"I still don't get that Lost finale."

Live Picks: 07.05.2012 – 07.11.2012

07.05: Bantam Foxes + Bones + The Manichean – Circle Bar

07.06: Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes + Gravy – Tipitina’s

07.07: Vox And The Hound + The Eastern Sea- Carrollton Station

These days, it’s hard to not be excited about local western-folk renaissance men Vox And The Hound.  After a winter in the studio and an eventful spring capped off with a show-stopping trip to South By Southwest, Vox have been hard to find on hometown stages for the better part of the last three months.  But that’s not to say the band has been taking it easy.  On the contrary, actually, as the brutally swampy transition into the 2012 New Orleans summer may have been one of the most eventful and important stretches in Vox And The Hound’s relatively short but luminescent history.

By the end of April, Vox And The Hound had annihilated a Kickstarter campaign set up to give their forthcoming full-length debut a deluxe vinyl pressing, and Daytrotter recently released the beautiful session they laid down during their aforementioned swing through Austin in March.  The days and weeks since have been spent fulfilling Kickstarter rewards – including a performance of their new material with full orchestration in a private concert at the Living Room Studio, filmed and recorded by the Greenhouse Collective – scouting locations for a music video, and otherwise gearing up for the release of what is sure to be one of the most highly anticipated albums of the fall.

Saturday’s show is the finale of a recent mini-tour to Texas and back, and is one of a few choice gigs Vox has on the books before Courage drops in November.  They will be joined at Carrollton Station by constantly-evolving Austin-based atmospheric lyric-rock project The Eastern Sea, who make a long-awaited return to New Orleans touring in support of their equally long-awaited full length debut, Plague.

MP3: Vox and the Hound: “The Man You Thought Was King”

07.08: The Lollies + The Silent Game – The Big Top

Check out our New Orleans Music Calendar for a full slate of constantly updated live picks

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Punk Rock Matinees Coming To The Big Top

It’s a concept that has been applied many times throughout the past decade or so. The idea of “Sunday Matinees” – early evening, weekend ending concerts capable of catering to both the underaged-with-protective-parents crowd and the aging, late-night-avoidance crowd – has always been a well-intentioned, if not necessary, community-building exercise for New Orleans’ underground punk rock scene. In the early days of Cypress Hall and the live music era of the Ark, it was commonplace for Brian Funck, the city’s all-ages DIY curator, to occasionally institute that exact format of concert series. But whether by lack of galvanization or inoperativeness of a centralized punk rock meeting spot, Sunday Matinee shows would fall out of practice just as quickly as they popped up.

But a lot has changed in the New Orleans music scene since the early aughts, and at this very moment the idea of weekly, all-ages punk matinees seems not just fitting but appropriate given the laundry list of exciting and enriching programming sprouting up all over town.  The newest incarnation of such a project, Punk Rock Takeover, is set to kick off Sunday at Lee Circle-area multipurpose art center The Big Top.  The chosen venue could not be a more fitting home for the planned melange of  indie/underground/outsider/alternative showcases, as the past few years have seen the cozy but versatile space transformed into a DIY music mecca. It’s practically home base for the extensive programming of a long list of show organizers that includes Funck’s An Idea Like No Other and Community Records, who hold their day long, multi-stage Block Party festival in and around the Clio St. gallery.

The strictly all-ages affairs will start at 2PM each Sunday and feature free food, a cash bar and unique bills combining musical acts from all over the subcultural spectrum.  This Sunday’s kickoff features a band that needs little introduction around these parts, Vox And The Hound, but combines them with the punchy electro noise-pop of Whom Do You Work For? and the hypnotic drone-funk of No Clouds.  The lineup for the rest of the month includes everyone from garage rock stalwarts Opposable Thumbs to indie newcomers Pancake to psychedelic bluesmen Black Smoke, and that is hopefully just the start to an enduring schedule of diverse and interesting programming.

Each show is $5 at the door or $3 with a book or non-perishable food donation (for the benefit of Iron Rail and local outreach programs, respectfully), and the proceeds from each event will be given to local non-profit organizations.

Punk Rock Takeover: Sunday Matinee Shows at The Big Top on Facebook

For Lack of a Better Phrase, NOLA Bands “Killed It” at SXSW

Hours before my fourth trip to South by Southwest Festival would take a decided turn for the Kerouackian, when I’d find myself sleeping among a sea of strangers thirty deep in what appeared to be a furniture-free detox safe house for strung-out teens with an elderly black man walking around smoking a cigarette preaching the Bible and talking from personal experience about the ills of intravenous heroin (but what was actually a Craigslist rental occupied by blog rappers and rock and roll bands on their last physical leg of energy), I was sitting in my car, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, in the heart of downtown Austin. I was exhausted and listening to a voice on the radio – that of a young KVRX DJ, with an intonation perfectly metered for spoken poetry and prose, who had turned 21 the night before.

“Last night being the first time in my life I’ve been able to legally partake in the chaos that is South by Southwest,” he began, “my evening was very memorable. Or, rather, unmemorable, I should say. But as I arrived home in the wee hours of the morning, I had the opportunity to witness the sunrise, mother Earth‘s waking yawn. As I stood there on the corner in front of my house, taking everything in – the public bus just getting started, its hydraulic sigh complemented by the echoes of factories in the distance – I had a thought.” After taking a deep breath for a somewhat lengthy pause (because, as I said, the kid could meter), he finished, “The morning cigarette of the American Empire. Just something to think about.”

Yeah, it was pretty pretentious, but maybe a little fitting nonetheless. Anyone who’s known me in the past twelve months also knows my unfavorable – even downright antagonistic – assessment of South by Southwest  in 2011. As viewed through the lens of that festival, Austin is, on one end, way too inviting of bottom-line, Middle America mass consumerist culture (the kind that draws people in with wasteful amounts of free shwag like Frisbees, T-shirts, coozies, tote bags and polyurethane wristbands all paid for by the bottomless marketing pockets of corporations lacking a relation to music or the arts in any passable fashion) while on the other end embodying all that is annoying and repugnant about feigned intellectualism and musical elitism.

A year ago, I would have bashed in the entire radio console with my forehead, ripped out the pieces and flung them at oncoming bicyclists. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t bothered by any of what amounted to armchair political hyperbole as expressed from the heart of what conservative’s like to call “entitlement culture”; in fact I enjoyed  it. The guy was a phenomenal speaker, and if he’s correct that America is indeed an “empire”, I can at least offer the perspective that empires aren’t built on gratuities and freeloading assholes, but hard work. And what I saw in Austin during SXSW this year was no less than the sum of people’s tireless, penniless, unapologetic physical labor.

Offering an oddly perfect dichotomy, the notion that artistic industry should yield some form of concrete payoff is lost on much of the New Orleans music community. It’s the reason our artists routinely give away their music for free, play for no cover, give all of a show’s profits to touring acts and have no problem working menial jobs to subsidize the entire lifestyle. So the idea of traveling all the way to Austin to play a string of no-pay shows is nothing new to the slew of local bands that made the trip this year. What was new, for me, was the opportunity to see the live prowess of NOLA artists knock the socks off of concertgoers on someone else’s turf and, in turn, find their own home court advantage in the backyards, communes and parking lot parties of Austin. For lack of a better phrase, New Orleans acts fucking killed it at South by Southwest.

No doubt Sun Hotel has become something of DIY royalty. The frequency with which they leave me awestruck is beyond punchline fodder at this point. But at SXSW, headlining a host of buddy-booked shows in the city’s outskirts, they presented yet another thrilling novelty by managing – right in front of my eyes – to continually foment new mini-followings of young music fans, the same way they did to me several years back. In the small string of performances I attended, I witnessed the band get broken up by the cops twice; I once observed them get invited to headline a house party immediately following a house party they had just headlined; I heard bassist John St.Cyr receive accolades specifically pertaining to his use of bass chords and reverb no less than two times; and I couldn’t even count the numbers of kids who absolutely lost their shit, attempted to glad hand all four members and stumbled to articulate their excitement over this band.

Louis Paul Bankston often finds himself, for the most part, under the radar of New Orleans’ underground youth culture nowadays, which is no surprise considering the unobtrusive demeanor of this short-statured, red-faced, badly self-groomed Bywater regular. To anyone not digging for the information, King Louie (as he’s better known) is just another lovable Crescent City kook. Take this man to Austin for South by Southwest though, and watch people fill a fucking room faster than he can pop his bowl-cut head in the building. At Spiderhouse on Saturday night, alongside the likes of heat-seeking young garage punk acts Barreracudas, Mean Jeans, White Mystery, Night Beats and Apache Dropout, King Louie’s Missing Monuments were the band of the evening. Packing the tiny, redlight-saturated off-ballroom bar to fire marshal levels, the double Gibson Flying V assault of Louie and Julien Fried emphatically gave a roaring third dimension to the band’s rock n’ roll punk roots, at which their debut record Painted White only hints. If there was ever an experience that offered insight to how the now-mostly-deceased Oregon-based tragic legends the Exploding Hearts (whom King Louie, like a garage rock Brian Eno, aided in the writing and recording of their sole album) sounded in person, this was it.

I have certainly not been quiet about Vox and the Hound‘s insane 20ROCKIN12 live prowess. In three short months, they’ve taken to New Orleans venues of every size and neighborhood, and humanity be damned if they haven’t destroyed every single one of them. In Austin, at Shiner Saloon on Saturday evening, the tale was the same and then some. A deep, airy, natural-lit barroom with a tiny stage that belies its overall size, Shiner was crowded to the gills with drunk-as-shit St. Patrick’s day revelers by 6pm. In one of those all-or-nothing situations where green beer revelry could quickly give way to unmanageable heckling, Vox seized the day and treated their audience to one of the most energetic performances they’d see all weekend. By the first chorus of “Mom’s Origami”, there was an overwhelming sense that the people who booked this “Future of Music Showcase” had stumbled upon what was either a group of serious up-and-comers or an established band of pros who accidentally arrived at a show many leagues beneath them. The performance itself was one of the best I’ve seen from Vox – and certainly the most fun. On stage right, D-Ray traded high fives with audience members after every keyboard solo and garnered raucous applause when he picked up his trombone; singer Leo DeJesus politely made room on stage for a number of drunk girls intent on dancing by his side and whispering sweet nothings in his ear; and too boot, bassist Andrew Jarman literally and unironically found himself signing autographs after the set had concluded.

The undisputed (though not technically New Orleanian) winners of the weekend, however, were Zac Traeger and Shmu, better known as Austin-based psyche electronic act Zorch. This duo is obviously known for its manic, odd-ball work ethic (an ethic that has somehow enabled them to reach the radar of nearly every major national media outlet with only six formally recorded songs since 2009), so to say that Zorch outdid themselves wouldn’t necessarily be an understatement but it nonetheless wouldn’t do their SXSW presence the justice it deserves.

I was party to the tail end of “Zorch by Zorch Mess“, an operation consisting of multiple performances each day for ten straight days, all over the city of Austin from the heart of downtown to the depths of its outskirts. Everywhere you walked, biked or drove – every place you visited or simply passed by – bore the footprint of Zorch; I myself visited no less than four venues they had already played by Thursday evening. Simply put, no one that weekend was a prolific or present than Zorch. So how, in the middle of all their calculated madness, they found the time and energy to singlehandedly (really “doublehandedly”, but still) organize and curate a massive, late night party on Friday is beyond me.

The 21st Street Co-Op, for live music purposes, might be the most absolutely sensational venue in the entire world, without exaggeration. Engineered with a construction resembling a dystopian frat house – complete with a mess hall, courtyard and individual apartment balconies overlooking all of it – the 21st Street Co-Op was host to the likes of Andrew W.K., Maps & Atlases, Japanther, Grimes, Dan Deacon, Caddywhompus, The Eastern Sea, Ava Luna, Netherfriends and, of course, Zorch. Beginning with Caddywhompus‘ phenomenal late-evening set onward, the place was sardine packed to its huge capacity with concertgoers (a good number of which were other musicians who simply wanted to take a night off and witness the bedlam for themselves) flooding the outdoor stage area courtyard for a de facto BYOB celebration and nearly splintering the floor of the sweaty, second story dance hall above with the massive weight of several hundred pairs of feet. Most amazing: this level of kinetic excitement was the rule, not the exception, of the evening until at least around 5:30am when Mr. W.K. finally brought the party to a close with an absonant finale.

I’ve attended South by Southwest three times before as a downtown touristy consumerist-type, but my first experience as a low-profile, backwoods house party concert jumper was a revelation. Though the symbiotic Texas-Louisiana connect is well known and deep-rooted, unofficial SXSW may be the one week each year that illuminates it above all others. Finding themselves in Texas playing with New Orleans bands were musicians from all over the country who could just as easily have been from New Orleans themselves, and vice versa. It’s a synergy built on mutual respect and a reciprocal work ethic, in which it’s understood that without backbreaking effort there will be no fun for anyone involved, if there is to be any at all. Certainly it doesn’t always work out for everyone. Most of the successes I bore witness to were the result of bands’ several years of experience at SXSW. Newcomers have no choice but to fly by the seat of their pants and hope they make it out alive because, for every Vox and the Hound whose first experience at the festival is a humble success, there is at least one Glish, all of whose bookings fall through practically while en route to Austin and who have to make do with nothing.

I myself was in the very same boat – attempting to see, hear and photograph everything I possibly could on virtually no sleep and even less nourishment – at times when I’d arrive at a show to find out it was cancelled, when a grouchy lead singer would wantonly chuck his microphone at me in an attempt to break my camera, or when I’d come to my place of rest to find a raging party and nowhere to sleep. Like just about every band I had occasion to see, my successes were modest and hard fought. But good lord, when you dig deep down to find the energy to keep going, South by Southwest is a fun fucking experience.

Photoset // South by Southwest Festival, Part 3: 03.17.2012

Sip Sip + The Tontons + Megafauna + Vox and the Hound + King Louie’s Missing Monuments + The Wolf + Look Mexico + Sun Hotel performing in and around Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012 for South by Southwest Festival

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Vox and the Hound: 02.25.2012

When a band is as bursting at the seams with diverse and experienced talent as Vox And The Hound, a common and not necessarily unfortunate trope may be to proceed with caution, employing a lowest-common-denominator approach to songwriting that plays to no member’s particular strength at the risk of unleashing a soundclash of incompatible virtuosity.  The band’s recorded debut, the early 2011 Hermosa EP, functionally existed on this plane, as the alt-folk tunes contained within portrayed front man Leo DeJesus as a deft songwriter but didn’t present too much else for listeners to emotionally or intellectually latch onto.

But in the 12 months since it’s release, the band has strung together the kind of year that permanently burns itself into music lovers’ minds, becoming an incendiary presence in the New Orleans musical landscape while creating a wealth of new material that seems to evidence a recently amassed, unconventional collaborative spirit. The result, at the moment, is a virtually undefinable brand of rock n’ roll, the true identity of which probably lies somewhere in a vast field between such grandiose descriptions as “arena folk” and “Fleetwood Mac on psychedelics”.

Fresh yet subtle flirtations with funk, prog, glam and swamp rock – when performed on the illustrious blue-lit stage of the House of Blues for the first time – brought a hyper-amplified sense of nouveau relatively foreign to the paradigmatic armchair folksiness that Vox and the Hound has typified in the past. Though the band has never been light on the guitar work of Rory Callais and Leo DeJesus, remaining members now seem to  operate with an electrifying level of dynamism and personality.  Drummer Eric Rogers, who may just be the most versatile percussionist in the region, consistently showcases his ability to balance low-key beatkeeping with arena-ready exhibitionism without the necessity of a solo or any other “look at me” moment while Andrew Jarman pounds forcible, highly complex bass lines around keyboardist Daniel Ray’s shades of a mid-seventies Tony Banks, playing every note with a cogency almost impossible to articulate.

Vox’s five players have managed to increasingly display their disparate influences and ethoi after initially showing no signs of being such an intricate pastiche, creating subtle moments of thrilling synergy that suggest there is something vastly more interesting than the sum of Vox’s parts bubbling under the surface of every song.  It’s reminiscent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco, who never wasted energy touting how different they were from their contemporaries with heavy-handed extravagance but rather modestly hinted at the tremendous complexity of their songwriting approach.  And without a fully-finished recording of new material to work from as a template, the resulting singular enticement of a Vox performance is witnessing the band feel out its own songs right in front of you. When DeJesus howls the high notes, Rogers can be seen sporting an assuring grin; if Ray injects a new bit of funk into a synth line, DeJesus offers an A-OK head nod in his direction; every time Rogers adeptly lays down a complex drum fill, you can see the sense of wonderment on the face of every member; and the vibrancy of each unpredictable Rory Callais guitar freakout can add a noticeable sense of confidence to an entire song.

Over the past two years, this little sunspot on our local rock scene has seemed to gracefully – if predictably – traverse many of indie’s most archetypal sub-genres (folk, pop, twee, americana), but Vox now seems primed to creatively buck both local and national trends without appearing to reach or strain in the slightest.  On the contrary, it is the comfort with which the band reconciles the enormous diversity of its members’ backgrounds – a diversity that rivals any collective currently making music in the city – that adds to the curiosity of their deceptively dense and layered compositions, exquisitely skinned and preternaturally moody songs that, on Saturday night, seemed custom build for the grand stage that could barely contain them.

Photoset // Vox And The Hound + The Slaughterhouse Chorus + Henry’s Rifle: 02.08.2012

Vox And The Hound + The Slaughterhouse Chorus + Henry’s Rifle performing at The Saint on February 8, 2012

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Vox And The Hound at the Living Room Studios on February 8, 2012

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