One of my favorite indulgences of the year is most definitely Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. I have time and again referred to it as the most efficient thing I have ever witnessed. It's generally more efficient than a Swiss watch. More efficient than Google's grasp on our feeble lives. More efficient than the nitrogen cycle. It's an extremely well run festival at Auditorium Shores at Lady Bird Lake that features indie rock, punk, metal, hip hop, electronic music, and comedy on the cusp of the zeitgeist. It's where one can see acts new and old that aren't completely saturating pop culture and filled with fans who wouldn't have it any other way. It's a celebration of niches and weirdness, something this black jazz journalist conceptually knows all too well. Thus my attending and covering this festival each year is something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the pages of Nextbop (and now The Art of Cool Project, add it to your bookmarks and RSS readers). However, now that I have a bit of a role in the upcoming Art of Cool Festival (the doozy of a lineup drops on the 15th, festival hits Downtown Durham April 25 & 26), it'd be nice to think about what works so well in this celebration of counter culture and maybe, for once, look at a few things that don't.
It was worth taking the drive from Denton. Of course, this should have been clear to me from the start. Seeing pianist Tigran at Frank in Austin this past Friday, November 1, was the predication for my own purchasing of Megabus tickets from San Antonio to Austin, about an hour and twenty minute ride if the traffic is alright (the traffic was not alright). This is Tigran's first U.S. tour, a few dates in the fall in the midst of a world tour through Europe all the way through February. He was only stopping in Texas twice, Friday's show in Austin and a show on Sunday in Houston. It's a show worthy of a sojourn, and folks from all across Texas certainly did. A couple cars full of music students from the University of North Texas' College of Music made the four hour drive to Austin to catch this show. For it to be as fun as it was, especially for an artist like Tigran who is extremely talented and whose star is steadily rising, a road trip was certainly in order.
I had heard great things about guitarist Chris Schlarb before. The sheer glee NPR Music's Lars Gotrich spouts on Twitter about Schlarb's work piqued my interest more than the co-sign by Sufjan Stevens. The former Californian truck driver has been gaining the acclaim of music journalists for a little while, I just feel like I'm a touch late to the party. In his latest album, Psychic Temple II, Schlarb and his group have made a concerted effort to make shorter, poppier compositions that are easier to digest than his previous, more sprawling works. It works on the album, but it also left me wanting for something more in the way of improvisation. As a jazz journalist who's always looking for intellectual stimulus, Psychic Temple, seems like it has all the essential elements necessary to be a compelling group, one just has to see them shine, and this past Saturday, October 19th at Austin's Salvage Vanguard Theater, shine Psychic Temple did.
It had been raining quite a bit in Austin lately. For much of September, really, South Texas had been getting some much needed rain to replenish the Edwards Aquifer and to quell the talk of drought year after year. Normally, this rain would be welcome, but The Bad Plus' performance at The Belmont on Saturday the 28th would be outdoors; besides the interesting adaptations the famed trio had to make during their soundcheck, the concerns about weather were more than significant. Nevertheless, rain or shine, the show must go on, and go on it did.
Last weekend, Labor Day weekend if you're from the States, a bunch of my family was in town for my great-grandmother's 100th birthday party. While I thank the Lord for her continued life on this earth with all of us (and her increasingly restored ability to play the piano again), I open this week's column with the party to talk about the time I spent with my cousins. I've said here time and again that I'm a cold, emotionless robot. This isn't entirely the case, but the extension of this half-joke is that I may really only have about 60% of human emotions. This makes the connection I have to family particularly awkward and slightly more tenuous. On Saturday night, I hung out with some of my cousins while drinking and playing cards and dominoes, pretending I'm a normal human being. However, when the subject of what music to play came up, I realized more and more how outside of popular taste I truly am. Other than my sister and some of my cousins' disturbing stanning for the woman & dressing room & random Ontarian beater Chris Brown (who, more than decent ability to dance notwithstanding, seriously needs some counseling and to disappear from the public eye for a while), the evening cemented the fact that as much as I may try to spread this music to the masses, I've got a long road to go.