Norwegians Do It Better

Austin, Texas - First day of SXSW is always stressful. So are the second, third and fourth days. No matter where you are at this huge musical clusterfuck, you're always haunted by the thought that something better is happening somewhere else. Unless you've mastered the ability to be in five places simultaneously, you have to settle for one performance at a time. Humans are so limited...

I arrived late Wed. evening and didn't get my badge till 9 p.m. My plan to was to make a beeline to the Thirsty Nickel to catch the Smalltown Supersound showcase. SS is a Norwegian label with a heavy electronic/kosmische slant. Sadly, I missed Arp and Sunburned Hand of the Man, but got to the bar just in time to see Bjorn Torske. A skinny blonde Norwegian dude, Torske hunched over a compact unit (probably a sampler) and generated rough, chunky, refreshingly sleazy Euro disco. It's doubtful anything else is sounding like this at SXSW, which is as rockcentric as ever. Torske used a large plastic carrot as a shaker and slapped a banjo for further percussion embellishment. One track used a looped banjo riff to create a mantric, Amon Düül I-esque psychedelia.

After Torske, I headed to Bourbon Rocks to witness San Diego's Earthless. Their swift, savage, technical and heavy instrumental rock exacerbated my headache sevenfold (but I didn't avenge it). Many bearded guys nodded gravely to the hirsute trio's hypnotizing and brutalizing music.

Back at Thirsty Nickel, I swooned to Lindstrøm's sweeping cosmic disco, which seemed ludicrously incongruous in this archetypal Texas bar (anything other than country & western would seem ludicrously incongruous here). Lindstrøm's set made Tangerine Dream seem like earthbound folkies. His music is beautiful and psychedelic in a cold, Nordic, windswept way; call it Oslo-motion dance muzik.

After that, I zipped to Habana Calle 6 for Parts & Labor, a Brooklyn rock quartet whose ebullient ruggedness and anthemic robustness managed to inject some energy into my exhausted self.

Not a bad first night, all in all, and I somehow eluded that infamous, bountiful SXSW vomit on the pavement that afflicts the fest every year. Hurray for small victories.

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