Its another solid day of shows but there are a few key performers we need to see today and some favorite venues to visit and with SXSW Music really kicking off today, the city is getting a little busier.
With some prodding, (Louise) we have readjusted our plans at the risk of getting caught up in a lineup and will head to Latitude for the first showcase of the day but before that, we can catch one artist at the Convention Centre and we get to see Aldous Harding. This hauntingly odd folk singer from New Zealand is a rather bewitching. Dressed all in white, playing her white guitar, she sings her painful songs with a passion that seems subdued but comes across with power. Her performance is theatrical and emotive and is probably best suited for a dark dingy bar and is rather bleak in this sterile bright convention centre stage but is still rather mesmerizing.
Meilyr Jones hits the Latitude stage as the first act today on the British Music Embassy stage and dressed all in white and ready to play, he kicks off the show in fine form. He is a very dynamic performer and reminds me of many voices from my past. His full band produce some wonderful backing orchestrated pieces involving a multitude of instruments. Meilyr leads the way with a haunting yet playful voice that is immediately irresistible. Its a lively chamber pop showcase of instantly classic songs. Its fun, its upbeat, it demands attention and when Meilyr tosses his microphone aside and the band stop playing and he sings "Be Soft" he takes a bit of a risk at the showcase but most of the folks attending are paying attention and the showcase goes quiet except for his singing. The way that his set flows from one song to another does remind of orchestrated pieces and constant tempo changes and dreamy songs really works well in the venue. With one of the best sound and lights systems in the city and with the investment made by BBC for some of the best equipment available, its a great place to see him.
As soon as the show is done we have to move...quickly. we have about 20 minutes to get to a showcase that we had to be at as the next performer I really needed to see was one of my favorite from 2016, Alex Lahey. Alex is playing a showcase at Bangers, a huge outdoor German beerhall with a considerable amount of room and a lot of great Craft beer but it is also a party that is open to the public and the danger is getting caught out in a lineup. Luckily, the sun is shining, there is a very small line, and we get in well before Alex goes on.
Alex Lahey, one of the new brilliant singers coming out of Australia, hits the stage with simple songs, songs about difficulties in life, in relationships and with friends and in a way that is clever and inviting and upbeat. Its not depressing, its lively. The band is along for the ride as Alex leads the way with an amazing voice, great stories and some great guitar work. Its so wonderful to see someone perform the songs you have fallen in love with and perform them at a level even higher then you expected or even wished for.
Every song off of the Ep as well as 3 incredibly good new songs have created quite the stir at the venue and there is quite the crowd in front of the stage. Alex truly looks to love what she is doing and is finding her first US shows and crowds forming a little overwhelming but her and her band are soaking it all in and the set is one of the best we will see This young artist, hand picked by Tegan & Sara to tour with them around Europe, is just starting out but there is no doubt in my mind that we will see a lot of this band over the next few years.
Up next, Dams of the West hit the stage. This band, led by the former drummer of Vampire Weekend Chris Thomson, is a 4 piece indie pop group. Its an up tempo, and moody set of clever songs. I believe the album has just been released and the songs fit with the sunny outdoor patio and are well received. Chris is the last of the band to put out a solo effort and from what we hear, its of a high quality and sounds solid.
Next on the outdoor stage is The Shelters. Again, these guys do brilliant, straight ahead rock and roll, and on this outdoor stage and to a much larger crowd today then when we saw them previously, they step their game up. Its louder, its cleaner, and while the crowd in front of the stage may be smaller then for Alex Lahey, its a lively crowd, seated or standing and they appreciate this full on rock set.
Next up was a bit of a surprise for Sandra and I. I had done research in advance and had listened to much of what the next band "Mondo Cozmo" had available and I really liked what I had heard. There was a buzz online but I really hadn't looked any further then some social media sites and listened to the music online so I had no idea who was in the band. Just before the showcase, I received a text from a friend, who wanted to make sure I checked in on his friend who we had met previously, who was performing in Austin at SXSW. Turns out the lead singer for Mondo Cozmo was someone who we had met before and had some great sessions with back in Toronto, and he was about to hit the stage as lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band Josh Ostrander was the lead singer for a group called Eastern Conference Champions and shut the group down a few years ago.
ECC were a great 3 piece..loud guitar based indie garage rock band who were great live and here he was hitting the stage as Mondo Cozmo were about to perform. Josh is Mondo Cozmo and has put together a really great band to help him bring these fantastic songs to life. Every song is a hit..its smooth and its on the pop side of the rock spectrum and its big. Each song has a life of its own, some sounding desperate, some sounding uplifting and powerful, some mournful, but all are anthemic and at times a bit Brit Pop style. To see it performed live, and the surprise of having some connection to the band however indirect..is fantastic.
Josh clearly enjoys the new songs, he smiles and is playful and we are hearing a band early in its life, and without an album out yet though soon to come, its clear this is just the start of something big. It doesn't hurt that the band has been asked to open the full North American tour for Bastille. Next up, we find out after the show with a chat with Josh, is a Kimmel show this week. It truly is the beginning and you may as well slot them in at some point wherever you live as they are fun to watch and will no doubt be hitting some festivals around the world very soon.
The evening plan has been in place since the announcement that BNQT were playing one showcase at SXSW and it was at the Bella Union 20th birthday showcase at Easy Tiger. BNQT is the super group that includes members of Grandaddy, Travis, Midlake, Franz Ferdinand, and Band of Horses. Loving all of these bands and being particularly fond of Fran Healy of Travis..it was an easy decision to commit to this showcase. We got to the showcase before the doors opened and were looking forward to being there for the evening. The venue, our second favorite Craft Beer venue in the city, is always one we hope to visit and this showcase was killing two birds with one stone.
When we were finally let in to the venue, we quickly discovered that Bella Union were nice enough to offer up an open bar for the beginning of the event so once again, we had lucked out!! Icelandic band Mammut were to open the showcase but in fact had been stranded due to weather so the band Field Division filled in. Field Division are a lo-fi folkwave American band. Its a blissful and soulful set of songs from this duo and they perform rather well considering they are a last minute replacement. It was around the next bands set, Bella Union's newest signing, folk artist Will Stratton, that I recognize someone in the crowd. Afraid that trying to place the name to this person distracted me from Will's set but from what I did hear it was a very solid singer songwriter set from someone who has been through a lot over the last few year as a cancer survivor. By the end of his set, however, I have figured out who was wandering around the venue and it was a former Blue Jay (our professional baseball team) When I wasnt able to track him down (long story but suffice it to say when I stopped searching for him I found him chatting with Sandra) J.P Arencibia stood with us for an hour or so and was great to talk to him and find out he is a pretty genuine guy and really wanted to know about the bands playing (his wife is in a very big country group called The Band Perry) it was a great moment at SXSW.
BNQT were up next and even though 2 members were not available to play (alex Kapranos and Ben Bridwell) this supergroup performed as you would expect from some of the most talented musicians in the business. All three main members took turns singing(with other members of Midlake as the back up band) including a number of songs from BNQT's forthcoming album as well as versions of Midlake's "Roscoe", Grandaddys "AM 180" and the last song of the set, Travis's "Why does it always rain on me". I am reassured by the fact that the songs from the band fit in perfectly with the versions of these songs that have been favorites of mine for sometime. There is clearly a mutual love between these artists, and they admire each other and their body of work, and its fun to watch them all have fun. Its a great mix of psych rock, prog rock, indie alt classics and was a great way to celebrate Bella Unions birthday bash.
Going to be hard to follow that up but Pavo Pavo are up next. These guys are a 5 piece indie pop band from Brooklyn ...a band that features harmonies similar to Fleet Foxes, its upbeat and fun and there are hints of 70's soft rock but it has an edge.
Next up would be Horse Thief. These guys really kicked it up a notch. Its another set of psych, folk, roots, indie rock n' roll style and as a huge fan of full, pure voices, the singing really pulls it all together. Its a great cross section of Americana and its awfully tasty.
The crowd has trickled out as clearly BNQT were the big draw tonight but I couldn't help but stick around as next up was one of the few sets that SXSW would see from new Country/Blues singer songwriter Holly Macve. This Galway native sounds like she could have grown up around Mississippi and has a pure country bluegrass flavour. Her voice is heartbreakingly beautiful but I struggle with the set as its 1am and its been a long, long day. Her voice is as pure as you will hear and her guitar work is wonderful and with minimal backing, her voice is the base to all the songs. It is beautiful and clearly the buzz around Holly is well deserved, but I need some late night Rock so I am off for one last taste.
Its a quick walk around the corner and I hear the last half of a noisy, funky and blues laden set by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybear. What I hear is a few old and new songs from a band heavily influenced by the classic blues artists and they are playing to their hometown crowd here at this late night set. Its a solid way to end a very successful day.