SXSW: The Constantines
Sat. March 15
Smoke machine follies
This SXSW has made me feel sorry for the bands. Just how many of them there are, the astronomical improbability of their bid for superstardom, the grueling load-in/load-out for a lousy 25 minutes in front of an apathetic crowd waiting to see the band two hours from now. So to see these Canadian dudes (three albums deep, well loved but not exactly overexposed as these things go) trudge onstage in basically the same clothes they wore to their 1 a.m. gig at Antones the night before (that crowd thinned out after Vampire Weekend, naturally), the lead guitarist's left hand broken, wrapped in a cast, with his pinkie and ring finger taped together, a merciless smoke machine burping on them as they set up, well, suddenly "Turn the Page" seemed much more poignant.
And they were magnificent. Frontman Bryan Webb's voice is outstanding in its haggardness, a Bruce Springsteen rasp in full atomic bloom as they thrash through an indie-rock-paying-homage-to-classic-rock set not dissimilar to Spoon's, but more desperate and violent, devoured without utensils. "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)" is the one you remember; "Hotline Operator" is the one you forgot. The crowd (much larger than the Antones mob, thankfully) was in thrall, and they didn't even pull out their cover of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." Climactically, Bryan picked up the smoke machine and turned it on us, a subtle smirk on his face. I don't feel sorry for this band any more. I feel sorry for every other band.