Kiiiiiii/Low Line Caller/owkmjn/Single Frame/Hyakkei/Muddy World, SXSW XXI, Austin, TX, March 14, 2007

The evening started a smidgen to the ominous side when I headed to a garage where I usually park for SXSW and saw it was charging $10. I was willing to pay for the convenience and waited for an attendant to show up. And I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

OK. I know locals can get bitter about SXSW, but the church who owns the lot probably wouldn’t take too kindly to a loss of business. But lose it they did, and I gingerly backed out of the entrance and circled the block a few more times. I ended up parking in a state government lot across from the capitol. Free beats $10 anytime.

Of course, that meant a lengthy walk from 10th and Congress to 7th and Red River. It was 10 minutes to show time, and when I arrived at the Beauty Bar, there was a line extended past the block. Huh. Most SXSW venues are more than happy to open the doors and start taking liquor orders at least half an hour before show time.

By the time I reached the door, Kiiiiii was already in the middle of their opening cheer, as in cheerleader cheer. I bought my beer as the duo began its set.

How do describe Kiiiiiii? Unhinged is about the politest thing I can think of.

Yes, those two Japanese girls are energetic mad, and they sure do make a spectacle of themselves. But with one singer and one drummer and no support musicians, the performance was, at the very least, thin.

As primeval as the voice+percussion combination may be, it requires something to be engaging. Jumping around stage and screaming is engaging when you’re age is in the single digits. Oh, there was a keyboard on stage, but it served mostly a decorative purpose.

The old fart in me appreciates method where madness is concerned, and Kiiiiiii pretty much tells method to fuck off. I left after 15 minutes.

I’ve been to the Hideout, but I’ve never attended any performances there. Nor did I remember the performance space was actually a theater with stadium seating. Oh, were my feet going to be happy about that. My butt, however, ended up paying the toll.

I smoked a cigarette after each band just to give myself an excuse to stand outside in the cool air.

Just about every band I saw at the Hideout delivered a top-notch performance.

I started with Austin band Low Line Caller. It’s post-rock in the Temporary Residence vein with an obvious nod to the ’80s. The six-member band blended synthesizers and guitars incredibly well, and their performance had all the lushness of a studio recording. I’m almost hesitant to crack open the shrink wrap of the free CD they handed out after the showcase.

I had my doubts about the necessity of two drummers, but as it turned out, drummers Josh and Andrew meted out the kinds of complex rhythms coaxed from a drum machine. It was actually kind of neat to watch.

owkmjn, or Ore wa Konna Mon Ja Nai, followed Low Line Caller. The band’s music can get discordant with odd rhythms interrupting the flow of the music. I noticed a nice tensions between a pedal tone and improvisation. On one song, keyboardist Masuda Yuki hit the same octave over and over while the rest of the band answered each hit with increasingly wilder textures.

The music itself was dynamic, but the band’s performance fueled that dynamism. You could see them enjoy every twist and turn in the music.

At the end of the owkmjn’s set, the audience greeted them with excited applause.

Technical difficulties gave Single Frame a late start and continued to give the band problems throughout its showcase. But they played through it without skipping a beat, and they delivered an impressive set despite any gremlins.

Single Frame plays synth-heavy indie rock recalling (of course) the ’80s. I’m a child of the ’80s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to jump on the bandwagon of every band that reminds me of Gang of Four, the Smiths or Cocteau Twins.

If I heard Single Frame only through recordings, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes. (The ’80s. Again.) But live? Different story. Drummer Adreon Henry is also one of the band’s two singers. Seeing him pound the set and sing into the mic is impressive. At the end, he got out from behind the set and let a drum machine substitute.

Hyakkei came on next, and as the band played, I noticed just how important the drummers were to the sound of each band. The dual drum approach of Low Line Caller made them distinctive, while Takeda Yoshihiko of owkmjn had the challenging task of keeping time with ever-shifting music. And Single Frame’s drummer kept time and sang!

With Hyakkei, the rhythm section seemed to provide most of the thrust for the music. Guitarist Nakamoto Shuuhei felt like backdrop next the melodic bass lines of Kiyabu Natsuko. And both Nakamoto and Kiyabu had their eyes trained on drummer Tanaka Ken, who’s playing felt every bit as textured as his bandmates.

Hyakkei created an incredibly full sound with only three members, and the band’s music was both engaging and mellow at the same time.

Muddy World finished the night, and while their music fit the same post-rock convention of the other bands, I wasn’t as impressed as I was with owkmjn and Hyakkei. It didn’t help some asshole walked in during the middle of their set and started acting like this was some big rock show. Whatever he was on, I didn’t want any of it. I left before the band finished to get away from the idiot’s easily-amused giggles.

Muddy World’s debut album is available on Tzadik, and the label says, "Combining the precision of This Heat and the improvisational edge of Massacre, these three young musicians have fashioned a clean new sound out of the classic guitar,bass and drums format."

They are actually quite good, and oftentimes, the band’s music would reach peaks at unexpected moments. I just liked the angularity of owkmjn a lot more.

As disappointing as the evening started at Beauty Bar, it turned around the moment I went to the Hideout. I like a venue with stadium seating, despite my butt’s protestation otherwise.