Saturday, March 21, 2015

SXSW: Twin Peaks, Turtles, and crowd-surfing kangaroos

Posted By on Sat, Mar 21, 2015 at 11:47 AM

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If you're in a room full of lawyers listening to a panel full of lawyers — as they discuss a case that could dramatically change the way the music industry operates — one thing you don't want to do is misquote them.

So let's save our fastidiously-transcribed and legally-vetted quotes from "Unhappy Together: The Turtles with Sirius XM" for the upcoming SXSW wrap-up feature in our print edition.

For now, suffice it to say the musicians behind much-loved '70s hits like "You Know She'd Rather Be With Me," Elenor" and, of course, "Happy Together," sued the satellite giant for refusing to pay royalties on recordings that were released before 1972.

Late last year, The Turtles won judgements from federal courts in New York and California — thanks, in large part, to attorney Henry Gradstein, who argued the case in court and also dominated the discussion at SXSW.

The appeal process will, of course, live on, perhaps longer than the musicians. But assuming they prevail, it will mean a monetary windfall for musicians and an equally major financial blow to streaming music services and even that old-school terrestrial classic rock station you occasionally listen to in your car. A more serious subject, perhaps, than panels like "Rockin' SXSW in Four Hours," but ultimately more important as well.

On last night's live music front, Courtney Barnett deftly demonstated why she's Australia's most currently celebrated rock singer-songwriter, with a set that suggested an electric guitar-wielding Patti Smith with more rousingly accessible choruses and a couple of nice left-handed feedback solos.

"Now it's like a real festival," said Barnett, as a yellow inflatable kangaroo bounced above the crowd. From there she launched into the evening's loudest song, complete with the regionally appropriate chord progression A-C-D-C. But the biggest crowd-pleaser was definitely her signature "Avant Gardener," which she introduced as "the reason some of you may have heard of us." It also remains the most catchy song about a potentially life-threatening medical condition in recent memory, complete with singalong "I'm having trouble breathing" chorus.

Later that night in rain-drenched Austin, Broncho frontman Ryan Lindsay also sounded like he had trouble breathing, although that's more likely because of a helium-affected vocal style that made The Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley and Material Issue's Jim Ellison sound like deep Paul Robeson baritones.

But as the shoegazer-inclined Oklahoma band performed material from its recent sophomore album, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman, the bathrobe-clad singer-guitarist began looking less like a tormented Kurt Cobain and more like a rock musician having fun. And by the time he launched into the stuttering falsetto chorus of the closing "Class Historian," Broncho proved themselves to be a band worth standing in the rain for.

That was all the more true of Twin Peaks, the Chicago band who started out as high-school students in 2009 and now have two critically applauded albums under their belt. In fact, the group's late-night performance proved to be more powerful and varied than the vast majority of contemporary bands who wear their garage-rock hearts on their sleeves. With three of the five band members alternating as lead vocalists, many of their songs shifted gears unexpectedly and dramatically, while their skillful writing and rock arrangements at times recalled The Replacements in the more sober moments of their Let It Be tour. And unlike Broncho, Twin Peaks don't sound even remotely like anything their David Lynch-derived namesake would embrace. And for fans of loud, smart rock and roll, that was totally fine.

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