SXSW: Quickie live reviews -- Valient Thorr, the Grates, the Von Bondies, What Laura Says
Best laid SXSW plans are as laughable as the conversations you had with your high school career counselor -- and just as useful. You might think having a blueprint is a good idea, but once you get caught up in the whirlpool of life (or, in this case, the riptide of rock), even the most detailed cheat sheats, maps and lists get thrown to the wind as the spirit grabs you when you least expect it.
For example, while waiting in line Wednesday night to hear the playfully innocent, joyous pop stylings of the Grates (pictured above), I noticed something dark emanating from around the corner. Yes, Evil, much like the sonic frequencies of bass, can bend around walls, it can seep through cracks, and like Milton's antihero, it can crawl beneath one's radar and enter the unsuspecting and lure them and tempt them, and in the case of Valient Thorr, satisfy them completely.
Valient Thorr look like they just parked the rig under the freeway and then stole someone's equipment. They play like their hillbilly heroin contact is about to arrive at any minute. And they sound like metal has returned with vengeance. The singer, Valient Himself, introduced one head-banging tune after another with a tale about how Someone or Something had victimized him (and us) in one way or another, and the only prescription is payback via a dual guitar blitz of destruction.
Some groups show up for the Austin festival, play one or two shows and go back on the road. The Von Bondies are milking every moment they can here, playing multiple times a day, almost every day during the festival. Supporting the recently released "Love Hate and Then There's You," their first new CD in five years, the Von Bondies packed the sprawling Vice and kept the heads bobbing and the feet tapping with their easy-on-the-eyes-and-ears rock stylings. Jason Stollsteimer might not have anything new to offer alternative music, but what he's got sure is addictive, fun and catchy.
What Laura Says is exactly the type of band you hope to run into at a festival like this: A group that you've never heard of, that would have flipped right past if you saw their CD in a row at Amoeba, but that hits you exactly the right way on first listen. The Arizona five-piece play a rootsy rock with an infectious passion that transcends their unfortunate name.
If the night started with a temptation from the Dark Lord, it ended with the redemption from Above. Well, maybe just from Down Under. The Grates, which will also be playing several shows this week, are a group that's impossible not to smile with. Patience the singer bounces around like a kid who's been given too much sugar. The tunes are adventurous and dynamic, but the focus is 100% on its leader, who can captivate a crowd with a twirl or a howl. They played songs off their near-perfect 2006 release, "Gravity Won't Get You Down," and two tracks off their Australia-only "Teeth Lost, Hearts Won" from last year. The Grates no doubt will soon be laughing their way to the bank, for if the world embraced the Ting Tings last year, Patience & Co are sure to be everyone's new darlings any day now.
-- Tony Pierce
Photos: Tony Pierce