While familiar with their recorded material, I’m now pretty embarrassed to admit I’d never seen them live before two-thirds of the group took the stage at Austin’s Room 710 for an 8 p.m. time slot. I say two-thirds because current drummer Andy Patterson ran into a bit of random legal trouble traveling back to Utah from a Denver show earlier this week. Unable to join the rest of his band mates in Texas, Patterson sent warm wishes via text while Iota’s Joey and Oz recruited label mate Sasquatch’s drummer to fill in at the last minute. He practiced with them for the first time about six hours before their SXSW gig, which in most scenarios would result in one hell of a sloppy set. Iota proved themselves to be pros, easily adapting to the unexpected lineup shift with impressive ease.
They ripped through a handful of extended stoner-rock jams with bluesy overtones while a crowd half-filled with Salt Lake City locals (it was a small audience—8 p.m. isn’t the most coveted time slot, unfortunately), cheered, nodded their heads and, in the case of one Xur member, raised his PBR can like a fist of solidarity. Iota succeeded largely by avoiding masturbatory noodling, showing off their killer skills without too much noodling around. In fact, Joey and Oz evidenced tremendous chemistry, playing off each other, at times facing off with dueling bass/guitar.
At the show, I met up with former SLC musician Mike Incze (Sherlock, Victrola, V-Vast) who now lives in Brooklyn. He came to SXSW to play pedal-steel with NY band The End of the World whose final showcase goes off tonight at BD Riley’s. Mike and I left Iota for Bourbon Rocks to check out the Sub Pop showcase. We arrived just in time for Pissed Jeans, a Portland trio with destructive and deconstructive punk leanings. The lead singer lived up to his reputation for not giving a good goddamn about appearances or socially appropriate behavior—a welcome stance after a long day of standing around with one too many pretentious, self-absorbed hipsters, heads up their asses and Blackberries.
Canada’s Handsome Furs performed next and made good on their stunning debut Plague Park. The husband-wife duo (Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and wife/artist Alexei Perry) threw themselves into every pulsating number, with Perry navigating the sprawling mass of drum machinery and Boeckner reclaiming his throne as one of today’s most compelling vocalists. Sounding both hollow and passionate, he smeared a thick layer of romantic gloom over tales of decaying cities and greed (dedicating “Legal Tender” to current buzz band Vampire Weekend. Hmm …). Handsome Furs killed with cunning wit and searing passion, tossing out several new and improved songs off their forthcoming follow-up to Park.
After that rush, we ran to Red 7 for the tail-end of hyped underground emcee Dalek whose industrial beats carried the same eerie vibe of a Doomtree track. The night topped off at the Billions Booking showcase with Devotchka and Constantines. Devotchka, currently riding a wave of overdue critical acclaim, maintained the lively gypsy roots that have always helped them stand out. Only these days the multi-instrumentalists—several audience members marveled at what they now know is a theremin—are much more polished (though not at all too slick). Nick Urata rummaged through the depths of his soul—and an onstage bottle of wine—to deliver material off their new Anti release and a few older numbers including a hit off Little Miss Sunshine in his haunting, sometimes anguished voice.
Canada’s Constantines (what did I tell you about this country? Love ‘em!) absolutely brought down the house and for the remaining few who managed to stay standing for the 1 a.m. set managed to raise the bar even higher than the one they set on stellar albums. Looking quite a bit younger than I expected—especially the singer whose voice can be hoarse and gruff with traces of a long storied life hanging to the chords like tough bits of grit—they ripped through songs off Tournament of Hearts and Shine a Light plus a few new tunes from a highly anticipated forthcoming release. They finished up with a cover of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck, which pretty much sums up how I felt as we cleared the bottle-strewn room. RAWK! (Jamie Gadette)