As a quick overview, it was another successful SXSW. It's not an easy festival to negotiate without some serious planning. With 100's of unofficial shows and a slew of SXSW showcases to choose from/ The cost of the badge (if you buy one), hotels and flights, and the Increasing distance between venues means you must have a plan, then have a back up plan.
You also must use social media to keep on top of changes. Is it worth it? For me it has been because to me it's about discovery and the festival has made that a focus again recently but it is a festival built around the industry. Most that buy badges work in the industry, they are not here as simply music fans as I am, they are here to do business and see bands. But what the festival offers is almost 2000 bands and surely anyone could visit and find a new favourite while seeing seeing some of your old favourites as well.
This year, I was able to see 99 bands, (100 if you include Talib Kwelli that I heard between sets late one night). Not only that, Austin is a wonderful city that offers up great weather, great food, and some mighty good tasting Craft Beer so there is that.
It gets harder as I get older and post festival general notes have started to list venues and showcases that offer plenty of comfortable seating so that should indicate just how hard it is but with a festival like this, at which you could watch bands from 6:30am to 2 am every day..it still excites me to think about it so we will have to start thinking about SXSW 2018!
It's the last day of what has been a solid visit to Austin. The sun is shining and a well balanced week means we still have some energy to be able to walk around the city so we are off It's a quick walk into the convention centre to check out Flatstock (a huge market of concert posters and gear) and while in the building we are able to catch two bands
Spinning Coin are first up on the international stage, the indie rock band from Scotland were the opening band for Teenage Fanclub but on our UK visit, we had missed them at both shows. This riff heavy 4 piece put on a fairly good show for the few who have made it to the stage. It's a rather messy mix of sounds, some simple harmonies and they produce some pretty solid guitar rock.
The next band up on a stage in Flatstock is Ramirez Exposure. This youngster reminds me a lot of Jake Bugg but with his 5 piece full band, this young Spanish group produce a 60's influenced indie pop. Clearly a big fan of Beach Boys and the Beatles, there is plenty of wonderful harmonies and when some great guitar work starts washing over the songs...it's become Big Star. The kid is young but the band sounds mature and they work together well. This could just be the start for these fellas
Now the walk in the sun over to South Congress and we head back to South by San Jose and the comfortable surroundings of Hotel San Jose as does a large crowd as today's schedule is loaded.
We start out with Slow Dancer. This Aussie 3 piece that are based around lead singer Simon Okely, produce some very solid indie folk. There is a summer feel to these guys and as people scatter around the venue to find shade, the band plow through a set of songs seemingly inspired by some classic R&B and it works.
Ron Gallo is the next artist to hit the stage. This is one complicated band. They start with an awkward anti establishment speech and then jump into a set of indie, glam, fuzzy guitar punk rock. This guy and his two fellow band mates produce a garage rock that is heavy on noise but it's not hard to listen to, the songs may be bleak but his commitment to some high quality singing takes the edge off. This guy is one album in and I would suggest seeing him and making up your own mind
The next band is a departure from everything we have seen but it's more then welcome on this gorgeous sunny day. Khruangbin is a wickedly wonderful 3 piece who base their sound on what I discover to be Thai surf funk music of the 60's and 70's. With very little singing, the lead guitarist and bassist share duties fronting this band with some help from a very good drummer and they put on a rather stimulating clinic in how to get a crowd moving and inspired with only instruments. Please check them out as the are excruciatingly hard to describe but leave everyone smiling in this crowd in Austin and are a fantastic little band
Next up are another buzz band and perhaps why many of the crowd are here. PWR BTTM are an unapologetic queer punk band with a message and they are quick to warn the crowd of parents who have brought their children, that their method of communicating with the crowd involves a lot of rather profane language so we are all warned. Before they get too far into their set, the band are clearly here with an agenda as they are at all their shows, to entertain as well as educate.
They want the crowd to know about the importance of gender neutral language as well as the need to convince the Texas government not to support the bathroom bill that is being proposed that will basically restricts access for many transgender Texans to the washroom they require. It would mean this band cannot tour in Texas and they will not return. The message though is really much more positive as this band emphasizes love and friendship with their clever guitar songs and pop punk and melodies and you can't help but love this set of songs that all have a message to the crowd.
In no way does the set get dragged down by the message as the music is still fun and rather lovely, but it demands thinking and no doubt many who leave here have a new respect for the frustrations of the transgender community.
Cherry Glazerr are up next on the big stage and they are LOUD! I gather the band has changed members recently and what I see here is pretty impressive. Led by a very dynamic lead singer, Clementine Creevy, she howls through a set of indie punk and it's viscous in its intensity. This band seems angry and with some big guitar riffs and synths, I am kinda glad we are at an outdoor stage...this would be terrifyingly loud in a small venue. This Los Angeles based rock band have certainly woken this crowd up as there is still no place to hide and even though we have to leave 3/4 through the set, we can still hear the band blocks away.
Our plan was to grab a quick dinner now and get in line at the second annual Roots & Friends show at SXSW. Last years event drew a big crowd and a fantastic showcase from what we have heard so our plan is to get to the venue early Apparently, an hour early is not near enough time as there must be 1000 people in line. It's all badge holders and there is no way this small club show is going to be possible so, as happens often at SXSW..we go to our back up plan and we will head to Latitude and the British Music Embassy
It's a wild and wacky cross section of bands playing tonight and none more so than the first band up..Anna Meredith. It's a struggle to describe what is going on here. I find out that Anna used to be a member of the British Symphony and she "composes" a terrific set of wonderful and unique songs. She sings, plays keys, laptop loops..bells and a clarinet as her band plays a tuba, cello, drums and guitar? Its progressive pop and dance and upbeat and it's a great collective of sound. When they drop their instruments and sing in unified harmonies, it's a great little shift and throw in some math rock, some indie dance and it's clear you never really know what you are going to get from this band. It certainly gets the crowd bouncing around at Latitude and is a great start
Alice Jemima is next up and it will be difficult to follow Anna. Alice is a singer/songwriter from Devon and sings some rather atmospheric lyrics with minimal guitar backing and kind of reminds me of the sound of bands like the XX. When she cranks up her version of Blackstreets "No Diggity", which is rather clever, you can't help but be impressed but again, following Anna Meredith is difficult tonight. As this set ends, we get a bit of a break as somehow the club blows some breakers and with minimal lighting and no background music, we all stand in the quiet and wait. When the problems are fixed and a short sound check is done, Aquilo hits the stage.
Aquilo are a very polished band from the Lake District that produce some very soulful, ballad heavy songs. It's simple and rather pretty and clearly is based around the two young men who have some very lovely voices. It's not complicated and is rather catchy and the guys do well to produce a solid clean set with little sound check time due to the electrical issues.
Superglu is next up and you can't help but perk up and perhaps pay a bit more attention to these guys.. Tempo changes, some howling, big hooks and harmonies are all featured in the set from this 4 piece. They split the vocal duties and on top of some wicked guitar work and great percussion, you can watch this band and know they are having fun. It's a great little indie rock set from these British kids and it's very clever and fun.
Sundara Karma are up next and that might explain why the bar is a little more crowded. As said before, this band makes some big guitar rock songs, and combines it some pretty solid singing and harmonies and it probably sounds a bit better here in a smaller club show. The crowd again sings along and is another solid show
Finally, the last band of the night, and as often happens here at Latitude, the last band is going to be the one that is quite possibly the loudest. Life are another classic punk rock 4 piece band from the UK. They are gritty, angry, and rather brilliant. It's modern day punk and quite fitting to be the last band of the day. It's a very loud set and it's crowded in the venue, the bands that have played here during the week seem to all be in the crowd and it's getting a little hectic. I back out of the crowd and listen to the lead singer spit out his clever punk lyrics from the safety of the back of the club. I drift away from the bar as the band finishes its set, once more I have completed a full day and tomorrow we are off home.
Thanks to social media and a few great SXSW websites that dedicate themselves to highlighting the open parties each day (showlistaustin) we decide to hit a party that we have not been to before. The party put on by Wild Honey Pie is in a perfect venue. Another outdoor 2 stage venue that means they can have bands play back to back all day long and there is lots of good beer and lots of sun and plenty of seating!
We walk into the showcase in time to catch some of Madeline Kenney's set. A 3 piece is a indie shoegaze mix. Some solid songs, a lovely voice, and a solid little band.
On the smaller stage, its QTY These guys were a 2 piece but now they seem to have morphed into a 4 piece. The native New Yorkers create some splendid songs. Think Lou Reed fronting The Strokes and I figure you get the picture. Its indie rock with a sweet sonic edge and can see why Bernard Butler has decided to help them out with some production on a new single. These are very well written songs and with a glam rock feel to them, they come across very very well. These guys could easily have been on the bigger stage.
Up on the big stage is Hoops. This American group produces guitar heavy indie rock songs. They immediately remind me of Real Estate but some of the songs have a slight 80's nostalgic feel. Its a full 5 piece band with the lead singer sitting up front on keyboard and the songs bounce along nicely. It is leaning on the pop side but there is a lot going on and sounds great outside.
Small stage now has our Canadian lad, Teen Daze. He calls his music "Glo-Fi" and I am not sure if that does describe it. He performs on his own with very little electronic backing. His songs are simple and his voice is soft, he sings elegantly and you have to pay attention to hear it all on this outside stage. He is well known for performing a full set without stopping and some of these songs seem to go on forever but he really endears himself to the crowd with his banter between these long songs and its a pleasant little set.
One of the reasons we head here today is the band that just hit the main stage and its Yoke Lore. Its a great little 2 piece band based around the multi instrumentalist that leads this indie folk band with a fantastic voice. Its almost to the Animal Collective level of indie folk. Its a basic set up and effective as these 2 guys work really well to create a full indie rock sound using samples and multiple instruments and great singing. I am pleased that what I have heard online from the band translates quite well live and this New York duo really pulls off the set.
Another buzz band is setting up on the smaller stage and its L.A Salami. These guys are led by a dynamic singer songwriter who creates images with his words and singing that makes the performance very fascinating. He really is Dylanesque and being considered as the Folk music for the New Age. This British artist is a bit of a poet and a bit of a crooner and with a very good band, it all works together rather well.
Next up is Undercover Dream Lovers More blissful chilled out indie rock coming from New York City. This 4 piece have a good groove going onstage, very steady and fits in with all of todays sweet set of bands. Its more indie/psych rock and that's fine with me.
Another buzz band is up next and we have The Big Thief. Another NYC band who do some very refined folk rock. Another 4 piece but they change things up to set them apart from the others. They throw some psych rock indie Americana in and you never really know what you are going to get next. The lead singer has one of the better voices I have heard recently and when her band gets it cranked up a bit, she matches it and the result is another solid set.
Another Indie rock band is up next with Future Generations. They change the vibe a bit by throwing a bit of mgmt. style groove into the mix and then, we get some Friendly Fire style songs..its a nice blend of groove based indie rock and it again fits with the venue.
Mobley is up next on the small stage. This solo performer is all good on his own. He switches between guitar, keyboards, percussion, all the while, singing his indie folk pop songs. He gets the audience to join him by using his drum and he sings to them, it all works. This Austin performer does really well here with his upbeat energy based show and is clearly popular around Austin.
Calliope Musical Band are one big psych pop party band. Led by a very charismatic young lady, there is a lot of flowered outfits and sing a longs going on and its all kicking off. This venue is open to the public and there are a lot of local folks and university students here and they all know these guys. its a fun show and it does not lack energy!
Born Cages a big big sounding 3 piece hits the small stage and this indie rock band really kick it off. Its a synthesizer heavy modern rock start to the set and it seems really really polished. I have never read anything about these guys before but some research discovers they are yet another NYC band and have toured quite a bit, including sometime as openers for Guns & Roses. They have a big heavy sound for a 3 piece.
Back to the main stage and we have Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Its a good blend of early Kings of Leon/Mumford sound and the 5 piece creates some pretty heavy folk influenced rock. Its a solid energetic set of songs by this 5 piece. They have been playing together and it shows, its an effortless easy sound and its pretty entertaining. Surprised we have not heard much about these guys in Toronto ..
We head back to the small stage for yet another big buzz band, The Overcoats. These two young ladies, hit the stage and immediately give each other a huge hug. These two are best friends. They clearly love performing. There is some theatrics, some samples, and some stunning vocals. These two create a wonderful electronic folk set that demands attention. They smile at each other often and that does nothing but make their set even better. Its mysterious, sweet, dark, and at times almost has a Celtic feel which I found out makes more sense when they start talking about them living in Dublin. Their voices blend together really well and its a wonderful early evening show.
Food then it's off to Stubbs. So much room, plenty of area to roam around and lots of places to hang out and chat. Before the first band hits the stage, we see Josh from Mondo Cozmo again and I asked him about some online reviews I had just read about him ending his set with a cover version of the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony", he promises that it will make a reappearance soon and he is off to go backstage and we head into the crowd for Sundara Karma.
I was a big fan of Sundara Karma's album in 2016 and here was a good chance to hear it live. I am somewhat surprised by how many people here seem to know the songs. This English 4 piece guitar band are clearly trying to create some anthems and considering how many people are screaming out the lyrics, they may be well on their way. It is easy to see how the songs have become anthems as they are all quite catchy and easy to follow. The lead singer does well to soak up a lot of the attention but they are all quite capable and the sound is one of a band that is happy with what they are creating and they want others to be as well. Its a big rock show with some fantastic harmonies and then its done.
The other reason to his this showcase tonight was to see Mondo Cozmo again. We had planned on heading to another showcase for the entire night but, sometimes you just have to change things up based on new bands you have found, or, new bands and an old friend.
Mondo Cozmo hit this big stage with even more energy then the previous set we had seen them play. The songs sound even bigger here, the crowd is even more into it and Josh leads the band again with a huge smile, he is clearly enjoying himself. Its anthem level indie rock and on this stage, its huge. There are a lot of people paying attention to these guys and we are very very glad we made the switch to this showcase. Then...he pulls out the Verve "Bittersweet Symphony" and its as good as I had hoped. Its a song that I have always loved and these guys do it justice.
We head over to Rainey street to "Try" to get into the Twin Peaks evening party with M Ward and Neko Case. We knew it was a risk to try to fit in the Stubbs shows and as we approach the Clive Bar, a very small bar featuring one of the more awkward stage set ups, its clear we are out of luck. There must be 400 people lined up outside and there is no chance we will get in. Luckily there are plenty of options and its a short walk to see a band I missed years ago at SXSW because of Jack White (long story).
We head a few doors down to the Twix sponsored party to see Electric Guest. For those of you not aware of what 'Twix' is, its a chocolate bar, and there are buckets of them all around the venue which is great! Before Electric Guest is on, Hayley Kiyoko does a set of dance pop/hip hop and I am not sure if the crowd is here to hear her sing or to watch this sometime actress but either way, the songs are pretty catchy and its mighty glossy but it will do, ...the chocolate helps
Up next is Electric Guest. I was a huge fan of their first album, I wonderful blend of 70's and 80's influenced funk, soul, and rock..That was 5 years ago, and they finally brought out a new album in the last few months. The set was upbeat, and primarily songs from the new album but it is a similar vibe to their earlier work so it was a bit of an electro funk fest. These two guys love to perform and it shows and the combo of chocolate and craft beer have me shuffling around a bit myself! Its a fun little set and I am glad we got to see them.
Now its the time to make yet another choice. We could shuffle back to Stubbs to see White Denim and Granddaddy but we had been told about a band that was playing close by (and had done some last minute online searches about a band playing there we had never heard of)so we decide to head to a bar we had never spent any time in and we are off to a neighbouring bar, Lucille.
Lucille is a great bar, lots of room, has a great stage outside in the back and its easy to find a spot to watch the bands about to perform. The first band up was the one I had just done some research on, Devon Gilfillian is a Nashville soul artist who, according to online sources, is one of the few soul bands who were hand picked by Willie Nelson to come to Austin to perform at his Ranch at a party that occurs every year during SXSW. With that kind of backing you head to know he was good.
Sure enough, him and his band put together one of the best sets we would see. According to some friends I met in Austin, this Nashville Soul is a new trend and I like it. Its a roots folk soul style that really works well. The singer songwriter has a terrific Nashville based band and they play...they really play. Its stunning. We had to move a bit closer to watch Devon sing, play guitar and tell stories while his band created these wonderful songs. If there was any doubt that we had made the right choice coming here, its long gone now.
Next up was Gabriel Garzon-Montano. This New York City soul singer was another that intrigued me before we got here what I heard from him before I got to Austin reminded me a lot of a Prince/Stevie Wonder hybrid. Turns out I had heard his voice previously as Drake had sampled his voice on his track "Jungle". Gabriel performs alone and seated at his keyboard but is remarkably lively using his voice and his hands to keep the set rolling. Its a solid new soul set of smooth smooth songs. His voice is enough to carry him but I wonder what he would sound like with a full band and if he was not restricted by sitting behind his keyboard.
The next band is one that friends said I had to hear while in Austin. Chicano Batman will be up next, oddly enough, I can sit at Lucille and in between sets, while Chicano Batman is setting up all of their gear (and there is plenty) I can comfortably sit back and enjoy Talib Kwelli's set that is occurring next door. He is blowing that place up and is certainly keeping me entertained between sets over here!
Chicano Batman hit the stage to a huge roar from the crowd that has built up in front of the stage. Its a full on latino based dance party, with all the band dressed up in some fancy ruffled tuxedo shirts and I lose track often of exactly how many people are on stage. There is some pretty brilliant guitar work going on and some big keyboard as well and, a lot of dancing. The band really kicked everything off when they started touring with Jack White and they have done nothing but improved their live show. Its a psych Brazilian blend of sound and its pretty infectious. Somehow, its 2 am again and tomorrow is our last day and its back to the hotel for some rest.
Our plan today is to head out of the city centre, get away from the masses, and go to a yearly party at Hotel San Jose. This party, referred to as South By San Jose, is a completely free event, no badge required. Its an ideal setting no matter whether you have a badge or not. Its always well attended and the promoter who curates the show has very good taste in music so there is always quality bands playing.
Before we get over there, we can fit in a quick visit to Cheer Up Charlies bar for a Brooklyn Vegan party. Its another ideal venue, with two stages, a large stage outside and a smaller stage inside. Its ideally laid out with plenty of tables so that you can get some rest and watch bands which is perfect.
First up is Lo Fi group from New York called LVL UP. There is a buzz about these guys in advance of the festival so I am glad we can fit them in. Its erratic and energetic and the 4 members of the band toss out influences in each and every song. You have Pavement & Dinosaur Jr..for sure and as 3 members often sing together, the blend of the voices and some wicked guitar work remind me of some great guitar bands from the 90's. These guys make some great subtle guitar noise and its a very blissful set of songs.
Inside we find a lovely young lady named Stef Chura. Her and her very solid guitar work lead a very fuzzed out 3 piece indie rock band. Her voice is subtle, and there is some attitude there but she plays with her voice to make these songs even more inviting. She is one to check out.
Outside is the reason we came to this event and its Hurray for the Riff Raff. This band have been around for sometime and have produced some fantastic American Folk Blues. The band has a new album out so the set featured a couple of new songs. Alynda Lee Segarra is the lead singer for the band and she has put together a very strong group of musicians. They flow through their folk blues set with ease and some of the songs will remind you of old classic blues while others have a little more contemporary feel. Either way, the band is professional and sound good and have much to offer.
Now its time to make the long walk over to South Congress and SXSJ, we get to the venue in time to see Savoy Motel. This 4 piece 70's style funk rock band are a quirky bunch. They rock their own way and they obviously enjoy what they play. They perform their upbeat funk party rock for a very happy crowd and its fun to watch. Up next is New York soul artist Nick Hakim. This guy is intriguing ..hard to pinpoint everything that's going on but his voice and fantastic guitar work produce some haunting, simple, and stunning soul songs. Its a layered, complicated sound and its like this guy is baring his soul to anyone that is listening and its a change of pace and a sunny outdoor stage makes it all work even better.
Next up is The Big Moon a lovely, fuzzy, summery 4 piece from London makes some big noise from the stage. The 4 very talented young ladies in The Big Moon have been around for a little while but I don't think they have made a lot of trips over to North America. Their grunge style suits their attitude and they whip through some very aggressive songs but add some solid voices and harmonies and a perfect mix is found.
A quick turn over on stage and the main reason we are here hits the stage and that is Lemon Twigs. Had missed these guys in Toronto, and here in Austin once already so now is our chance. These youngsters are unique. They are talented. They are many things, and sometimes are hard to describe They sound a bit retro, they dress in some outlandish outfits, and sing powerpop and there are immediate comparisons and some of the more simple ones include Beatles, and some say Harry Nilsson but a quick look in this bands background will also find a love for Hendrix, and The Who, and even MGMT. They are flamboyant and entertaining and they put on a "Show". Its never boring, and it sound wonderful and I wish I had of caught them in a small club show that occurred in Toronto.
Now its time to head back into the city centre, closer to our base, and go to the Aussie BBQ. The past couple of years we have witnessed some very very good shows here and today would be no different. First up, I get to see Alex Lahey again. The crowd has a lot of Aussies in it and the band that have been playing there all day are in amongst the crowd to watch Alex so that is a good sign. She whips through another great set of songs that are already my favorites so its easy to enjoy.
Next up is Kasey Chambers. This Aussie Country artist has had a lot of success in Australia with 6 top selling albums and constant touring but as even she admits, she has a lot to thank America for as her style of singing and playing, even her song writing is all seemingly based on the American country style. She sings classic country songs about heartbreak and death, depression and relationships and she sings rather well. If you like the classic country sound..this young lady is great at it.
Up next though is the main reason we hit this event and that is to see Rolling Blackouts Coast Fever. This new signing to SubPop are gathering steam and are yet another buzz band that are a must see this visit. This five piece beach punk pop band are great. They are a pure rock band. They do a lot of things well, they will wrap you up in a wave of remarkable guitar work while 4 of the 5 members share the vocal duties. Some songs like "Julies Place" will remind you of summer while others are bleak like winter but no matter what song they are playing, they sound fantastic. Its a riff friendly zone, with great percussion and great song writing, this band lacks nothing. It is well on its way to becoming a much bigger band and I believe we will see them making the journey from Melbourne to Toronto very soon. In fact, I believe they are playing a European tour shortly so be prepared.
After a quick dinner, its off to the Blackheart Bar and the Transgressive Label Party. Having wanted to see a number of Transgressive bands here in Austin, no better way to do it then to be here. First up is Odetta Hartman. Odetta on Violin and her partner mixing up some serious samples and beats, this is an interesting start to the evening. She sings when she feels its needed, plays an instrument when she feels it..and the samples behind her can be upbeat at times and include bird call samples. Its emotive and fun, a real departure from what we have seen this week. Its a great blend of pop, soul, electronic indie ...all over the place and a fun start.
Up next is Marika Hackman Tonight, Marika is performing with a full back up band. The back up band tonight is The Big Moon. This is a very good combo. We enjoyed The Big Moon this afternoon, but the combination with these gals and Marika is fantastic. Marika writes some very clever songs and she is quite competent guitarist and her songs are well written. Marika seems to have a dark side as some songs are rather brooding and others more light but it never seems simple. It is a set that goes all over the place but its performed well and its clear these ladies are all very talented.
Sadly, Johnny Flynn who was to be the next performer couldn't make the trip over seas so its another band we had seen in previous years and its PartyBaby. These guys are the same...upbeat funky and try to get the crowd involved but its not quite working for me but others seem to be enjoying them.
Hippo Campus are up next. This young American 4 piece band have already built up a reputation as a solid live act. Big riffs and playful songs and great voices all come together in a great package. Its polished, and upbeat and its fun to watch. These youngsters sing stadium size songs but its early in their career. Some of their newer songs seem to be a little more complex and they involve a little more noise and a little more of an edge but its still quite easy to listen to and I rather enjoyed their set. Its indie pop and its done well.
Blaenavon is the next band and these three guys are intense. They play big, loud, indie rock. ITs very good. For a three piece, they make the same amount of noise as a much bigger band. They are not afraid to mix things up, they freely drift from grunge to indie rock with easy precision. They make some quick changes in tempo that seem harsh but it works. The songs are blissful, free spirited and complicated but done with ease. It is great rock and roll.
The final band is another buzz band, one that has intrigued me for sometime, and its time for Let's Eat Grandma. These two, very young ladies, have been talked about for a while now..their sound is hard to describe and I was very interested to see how they could pull it off. Having watched these two young ladies roam around various venues over the past day or so, there was even more interest in seeing how they would do. Sadly, as happens at SXSW, technical issues strike. there is a considerable delay as techs try to sort out the problem the two young ladies are having with their back ground sampling loops on their equipment and considering how much they rely on technology to create what they do, they need to get it fixed.
It takes awhile but when they begin, theatrical stage movements and all, its mesmerizing. They play instruments and sing at a level I did not expect. They seem to be old souls in the bodies of youngsters. It really is quite fascinating whey you see how they perform, how their songs are built and performed. It is rather magical. Ethereal and dream like, their voices are stunning. What songs they are able to complete in the time they have left represent a few different moods and even though they play for about 20 minutes, its enough for me. If you have an open mind and are willing to give these two young ladies a chance, its a sweet show and well worth your time.
It's 2am, and its time to get some rest!
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.