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SXSW Dispatch: Staying put and slamming around to Against Me!, The Front Bottoms and Placeholder at Brooklyn Vegan’s showcase

Against Me! | Photo by John Vettese
Against Me! | Photo by John Vettese

Part of the appeal of the annual South By Southwest festival is no doubt wandering from venue to venue in downtown Austin, catching bits of sets by dozens of new bands, seeing where the music and the crowd may lead you.

But there’s something to be said for finding a venue – or party, or showcase, or whatever – with a lineup that’s solid through and through, and just parking yourself there for the night. For me, Brooklyn Vegan’s show at the Red 7 Patio last night was just that. The headlining set by Florida’s Against Me! would have been enough to draw me in – their new rager Transgender Dysphoria Blues is already one of the year’s best, and they were at the top of my bands-to-see list – but they shared the bill with a enticing set of their (mostly) punk scene peers, from Lancaster screamers Placeholder to Jersey popsters The Front Bottoms. And, for the most part, all the acts delivered.

California comedian / musical Harvey Sid Fisher got the night to a light start with a set that was briefly fun and mercifully brief. His shtick is pretty one-note – he’s old, and he’s raunchy, and he sings about raunchy old guy things, and yeah. It’s the kind of humor that wears thin quickly, and while he had the modest crowd chuckling at first (many were still queued up in the alley behind the venue), he wrapped it up as their attention began to wane.

Placeholder | Photo by John Vettese
Placeholder | Photo by John Vettese

In contrast, Placeholder followed with a full-throttle set that was too brief. These guys might not have the most accessible sound (if you’ve got an aversion to growly vocals, they aren’t for you) but their energy and chemistry are undeniable, and captivating to watch. Frontman Brandon Gepfer is a very physical performer, flinging himself around the stage, into the speakers and his bandmates who reciprocated right back. He told the crowd that they’re used to playing “basements with like ten people,” so this was the biggest gathering they’d played for on tour. Would have been awesome had they played for a little longer, though, since the patio was just filling up when they left the stage, setting the room up for Gainesville’s Frameworks and their melodic spin on late 90s hardcore (a la At The Drive-In, Boy Sets Fire).

Cheap Girls from Lansing, Michigan was the only real disappointing set of the night – their songs are tremendously hooky power pop earworms akin to early Replacements jams, but their stage presence is nil; singer Ian Graham stands at the mic with his eyes closed, Adam Aymor riffs on guitar with his head buried in his hair, and the crowd predictably bobs their heads while checking Twitter on their phones.

The Front Bottoms, on the other hand, are pure interaction – sing/screamalongs, hi-fives, someone buying singer-guitarist Brian Sella a Guinness and daring him to chug it. The audience packed in towards the front of the stage, and became a mass of pushing, shoving, smiling bodies by the time “Twin-Size Mattress” rolled around Amusing aside: a dude in the crowd who books shows in Orlando talked before their set about how he’d never seen or heard of them, but everybody told him they were great. I concurred, and he countered “But they’re acoustic, though?” “Well, he plays an acoustic guitar,” I explained. “But they’re pretty badass.” “Um, I’ll take your word for it,” he replied.

I guess “badass” is relative, considering he might have been there to see brutal hardcore outfit Touche Amore, who absolutely pummeled the stage with their performance that followed – think the physicality of Placeholder, amped up about five times. Think of the sense of tension and catharsis of Converge, Paint it Black or Pissed Jeans. Again, not a sound for everybody, but holy cow what a spectacle to watch.

Against Me! | Photo by John Vettese

Wrapping the night around 1 a.m. was Against Me!, playing an hour-plus set highlighting the new LP and digging back through the band’s catalog for sure-fire crowd-pleasers like the title track of 2007′s New Wave and the singalong “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” from 2010′s White Crosses. The crowd that had begun to dwindle slightly – it was a super chilly night for an outdoor show – but the people who stayed were massive enthusiasts on par with the devotion The Front Bottoms and Touche Amore saw, slamming and swaying and screaming along.

Since singer-guitarist Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in 2012, the band kind of went into reset mode: as she said in Spin interview back in January, the path to the new album almost destroyed Against Me!, but with the enlistment of new players and perhaps her tightest collection of songs – the album is simultaneously anthemic, provocative, insightful and massively catchy – the band persevered. The patio was a smaller space than Against Me! has probably performed at in a long while, but if the reception the band saw – and the energy it brought to the stage - is any indication, it will prove to be a rare occurrence. Check out photo highlights and a full-show gallery below. Continue reading →

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Locals mewithoutYou and LA’s Touche Amore bring the energy to Union Transfer

Touche Amore | photo by Rachel Del Sordo
Touche Amore | photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

This past Saturday night, Union Transfer hosted the Noisey co-headlining tour with local folk punk heroes mewithoutYou and LA-based hardcore punks Touche Amore. Both bands have a discography of respectable and well-crafted albums that received great acclaim, but the reason they go so well on tour together is their ability to simply go crazy and absolutely lose themselves in their music onstage. Met with a crowd that has the same agenda made for one of the best shows I have seen at Union Transfer.

Caravels| photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com
Caravels| photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

Caravels opened up the night playing to an already full venue. The band’s sound is heavy, with raspy vocals and a unique mix of aggressive and laid-back instrumental parts. Vocalist Michael Roeslein shouted his lyrics with a noticeable sense of purpose and anger as he danced and moved around the stage, totally enveloped in the performance.

The band’s latest release is Lacuna, a full length album released on Topshelf Records that is worth a listen especially for fans of bands like La Dispute. Stream it on Bandcamp.

Seahaven threw themselves into their set as much as Caravels, but their tunes were much more chill and oriented around layered guitars. The lights were low and the mood was set for this band’s soft, ambient touch that was punctuated by an outpouring of emotion. Seahaven is releasing a full length album called Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only on March 25th via Run For Cover Records, order it here and stream a song off it here.

seahaven | photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com
seahaven | photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

Touche Amore crammed 22 songs into their 40-minute set, and their live show is ample evidence that they are one of the best punk bands around. They came out strong as hell, with an intro of “Praise / Love” into “Anyone / Anything,” a standout track off their most recent release Is Survived By.

After invigorating the crowd with this first song, Touche Amore delved into their 2011 album Parting The Sea Between Brightness and Me, and from that point they bounced from album to album without skipping a beat between most songs. Their short, swift, songs blended together, and at most points the crowd was a mess of shouting, running, and crowdsurfing young adults.

Vocalist Jeremy Bolm took advantage of the audience’s energy, grabbing crowd surfers and handing them the mic, punching the air fanatically, and even doing a stage dive of his own. In addition to his on-stage antics, Bolm’s vocal performance was top-notch and is definitely something worth seeing live. Some of the best songs from their set were “Art Official,” “The Great Repetition,” and an especially powerful performance of “Non Fiction”.

mewithoutYou | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com
mewithoutYou | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

Local headliners mewithoutYou put on a well-rounded performance that covered music from all realms of their (more than) ten year career. From their debut LP A→B Life to their most recent release Ten Stories, mewithoutYou pleased the crowd with an amazing mix of folk, punk, and even hardcore tracks. At times the crowd was going as nuts as they were for Touche Amore, yelling and shouting at the top of their lungs while a few people even bawled their eyes out at select songs. With the frenzied states that these local artists brought were soft lullabies which entranced the crowd before throwing them right back into a mess of yelling and noise. Vocalist Aaron Weiss entangled himself in the microphone cord as he spun and jumped around on stage, when he wasn’t rocking out on the accordion or acoustic guitar.

mewithoutYou’s set was lengthy, and an added encore left the crowd more than satisfied with their peculiar hometown idols. Some of the best songs from their set were “Nice and Blue Pt. 2,” “Bullet to Binary,” and “Wolf Am I!”. Weiss ended the evening by acoustically performing “In A Sweater Poorly Knit,” a poetic number off Brother, Sister where he softly muffled the lines: “Brownish spider / brownish leaf / confirms my deepest held belief / no more spider / no more leaf / no more me / no more belief” before quietly waving and walking off stage.

Setlist via mewithoutYou
Setlist via mewithoutYou
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Following up sold-out JBs gig, mewithoutYou will headline Union Transfer with Touche Amore on 3/1

mewithoutYou | photo by Amie Stanavicca
mewithoutYou | photo by Amie Stanavicca

Local indie rock band mewithoutYou recently announced a co-headling tour with California punk group Touche Amore. The month long venture will bring the two headliners to Union Transfer on March 1st, supported by the loud Seahaven and Caravels.

mewithoutYou’s musical and lyrical skill is something special, with intense imagery and meaning hidden underneath their unconventional sounding style. Their most recent release Ten Stories tells a story of a circus train and the dramatic crash it encounters. Listen to the first song off that album, “February, 1878,” below. You can also check out two B-sides from that album for a name-your-price download here.

Touche Amore is also worth talking about, with their recent breakthrough release of Is Survived By on Deathwsh Inc. they continue to rise in skill and in worldwide popularity. Their true emo lyrics are similar to that of mewithoutYou’s, but instead of narrative stories, they focus on personal issues and resolution. After touring the US with AFI and headlining a trip to Europe, Touche Amore should continue to grow on this eclectic American tour.

If you can’t make it to see mewithoutYou at their intimate (and sold out) Johnny Brenda’s show this December 29th, make sure to get tickets to the Union Transfer gig with Touche Amore, Seahaven, and Caravels here.

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