Our intrepid reporter goes to see some (more) live music. Also a mechanical bull.
On Thursday, I woke up to more than a dozen text messages asking if I was okay. Until I saw a news story about the night’s fatal accident, I had no idea why so many people would be concerned and wondered if I’d been sleeping for more than one day.
Once I read about what had happened, I debated skipping the day’s festivities out of respect, but eventually came to a conclusion: those who could party should get on with the partying in honor of all those who cannot party. I waited for the downtown bus with a spirit of gratitude.
That spirit started to fade after three city buses, from two different routes, passed our stop with partygoers packed inside to legal capacity. Everyone who could party definitely seemed to be partying, and I found myself wishing they had timed things a little more conveniently for us old people.
The bus ride, when I finally got one, was appropriately interesting.
I made it downtown just in time to miss several shows. While trying not to miss the final Doe Paoro show of SXSW 2014, I happened to see a band called Bear’s Den playing the New Shapes Day Party; another ensemble from the Commonwealth Nations who played Americana, they were upbeat and much more musically interesting than Mumford & Co., but they weren’t Doe Paoro. I moved on.
Ultimately, however, the effort was fruitless and I took a break rather than harshing any mellow.
At least, the schedule said mr. Gnome went onstage at 7pm. Actually, they went onstage at 8pm. I got there early, left to get dinner, and still returned with enough time to watch the venue’s mechanical bull do its thing by itself for a little while.
Rowdy’s definitely got points for, and set the right party atmosphere by, being the first venue in my memory to feature a mechanical bull. Singer Nicole Barille agreed, and tried throughout the night to talk audience members into giving the bull a spin, but sadly nobody did so while I was watching.
To be fair, this was probably because the night was young and everyone was too busy watching mr. Gnome. I hadn’t seen them since 2010, so didn’t know what to expect — and they hadn’t changed much in the past four years.
That is not an insult. With a sound as unique as theirs, they don’t really need to change: because no one is doing anything too similar to what they’re doing, they don’t have to worry about standing out in a sea of sound-alikes, and a significant departure in technique would risk upsetting their formula anyway.
Newer tracks from their upcoming as-yet-unnamed fourth record sounded like a logical evolution from 2011’s Madness In Miniature, which was itself a subtle progression from 2009’s Heave Yer Skeleton, so the fresh material flowed easily and seamlessly back and forth from familiar older songs.
Other people who write about music have noted that the band’s sound is hard to pin down, but I felt it was nicely represented by the mix of people in their audience that night. Most showgoers were hipsters, seeming dazed but impressed by what they were hearing; an enthusiastic minority were metal fans and punks, and at least one psychedelic burnout evened out the mix. One young man wearing liberty spikes proclaimed early in the night that he’d buy a mr. Gnome hoodie even with his last dollar, and spent the entirety of one song holding his cigarette lighter aloft with the sincerity and reverence some would devote to praying at a shrine.
This kid with liberty spikes is holding a lighter aloft as if praying to a shrine. pic.twitter.com/OyEefAsI7L
— paleotrees (@paleotrees) March 14, 2014
mr. Gnome might be weird and hard to describe, but they’ve obviously found and earned devotion from their people.
After I realized no one was ready to ride the mechanical bull, I headed over to watch Kan Wakan play at Lambert’s Barbecue. This time, the seven members were challenged to fit onto a stage best fit for a four-piece, but Kristianne Bautista assured me they’d fit on stages even smaller than that.
Sure enough, they all piled neatly on and got to work with another somewhat-shortened set, this one incorporating more unreleased songs. Watching them in this second, very different environment reinforced three things for me: 1. I really like this band, 2. They have all the goods to get famous, and 3. Their song “Are We Saying Goodbye” is super good stuff.
Bautista tells me she once thought of her low voice as a flaw, but has fortunately changed her mind and now claims Nina Simone as an inspiration. Though I wouldn’t call Kan Wakan’s sound “jazzy”, that influence definitely comes through — and since so few indie-rock frontwomen work from the lower end of their range, hearing one this smooth and confident is a pleasure.
Even in a sort-of loud bar that kind of smells like vomit.
Jessica Lea Mayfield went on after Kan Wakan, but although I’d planned to stay for her set, I left in order to play safe again and catch a bus. However, I did see Jessica and her husband/bassist Jesse in the audience during the first part of Bautista’s performance. That, to my eyes, seemed like a good sign.