By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
By Arrissia Owen
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
I've heard her called an angel more than I've heard her called by name, but singer Becky Stark—whose grandmother was a spiritualist minister and whose gauzy dress tonight suggests the celestial—and her Lavender Diamonds do actually sing about love and peace with Mahalia Jackson veracity, so naturally people raise their eyes heavenward (up past where the fluorescents shudder) and think about what comes next. They're absolutely one of LA's best. Like for past example: in the big-room ArthurBall show last month, they opened up in a way I'd never seen them do in the usual tiny rooms, where they tend to hold to a certain pianissimo quietness; instead, they found an orchestral dignity inside what was basically an Echo Park basement and a purity of harmony I will search for in every other band from now on. Tonight in Texas, they're repeatedly run over by REM alt.-rock from the other side of the drywall, a bad situation that pinches them where they'd usually spread wings, but this is the only chance I have ever had to write about them so there you go. One of the few things in life I care about; there's still some humanity left in humans.
So good I worry how long they can last: 310/213 Visionaries/Shapeshifters buddies 2MEX and Life Rexall, self-described "new millennium Erick and Parrish" (though sadly probably not making many dollars) gulping breaths in cadence and squeezing the mics so tight you can smell the sizzle on their palms; with Life Rexall's A-bomb beats (drums big enough to live in for a week, hooky horn samples to ride down the freeway), $MARTYR makes a side project that wants to eat everything else they got going. Two furiously charismatic MCs who probably finished each other's sentences before they even came up with an official name—they got funny lines to exhaust the last dwindling potential of the English language (he's not emo, says 2MEX, he's causing a scene like Brian Eno trapped in a casino) and funny shtick to hook the coldest fishest crowd (like cutting a chorus into an otherwise considered love song that says "I'm gonna call you soon as this song is over, baby!" and then they both move phones to mouth to exclamation point the point) and then just when they get so red-faced you wanna find them some warm towels—"I hate those fucking people outside!" yells 2MEX, since outside are the 99.9 percent of SXSW attendees not at the Up Above show, coincidentally comprising the 99.9 percent of SXSW attendees that made music into a slaughterhouse just because they wanted to eat a lot of steak: "They got a lot of money/But they don't got this!/And if they don't got this . . ." (pounding fists to heart; arteries get no quarter from $MARTYR) ". . . then they don't got shit!" Fuck rock & roll/I'd rather read a book/So I can be smarter too.
If he's not LA's favorite underground rapper, beanpole Gino is at least the guy everyone likes to tap on the shoulder: getting stopped on the street by people he's never met is what we in the biz call "it," and he's got so much "it" he's starting to look a little confused. He got records out first as one of GSL's early hip-hop signees—the Locust of hip-hop, label wrangler Sonny Kay said once—and he's got a few songs so post-Blowed that they're practically just a pile of pixels, but today he knocks out a little from his full-length Young Dangerous Heart and drips and slips around this daylit café like a line of mercury. Guy hums like wax paper over a pocket comb and emits—really the best word, to indicate the characteristics of radiation—rhymes that vibrate on their own for many days after. He's like Brian Eno trapped in a casino too.
Pixies ("Gigantic") sound, Danzig dead-eye, menthol mouth: while drummer Micah makes the whole band in the background (bass part on one hand, drum set on the other two hands, hashing out php web code with six or seven fingers), Giant Drag singer Annie (our gal from San Juan Cap) suffers long the limp depredations of nerd dudes who rate a girl who plays guitar and curses as the next best date to a 20-years-younger version of their mother, but that's the collateral damage you deal with if you've got the charisma that she has. "If I close my eyes, it's not because I'm, like, really feeling it," she says. "I'm just trying to get a few minutes of sleep." And then she covers that Chris Isaak song "Wicked Game"—"I really truly wrote this song all by myself"—and suddenly extremely righteous and talented rappers from the Rhymesayers show next door are politely angling for ways to get her number for . . . for . . . for future collaborations. Which if they materialized on record would be fantastic: Annie Hardy, the realest Roxanne.
Pos and Mac Letkae
Kansas Rhymesayers crewman Mac Lethal pounds out a clowny/cartoony set: if Rhymesayers made rap a pity party (and they didn't, but watch where we go with this!), then Mac is the guy with the lampshade on (pow!), riling up the crowd to go ring up some post-show DUIs—that's a Redd Foxx bit ("Go on out and GET someone!") but it's still a great one—and leading a screwy sing-along celebrating same. Funny dude doing funny prelude while Shapeshifters and Co. celebrate 2MEX's pre-birthday behind the bar and punk-raised rap-refined P.O.S. leads into a line about making do with what you got in the porta-pot: "Wipe your ass with the president!"
Dap Kings are crate-digger favorites—people love people who can not only discern good music but make a little of their own on the side too—and they deliver with obvious discipline a set less influenced than inhabited by the spirit of James Brown Productions. The original Dapps were an extremely formidable Brawnfunk instrumental combo, and new New York Dap Kings keep the dream pristine with hard and bony super-heavy funk fronted by the wild-eyed Sharon Jones, who cut 45s back when 45s were customarily cut and then burst back out of collectible history like a missile from a Midwest silo. The Sharon-less intro played a little funny—funk fans are viciously fickle; like Mr. Brown, they demand precision—with some funny playing on a wah pedal, but after much fanfare (courtesy the built-in horn section, reclaiming the concept of fanfare from people who know it only as a word in a press release) came Miss Jones and her 50,000 watts of power. Marva Whitney/Vicki Anderson/Lyn Collins: girls who sang high and tight and snapped their band around like a string of bubble gum. "This is just like 1966! Or 1967?" burped some pudge behind my ear. He'd just wandered in to see Neko Case (on next), but he did have a point (or a lucky guess).
LD and Ariano
Huntington producer LD's break-in was a notable showing on the LMNO P's and Q's full-length (and it sounds like him on the LMNO SXSW mixtape too), but live he glides through massive turntable calisthenics with a manic sense of dynamic: beats to pull bricks out of the walls, beats to make bad dudes go bald. MCs Ariano and FCNAMEFC rode this monster hands-free, slipping back and forth to knock knuckles with a crowd suddenly on their heels and going berserk. Alpha Pup's Daddy Kev had been making a laptop look pretty good the night before, but LD had his pile of cords and cable singing in choir: gotta be the best hip-hop out of OC so far. "Fuck a major label!" shouts Ariano, and outside in the street, 120 funky heart attacks. Key Kool looked real proud.
The Band as Wire—loose and druggy one-note jams done by a touring unit that adds members every time it stops by someone's porch for a quick beer (currently registering two drums, three guitars, four tambourines, five beards, six Theremins, seven humming Fender amps and too many congas to count). Main mountain man Stephen McBean is Canada's most casual/natural songwriter, but it's still weird to watch the differences that shake out between the Pinks and his other band Black Mountain, considering there's maybe 200 lbs. difference in the musicians and he comes up with all their songs. If Black Mountain dips through the complete history of psychedelia—Can, Black Sabbath, Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane—with precise and sticky fingers, Pink Mountaintops just slaps a palm on the counter and says, "Gimme something . . . heavy." The only person who gets more out of one sustained note is Glenn Branca: Bean and buddies just start pecking at an E string and come to 20 minutes later with a pack of strangers smiling down on them. Not as "good" as Black Mountain—they're missing the person who goes, "Okay, let's change this one up a little . . ."—but I was thinking about running away with them anyway.