saloon. This place is becoming a good rock 'n' roll hangout despite the room's brightness (what with the tin ceiling and hard floors). The Greener Grass boys rocked steady, stealing a little from Stealers Wheel and Vangelis. (Didn't think I'd catch that one, did ya, boys?)
Saturday night at The California Brew Haus, Bordertown brought the contemporary to the stage. It was a cover affair, to be sure, but the three-part harmonies gave ownership to this fine ensemble.
Slipped over to Water Street Music Hall after that where -- surprise! -- Dan Keller (this time guesting with his guitar) had just left the stage after playing with the folky, three-headed hippies in Extended Family. Anonymous Willpower reigned supreme while raining down some salacious, hellacious r&b that shook the walls. This was Ike and Tina with brass knuckles. It was Ray Charles with X-ray vision. It was "Walking The Dog" in heels. Can you dig it?
While I'm generally not one to subscribe to the applause-o-meter of an audience, Thursday night's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert started with a quieter-than-usual opening clap level and escalated with each performance into a rousing standing ovation by the concert's conclusion. Guest conductor Andreas Delfs and the RPO certainly woke up the audience with rousing and colorful performances of Smetana, Persichetti, and Dvořak.
Every RPO season sees several guest conductors, and next season the orchestra will be led exclusively by guests at the podium. As someone who attends nearly every RPO concert, what has become particularly interesting is that each guest conductor elicits a different sound from the orchestra. Last night's Dvořak performance had me thinking back to guest conductor Matthias Bamert's RPO sound for the Franck "Symphony in d-minor" in October 2012, and the Persichetti performance had me thinking back to guest conductor Jeff Tyzik's RPO sound for "Spirits of Tuol Sleng" from his "Images" suite in November of last year.
With the right conductor, the RPO has a way of pouring itself into works with complex shapes and seemingly abstract wanderings, and delivering authentic interpretations with emotional impact. Last night, Delfs' interpretation of the Persichetti was nothing short of brilliant. The "Concerto for English Horn and String Orchestra, Op. 137" was haunting and sad, filled with strange intervals, improvisation-like note runs, and a persistent character that refused to yield to a happy, major resolution of all of its woes.
Highlighted on the English horn was RPO musician Anna Steltenpohl, who was the perfect compliment to Persichetti's notes and Delfs' interpretation. Steltenpohl's technical abilities were vast. She made every note important, constantly projecting, even the lowest tones and in the most pianissimo dynamic.
The RPO string section is routinely great. Combined with Delfs at the baton and Steltenpohl at the English horn in Persichetti's complex work, audience members seriously had to think about canceling Delfs outbound flight to leave Rochester.
The big work of the night was Antonin Dvořak's "Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88," a work in four movements that totaled approximately 36 minutes. We really are getting spoiled at the amount of Dvořak played by the RPO, and at this level of quality. Even so, I actually cheered in my seat at the performance of the first movement, the "Allegro con brio" (briskly, with brilliance/sparkle). Every tempo transition was smooth and natural. Every phrase was finished before moving on into the next one. The color and style brought forth the meaning of the work.
The second movement, the "Adagio," did not quite reach its potential, but I'll bet it will Saturday night. Thursday night, it came off a bit robust for the beauty of its melody and did not seem to have a clear relationship to the first movement. But then, after the trumpets sounded four repeated notes and the orchestra took the rest, there was the sound of the entrance of the orchestra that I wanted at the beginning of the movement. Indeed, this entrance literally enhanced the earlier beauty created at the opening of the program during Smetana's "The Mouldau," No. 2 from Má vlast (My Homeland).
The ends of the second and third movements ("Allegretto grazioso") needed to be as clean as the other endings. The first few bars of the third movement seemed unsettled as to tempo. But these details aside, as soon as the glorious sounds of the trumpets opened the fourth movement, the "Allegro ma non troppo," Delfs and the RPO delivered in great form, building to a dramatic conclusion of a concert well worth attending.
The RPO will repeat the program Saturday, March 23, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-2100 or visit the RPO website.
Only her hairdresser knows for sure, but last time I saw Kansas City blues guitarist Samantha Fish at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival Big Tent, she was a blonde, and part of the Girls With Guitars three-woman ensemble. Wednesday night we all saw red... redhead, that is, as a now-auburn-tressed Fish was the only skirt on Dinosaur stage.
Fish owned the stage with a fierce, frenetic guitar style and smoky vocals. She served up hot selections off her new "Runaway" album and stuff from the big book of the blues. My personal favorite was "Killing Floor."
Fish's band was bare bones and bad ass in its tight, terse trio attack -- lots of room for the groove to coil up and strike the feet on the dance floor. However, there was little room to cut any rug to speak of, as fans of big, bad guitar (and beautiful redheads) stood slack-jawed ringside.
The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival today announced another headliner for its 2013 edition. Guitar Circus featuring Peter Frampton and Robert Cray will take place Friday, June 28, at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, Gibbs Street. Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show will cost $70-$125 (plus service charges) and will go on sale Friday, March 22, exclusively at rochesterjazz.com.
Guitar Circus joins already-announced headliners Willie Nelson and Family (which has already sold out), Pink Martini, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, and Bob James and David Sanborn with Steve Gadd.
The festival will run June 21-29 in multiple venues throughout Rochester's East End. The full festival line-up will be announced on Tuesday, March 26. Club Passes are still available to this year's festival, and cost $194 plus service charges.
Several other major concerts were announced in the past week. Make sure to update your calendars with the following:
HIP/HOP/RAP: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Sunday, April 28. RIT Gordon Field House, 1 Lomb Memorial Dr. $17-$41. 8 p.m. rittickets.com
SKA: Streetlight Manifesto Thursday, June 20. Water Street Music Hall, 204 N. Water St. $17.50-$20. 8 p.m. 352-5600. waterstreetmusic.com
POP/ROCK: Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth Saturday, July 27. CMAC, 3355 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua. $20-$39.50. 7 p.m. 758-5330
HIP-HOP/R'N'B: Kings of the Mic Tour: LL Cool J w/Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul Saturday, June 22. CMAC, 3355 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua. Details TBD; on sale 3/22. cmacevents.com.
Out of the oblivion of Memphis low-fi rockers' The Oblivions emerged The Reigning Sound, a raw and low-down outfit full of Muscle Shoals muscle and stacks of Stax. The band rocked unpretentiously and unparalleled. Nobody did it better. Nobody, that is, until the advent of Rochester's The Fox Sisters. This band of brothers is a deep-dish, double-scoop of rock 'n' roll talent. It's a savage wail that runs deep from musical histories that, if added up, collectively equal dead. You've got members of Dog's Life, The Quitters, Hinkley, Veluxe, The Thundergods, and that's before you even get to drummer Rob Filardo's resume (want a copy? Send a SASE to City Newspaper and I'll do my best).
The band rocked an unbelievably packed house at Abilene Friday night. I think the crowd inadvertently -- and out of necessity -- invented a new dance called The Sardine. It's easy; just rub your body all over the bodies of the people shoehorned in around you. It was so crowded I went home with someone else's wallet. It was so crowded that when the girl next to me sneezed, she covered my mouth. You get the picture: it was packed.
The music was a full shot-from-the-hip delivery of blue-eyed soul and twisting r 'n' b. The band was locked in loose/tight and had an incredible groove and feel. What an awesome new band.
Headliner 5Head, which was mostly to blame for the copious crowd along with the gaggle of fine females lapping up the boogie ringside, exploded with a slick set of ska/pop that most ska/pop bands only think about in the shower. New tunes and old ones brought on another new dance we're going to call the Skankin' Sardine. I tell ya, it doesn't get much more fun than this.
I'm not intentionally following Minds Open Wide (no shame if I was), but the band seems to pop up on bills in a variety of venues all over the map. The band is an interesting study in extreme dynamics and stop/start control. Despite the precision, it has settled into a comfortable cruise and flow. The covers are more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, and during the band's brief set at The California Brew Haus on Saturday night I arrived at one suggestion. In much the same way that blues clubs around the United States have banned "Mustang Sally" from being covered, rock clubs should get together and enforce an injunction on "War Pigs." Let the crowd howl, "Oh lord, yes" to something else.
In what both feels like a week that has flown by, but also managed to squeeze every last drop out of and packed a mini-lifetime into each day, I've reached the end of my first SXSW. It was a blast, and I already know I want to return next year, hopefully a little wiser (pack less clothes, bring spoons, and stay downtown close to the convention center). I'm pretty sure each day of SXSW takes a total of one year off my overall life span, but it's been worth it.
I was really gunning for my finale night of the festival as it included a lineup of some of my favorite musicians playing in the game right now. One of them, The Mighty Stef, just added shows in Austin, but sadly, they were out of the main scope of the festival by several miles, and nowhere near my hotel or the shuttle drop offs. That was my planned first band for the day, but with SXSW, sometime you got to roll with the punches.
The rest of the night was devoted to the Revival Tour stage, which had a killer line up of musicians on it. For those of you unfamiliar, the Revival Tour was started in 2008 by Chuck Ragan, and is a group effort acoustic tour that pulls in different artist every year. It's a rare treat in the music world; musicians will take turns playing each other's songs, there's no real headliner, and most importantly, it shows the camaraderie between the musicians themselves. The line up varies date by date (so make sure you know who is playing each one; mileage may vary) but the tour has really become a counter-culture community of great times and music.
First up (Well, after a quick few songs by the Revival Tour Ensemble) was San Diego's The Drowning Men. These guys are hit or miss with me, playing a fiery organ driven alt-rock deal that softly laps at you, just like the seas themselves. It's eerie and hauntingly melodic, and catchy, and the group has some really solid tracks, but its set focused on the slower side of its catalog tonight, and despite having the theremin present, never got to use it.
Next up was Austin Lucas, who was one of the more country leaning names on the showcase. He had a very Nashville-esque voice, (via Indiana, his home state), pulling in that twang thang, and he had some compelling guitar riffs as well. At times there seemed to be an odd disconnect between his singing and the guitar parts though, but he kept mentioning that the guitar cable was phasing in and out, so it could have been that. He pulled out a slower song from an upcoming album (not sure the name of it) that was a real heart-string puller, and his songs creep up on you and hit you in the gut. I grabbed a CD to check out some more of his stuff.
Ring master, circus leader, and master of ceremonies for the Revival Tour, Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music) tends to steal the Revival Tour shows for me personally, (at least he also did the last time the tour hit Rochester back in 2008, and I've been waiting to see it again since), and his gruff growling vocals combined with Jon Gaunt's fiddling and Joe Ginsberg's upright bass create a great folk punk trio that has put out some truly great albums the past few years. When Ragan sweats, it's bullets of passion running down his face, Some sound problems with the violin threw off a note run or two, and it wasn't the best set I've seen Ragan and co. perform, but it's still a good time.
I then ran over to catch a few songs from Rochester's own Joywave. Big props to the boys for getting down to SXSW this year (the only Rochester act to do so as far as I know), and for pulling in quite a crowd as well. Equipment problems seem to be the theme of the day though, as the band had to mess with mics that weren't working, causing its set to start behind schedule. Now, the dance pop that Joywave brings to the table is far, far from my normal cup of tea, so it wasn't really my thing and didn't win me over, but apparently enough people are drinking it up to bring them this far, and it's great for Rochester's scene to see a local band getting national exposure at a festival of this scope, and pull in crowds half way across the country. Good for them.
Then it was back to Cedar Street to catch who is possibly one of my favorite musicians making music right now: London, England's Frank Turner. Similarly to a lot of the guys on the Revival Tour bill, Turner got his start in the English punk band Million Dead before going down the solo folk punk road, and it feels like he hasn't stopped touring or putting out albums since.
Now, Turner started his portion of the evening apologizing, and giving excuses for what he was prepping to be a less than perfect performance: He's been sick all week and was already really drunk, and you could hear the tiredness, and coarseness, in his voice (He even missed of a few of his own lyrics, and ended up pulling out mostly covers).
It fit with the spirit of the evening, but, I was disappointed because this was one of several of Turner's appearances at SXSW, and I had saved him for last, thinking it would be the full band. Not that there's anything wrong with just Turner, it's just a different show: A solo musician playing slower, stripped down, and more intimate versions of his songs, as opposed to the explosive rock show he puts on with the Sleeping Souls. So I was disappointed on that front, even if it was a nice opportunity to see Turner back to his roots as a solo artist.
But, if you haven't listened to Frank Turner, you should. I staked my professional reputation on him years ago, and since then he's played the opening ceremony for the Olympics and headlined the massive Wembley Stadium in London, so I guess I get to keep my job, and he's earned one night of drunken laid back fun, to say the least.
After Turner's set the whole Revival Tour ensemble returned to stage for a few more songs and the customary closing with "Revival Road." I got goosebumps just seeing such a cross work of musicians on stage, all having a good time, and playing music with each other just for the love of it. Which really, is the way that it should always be, isn't it?
First up for Friday at South by Southwest was Buffalo's own Lemuria (Upstate New York, represent!). I feel like I've been trying for years to get into this band, mostly because I really really dig its name (It was in "Golden Sun!") and yet I've never quite been able to make the jump. I wanted to give the group the opportunity to convince me live, to hopefully push me over that ledge into fandom. But sadly, it just wasn't so.
For a group that has been playing and touring this long (it formed in 2004) the live offering at SXSW just wasn't that impressive. I don't care what type of rock band you consider yourself, but if after three songs into your set people are just standing around slightly bobbing their heads, something is amiss. Lead singer and guitar player Sheena Ozzella's vocals softly layered themselves over the rest of the band, but were laid back and floaty. I wasn't impressed. But at least I tried, and I'll have to start looking up bands called Atlantis, I suppose.
Next up was Austin's Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. Two saxophones and a trumpet rounded out the brass/reed end of this sextet, with Joe Lewis himself taking lead guitar and vocals, and drums and bass completing the bears.
The group had several problems. The horn section, which was woefully underused, was overpowered and hard to hear for almost all of the set, drowned out by the electric guitar and rhythm section. They also seemed to be sticking around for small flourishes here and there, and what resulted was a trio- albeit a solid trio- on one side of the stage (guitar/vocals, bass, drums), while the others felt like a whole other band just standing there. It wasn't cohesive in performance or style; like two puzzle pieces that weren't fitting together.
Lewis's guitar playing was the highlight, along with the quite tight bass playing. But the very, very funk-inspired sound was far, far away from the punk-inspired blues-meets-rock sound the band's bio led me to believe the group would sound like, so things ended on a sour, not honey-sweet, note.
I'm not sure what it is about Indiana, but the second Indiana-based band I've hit this week also stands as one of the best sets of the festival: Bloomington Indiana's Murder By Death. The dark, gritty, folk-rock band shares home-state status with Reverend Peyton, to the point where I might have to just start telling upcoming musicians to drink water from Indiana.
I was a little worried about its set though, as the band was playing in the same warehouse I saw Fidlar earlier in the festival. The space is a giant, empty, echo-ridden chamber of sonic death for anybody hoping to play any kind of musical sound and have it be enjoyed.
My fears were pretty much unfounded, though, as every part of this brooding, dark, melodic group sounded amazing. I've seen the group before a few years back, but either my memory is off, or the group has improved significantly: I don't remember it being this damned good. Everything sounded great live, and even the cello was cutting through the din and audible almost every time I focused on it. That's a hard frequency range from which to stand out. The group has even added a new key/mandolin/accordion player since I saw it last, which hits even more near and dear to my instrumental heart. Several of the members were playing with borrowed gear (instruments didn't arrive on time, it seemed), so it really was an up-against-the-odds set. But it didn't stop the band any, and you couldn't notice at all.
As if being down instruments wasn't enough drama, before Murder By Death's last song, a stage-crew member came out and told the band it was over time, and then attempted to start dismantling the drum mics. Frontman Adam Turla asked for a few minutes to finish the set, before the sound guy came over the PA and started yelling - obscenely - to the crew to get off the stage and let the band finish. He didn't seem intent to, but Turla started hitting the chords of the final song and went about playing anyways. Can't stop death, people. You just can't.
From death and decay I then headed to dance on the devil's dance floor with Santa Cruz, California-based The Devil Makes Three. This was some old-timey saloon music, and guitarist Pete Bernhard has a voice that acted like a time machine: it transported the listener into a modern country-western tale.
The sparse instrumentation (guitar, string bass, banjo) did lead to the songs bleeding into each other a bit, and they all tended to follow that boom-chank recipe a little too closely (and all were a little under the tempo I would have liked for a live performance). But it sounded great, and the band has a lock on the sonic palette on which it's working. Bernhard's vocals felt like a perfectly bottled-up example of period singing, to the point where anytime he passed the mic, it paled in comparison.
I had to cut my time with the Devil short, though, as overlapping sets were crazy Friday and I wanted to at least catch a bit of chiptune band Anamanaguchi. For some reason, even given my huge Nintendo nerddom, I've never hitched on to the chiptune wagon, but perhaps it's finally time for me to pay attention.
It's funny, because the first comparison that came to mind listening to these guys was, "Think 'Scott Pilgrim' rock music." And it turns out the group actually did do the soundtrack for the "Pilgrim" graphic novels. Who knew? (It also did work on the "Bit.Trip Runner" soundtrack, for you gaming nerds out there). Anamanaguchi also takes home the award for being the first band at SXSW I've seen all week to have people crowd surf during its set. It was an even more impressive feat given that it was a small room, and a large portion of the crowd had to hold up the few surfers.
I tried to figure exactly out how the band was pulling off everything live. I know it uses synthesizers and runs stuff through old NES systems and Game Boys, but one song featured a vocal track that nobody was singing, and I couldn't figure out if the band was sampling, or using a backing track or what. I also couldn't see a Game Boy from where I was standing, so anybody that wants to help me out and help explain the complexities of live chip-tune performance at some point, I'm all ears. I hope as much of it as possible was done live, but it still got people up and moving, so maybe the how isn't as important. When you think about it, chiptune could very well turn out to be my generation's classical or jazz: the genre is less about the lyrics and more about the melody and composition. And I mean, hey, who can say no to rocking out on a Game Boy?
Phew. Busy night with a lot of great stuff. Believe it or not, we've reached the penultimate page of our journey -- there's only one night left for SXSW, and it's a string of some of the artists I've been most looking forward to this whole festival. One last night, one last blog, so away we go!
Looking at my schedule Thursday morning, I knew I had a few panels to hit, but thought that my music schedule would be a little lighter. But as the great Dr. Ian Malcom once said, life -- or music -- tends to find a way.
My first musical treat of the evening was London, UK's Skinny Lister. The five piece (mostly) acoustic folk group somehow ended up in a giant hotel atrium that created a perfect storm of bad acoustics: a never-ending, Willy Wonka-esque high ceiling; a tiny PA system; a stage with a back that overlooked a walkway. And if that wasn't enough, the group upright bass player was also missing, struck down by some kind of Austin-based food poisoning.
It's all only worth mentioning because the situation didn't hinder the group one bit. Skinny Lister is great fun; a pub band, yet with signs of having legs to outgrow the small-scale bar scene. Accordion, mandolin, guitar, and plenty of foot stomping all made for a party that would make any wedding band taking notes on how to get people to dance, clap, and stomp along. At one point a member took a giant bass drum, walked over to the bar on the other side of the playing area, and stood up on top of it to keep the party going. This is just a sample of the good time you can expect with Skinny Lister.
Vocal duties were shifted between nearly every member, but donned-in-red beauty Lorna Thomas seemed intent on dancing (and drinking!) up a storm, spreading the party and joy to everyone around her, and her infectious energy made up for her lack of instrument.(Which is saying a lot in my book, as being on stage and not holding something, even if it's percussive, is a Willie Music Performance 101 Deadly Sin). Sadly, the only time she took lead vocals either her mic wasn't up enough or she wasn't projecting well, as I had a hard time hearing her. But, if Skinny Lister can rock a hotel lobby, I'd bet on the group anywhere.
In between bands I experienced my first SXSW miracle, a testament to the fact that music festivals like this really do work, for both writers like me looking for new acts, and bands just hoping to be discovered. I stumbled across This Mountain in the middle of the street playing a busker set, and stopped to soak it up. It was a flurry of acoustic guitars, a cello, and a banjo, all of which add up to music to my ears. This Mountain fought against the giant crowds and music overflowing from shows all around, and played for spare change (and practically gave CDs away). I'm adding them to my look-into-and-keep-an-eye-on-list. See, doubters? SXSW can work for everyone! And where else am I going to walk from one street band to another, and even catch a wolf playing violin?
Next up I caught a few songs from I Can Chase Dragons, the experimental Mexican electro-pop side project of Julio Gudino (The Plastics Revolution). It was a soundscapey, grandiose affair, down to the projected images that accompanied the duo on the bar wall next to them. For me, electronic music really needs to be something that is active and danceable, not lofty and intangible. And I wasn't really sure how the music was supposed to make me feel. (Or maybe the point wasn't to feel, but to think?) It was more dream-time music than anything else, but it wasn't like we're talking Hungarian horntails or something here.
All the way across town I managed to catch the last song-and-a-half by punks Fidlar. (Stands for Fuck It, Dog, Life's A Risk). The show was in what seemed to be an old warehouse, so acoustics were bad and echo-riddled at best. Given punk's nominal song length, I don't want to speak much to them after just a taste. Hopefully I will be able to catch more of the group later this week.
I ended the night at the Austin Music Hall with Los Angeles's Fitz and the Tantrums. This was a pretty much blind jump into a band for me, but it has toured with the likes of Flogging Molly, Hepcat, and Maroon 5, so that's worth giving some attention to, right?
At least, that was that I thought. The proclaimed soul/pop band left me pretty flat. Dual vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs led the six-piece band (which included keys and saxophone) through songs that were just too sweet, pretty, precise, and polished for my tastes. To some, that might not be a bad thing, but I had a hard time feeling the soul. Instead I wondered where the line between soul and subpar, boring, poppy vocal-laden jazz music is. I wasn't digging it, and it wasn't moving me; we're talking swaying music at best. I stayed for a few tunes, but SXSW, much like Rochester's own Jazz Fest, is competitive, and if something isn't clicking, there's a million other things at the same time worth diving into.
For what I thought was going to be a quiet and early evening, I ended up passing through a lot of stuff. The whirlwind continues, and I feel like two of the busiest days are still ahead of me. We've got great acts this weekend, including Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Chuck Ragan, Murder By Death, Less Than Jake, and more, so don't let up on me yet! SXSW is just getting warmed up.
The Old 97's put on a killer show last night at the Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo Wednesday night. Over its long career -- 20 years in the saddle -- this band has maintained a casual elegance amidst its beautiful songs.
After an exuberant set by openers The O's (banjo and guitar, mostly), The Old 97's rolled out on stage like a freight train. Ken Bethea's guitar playing is just the stuff for players who masturbate over tone and twang. You didn't need to search for it in the mix as he was dialed in large and insane. It hurt in spots but hell, it's the hammer of the gods, right?
The whole band bounded about the stage, especially bassist Murry Hammond who slung his bass like a rifle. The song selection was great and I, along with a bunch of starry-eyed hopefuls, was going to leave with a pout if I didn't hear "Big Brown Eyes," "Victoria Lee," and one of the best love songs ever written, "Question."
Front man Rhett Miller still maintains his shaggy, David Cassidy good looks while slinging musical barbs and lyrics. He is one of the best turners of phrase alive. "Wish you were here, wish I was too." "The place was full of undertakers, movers, and martini shakers." "She started out on Percodan and ended up with me." He intoned them all over a rollicking indie-countrypolitan sea. 'Twas beauteous.
Wednesday at South by Southwest, for all intents and purposes, was all about the D.
After a late start to the morning, some brunch at a food-truck gathering, and a refresher nap at the convention center, it was time to cross off my bucket list a band I've been waiting what seems like eons to see: the mighty Tenacious D.
Of course, the D's set overlapped with a slew of other bands I'm hoping to hit later at the festival, and that's the toss up when it comes to giant festivals like SXSW; it means I missed a slew of bands I'm going to try to hit later this week. But I mean, come on. I can't say no to Tenacious D.
Jack Black and co-pilot for the D, Kyle Gass, were in town to help promote the upcoming Yahoo! Web comedy series "Ghost Ghirls," which Black executive produced. The screening party showed off two episodes of the series, which stars Amanda Lund and Maria Blasucci as naive, yet quirky, ghost hunters who are called upon to solve various supernatural crimes and investigate paranormal activity. I've often wondered why, with the slew of crime procedurals TV pushes out, we've never really seen a crime comedy series (think of what "Scrubs" did to the medical drama), and "Ghost Ghirls" has some solid laughs (and a star-studded cameo list: Molly Shannon, Jason Schwartzman, Dave Grohl, and Black himself). The series will be released online through Yahoo! Screen later this summer.
After a brief discussion panel on the series with Black, Lund, Blasucci, and director Jeremy Konner (of "Drunk History" fame), the stage cleared for the dynamic duo itself. I can't pinpoint exactly when my young mind was warped and I started listening to Tenacious D, but I know that I have my older cousin to thank for passing me to the ways of the lewd and crude greatest satirical band of all time. For years I have been looking forward to finally getting a chance to see the magic live. Black and Gass have also been out touring again just as a duo (sans a full backing band), but that's always how I felt would be best to experience the D.
Disappointingly, Black seemed tired and worn out -- he even mentioned as much -- as soon as the set started, and it took awhile for him to warm up and really fall into the Jables state of mind. That's saying a lot, given his normally large and over-the-top persona. He's an amazing vocalist (and Gass is one hell of a guitar player), but Black seemed to shy away from holding some of the longer and more impressive note runs until later in the set. Given the whole just-the-two-of-them vibe, the first half of the set felt a little more subdued, and the music was at a slower clip than I would have expected. The D still puts on a mighty show, and classics like "Tribute," "Double Team," and "FHG," which finished off the night, were still amazing. But I felt that the show probably wasn't as full of all the rock juice that the duo normally secretes.
I rallied to catch San Antonio, Texas-based group Piñata Protest, which I had missed earlier in the afternoon, and was glad I managed to see the band. The accordion may not be the sexiest instrument, but this squeezebox-fronted punk band sure makes a case for the instrument. Loud and fast guitar, drums, and bass filled out the sound underneath the reedy accordion, and at the end of the day there just aren't that many punk bands with accordions in them. Piñata Protest is really on to something here.
Even if some of its set was in Spanish and I couldn't understand it (and my high school Spanish teacher may hang her head in shame), the musical energy and enthusiasm was universal. Cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, and some rocking Tex-Mex Spanish punk tunes?Doesn't get much more Texan than that, even if the group couldn't resist throwing "La Cucaracha" in at least once.