SXSW: Ms. Bea's Backyard Report

SXSW can have a curious numbing effect on the unprepared. The overstimulation is so pronounced, eventually one's body can't tolerate any more and it begins to withdraw. Even a sweet-tooth can only eat so much candy before the sickness sets in, and SXSW practically shoves it down your throat. It's more interesting sometimes to walk down 6th St. at 11:30 p.m. and watch the faces of the zombified attendees than it is to watch many of the bands that are actually playing.

The official shows don't start until around 8 at night, but the music continues through the day as bands that are in town for the entire festival figure they should spend their time doing SOMETHING as long as they are here. While the more popular night shows are a gamble (I tried to see Menomena last night but was turned away as the crowd was already at capacity, proving that even the mighty name of the OC Weekly can not bend the laws of physics) the day shows have a pleasant air of backyard barbeque to them (indeed many of them ARE backyard barbeques). My most enjoyable experience so far occurred yesterday at Ms. Bea's where I went to see Marnie Stern play a daytime set. The crowd size was reasonable, the weather was good, the beer was affordable, and there was a pool table around which the bar's patrons kept a respective distance so that one could actually play. Rule #1 of playing pool at Ms. Bea's, as posted on the wall–don't bang the sticks on the floor or table. Rule #2–no one under the age of 15 is allowed to play. This struck me as odd, because it was my understanding that Ms. Bea's was actually a bar, and not a place where you would have to worry about 12 year olds playing billiards. But hey, when in Texas, do as the Texans do, as I believe General Santa Anna once said.

I showed up at Ms. Bea's around 5:30 p.m. and caught the tail end of Portland based Danava's set, much to my delight. Though I hadn't heard of them before, I was won over by the monster riffage and hair swinging. There are few joys quite as exquisite as having absolutely no preconceptions about a band and being pleasantly surprised. If you will, take a trip over to their MySpace page here, pretend you have a few beers in you, you're 1300 miles from home and surrounded by people who look exactly like you and your friends which actually doesn't comfort you in the slightest, and you're wearing a ridiculous badge around your neck that practically screams “I think I'm entitled to free entertainment.” Now, drink another beer and listen to “LONGDANCE” at top volume. Close your eyes and imagine a group of men in the prime of their youth hammering away at their instruments, whipping their heads around, and rasing the necks of their guitars skyward as they solo. Now, drink another beer before the song finishes. There, doesn't that feel better?

After Danava wrapped up, Tiny Masters of Today came on, a dirty ol' garage trio composed of two preteens and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Russel Simmins on skins. Their MySpace page (located here) states that 12 year old Ivan and 10 year old Ada have “…a refreshingly anti-authoritarian stance which spares nobody, from elementary school cliques to the President of the United States.” Sticking it to lunchroom bullies and George W.? Quite an agenda. They played a very serviceable set that I found charming enough, though some of the more jaded heads around me were heard to question how it was that these kids managed to snag Simmins and a slot at SXSW if not for either rich connected parents or a fan base in love more with the novelty of children playing loud guitars than the actual music. Haters, go home! They didn't ask to be born with a rock 'n' roll soul!

Finally, the much anticiapted Marnie Stern came on. The New York based singer/guitarist has generated something of a stir with her debut album, In Advance of the Broken Arm, named for a Duchamp readymade. Like a cross between Eddie Van Halen and Deerhoof, Stern finger-taps the frets “Eruption” style in a display of guitar bombast that had long fallen out of favor amongst the frequently narrow-minded “indie” fan. I was eager to see how she would be able to replicate the multi-tracked guitar and vocals live as she is but one woman, and unfortunately I was a little underwhelmed. Turns out, Stern has to play along with the backing tracks from her album (piped through the PA from her Ipod Nano that she straps to her waist.) As the Beatles discovered around the time of Sgt. Pepper's, some things just can't be reproduced live. Her set was plagued with feedback and a seeming delay between her live solos and the recorded material that accompanied her, perhaps due to a low monitor level that made it difficult for her to hear what her Nano was doing. Her guitar technique remained a thing to behold however, as she frequently abandoned her pick in favor of hammering her fingers down high up the neck of the guitar and then sliding them all over the place. She seemed slightly abashed at the technical difficulties, but her final song of the set (and my favorite song from her album), “Patterns of a Diamond Ceiling” came off quite well. I managed to catch her attention as she walked to her car and conducted a Chris Farleyesqueinterview so poor and brief I will not waste your time with it here. Better instead to visit her Myspace page here and let her music speak for itself. With any luck, cloning technology will advance to the point where soon, she can tour with six other Marnies and her live performance will match the exuberance of her album.

Marnie treks on
Marnie Stern treks on in the backyard of Ms. Bea's.

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