Austin's Yard Dog folk art gallery played host to the Schubas/SPIN afternoon showcase Thursday, its narrow, rear courtyard providing a charming, if sometimes crowded, escape from the hot Texas sun.
Ben JelenBy early afternoon, a handful of early risers had discovered the free beer and were posted comfortably in front of the stage awaiting New York based singer/songwriter Ben Jelen, who appeared with his multi-colored violin and dove into "Pulse" with barely a word. Jelen's sunny, orchestral pop was a fitting start to the afternoon, visibly energizing the drowsy crowd and enciting the most subtle foot taps and head bobs. Before closing his set, Jelen took the opportunity to give a brief nod to his newly founded environmental action organization, the Ben Jelen Foundation, and finished with his latest single "Wreckage."
The Spinto BandNext, the Spinto Band arrived and broke into a foot stomping, hand clapping, feel-good set of indie pop that drew in a number of passersby and almost lured the audience into dancing -- almost. A Beatle-esque stage setup found the four singers sharing two microphones, and the tricks continued with the appearance of kazoos during the second song, "Brown Boxes." Drawing out the set with a few surprisingly frantic and garage-y new tracks, the band had to agree. "In terms of vibe, this is up there with SXSW venues," said bassist Thomas Hughes. "You've got it going on."
As the afternoon heat began shimmering above, Peter, Bjorn, and John's Peter Moren appeared for a more reserved solo set, entertaining the audience with quirky stories and heartfelt acoustic ballads, including a cover of Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." "This is a song about not going into the Swedish military," he informed the crowd before beginning "Reel to Reel." "It's easy, you just have to say you dreamt of Hitler as a kid."
The Cool KidsBy now, throngs of curious fans, many who appeared suspiciously young, began squeezing their way toward the stage in anticipation of Chicago retro hip hoppers, the Cool Kids. Finally, after a short, impromptu performance by Portland rapper Braille, the Kids took to the stage, donning Ray-Ban knock offs, Cosby sweaters and a t-shirt bearing the image of an illustrated dolphin. "Let's send it back to 1988!" shouted Chuck Inglish, before the beat dropped and the anxious crowd began to sway. The atmosphere felt more like a house party than a showcase as the Cool Kids conversed with one another on the mics, occasionally teasing the crowd, and channeling Kris Kross to get the entire audience bouncing beneath the shade of a makeshift tent. As their all-too-short set drew to a close, Chuck called out an inebriated older man in the center of the crowd, who, for the past half hour had been furiously waving peace signs in the air."Next thing you know, that might pop up in a music video," Inglish said, mimicking the motions, "and you'll know I got that from him."
Okkervil RiverThe courtyard now teeming with sweaty bodies, Okkervil River appeared for what would be the highlight of the afternoon. Opening with "The President's Dead," singer/guitarist Will Sheff belted out his dark melodies, writhing across the stage and often screaming in the face of drummer Seth Warren during the more climatic moments of the performance. The crowd reacted in kind, shaking fists, pounding feet, and generally letting the music consume them, despite the increasingly cramped atmosphere. "We've got two songs left and I'm trying to think what they are," Sheff informed the audience before being bombarded with requests, finally settling on "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" and "For Real" to widespread approval before disappearing offstage.
The once thriving scene now settling into a post-Okkervil calm, Blitzen Trapper emerged to a modest crowd of enthused leftovers and revived their rock'n'roll spirit with a charged set of gritty, raucous folk rock that eventually drew back a considerable crowd of curious onlookers.
Black Joe LewisLocal Austin blues revivalists Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears followed and were greeted by an ever growing mass of adoring fans as they pounded out a set of Delta-blues-meets-James-Brown-funk, complete with synchronized dance moves, blazing key solos, a three piece horn section and howling vocals that incited a number of inspired audience members to shout "I love you!" and "keep playing!" as the set neared its end. Lewis, keeping his cool, just grinned and played on before stepping offstage with a simple "thank you" to the crowd.
Chicago drums-and-keys duo Aleks and the Drummer closed the afternoon's festivities to a dwindling, but receptive crowd that huddled around the stage, enchanted by singer/keyboardist Aleks Tomaszewska and her haunting vocal melodies. Meanwhile, drummer Deric Criss frantically pounded out surprisingly aggressive percussion that gave Tomaszewska's eerie keys an even darker edge and distanced the band from other poppy boy-girl bands. The two piece-finished with the choppy, Zelda-inspired "Sick Thoughts," and it was apparent that the early-goers had missed an act they'll be hearing about later. PHOTOS BY DANE SMITH