by Lee DeVito
The Hounds Below, officially the main project of The Von Bondies' Jason Stollsteimer, stayed busy with multiple shows scheduled each day of SXSW. Even though they've been whittled down to a typical rock four-piece from a band that has seen many larger incarnations over the past couple years, the Hounds Below somehow now boast a larger, more anthemic sound.
Not Detroit-related, but I still adore Brooklyn's
Vivian Girls, playing just one SXSW show this year (down from eighteen during their buzziest year!) The hype machine may have moved on to Best Coast or The Dum Dum Girls, but to me the Vivian Girls' self-titled album is pure bliss, and last year's Share The Joy is worth another listen.
One of the biggest and most hyped events of the entire SXSW was Jack White's Third Man Records showcase at The Stage On Sixth, a relatively small country bar. With two stages of music, the showcase displayed a diversity of acts that Third Man has put out on vinyl during the past three years, from the straightforward garage-punk of acts like The Black Belles to Reggie Watts, who constructed songs using live samples of his own beatboxing. Model Karen Elson, White's second ex-wife and opening act, played country-tinged songs and teased the crowd, coyly announcing the next band as simply "You-Know-Who".
If you've seen White's recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, you'd know that his "solo" project is anything but. Tossing the rigid minimalism that served as the guiding philosophy behind The White Stripes (and to a lesser extent, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather), White boasted not one but TWO separate backing bands (one all-female and, after an intermission, one all-male) that featured an assortment of instruments ranging from double bass to fiddle. Clearly, After spending so much time imposing restrictions upon himself White seems to be reveling in excess.
Despite the country music instrumentation, the songs were still rockers. The sets were mostly comprised of covers from his past projects, serving as a career retrospective since The White Stripes' last SXSW in 2001, spanning from the Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" to The Raconteurs' "Steady As She Goes" and The Dead Weather's "Cut Like a Buffalo", even taking one song from Rome, last year's collaboration with Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi that saw White in more of a minor role.
The mood was certainly electric, with White occasionally turning around to acknowledge the large crowd that had blocked off Sixth Street to catch a glimpse of the performance and the club's Coyote Ugly-esque staff dancing up on the bars for a raucous "Seven Nation Army". But it was hard to shake the feeling that something seemed fishy about performing White Stripes songs without Meg, especially just a little over a year after officially disbanding the Stripes. It was great fun, but at the same time- at least for one fan- it seemed a little bit wrong... like sex with an ex.
For more coverage of SXSW 2012, follow @leedevito on Twitter.