SXSW 2013: Outer Minds Transports Music Back to the Summer of ’67

Dick Sullivan is in Austin for South By Southwest. Over the next three days he’ll share three bands that have impressed during the festival. To read all the profiles go here.

What most people dream will happen at SXSW is that they will eventually be face to face with an undiscovered band that they immediately love. My dream is to be magically transported to the Monterrey Pop Festival of 1967. Those two dreams collide in Chicago’s Outer Minds, a band that would not have seemed out of place playing between Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane.

One of the key elements of Outer Minds’ haunting sound is Mary McKane’s late ‘60s Farfisa organ, an instrument made famous by Dallas’ own Domingo “Sam the Sham” Zamudio. Their sound is led by the triplicate pop harmonies of McKane, guitarist Zach Medearis and vocalist/tambourinist Gina Lira. With rail-thin and tattooed Medearis in his patchwork denim vest, Lira sporting her altitudinous afro, and drummer Brian Costello playing like he is ready to bull down everything in sight, Outer Minds come off almost gypsy-like, a motley gang with miraculously tight chops that wandered their way on stage. The way young bands often subsist, that might not be far from the truth.

Outer Minds are a perfect fit for the intimacy of Hotel Vegas in Austin, where they are at eye-level and within arm’s-reach of the crowd. Their voices sound perfectly locked in, locked in to perfectly haunting pitch, Costello working himself into a sweaty, frenzied blur of hair and drumsticks. And Outer Minds plays with such aplomb that I do not hesitate to link them with 1967 Monterrey, where the acts were known as much for their tight sound as they were for their free love.

Outer Minds have two LPs to their credit, including the late 2012 release Behind the Mirror. The album sways with the trippy, psychedelic transfixion often associated with the group. The singers’ pitches are layered in such a peculiar way, almost on the edge of dissonance, as to make you feel slightly out of body. Comparisons with the Doors are inevitable due to the Manzarek-esque organ work, but Outer Minds pace is racier, having more in common with the aforementioned Big Brother and the Holding Company. Plus, their apocalyptic ode, “End of the World” is way too upbeat for getting black out drunk in a Saigon motel room.

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