Monday, March 19, 2012

SXSW In Review by Shawn Persinger

             This week’s blog is going to be a departure from the usual guitar and music theory material I routinely present, but I couldn’t help myself because SXSW was such an amazing experience. While there are many reasons SXSW was so wonderful it was primarily the other bands we (Prester John) got to the share the bill with that made it such a fabulous experience for me as a music fan. So I thought I would give you a run down, in order of appearance, of these fantastic bands. I highly suggest them to fans of interesting, challenging, unique and fun music.
There were a lot of bands (and quite frankly it is difficult for me to believe they were all so good that they are all worth writing about…this NEVER happens! Every band on the bill was amazing!). So I am going to be brief. Please visit one of these band’s website or Youtube video every day this week. Pick one today and then come back tomorrow and try another one!

BIZARRE BAR-B-Q: 12noon to 7pm

This was an early “un-official” SXSW show (of which there are many) organized by the local Austin organization, C.A.R.P. (The Center for Art Rock Progress). I found out right before we played that we, Prester John, had been invited to play because our SXSW profile said we were “Avant-Garde”…who knew that would pay off!

BODY PARTS (Los Angeles, CA) 

Points of Reference: Missing Persons meets 80’s King Crimson. For more contemporary references: Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors, with great musicianship, not just good singing. Obviously very good guitar players, hiding their chops for most of the show. Wonderful three part harmonies…there might have been four parts, I could not see the drummer. Their CD has serious Yes and Styx vocal harmonies with a hint of The B-52s.

BEE vs. MOTH (Austin, TX) 

Points of Reference: The Muffins, Dr. Nerve and Chainsaw Jazz. If you are unfamiliar with those references, an oversimplified explanation would be jazz soloists backed by a punk and/or metal band but all are much more than that. I need to emphasize that in regard to EVERY act I am writing about that beyond the technical ability that each player possesses (and this is considerable in every case) that the music was always song driven. There was no formless, random, pointless series of notes for the sake of showing off. Every note played had a place and each note well placed. The Bee vs. Moth CD "Acronyms" is great.


Points of Reference: Frank Zappa, Hatfield and the North. Fun without ever becoming silly or stupid the Czars’ music, while heavy and driving, was always grounded in melody, melody and more melody. The lovely Leila Henley on various woodwinds and vocals was also charming and engaging with banter and conversation between songs.


Points of Reference: Nomeansno, Mike Keneally. Not to play favorites…but these guys were the highlight of the day for me. If I had an electric band today I would want it to sound like Opposite Day. In fact the organizer of this event came up to me after our performance and said, “I hope you can stay for Opposite Day, they are an electric version of you guys.” Kind words that are resonating with me now remembering Opposite Day’s fast, furious, complex and catchy performance. The sampler CD they gave me contains tunes from their CD "What Is Is?" buy it, it's awesome! 

Regrettably at this point we had to leave the show to get to our next gig. As a result we missed the final two performances from THULEBASEN and MUPPLETONE. I honestly know nothing about their live performances but thought it only fair share their links regardless of this fact.


Innova Recordings is the label of The American Composers Forum and features a diverse range of artists from Contemporary Classical to Avant-Garde Jazz and much, much more. As they like to say, “The different drummer is on our label.” This evening’s showcase was a perfect example of that diversity as well as the high caliber of compositional skill and virtuosity the label has to offer.

SXIP SHIREY (Brooklyn, NY) 

Points of Reference: There are no obvious points of reference for Sxip. He is part Ed Sullivan act, Carnival Barker, Muddy Waters (harmonica), Guy from Police Academy who makes the noises and Hogwarts Professor of Music! Sxip managed to turn some serious avant-garde sound (not noise) music into wonderful storytelling with depth, emotion, honesty and heart. "Long Trains" is highly recommended (though I do believe to know the story/introduction behind "Long Trains" is best...go see him live!)


Points of Reference: Bad Plus, Zappa’s “Make a Jazz Noise Here”. Performing Jazz/Rock variations on Prokofiev piano works the musical ability these six musicians own is astounding. In particular Graham Reynolds easy transition from funky rock drums to stellar piano virtuosity was humbling to say the least. All top notch players having fun with some serious music.


Points of Reference: A one man Kronos Quartet or Turtle Island String Quartet. Possessing boundless technical skill and endless talent on the violin Todd’s set ranged from looped minimalism to virtuosic improvisation, through composed masterworks referencing blues, jazz and classical to a finale of Irish fiddle music, all played with authenticity and aplomb. His use of effects was tasteful and sensitive to the needs of the compositions.

I am sorry to say that I was unable to stay for the final two acts this evening, Val and Chris Campbell, so I cannot personally speak of their performances. That said...

             VAL-INC (Brooklyn, NY)

From the brief soundcheck I heard Val-Inc was undoubtedly prepared to perform some unique and interesting music with turntables, samplers and various other sundries. I do hope her 12-midnight audience was as attentive and appreciative as our 8pm listeners.

CHRIS CAMPBELL (Minneapolis, MN) 
Chris Campbell, one of the co-organizers of this showcase, who worked his butt off all day Friday and Saturday then played a show at 1am, promised to perform some gentle lullabies to sooth the audience into tender goodnight dreamscapes before the 2am noise curfew.

            THANKS SXSW

I suppose I should say, with all the modesty I can muster, we, Prester John, held our own among all of these virtuosic performances. It is a feeling of joy beyond measure when an artist you’re a fan of comes up and tells you, “You were amazing!” I’m grateful to every one of the performers mentioned above, and to my musical partner, David Miller, for making my first SXSW experience something I won’t soon forget.

The End.

See you next week. For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

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