Friday, March 21, 2008

SXSW Day 4: David Bazan, Islands, M. Ward, and Jim James

Since SXSW was pretty keen on throwing us curve balls, day 4 proved to be no exception. But, just like the previous days, this one worked out just fine. The plans were to head out to the last day of the Paste/Stereogum event to see High Places, No Age, and Fuck Buttons, but when that didn't work out, we walked over to the Mohawk to catch David Bazan and Islands play the Hot Freaks Party, curated in part by our friends over at Gorilla vs. Bear, who hooked us up VIP style. 

The first act that we wanted to catch, Mr. David Bazan, proved that after all of his time, he's still as relevant as ever. His fan based is still very attached to him and what he has done in the past, and he still shows them love at every opportunity in his set. Just like the last time we caught him, he took a moment out of the set for a Q&A time to answer some of the crowd's burning questions like when his new material is coming out and how he was doing. Throughout the set, people were looking in on him through the windows and he acknowledged them with a smile and a joke, where most would have scoffed. Towards the end, he named the song he was about to play, and when someone shouted out for a different one, he changed his mind and obliged. What a guy.

Another solid performance came from Canada's Islands. The band shortened their set to newer material that will appear on their upcoming release Arm's Way. They did however play a couple of the older jams, sounding as good as ever. The new material sounds fantastic and I'm pretty confident that it will end up on my year-end best-of list. 

The one night show that worked out for us also happened to be one of the most coveted of the entire festival. Not only was it a rare experience to see two musical geniuses stripped down to their musical essentials, but to see them perform together, was a highlight of my entire concert going life. The show took place on the third floor of St. David's Episcopal Church on 7th street, in a tiny room that supposedly seated 250 people, that really felt like 150. I think that M. Ward put it best when he said "It feels like we're a million miles away from 6th street right now. It's kinda nice." Those words are the best way to sum up the feel of the show. The setting was so intimate that Ward gave audience members longer-than-comfortable gazes while playing his acoustic and singing in his raspy tone. When we saw him in Denton, he seemed cold and detached, but this performance was the antithesis of the previous. He was warm and inviting and seemed to genuinely care that we were enjoying ourselves. On Post War's Rollercoaster, Ward hit a sour note on the acoustic and to the audience's surprise, he completely halted the song to tune for the note, hit it again (correctly), and then took the song off the rails, into a flurried solo that required him to take a seat at the empty piano bench to play it. Midway through his set, Jim James joined Ward on stage to sing songs like My Morning Jacket's Golden and M. Ward's Chinese Translation. On both, James's higher register accompanied Ward's lower tones in the most perfect way. The pairing of the two voices was impeccable. When the pairing portion of Ward's set was finished, Ward picked up his pedal board and scuffled out the doors to another gig. James finished out the night by playing tunes from MMJ's upcoming release Evil Urges. One particular standout of the new material is Librarian, a song with some strange lyrics about "the sexiest librarian" that Jim James has ever seen. A beautiful twist was put on What A Wonderful Man, which James decided to play on his electric auto-harp (or whatever that thing is?), which toned it down infinitely, and ultimately made it feel like a completely different song. His set was closed by the best version of Z's Gideon that I've ever heard. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take photos at the show (although I could have gotten away with it), but I have found some videos so you can experience some of the glory for yourself, and I will get around to posting those at a later time. 

David Bazan


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