The Orwells and Bleached play Scoot Inn at SXSW

The Orwells
The Orwells

Some of the best times to see a show at SXSW are the day parties where early slots bring in smaller crowds and somewhat more coherent bands. Scouring the day party line-ups for diamonds in the rough, The Orwells and Bleached immediately popped up on my radar at the Scoot Inn starting at 1pm. Grabbing a pedicab, I take in the early afternoon sunshine and shake off my fogginess from the debauchery encountered the night before.

The Scoot Inn, an eclectic Austin bar, is probably best known in SXSW history for the fight incident involving Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel and a female patron a few years back. Like most Austin music venues during SXSW, there is an indoor and outdoor stage. I head to the outside stage as The Orwells are setting up their equipment. The band seems eager to start their set. Signed to Aquarium Drunkard's Autumn Tone label, The Orwells are all under the age of 20 and hail from Elmhurst, Illinois just outside Chicago. Garage-rock punksters to the core, their debut album “Remember When” came out last fall and critical raves have been coming in ever since.

My timing is perfect as the Orwells kick in with the opening riffs of "In My Bed." The crowd milling about suddenly darts toward the front of the stage. Lead singer Mario Quomo slithers around stage, stopping momentarily to lean back while his long curly blond hair covers his face. The five piece band follows the Replacements and Black Lips’ rules of guitar driven angst rooted in high energy power chords. Plus, the Orwells are bonifide teenagers to boot, as indicated by song subject matter ranging from the Ramones-like simplicity of Mallrats to high school anthems Suspended and Hallway Homicide.

Yeah, you could say the arrangements are just a little to minimal, but for a young band grappling with the spotlight of SXSW, these guys really show some promise. The usual fickle SXSW audience of hipsters staring at their smart phones repeatedly showered them with heavy doses of applause, unusual for an early afternoon gig. Between songs you could hear “Where are these guys from” as a common refrain. It’s kind of surprising this band has never played Madison, since they live in Chicago. The set ended and I headed inside for some refreshments and a break from the sun.

The Orwells - In My Bed

Bleached
Bleached

The punkish L.A. sister duo of Bleached play stripped down guitar-laden songs about break-ups and heartbreak, similar to Best Coast but with more of an edge. The sunny disposition of the songs can veer into heavier territory with a blink of an eye and most of the crowd erupted into cheers when that happened. Jessica and Jennifer Clavin were part of the all female punk band Mika Miko, before forming Bleached with drummer Jonathan Safley and bassist Sara JeanStevens.

The first single “Next Stop” off their debut album Ride Your Heart represents well the garage-rock meets California Dreamin’ vibe. The band seemed a little bit stiff or hungover. Maybe they weren’t quite awake for the 2pm afternoon slot.  When your new material tends to be more melodic and vocal driven, you can’t hide behind loud guitars to cover-up any shortcomings. The two guitar attack faltered when the band drifted into less intense songs. Maybe not an issue during a 1am set. I think Bleached was borrowing equipment from The Orwells for their gig, which can always be awkward from a tightness perspective. If nothing else, Jennifer Clavin’s penchant for wild clothes was in full display as she wore some very bright leopard spotted stretch pants garnering some strange looks from Scoot Inn crowd.
 
Jennifer seemed perplexed by the state of the Bleached album release, “You know our new album doesn’t come out until April, but it seems like everyone in Austin has already heard it.” Ah, don’t you love leaks!

Bleached - Next Stop

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