Wild Mercury Sound

SXSW: Albert Hammond Jr, Amy Winehouse, Bloc Party, Good, Bad, Queen

John Mulvey

Another guest blogger today, as I put my feet up, listen to an excellent Terry Riley reissue and hand over Wild Mercury Sound to April Long. Like Luke, who did my work for me yesterday, April spent last week at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. And like Luke, she completely let Uncut down by missing Psychedelic Horseshit. Oh well, here's her fine report:

"Within minutes of arrival in Austin I'm already hearing stories. Someone saw Wayne Coyne, dressed in a dirty white suit, holding court in front of a gaggle of teenagers and a film camera on a street corner, someone else sat next to David Byrne on a crowded flight from NYC (he was in coach, right next to the toilet). Beth Ditto was spotted in the Omni hotel’s glass elevator with an inebriated friend slung casually over her shoulder, Johnny Borrell and Kirsten Dunst are (at Stubb’s — no, wait, they’re at Emo’s. Didn’t someone just say they saw them at Red Eye Fly?) everywhere.

And the shows, like the faces, are nearly impossible to track — Andrew WK does a secret karaoke-style performance on a bridge somewhere in the middle of the night, Iggy Pop kicks out the jams at a surprise gig in a parking lot, and there are about 50 unofficial parties going on at any given time. It’s mayhem. So, you pick your own highlights. Here are mine:

I catch Albert Hammond Jr twice — once on purpose at the Blender Bar on Thursday night, once, a day later, by accident, when I walk into a party just as he’s going onstage — and he’s fantastic, much more feral and kinetic and danceable than his album would suggest. He and his band play with frenzied deliberation and shape-throwing flair, clearly having become as serious a pursuit for him as The Strokes. On both nights, he’s dressed entirely in white, save for a short black vest, electric-shock hair flying, and resembles no one so much as Billy Squire (who, of course, scored a hit with a song called “The Stroke”) circa 1981.

I also see The Comas twice, and entirely intentionally. A Brooklyn-by-way-of-North-Carolina quintet, they’ve never had an album released in the UK, although their upcoming first album for Vagrant, "Spells", will finally remedy that. Their last record, 2005’s "Conductor" (on NC-based indie Yep Roc), is a fuzzed-out masterpiece, and the new songs sound fantastic, too(particularly “Come My Sunshine,” which will probably be the first single), with a lot more Pixies-esque interplay between twitchily charismatic frontman Andy Herod and bass player Nicole Gehweiler.

LA-based (and marvelously named) Ferraby Lionheart plays the (terribly named) Buffalo Billiards on Friday night — I’ve been wanting to see him ever since I first heard his delicate, lovely, spellbinding self-titled EP a few months ago. He doesn’t disappoint, although he’s shy and eschews even the most furtive glance at his audience in favour of hiding beneath a hat, he sings like a broken-hearted angel. A little bit Rufus Wainwright, a little bit Elliott Smith.

Amy Winehouse blows the roof off at La Zona Rosa on Saturday night — it’s her largest show of the several she plays, and like everything she does it’s probably also simultaneously both the classiest (the besuited back-up singers, the brass section) and the trashiest (her awkward dirty-dancing moves) show of SXSW. With her mountainous black hair, tattoos, and disconcertingly low-riding jeans, she looks like Ronnie Spector in a women’s prison, and as she belts out her songs and knocks back cocktails, the crowd whoop and holler and goad her on — which is surprising and rather wonderful as there are clearly a lot more Texan locals in the room than there are members of the press, and they love her.

Bloc Party play under a starry sky at outdoor venue Stubb’s, also on Saturday, and they’re so much more compelling than they were last year when they played the old album on the same stage, that I change my plans to cut out early to go catch the Horrors, and stay. The following night, The Good The Bad And The Queen are there, only the stars (at least celestial) aren’t. It’s cold, but again, the crowd appears to spellbound to leave. It’s a strange spectacle — Damon Albarn in his top hat looking like a slightly mad vaudevillian, and Paul Simonon breaking out the old Clash moves, slinging his bass around like a machine gun."


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Very taken with Africa Express' version of "In C", by Terry Riley, this week. I have a few takes on the piece (50 years old this month, incidentally), the latest being one by Portishead's Adrian Utley from a couple of years back, though I still probably default to what I think is the original...