SXSW 2011: Wed. night with the Bewitched Hands, Colourmusic, and Bass Drum of Death (not)

March 17, 2011

Austin's Sixth Street in full swing on Wednesday night.

AUSTIN—My second night of South by Southwest showcases yielded another handful of great performances—none of them on the list of the festival’s most-hyped “buzz bands,” though all of them more than deserving of much wider notice.
 
 
The night started with a group called BRONCHO from Tulsa that played raw, aggressive, and wonderfully effective old-school punk. I had come to the Oklahoma Showcase at yet another cheesy Sixth Street bar called Friends to see the next act, but this faster-louder no-B.S. quartet was a pleasant surprise, with the sort of take-no-prisoners delivery that this critic wishes the much more-hyped Smith Westerns unleashed.
 
 
The draw for me at Oklahoma night was the next group, Colourmusic, a hard-rocking psychedelic quartet from Stillwater that brings to mind the Will Rogers state’s most famous purveyors of such sounds, the fabulous Flaming Lips, back during the golden days when they were still the nasty guitar band of “In a Priest Driven Ambulance” and “Hit to Death in the Future Head.” Guitarist-vocalist Ryan Hendrix and his band mates put a significant twist on things to make the sound their own, however, via layers of polyrhythms in certain tunes, and much more of a dance groove overall, similar to what Yeasayer is doing in Brooklyn.
 
From there, I headed over to a bar I’d like to call Malaria, but which actually is named Malaia. Sometimes, you’ve just got to see a band because the name is so weird you can’t believe that any group chose it, and such was the case with Bass Drum of Death.
 
 
I walked away as impressed by the music as the moniker—or so I thought, only to discover later that the schedule at Malaria had been more than an hour off, and the group I’d actually seen was the German duo Hundreds. Clad all in black and nearly obscured by their towers of keyboards, vocalist Eva and her (as far as I can tell) unnamed male partner churned out dreamy, ethereal electronica resonant of Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico playing Salem-style witch house, but with just a little bit more sunlight shining through.
 
My highest point of the night, however, was the psychedelic pop group the Bewitched Hands (who seem to have shortened their name in the last year from the Bewitched Hands on the Top of Our Heads). The band’s “Hard to Cry” EP was one of my favorite recordings last year, and their first full-length “Birds and Drums” is about to drop in May. Though they previously traveled from their home in Reims, France, to SXSW 2010—and my Sun-Times colleague Anders Lindall raved about them then—this was my first opportunity to see the sextet live.
 
 
The reference points are numerous: The anthemic choruses can recall the Arcade Fire; the rollicking rhythms are resonant of the Feelies on “The Good Earth”; the indelible hooks bring to mind the New Pornographers at their most exuberant, and the layered, repetitive, and sometimes wordless vocals are pure Stereolab. All of this name-dropping would mean nothing, however, if the songwriting wasn’t so strong, with the onstage delivery every bit as powerful. Here’s hoping we’ll see a lot more of the group on these shores soon.