Some Wye Oak fans’ feathers are ruffled over news about Jenn Wasner’s decision to swap her guitar for bass and keyboard on the band’s upcoming album, Shriek. When the stage crew started hauling the band’s equipment on stage at the Brooklyn Vegan showcase at Red 7 yesterday afternoon, I confess I was relieved to see an electric guitar placed next to Wasner’s bass, a note of assurance that a song or two from their critically lauded Civilian would be performed alongside newer material. The majority of the duo’s set did focus on songs from Shriek, which mainly scan as stretched-out ’80s pop-rock complete with cascading synthesizers and processed drum sounds on songs such as “Before.” While Wasner plucked basslines, Andy Stack did double duty with a drum stick in one hand and the other manning an Arturia synth keyboard, making the work look easy with a contented grin on his face. “Remember this thing?” Wasner asked toward the end of the set, picking up her guitar to play two older songs, including “Civilian,” complete with her signature distortion crunch on the solos. Though the dodgy sound mix at the outdoor stage made it difficult to discern lyrics to the new songs, musically they come off as interesting left turns from the band’s established sound.
Inside Red 7, the fresh-faced singer/guitarist Kip Berman of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart stealthily opened the sextet’s set, playing a song alone on stage that could have been mistaken for part of the band’s sound check in its tentative minimalism before the other five members took their places. Once assembled, they wasted no time in summoning a huge wall of sparkly pop-rock noise by melding shimmery keyboard work, subtly reverberating vocal effects, and liberal use of the whammy bar. The band occasionally slowed down to a more understated, post-punk tempo reminiscent of the Smiths, yet for the most part, on new single “Simple and Sure” as well as “Young Adult Friction,” they produced a sugar rush of noise with just enough rock bite to keep things from feeling saccharine.
Later that night, the Neon Gold Records showcase in the Empire Garage featured three successive female-fronted groups taking various angles of attack on Swedish pop: Tove Lo strutted the stage purveying Icona Pop-like hooks minus some of that duo’s brashness, while Haerts followed their four-on-the-floor single “Hemiplegia” with similar doses of easy-on-the-ears electronica. Standing out from the other acts was Brooklyn-based trio WET, who resisted any temptation toward upbeat danceability to maintain a sultry, slow-burning R&B cadence in their haunting set. Other highlights: disco-inflected rockers Wild Moccasins nearly triggering singer Zahira Gutierrez’s asthma with an imminently peppy set, and Berlin-based performance artists Hyenaz, dressed in little more than face paint, necklaces, and sheer tights, contorting their bodies around one another over spacey synth-looping.
SXSW runs March 7—16.