Monday, March 23, 2009

Des Ark Was Hands Down the Best Thing I Saw at SXSW

By Evan Rytlewski
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"You'll find it takes a lot of patience to be a Des Ark fan," Aimee Argote apologized as she buried her head in her guitar, tightening its strings just right. With each Des Ark song in its own peculiar tuning, Argote spent much of her band's set this way. Where most bands at SXSW aimed to dazzle, Des Ark lacked any semblance of showmanship, their casualness testifying to their preference for house shows over real stages.

The group was as bipolar as any at the festival, torn between soft and loud. On her own, Argote is an unabashed folky, singing in her burdened, breaking voice cautionary tales about the dangers of mixing friendship and sex. But when outfitted with a drummer and second guitarist, as she was for SXSW, Argote traffics in the glass-eating, slash-and-burn rock of her native North Carolina. The dynamic recalls early Cat Power before Chan Marshall converted from rocker to career lullabyist, though Argote is a more direct songwriter and a more ferocious guitarist than Marshall was even in her salad days.

During a Saturday day party shared mostly with punk bands, Argote gyrated around stage violently, as if in a trance, then panted laboriously after each song, chatting nervously while tuning her guitar, perhaps a stall tactic to better catch her breath. When Des Ark struggled to recreate that energy at a sparsely attended official show in an unwelcoming, cavernous rock club later that evening, Argote changed her game plan entirely. She called for her acoustic guitar and hopped off stage.

Unplugged and un-miked, she stood no chance of being heard against the hard-rock that kept the walls rumbling from next door, let alone the collective din of SXSW piped in from the streets, yet she continued drawing the crowd of 15 or 20 people nearer and nearer, until they were pressed mere inches from her. They huddled around the diminutive singer like frozen campers to a faltering fire, most crouching over her, forming a protective tent, ears cocked toward her, hoping to catch each note in the nanoseconds before it would be decimated by the vulgar roar outside. Those two songs were nearly inaudible, but the moment was unforgettable.
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Some archived Des Ark videos from YouTube:

Des Ark, loud (horrible sound, great song):

Des Ark, quiet (better sound, great song):

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