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A Lone Fleet Fox In a city of cacophony ”“ Austin during SXSW ”“ the sweetest sound is often the one you strain to hear. Fleet Foxes drummer-singer J Tillman was a paragon of near-silence in his solo set at an afternoon party on opening day. Playing songs from his new album, Vacilando Territory Blues […]

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David Fricke May 21, 2009
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A Lone Fleet Fox

In a city of cacophony ”“ Austin during SXSW ”“ the sweetest sound is often the one you strain to hear. Fleet Foxes drummer-singer J Tillman was a paragon of near-silence in his solo set at an afternoon party on opening day. Playing songs from his new album, Vacilando Territory Blues (Western Vinyl) ”“ a compelling whirl of Laurel Canyon-echo balladry and desolate-psychedelia stomp ”“ Tillman stunned a packed club to attention with bare-minimum versions of ”˜James Blues’ and ”˜Master’s House’: acoustic brushed-chord guitar and a mourning tenor of falling sighs and bluesy diction, like a soft collision of Tims Hardin and Buckley. Stripped of its heavy dusk (dobro, cello, fuzz guitar) on the album, ”˜Barter Blues’ was stark, gripping ache, like something from an outtakes reel for David Crosby’s 1971 solo LP If I Could Only Remember My Name. Tillman, who has been making his own albums longer than he’s been a Fleet Fox (the first of his five, I Will Return, came out in 2005), deserved better than the setting for his later, official SXSW showcase: a ruthlessly noisy bar with bad disco bleeding through the wall from the club next door. But when Tillman sang ”˜Barter Blues’ again that night, in my head I could still hear a pin drop.

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Benevento’s Golden Touch

There are no off hours at SXSW. One morning, hours after finishing a late-night club set, pianist Marco Benevento was in the KUT-FM studios at the University of Texas with his trio, performing the exuberant redesigns of My Morning Jacket’s ”˜Golden’ and Deerhoof’s ”˜Twin Killers’ from his delightful new album, Me Not Me (Royal Potato Family). Benevento also demonstrated how, live and on record, he combines loops, distortion and the piano’s pure-ivory ring “to accent the colour in the song,” as he said of ”˜Golden.’ Me Not Me is mostly covers, and Benevento revels in them: turning Jimmy Page’s raga-folk strumming in Led Zeppelin’s ”˜Friends’ into Indo-honky-tonk staccato; lifting the low spirits in George Harrison’s ”˜Run of the Mill’ with rolling flourishes and sharp, rhythmic accents. In one of his originals, Benevento puts a thoughtful John Lennon-style piano riff through a cheerful circus mix of Mellotron, tack piano and fuzz. The tune is titled ”˜Call Home,’ which, Benevento noted at KUT, “I highly recommend you do today.” When you’ve done that, go to sxsw.kut.org to hear that whole session.

Howlin’ Reign

Headlining a post-SXSW metal-thon at the Austin club Red 7, the Pacific Northwest band Wolves in the Throne Room made their feral noise ”“ double-guitar drone and machine-gun riff spray, mounting-thunder drumming, singer-guitarist Nathan Weaver’s burnt-throat bellow ”“ in a dramatic half-light cast by candelabra onstage. The band’s third album, Black Cascade (Southern Lord), is distinguished, too, by the depth of its shadows: the outbreaks of melody and harmonic reach in ”˜Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,’ the creeping-dawn climax of ”˜Crystal Ammunition.’ Weaver’s vocals are all fury, no pronunciation. But the snarling om and peaking shriek of his and Will Lindsay’s guitars are eloquent terror.

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