For our last day at SXSW, Northern Transmissions headed to Hotel Vegas for Burger Records’ aptly titled all day event, Burgermania, where over 50 bands played. To sum it up briefly, it was a loud, messy garage-rock paradise.
The first band we saw was Crocodiles, who played a poppy set under the boiling hot sun. The band played songs from most of their albums, weighted heavily towards Dreamless, released in 2016. The definite highlight of their set was a drawn out psychedelic jam of one of their most popular tracks, “Groove Is In the Heart/California Girls,” off 2011’s Sleep Forever. After a couple more jams, they capped off their show with a cover of “Jet Boy, Jet Girl,” by The Damned, wrapping up what was a solid performance.
We then rushed over to catch the end of Surf Curse’s set. The band was a great representation of how DIY Burger Records is. Jacob Rubeck, the drummer and lead vocalist, split his drumstick and had to stop the show to tape it together because he was down to his last one. Meanwhile, guitarist Nicholas Rattigan tuned his guitar with nail clippers. Once they were back up and running, Surf Curse played one more of their lo-fi hits, “Freaks” off 2015’s Buds. If you’re really into the messy, lo-fi DIY surf rock scene and are looking for more, Surf Curse recently released a new album titled, Nothing Yet.
John Wesley Coleman was the next act Northern Transmissions caught, who is touring his newest project, Microwave Dreams, which was released earlier this year in January. Coleman has often shown his comedic side through his song titles and content and he continued to make people laugh while on stage, mainly through his own dissemination of misinformation about himself and his work – “I wrote this little diddy while climbing a mountain…That…or while I was drunk.” While Coleman definitely fits into the Burger Records niche with this lo-fi, garage rock music and lack of seriousness, he also brings a little more polish to scene. An example of this was his performance of “Jesus Never Went to Junior High,” the song, and his others, offered a little more complexity where redundancy is widely accepted – the keyboardist’s part was substantial and a saxophone was even added to the mix.
Next, we headed inside to catch Moaning, one of Burger Records’ more emo-rock affiliations who have yet to release an official project. The band had a slightly more comprehensive setup than most of the event’s bands, and their set frequently made use of electronics and modifiers. The result was interesting, but overall not very effective, perhaps that’s because of the shoddy sound setup on the inside stage at Hotel Vegas. Fortunately, the crowd seemed to enjoy it and the band was able to make jokes about the degradation of their sound – “This is not what we sound like!.” Moaning ended their set with a song called “No Place,” which had a long and messy guitar jam during which lead singer and guitarist, Sean Solomon, came crashing into the crowd, which brought lots of laughs from the audience, closing off what was an unfortunate but still enjoyable performance.
We headed back outside to watch Meatbodies, who are touring fresh off their new album, Alice, released in February. The California band really riled up the crowd with hard-hitting guitar shredding apparent on tracks like “Disciples” and “Disorder”. Meatbodies have the impressive ability to offer such a heavy, raw sound but still incorporate elements of bouncy pop music. The result: music that fires you up while also forcing you to bob your head to the beat – their track “Kings” off the new album is a great example of this. They finished their set with “Creature Feature,” and easily cemented themselves as one of the better sets all week. Meatbodies’ brand of garage-rock is a little harder and more mature than their genre-mates, they seem closer to modern greats such as Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees than the majority of Burger Records bands, which tend to be a little more amateur – this is a band to take note of.
Up next, Northern Transmissions caught a couple songs from The Mystery Lights’ set. The band played heavy, rolling songs that had a bit of desert psyche rock influence. The trio had great stage presence and made for quite the entertaining performance, often jumping around and banging into one another. Another band that had incredible stage presence was Gary With a Circle Around the A. Gary – the lead singer and guitarist – was hilarious, singing songs about being bald, something that he expressed a lot of disdain for. Their sound was less aggressive than the previous bands we saw, offering a more classic good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll set with a quirky twist. Gary asked if there were any A & R agents in the crowd and began to plead to them – it was comical way to end off a short but sweet performance.
Montreal, Canada’s Duchess Says was the next band we saw, who played a rambunctious show, to say the least. Lead singer A-Claude was constantly interacting with the crowd, invading the audience multiple times, even passing the microphone to audience members to put them on the spot to keep the show going. To call the band eclectic would be an understatement. There are so many different styles of music incorporated in their sound that it’s dizzying. The heaviest influences were garage, punk, art, and psyche rock. Duchess Says put on a really intense show that made for quite the spectacle, they played their songs – mainly from their 2016 release, Sciences Nouvelles – but the substance of the performance was really the connection the band forced onto the audience, it was a very interactive musical experience that made the crowd feel like another one of the band’s instrument.
Brian Bell of Weezer, and his band The Relationship were up next. The band’s sound is very different than Weezer’s, but it does share the catchiness and indie-pop style. The Relationship’s last full project was a self-titled release in 2010, but they released a single earlier this year titled “Break Me Open,” which they played to an adoring crowd. Before their second last song, “Susie,” Bell warned the crowd that Brandon, the lead guitarist, liked playing the song because he likes the long solo he has, and it did not disappoint – Graham absolutely shredded the stage for a few minutes. We were obviously interested in seeing the Relationship due to their connection to Weezer, and now we are intrigued – would love to hear some more new stuff form the band.
Northern Transmissions saw The Sloths after The Relationship, who put on an unforgettable performance. The Sloths have a very interesting history, first forming and disbanding in the 1960s, over the next 50 to 60 years their music began to gain attention within the modern garage rock scene. The Sloths were reborn in the 2000s and started touring again with what original members were still with us. During the set we saw, lead singer Tommy Mcloughlin used a plethora of props to match with the songs he was playing, keeping the show constantly interesting. During their song “End of My Rope” he pulled out a rope and strangled himself with it. Before he started “Gotta Get Fired” he pulled out his old Home Depot apron that he wore to work and talked about how much he hated working there – “I couldn’t wait to get fucking fired from that place,” sparking a lighter at the same time. The show felt like it was straight out of a 1960s garage – it was beautifully simple and extremely entertaining.
As the night was winding down, we caught the last couple songs of Unkle Funkle’s set, which was pretty funny. Unkle Funkle – Chris Uehlein of White Fang – played covers of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” as well as “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly. It seemed like the entire crowd was singing along to the covers, lighters and hands in the air. Lastly, we saw White Mystery from Chicago, composed of siblings Alex and Francis White. On cue with most of the bands from the day, and in very typical Burger Records fashion, they played loud and messy. The duo played a lot of songs from 2011’s Blood & Venom, including “Birthday” and “Good Girl,” mixing in some jams between songs, even switching instruments at times. It was a rocking set played to a tight crowd. Alex was nice enough to hang out after with crowd members, sharing many drinks and laughs. In doing so, Alex White really epitomized Burger Records and their accessible music and friendly music community. It was an incredible day and week, until next time Austin.
Recap By Max Asper