Review: St. Vincent is beautiful, bizarre

St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) performs at Sokol Auditorium. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) performs at Sokol Auditorium. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

St. Vincent blew me away. Again.

During a nearly two-hour performance at Sokol Auditorium on Tuesday, Annie Clark did nearly the same thing I saw her do at SXSW last month: She shredded, she sang like an angel and she danced like a robot.

Clark played 20 songs, and it one of the most interesting, engaging shows I’ve ever seen. (And there were no cell phone photos allowed. That should be policy everywhere.)

Read the entire review on Omaha.com and watch a full slideshow below.

Posted in live review, SXSW | 1 Comment

The Faint to do release-day signing at Homer’s

The Faint (Photo by Bill Sitzmann)

The Faint (Photo by Bill Sitzmann)

Meet The Faint!

Coming next week, the dance punk quartet will hang out at Homer’s Music in Omaha to meet fans, do a signing and spin the band’s new album.

“Doom Abuse,” the band’s new album, will be released on April 8, and the band will appear on release day at an event with free pizza, beer and soda.

The event begins at 6 p.m., and Homer’s will play the new album during the event.

“Doom Abuse” will be released with SQE Music. A deluxe vinyl edition of the album is currently available at indie record stores.

The album was mixed by Mike Mogis, and it’s also the band’s first full-length release since Joel Petersen left the band. The band plays Sokol Auditorium in Omaha on June 13.


Update: An earlier version of this entry had the date listed incorrectly due to an error in the press release.

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Q&A: St. Vincent speaks on robotic live act, new album

St. Vincent performs at South by Southwest music festival. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

St. Vincent performs at South by Southwest music festival. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

With her universally acclaimed new album, a live concert that’s different from anything else I’ve ever seen and a new look that centers around her dyed white hair, the singer-guitarist born Annie Clark has everyone’s attention.

St. Vincent wowed me at South by Southwest with the most interesting rock show I’ve ever seen that featured tunes from her new, self-titled album as well as selections from “Strange Mercy” and her other past albums.

With her white hair, pale skin and a white dress, she takes on the air of an indie rock robot that belts out vocals, floats around the stage and picks out shredding guitar solos.

Tuesday night at Sokol Auditorium (Get Tickets!), she’ll do the same with an expanded set.

I talked to Clark a few weeks ago about the new album, her show, David Byrne and all her automaton dance moves.

Kevin Coffey: It’s a very emotional and honest album.

Annie Clark: I think every song has to have a heart, and not just a skeletal system. That was one of the criteria for every song on the record. It’s not enough to be catchy and hooky or you know interesting enough that it had to have a heart. Yeah.

KC: Did you have a goal for the album?

AC: I wanted to make it groove. I think in some ways, that’s a lesson to be learned form hip-hop. If you have a really awesome groove that’s got people locked in, you can do a lot of really wild stuff and take a lot of chances over top of it. The groove is so inviting.

That’s a lesson from Parliament or a lesson from hip hop that at least in the production side of it, people take a lot of chances and they aren’t reverent about preserving some kind of lexicon.

KC: “Huey Newton” is kind of a heavy rock song. “Birth in Reverse” is more of a pop song. You’re not beholden to any genre on the album, so how do you decide where to go with it?

AC: I find that the songs will tell you what they want to be. I just try to listen and make sure that I’m doing something that’s right for the narrative of the song. Every element that you put into it communicates a lot, and that comes from knowing the songs and knowing where their heart is. Doing things that honor that instead of things that distract from that.

KC: How do you work in the studio?

AC: I demo songs really extensively before I went into the studio. There are a lot of songs (on “St. Vincent”) that are a really way better recorded version of the demo. The record is in large part the sound of people playing music a room. The sounds have been processed by (producer) John Congleton so much they sound completely inorganic.

KC: There’s so much going on, how do you do it in a performance?

AC: Live, we never play to tracks. A human being is playing everything. We’re doing a lot of technology to do what we do thanks to my Russian scientist keyboard player.

I’m no slouch either, but he’s great with Ableton. And on top of that, he’s a phenomenal musician.

KC: You went to Berklee in Boston for awhile and then played in Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ band, all of which I imagine has given you a musical flexibility. Has that been important? 

AC: I feel like I’m lucky. I’m four records in, and not everybody gets that chance in this day and age. People get one or two records and people are onto whatever the new thing is. I feel lucky to be progressing and in that vein, I’ve trusted my instincts thus far. I feel like I can do whatever it is I feel is right going forward. Hopefully people will be receptive to that as well.

KC: How much did your album and tour with David Byrne influence you going forward?

AC: David is a lot of fun. Getting to tour around the world with him for a year, I had so much fun performing that show that we did together. I think the things that I took away from my work at him are more existential than obviously musical. He’s a very optimistic person.

I stretched out as a performer because I was sometimes the frontperson and sometimes the sidekick. The show was very lighthearted, and the “Strange Mercy” shows ended up heavy and stage diving and wild and loud and this is definitely sweeter in tone.

(With Byrne,) I got to stretch out as a performer. It’s kind of like being an actor and getting to do different roles. You find you can do more than you thought you could when you’re suddenly thrust into a situation that’s challenging. It’s fun. You grow.

KC: You talked about the “Strange Mercy” shows. Do you ever feel different about those songs after looking at them later?

AC: There’s always that element to music. Write a song and not realize that that’s the way I felt about a specific subject. I will find out about it through music before my conscious brain really catches up. I have a great job. I get to play make believe all the time.

KC: You did a little choreography, and you’ve added that to your own show.

AC: I liked the choreography because it told a narrative that was sort of psychedelic and subconscious that music alone couldn’t do exactly. I think people come to see shows to have an experience and in this day and age, in the music industry, if people don’t buy records like they used to but I think people do come to shows and want to lose themselves for an hour and a half.

I’ve put a lot of energy into making the live show an experience and not just, “Hey we’re gonna get up and play a few songs. Why don’t you have a couple beers and relax?”

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List: 10 tips for local bands to help themselves

Microphone

I see a lot of bands do great, smart things.

Then I turn around and see a lot of them do really silly, stupid stuff.

I don’t style myself as the expert in “making it big.” I’m not picking on anyone. I harbor no ill will.

But as someone who works with musicians big and small, I find there are a lot of little steps that can and should be taken that can make things better for lots of bands. (And that goes for nationally recognized touring acts, too. Sometimes they do dumb stuff as well.)

Of course, not everything I mention here is right for every band. You have to decide what’s right for you. That said, I hope someone finds this helpful.

1. Make good music
None of the following matters if your band sucks. Make good tunes first and worry about everything else second. Plenty of bands are awful at doing anything other than making an intense batch of jams and they do just fine. It’s the most important thing and it will do the most for you.

2. Make your website useful.
It doesn’t have to contain much information, and it doesn’t have to be more than a Facebook page or a Bandcamp site. Simply have a website with clearly presented information that includes a couple songs we can listen to, a band lineup, a short bio (more on that below).

3. Have at least one high-resolution band photo
If a promoter, blog or venue asks for a photo, don’t send them a shot your mom took at a poorly lit local show and don’t send them one you pulled off of Facebook. They’ll want an original size, decent-looking photo for printing on posters or in the paper or to resize and use on their blog or whatever. You’ll want it to not suck.

One of your friends has a decent camera (even an iPhone works) and some kind of photographic skill. Get in a cool pose in a cool location  (recreate one of your favorite band photos if you can’t think of anything). Snap the photo. Simple.

4. Don’t waste so much time crafting the perfect band bio
Band name, simple genre description, country/state/city/neighborhood/whatever of origin, brief description of your sound, a colorful anecdote. That’s it. Feel free to go into a bit more detail (say, a brief description of your new album/single/EP), but don’t go crazy. No one usually reads past the first two paragraphs.

Things that don’t matter: Who you’ve “shared the stage with.” (Everyone opens for someone.) The entire history of your band. (If someone wants to know, they’ll ask.) Other bands your players were in if no one’s ever heard of those bands. (If no one recognizes them, who cares?) Words such as “unique,” “sound all our own,” “mixing genres,” “career-defining” and other superlatives. (Let a reviewer say those things about you.)

Things that do matter: Be specific and make sure anything you write describes your band and your band alone. Keep it short. Mention who you’ve actually gone on a long tour with. Include a good quote or review from your local papers/blogs or a direct quote from a band member about the band. Highlight particularly notable achievements or awards. Update it regularly. Spell check. Update it regularly. (Did I say that already?)

5. Don’t be a dick
The bands that feel the most entitled are almost never the ones that should be. The touring act with a regular following is almost always full of really nice people while some band no one has heard of is really uppity about their status. Don’t do that.

Show up on time. Be nice to the venue people. Play your set. Get out of the way for the next band. Be polite.

Simply put: Just be cool, man.

6. Be aggressive
I don’t mean you should be a jerk. (See above.) I mean you should be assertive, and it will help out your band a lot.

You’re proud of your band, right? Then act like it. Fight for that gig. Ask for the best slot. Get people to the show. Get paid to play.

7. Stop playing every single show you get offered
When you’re starting out, play all the time. Seize every opportunity.

Once you get your sea legs, pull back on playing shows all the time. If people can see your band literally any weekend, why should they come out tonight? They can see you next week. And the next week. And the next week. And so on. If you get overexposed, your fans have less reason to come out and see you if you’re constantly onstage.

Sure, it’s great to get exposure, but playing every 4-8 weeks might be better. That said, feel free to collaborate with another band on an interesting project, open for touring groups or test out new tunes at an open mic.

8. Stop thinking local
This is the 21st century. You may be a local band, but you have resources (the Internet is a big one) that will help you avoid acting like a local band.

Spread the word online. Get your music on iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. Submit your album to Pitchfork. Plot a tour. Release a 7″. Make a video. Whatever!

Do all the things the big boys do, and you’ll start being treated like you’re a big boy, too.

9. Your gig is not a chance for you to party
Playing Friday night and all your friends will be there? Awesome. Sweet. Enjoy it. But just because all of your buddies are hanging out and throwing back beers before, during and after the show doesn’t mean you need to, too.

If you play drunk, you’ll sound drunk. It’s stupid. Don’t do it. Wait til after you’ve loaded out to hit the booze.

10. Be supportive
Go to other bands’ shows. Rock out. Buy their new album. Buy them a drink. Shake hands.

It’s one of the most important things you can do because you’ll make friends with other bands to do shows with, go on tour together, recommend practice spaces, borrow each others’ equipment or help spread the word about each other. And who knows? Maybe your new friends simply need a harmonica player and you’re just the guy to help. Whatever it is, you’ll develop lots of beneficial relationships (and, even better, make some new friends).

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Matt Whipkey and Brad Hoshaw to release split single for Record Store Day

Album art by Nick Neary

Album art by Nick Neary

Omaha singer-songwriters Matt Whipkey and Brad Hoshaw will join an ever-growing list of Record Store Day releases with a split 7″ vinyl single

Two acoustic songs — Whipkey’s “I Miss You” and Hoshaw’s “Sorry” — will be on the record, which is limited to 300 copies. The colored vinyl single will be available at local stores on Record Store Day, which takes place on April 19.

It’s a smart move. To go beyond being simply a “local” artist, bands need to do things that any other big-time artist would do. Hoshaw and Whipkey can definitely do big things. They already make good music, and taking steps such as this pushes they even further in the music world. It’s the sort of thing Hoshaw told me about when he released his new album, “Funeral Guns.”

Hoshaw released “Funeral Guns” last month with his band, The Seven Deadlies, which includes Whipkey on guitar.

Whipkey’s latest, “Penny Park: Omaha, NE: Summer 1989,” made my list of best albums of 2013, and it also garnered him best album and artist of the year trophies at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

New label Duden Ranch Records, started by photographer Chip Duden, is behind the release, and the label plans to release limited edition vinyl throughout the year.

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List: The 8 best photos from SXSW 2014

I took a whole lot of photos while I was at South by Southwest — more than 1,500 in total, by my count.

You can view all 60-or-so shots of the best bands I saw on my Flickr page, but the very best shots from SXSW are below.

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List: The best food at SXSW 2014

Photo by Kent Sievers/The World-Herald

Photo by Kent Sievers/The World-Herald

You’re in Austin for the music, but you also get to eat.

Austin, Texas, is lauded for its breakfast tacos (though you have to be up early enough to get one) as well as its barbecue (though you usually have to sit down and eat), but when I’m in town for South by Southwest, I usually eat on the go.

No worries. The Texas capital is full of food trucks and walk-up windows. You can eat amazing food without ever having to sit down at a restaurant.

And I did lots of that at SXSW.

These are the five best things I ate while running from band to band and venue to venue. (If you wanna read that list, head here.)

1. Bacon Fried Rice and Crab & Cream Cheese Egg Roll from Be More Pacific

photo 5

On my last night in Austin, I stopped by a makeshift food court on Rainey Street in downtown. About 10 food trucks line the outside of the parking lot. As I walked around, I spotted a lot of options (including the truck from No. 3, below), but only one caught my eye: Be More Pacific, a Filipino-American fusion food truck.

Namely the bacon fried rice, which is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. You better be a bacon fan if you order this because it’s loaded with crumbled bacon but is otherwise pretty standard fried rice with green onions, fried egg, onions and garlic. It was not only the bacon that differentiated it from other fried rice dishes but the garlic, which really set the dish off and made it more than a simple rice bowl.

The crab and cream cheese egg roll was incredibly tasty, and came with a spicy, creamy dipping sauce. It did have a couple downfalls: it was incredibly greasy and it was layered very well (thick slab of crab, thick slab of cream cheese). But that wouldn’t stop me from eating it again (or trying to make it at home).

2. Kimchi Fries from Chi’Lantro BBQ

photo 3A fusion of Korean, Mexian and American is what you’ll get from Chi’Lantro, an Austin food truck that serves Korean BBQ tacos, burritos, burgers, quesadillas and rice bowls. But the crowning achievement is the kimchi fries: a bed of fries covered in Korean BBQ (your choice of meats), grilled onions, cheese, cilantro, sriracha, “magic sauce” and, yes, kimchi.

It was a delight. It was like cheese fries bred with Chinese food. A total Franken-food, the kimchi fries burst with all kinds of flavors. If the kimchi throws you off, don’t let it. It complimented the barbecued meat (I had beef), and the cilantro was the perfect finishing touch.

3. The Link from Slab Barbeque

photo 2I’ve had the fine BBQ from Slab food truck before, and this time I wanted something simple. I went for The Link, a simple wrap with a smoked pork sausage and barbecue sauce. I opted to skip the pickles (they make me physically sick… yuck), but I did eat the small sandwich with the onions and housemade mustard slaw. The slaw added a nice crunch and the light mustard flavor went really well with the barbecue. So dang good.

4. Pepperoni slice from Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza

photo 1Sixth Street in Austin is lined with pizza places and pie-slinging food trucks, but none of them beat Hoek’s, a spot where you can get a slice and listen to Cannibal Corpse at the same time.

They have great, melty cheese and a sauce that’s got a ton of flavor without overpowering the rest of the ingredients. I also love their dough, which is chewy and tasty on the inside and crispy on the bottom.

 

 

5. Bratwurst with Onion, mustard and Curry Ketchup from Best Wurst

photo 4If you’re hungry after 1 a.m. in Austin, there’s still plenty of late night options though many of the food trucks shut down. That hour might be the busiest of the night for the other Sixth Street mainstay: the sausage carts.

My favorite is Best Wurst, a cart that offers Italian sausage, smoke jalepeno sausage and bratwurst. On my way home from watching bands all night, I grabbed a bratwurst with grilled onions, sauerkraut, mustard and, the big top-off, curry ketchup. Best late night food you can get in Austin.

 

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List: The 22 best (and worst) things about SXSW 2014

David Monks of Tokyo Police Club performs at Hype Hotel during SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

More than 30 bands, 1,545 photos, dozens of venues, seven food trucks and countless long lines is the way to describe South by Southwest by the numbers.

Another way to talk about SXSW is with the 22 unforgettable moments, songs, performances and people I enjoyed (and some I’d like to forget) last week in Austin, Texas.

Over my five days covering the festival, I saw a whole lot, and these are the best, and some of the worst, things about the experience.


BEST OF THE FEST

St. Vincent
stvincentHer new album is good, but St. Vincent’s show was mesmerizing. It was like a switch was flipped and she turned into an rock ‘n’ roll robot that sang pop songs and shredded on her guitar in equal parts. I can’t wait to see her when she comes to Omaha on April 1.

Ex Hex
exhexThis all-female rock band led by Wild Flag’s Mary Timony doesn’t even have an album out yet, but I was transfixed by the group garage pop sound and their tight jams. Become a fan now so you can tell all your friends that you knew of them before they were a big deal.

Bob Mould
bobmouldThe ex-Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman doesn’t have a new album out until June, but the fuzz guitar guru played almost half of it including the sweet guitar melody of “IDKYA” and the melodic hardcore punk “Kid.” And he proved he’s still king of the guitar riff with “War,” a song about being worn down by confrontation. Then he went ahead and closed out the set with the Hüsker’s “Makes No Sense At All.” We freaked out.

Kelis
kelisYou and I and everyone we know is a fan of Kelis’ “Milkshake,” but she blew me away with some big band soul, gospel and old-school rhythm and blues. Her 11-member band created a layered backdrop for the singer’s commanding voice on songs such as “Rumble,” and yes, she did eventually tell us how her “milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” but it was an updated version with jazz trombone solo. Powerful stuff.

Charli XCX
charlixcxThe British pop singer takes things in a rock ‘n’ roll direction rather than the arty and electro vibe of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, and I love her for that. Backed by an all-female rock band, she played new songs such as the grungey singalong “Breaking Up” and the buzzy dance track, “SuperLove.” Then she included a fitting cover of The Strangeloves’ song, “I Want Candy.” I want more.

Phantogram
phantogramOn an Austin rooftop, electronic pop duo Phantogram got us dancing, singing and rocking. Whatever it is that you wanted to hear, the group brought it in a fun mashup of styles. That’s not to mention Sarah Barthel’s gorgeous voice or Josh Carter’s guitar prowess.


THE NOT-SO-GREAT

Pins
A friend told me to go see this all-female, British rock group. It was an even more lifeless version of the American Dum Dum Girls (a great band, but not one known for its engaging stage presence), and the music was kinda depressing. I’ll pass, thanks.

Speedy Ortiz
I have enjoyed some of their songs including “Everything’s Bigger,” but they just didn’t do it for me live. a four member band with guitar, bass and drums, it turns out they have a pretty generic indie rock sound from. I couldn’t help but think they were a female-fronted Pavement.

Eagulls
Again, I enjoyed some of their music prior to the festival, but every song I heard the band play had exactly the same vibe, structure and tempo. Then despite playing one of the biggest indie showcases of the festival, the band was completely bummed out by its performance. It showed.


SO GLAD I SAW

Royal Teeth perform at Cheer Up Charlies. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

So many female-fronted groups or all-female bands were part of my schedule at SXSW. It’s great to see so many women rocking the festival including the ladies I saw in Against Me!, Ex Hex, Royal Teeth, the Dum Dum Girls, Perfect Pussy, Pins, Speedy Ortiz, Charli XCX, St. Vincent, Kelis, Phantogram, Wye Oak and Hospitality.


BUMMED I MISSED

Coldplay's Chris Martin performs at the iTunes Festival. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Coldplay’s Chris Martin performs at the iTunes Festival. (Photo by The Associated Press)

I’m glad I didn’t have to wait in line to see Coldplay and I am happy I saw other bands, but the British rock-pop experts put on an awesome show in front of a very small audience. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with it later online. (You can, too. It’s streaming from the iTunes store on your computer or Apple device.)


BEST SHOW I’M GLAD I DIDN’T SEE

Lady Gaga performs at Stubb's. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Lady Gaga performs at Stubb’s. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Lady Gaga whose performance sounded like an incoherent mess. Sure, you’d never forget the vomit or the mechanical bull, but does that make a good concert? If she’s gonna keep going down this path, Gaga should forget the music and become a full-on performance artist.


BEST BAND I SAW MORE THAN ONCE

Craig Finn of The Hold Steady performs with the band at the IFC Fairgrounds.

The Hold Steady sounded great with its current lineup, which drops keyboards for a second guitar player live as well as on their upcoming album, “Teeth Dreams.” The Brooklyn bar rock band’s tracks sounded practically immovable with the harmonizing power chords and rock riffs. I caugth two sets from the band (they’re a personal favorite), and I was happy to see that they played different material in each set when most SXSW bands play the same eight songs over and over again.


BEST SONG YOU GOTTA DOWNLOAD, LIKE RIGHT NOW

Phantogram performs on an Austin rooftop. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

Phantogram performs on an Austin rooftop. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

“Howling at the Moon” by Phantogram — Do it now. Thank me later.


BEST BAND NAME

Diarrhea Planet plays the Parish Underground. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

Diarrhea Planet — Yes, this Nashville sextet knows its name is funny, gross and in-your-face. And that’s the way the band generally operates. Don’t let the band’s name fool you though. Simply put, they’re really, really good.


BEST DRESSED BAND

Cole Becker of Emily’s Army plays Brazos Hall. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

Emily’s Army, a quartet of young, blond punks that’s produced by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (and happens to include his son Joe), wore dress shirts, bow ties and brightly-printed shorts. It was a good look that fit their mix of Berkeley pop punk and preppy ‘50s Buddy Holly rock.


BEST BAND PLAYING AS ANOTHER BAND

Foxboro Hot Tubs plays Brazos Hall. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

Foxboro Hot Tubs is Green Day. With a three added bandmates, I saw the band play songs from its one album released as Foxboro Hot Tubs to a few hundred people in a tiny venue. Full of confetti, silly string, baloons and spraying beer, it was a total party from start to finish. I’ll never see a big band like that in such a tiny place again.


NICEST ARTIST THAT I MET

Sturgill Simpson was incredibly kind and spoke to me for awhile. He even told me he was bummed that his sole Omaha show last year was canceled and said he’d be back. Whenever that happens, I’ll be there.


BEST NON-MUSIC PERFORMER

Pete Holmes, a comedian and talk show host, brought friends including Jim Breuer and Matt Braugman onstage to talk god, sex and comedy. It was equal parts funny and informative, and I’ll be laughing about it for weeks.


SADDEST PART OF SXSW

Thursday’s unfortunate tragedy where three people were killed and even more injured when a car drove through barricades and crowds. It was a sad part of the festival, but it was amazing to see people step forward and donate time, money and blood (there was a very successful blood drive) to the victims.


BEST NEW VERSION OF AN OLD SONG

I caught old school industrial synth rocker Gary Numan on the last day of the festival. You know Numan for the song “Cars,” and he did play the tune but it was all fuzzed out and heavy. You could feel the song pound in your chest as much as you could hear it.

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SXSW: Photos of Day 4 including Phantogram, The Black Lips and more

Check out all the photos March 15, 2014, at South by Southwest music festival.

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SXSW: Diarrhea Planet and the art of orderly crowdsurfing

Garage rock band Diarrhea Planet plays The Parish Underground at SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)

If you wanted exclusive South by Southwest merchandise from Diarrhea Planet, you were going to have to work for it.

In order to secure a shirt that read “Diarrhea is the new F***” — a nod to the band’s somewhat controversial name — you’d have to crowdsurf from the stage to the back of the venue.

But we were at The Parish Underground, a tiny and narrow venue with an old-school vibe that also had the world’s smallest stage for Diarrhea Planet, a six-member band with four guitarists.

It ended up being a pretty awesome scene: a friend of the band handed you a T-shirt, you went up and to the back of the crowd. No drops. No one tossed on the frighteningly adjacent bar.

As for the band, they beat the hype. The group’s four guitars anchor the catchy riffs even if their songs are incredibly short. I dug the sound especially on the song “Babyhead.”

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