Festival Reviews

Continuing from Part 3

SXSW Friday 18th March

Friday arrives with a threat of rain, a minor/mid level of exhaustion and a considerable need for coffee. As those of you who have been to SXSW before, you know you have to have a plan for each day, with back up options, and back up options for the back up options. Today, with the threat of storms, we want to keep our options open so after breakfast we head to the Aussie BBQ.

The Aussie BBQ is quite close to our hotel and to a number of other potential showcase so it will be an easy shift if needed. Our intention was to see DMA's and Methyl Ethel here today but because earlier showcases featured the bands, our schedule is now flexible. The BBQ is still full of acts that interested us so we got comfortable and watched the shows.

Up first there was the shoegaze fuzz rock band called Pretty City. They are a strong little rock outfit that don't go light on the noise and frenetic pace. It’s a straight ahead set of catchy little songs and its solid.

Next up is the much buzzed about band fronted by Julia Jacklin. A wonderfully talented singer songwriter, Julia has clearly been buzzed about in Australia as it seems all of the Aussie's in Austin are here.

Having watched a video of hers recently, I knew what to expect and quick comparisons come fast..Angel Olsen, Fionna Apple..singing and song style are immediately familiar and quite good. Throw some quality guitar work and it’s a blissful set of indie rock. Julia Jacklin has as much potential as I have seen so far this trip and her set is over far too soon.

Still no rain so we stick around to see Big White. Another Aussie guitar band, this 5 piece is rather quirky, jangling and fun. Think Talking Heads with some layers of fuzzy guitar, it’s a good little show.

Now comes the big surprise of the day, the plan is to leave shortly to head to the British Music Embassy, but it’s only a block away so we have some time. The next act is Harts who are a two piece band, built around the exquisite guitar work and great voice of the lead singer, Darren Hart. Accompanied by his drummer, Darren sings, plays his guitar and plays keyboards and produces what could be the best, most enjoyable set of funk, soul, rock, r&b, that one could hear. He plays guitar like Hendrix and can manipulate the crowd at will. He is a party, a very very fun party. A little research finds that he has not gone un noticed and that Prince has taken an interest and invited him to his studio to record his album.

Darren is also playing one of Prince's guitars so that has to help. It’s a brilliant set and one that we hope to repeat later if we can pull it off at another showcase. Now, it is time to head to our next showcase at Latitude up first is Rozi Plain. I gather she has been around for a while playing some very solid alt folk pop songs and it’s my first time seeing her. Another solid voice and some very catchy songs, she clearly has been at this for sometime. Its a gentle voice with some intricate guitar work and it all comes together well.

Violet Skies is up next. She is described as a cinematic and sensuous singer songwriter and that seems pretty accurate. She lists Joni Mitchel and James Blake as inspiration and that seems about right. It’s a simple blend of a lovely voice, some delicate music to sing with and some well written lyrics. It’s smooth and will never over power you but easy enough to listen to and rather sweet. Her voice has a hint of being a bit more powerful, its hidden but on occasion, when it comes..it’s pretty powerful.

Up next, its Gwenno. This former Pipette is a little dynamo on her own. Singing in Welsh and English, she performs Electropop to perfection. It's a brilliant set of songs that suit her voice perfectly. She holds nothing back, singing some political songs with a passion that reflects some strongly held views. While I don’t always understand what she is singing, it has no effect on the enjoyment of the show with a stunning voice and a back drop of electro drum and bass and the songs pack a punch.

There seems to be a bit of a buzz about the next band, Fickle Friends. The crowd swells and now includes quite a few lined up to fill front of stage. It takes some time to get the band going, plenty of set up issues so they get a very short set. When the band does get going, it’s pretty polished indie pop. Lead singer Natassja Shiner is tough not to like she is a little ball of energy up front and has a very personable way about her and a tremendous voice.

Though they only have a short set, it has people bouncing about so I have to believe their hardcore fans who are here are happy. Recently signed to Polydor, this band does what they do very well, an almost retro pop sound that won’t be for all, but I can see them doing well when they do tour North America.

Up next is Stealing Sheep who are a rather lovely psychedelic pop band from Liverpool. These three young ladies have been around for a few years and in that time, have done well to perfect their country/electronic/indie rock sound. They sound very polished and their songs are solid and they do have a slightly folk flavour but it’s not a simple sound that they are going for..it is refreshing.

At this point in the day, SXSW starts sending out alerts on their mobile apps that indicate a storm is on its way. As you can understand, any storm that includes a considerable amount of lightning is not ideal for all of the venues and shows in Austin that are based on stages set up outside. Reports are now coming in that hail is on its way and it's at this point that we decide to go for dinner and hide from the weather. Still feeling the effects of a late night with the DMA's, it’s a welcome shift and we need some rest to continue.

As we sit at dinner, the reports start coming in from various friends as well as local news sources. The storm is hitting and many shows based outside are being postponed. Fader Fort, Willie Nelsons Ranch shows, and many venues with outside stages are reporting delays. We decide to get out and hit a showcase indoors that features at least one band I really wanted to check out and that is Eleanor Friedberger.

We head back to the Parish for a showcase that features a few bands I know little about.

Franky Flowers are the first band up on stage. This Los Angeles band is on the messy side of fuzzy indie rock. Being a huge fan of pure voices, I am not quite sure what the singing represents here, but the songs are fantastic overall. On occasion..the voice matches the brilliant musicianship and it’s interesting to see how these songs are played out because it’s really hard to guess where each one is going. Surf punk indie rock garage fuzz tunes that seem complicated to perform have drawn a crowd. This band does not make simple songs and they are drawn out, layered pieces of work and I can’t help but admire their work. I will follow up online to see if there are any more reviews as in the crowd are both Huw Stephens and Steve Lamacq of the BBC and hopefully they toss up their thoughts online and I am very interested in their thoughts.

The next band I do recall from various online playlists and they are the Bee Caves. These guys are an Austin/Americana band with a touch of shoegaze/electronica mixed in for good measure. With a lead singer on acoustic guitar, two more guitarists, bass, drums, and keys..it’s a fantastic layered set of songs that is difficult to make direct comparisons to. Just when you think a song is going in a roots Americana direction, all of a sudden the great voices are joined by some brilliant complicated shoegaze guitar work and off you go. Really is a band worth checking out as they offer up something for everyone.

Dylan Leblanc is next up and I have to say, he turns out to be the best of the night.

Dylan is a Louisiana native who now resides in Muscle Shoals. Having released his third album, he has plenty of work to chose from and all of his work is rich in texture with a voice which fluctuates from subtle to overwhelming hitting levels that are very very impressive. His voice fits well with the arrangements that vary from some brilliant violin and bass and drums to simple acoustic guitar work and keys. The set is evidence of a range and moods that are as unpredictable as they are wonderful to hear. As more reports come in of cancelled shows and mass groups of people huddled under tents outside, I am very glad to be standing here listening to one of the better performers of the week. And when Dylan ends his set with a cover of ELO's "Showdown" it is clear we made the better choice to stay inside!

Its now time for Eleanor Friedberger. This American singer songwriter, formerly of the Fiery Furnaces, has a wonderful voice. She is a very expressive singer and its clear her songs mean a lot to her. Its folk and funk and country and rock and it is sometimes quite complicated and sometimes quite simple. It’s a solid set of tempo changes that seem to all be based around her voice and its rather lovely. The only downfall here is that she followed Dylan Leblanc at this showcase and compared to his voice tonight, I’m afraid, nothing will compare.

There are still two solid bands at this showcase tonight but it’s after midnight and I am struggling. Its been a long week and I make the decision that if I am to have any kind of effective last day at SXSW, I need to shut it down early and we are off!

That's it for today.

Continues in Part 5

Jim & Sandra

Continuing from Part 2

SXSW Thursday 17th March

Another sunny day and more showcases. Today there are plenty of showcases, but the intention today is to park it in one spot and see what surprises we come across.

I had my eyes on one showcase that featured a few bands I knew and one that we wanted to see again and many that I knew nothing of, so off we go to the Sidewinder Bar, which is a solid venue with two stages, inside and out.

First off on the stage outside is Harriet, a lovely 4 piece from Los Angeles whose lead singer and keyboardist (former member of Dawes) stands upfront and leads the band through a set of textured indie rock.

Powerful songs flow from the band and despite the fact I had not thought to have heard them before, it turns out I had as they start playing a single that was featured on a playlist of new songs that I was sent.

Some research later reveals an album produced by Sean Owen who has worked with the National and the Replacements and will now get regular play when I get home. Leaning a little to the pop side of indie rock without being too glossy, they are a solid little band.

Now, we shift inside for something completely different, and it’s the band Lex. This is a four piece all women band that create synth pop sounds and according to their bio, they use all analogue vintage synthesisers and everything is executed live. It is clever synth pop and they sound pretty good and with all dressed in black leather. It’s certainly a change from what we just heard outside.

Back outside, and one of the main reasons we picked this showcase, is it’s wonderful Whitney. Now with all members available and a full soundcheck done, they hit us with an 8 song set with an Everly Brothers cover thrown in for good measure.

Their country based indie rock is a great sound, and with all band members in tow, this set is even better and band members seem to be in much better spirits than their ill fated show the previous day.

They really do offer up something a little different from what we have been hearing and the reaction of the crowd is pleasing. Most likely many here were unaware of their work before, but they seem to be enjoying themselves and it’s a vibrant full set of songs that I hope will make it to an album soon.

Another repeat band is going on inside and its Day Wave who are a little easier to see inside, they are very good performers and a very solid band. Their pop/electronic indie pop is really well done and when they do a cover of Joy Division "Ceremony", everything kicks off inside.

Really great to see them in this small venue and I don't mind seeing these guys twice. Another change of pace outside and its Lucy Dacus, a solid guitarist and singer. She has written some great songs and performs them well and her voice, on occasion, reminds me of Neko Case. With a solid band that back her up with some great playing, she switches from playing on her own to using the band and it’s a good blend of indie rock/dream-pop.

It gets noisy pretty quick when we go inside to hear Diet Cig. Another buzz band, these two offer up a level of energy that we have not seen today. Diet Cig are fierce with a charismatic lead singer/guitarist Alex Luciano who bounces around the stage as if she was possessed and drummer Noah Bowman who tries to keep up!

It's loud, but clean, with some infectious pop songs hidden behind the onslaught. Hard not to get caught up in their spirit. Their set is a blur and while its entirely enjoyable and wonderful to watch, the escape to the outside stage is welcomed to get some rest and to see Bleached.

Bleached are led by two sisters, Jennifer and Jessie Clavin (formerly of Mika Miko) and bassist Micayla Grace. They are a guitar pop band that leans toward the Punk side of life. They have a drummer here with them and it’s clear the buzz around this band is well placed. They create a very sweet sound, of a sweet haunting set of songs that greet the crowd outside and while its aggressive it’s also warm. It is a full sound and a very tasty treat and very different from the sound of Diet Cig.

And now inside for yet another change of pace. Its the wonderfully talented band Cloves. One reviewer has called Cloves the female Bon Iver...that pretty much nails it. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful and it takes no time for her to settle onto the inside stage and to start charming the crowd. She is only 19 but her songs are mature, well written and perfectly suited to her voice. It’s fantastic to be standing so close as she sings...she is delicate and yet forceful and seems to use no energy as she sings and its a great set of songs. I will be anxiously awaiting her album which is due in 2016.

Back to the outside stage to see the band that many are here to see....Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks are a Garage Rock Band that I have seen before and it will be interesting to see how they have changed. They have packed the outside stage area and as soon as they started the first song the crowd responds.

This big band is a manic energy driven punk guitar band and they are relentless. They have grown as a band and while their songs are quick and fast, it’s not at the expense of solid musicianship or sloppy singing. The energy of the band is matched by the energy of the crowd and we stand amused, watching both groups.

We are also standing with many of the bands label people and it is interesting to hear their take on the events and the bands progress. It is clear the band is popular here and they would like them to be more aggressive in other countries especially in the UK, so don't be surprised to see them in England soon.

Back in side and it’s a new signing to 4AD, three piece Aussie Indie Pop band Methyl Ethel. This reverb driven band packs a mighty wallop in their short set. They are rather bouncy and energetic and while it’s definitely rock n roll...its rather smooth. They seem to tick a lot of boxes that will make sure they appeal to many great musicians, great songs, fantastic singing and obviously play because they love what they are doing. Can’t really help but enjoy their set only a few bands left to this afternoon session.

Back outside for Pure Bathing Culture. This band includes two former members of the band Vetiver and they produce some lovely pop/electro indie pop. Great guitar work and solid rhythm section matches up well with lead singer Sarah Vesprille's voice. Its light and fresh warm and a very fun sound. No doubt the songs have some deep meanings, but the groove and bounce of the band is the focus for me.

Inside it’s a quick set by a pair of very young DJ's Louis the Child. Kids are energetic and an odd choice for this afternoon slot, but I find them amusing. As they mouth the words to all the songs they play, they dance around and share the duties on stage. Clearly these two have fun doing what they do and I can see them packing a dance floor somewhere, but here, the crowd has arrived to see the band going on outside.

Honne are a British electronic soul duo who tour with 4 back up musicians. Their songs are mellow & trippy, upbeat and completely danceable. Having heard a few of their songs recently, it was interesting to see how it translated to the stage. It does have quite the groove and it’s rather catchy. It’s fun and smooth and offers up something rather different as this showcase's last band.

Need a little nourishment, a little rest, and its off. While the night offers a multitude of choices, it’s been decided to take our one opportunity to see an icon of the Country music scene...Loretta Lynn

Loretta plays the first slot at a major showcase at Stubbs, a lovely outside venue that holds a huge crowd for the first ever BBC Introducing night show here. It’s quite the showcase, but most are here to see Loretta. This 80+ yr old young lady can still belt out the tunes. With her son and full band in tow, it’s a set of classics that reminds me of family back home and how much time we spent as a group listening to this music. Takes little or no time to be singing along and enjoying each and every moment Loretta is singing. After a number of songs she sits down and continues to sing because she is getting a bit tired but that changes nothing.

Her voice is as good as it gets and she is a feisty one. Sitting close to the audience down front, she asks for any requests and while her band behind her are starting to get into playing a new track, Loretta has chosen a song requested from the crowd. Her band are not paying enough attention and start in on a new song and Loretta sits with a bemused look on her face. Eventually she turns back to her band to remind them they can be replaced and the crowd erupts in laughter. The band has now taken notice and the set continues.

It’s a brilliant reminder of just how a show should go..there is great songs, even greater banter and a crowd that has gotten exactly what they wanted and probably more..its great.

As mentioned before, it’s a showcase that features all sorts of bands and up next is a beauty as well, but one that is quite the change from Loretta

Sunflower Bean are up next and are one of my bands to breakout this year. They are a three piece from Brooklyn that simply can’t be predicted. There is nothing standard about their approach as an indie guitar punk band with influences from Zeppelin to the Velvet Underground their songs go in every direction, but it’s clear they are brilliantly constructed with layers of noise and a balance of voice vs instruments that indicate that this relatively young band are the real deal.

Some songs surely last over 7 minutes, but you barely notice. Even when it’s an instrumental portion of the song, it feels like the vocals are not missing, just not needed, and to me, that is rare. Distorted guitars, stunning psych rock and wonderful vocals..it’s a perfect package. At this point, I can’t see how this band will not succeed in taking over a few festival stages over the next year and become a much bigger band. The shift is on now and we head to The Parish

At the Parish we arrive to find a rather large crowd singing along to our fellow Canadians the Strumbellas. This six piece alt country indie rock band are clearly popular in these parts and their songs are rather infectious. As the set flows through these folk pop songs, almost every song includes a singalong with the crowd..it’s a wonderful set of songs that have pleased all within the club. Some great banter from the band and a very pleased crowd entertains even someone like myself who has seen the band often, and very happy to see them get their dues and be as popular as they seem to be.

Next up is the exquisite Polica. Featuring a number of songs off of their brilliant new album, the band is even better than the last time we watched them. A hauntingly beautiful set of synth pop and having toured together for sometime now, this band is perfect with their execution. It’s a very polished set of instant classics and it’s hard not to be impressed with where this band is right now. Its passionate and intense and a very wonderful example of not complicating a set too much...it’s the best I have seen of the band and these electro/r&b/pop songs end too soon, but I won't forget the voice or the playing anytime soon.

Another change of gears and next up is Cullen Omori. Cullen, alongside our earlier reported new favourite band Whitney, are former members of the US band the Smith Westerns. I was a fan of theirs, so after seeing Whitney and loving them as much as I did...I hope the other half of the band performs as well.

Cullen hits the stage to a small crowd. It seems many have left after Strumbella's and Polica. He does seem to be in a mood and rifles through a set of synth heavy guitar rock..some fantastic pop songs with the vocals way out front...he is a great singer. While the show is short and there is no pause between songs. I am happy to have tickets to go see him in Toronto when I return as I believe a normal club show will give me the opportunity to see Cullen again, when he is at his best.

To end the night...I needed a big burst of energy and that comes from the fantastic Aussie band the DMA's

Think Oasis, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays..these guys check off a lot of boxes for me, especially at 1:15am 6 members, 3 guitarists, bass, singer and drums, it's a full on rock show of Brit rock done Aussie style.

Attitude and wearing your influences on your sleeve doesn't always work but they are unapologetic. They push through a great evening set of classics, a number of songs I am familiar with and they do them well. If you are tired of Brit Rock, these guys are not for you, but for me it’s a remarkably satisfying way to end a great day and hope to see these guys again soon!

That's it for this day full of shows and it’s time for some rest!

Continues in Part 4

Jim & Sandra

Continuing from Part 1 

SXSW Wednesday 16th March

Another beautiful day in Austin!!

Today starts with a mandatory load up of breakfast for energy and then a trip over to Rainey St for a number of official shows.

The area has blossomed over the last few years. What once was a more residential area has exploded with bars and hotels and our favourite Craft beer bars. It is here where a number of showcases are today and it makes for some easy party hopping!

First off is the showtime "roadies house" party at the Clive Bar. It's a wonderful little bar with an outdoor stage where a number of bands are playing. First up is the Seratones. A lovely little 4 piece rock band from Louisiana. It's a big soul sound led by a dynamic front woman AJ Haynes..it's a wonderful upbeat rock/swing/blues soul mix that suits this sunny patio.

Next up is our first chance to see the band Whitney. Formed from two bands with a guitarist from the Smith Westerns and a drummer from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, these guys were a bit of a fluke find while listening to some SXSW playlists and after hearing their single " No Woman"..we had to check them out.

Due to their hectic SXSW schedule, they arrive late with only 4 of 6 members. No sound check, no problem...they roll in and do what they can in the time they have left. With the drummer up front singing in a lovely falsetto, it's a country soul sound that is immediately inviting and warm and with the 2 newly arrived missing members jumping into the set upon arrival, we now have the full band with horns, keys, drums, bass and two guitarists. It's a beautiful sound. A wonderful little treat that is over too quickly, but the harmonies will not be forgotten any time soon and plans are made to see them again.

Now its time for Big Thief. Tough to follow even a short set by Whitney, but this buzz band does well enough. It’s a mix of folk rock/guitar rock that changes in intensity as the set continues. The band has a very strong lead singer and for a number of songs. She leads the way, but with other songs, the guitar overwhelms and while the songs are still quite strong, I miss the vocals being upfront.

Now, it’s a short walk to the Stub Hub party directly across the street at Bangers German Beer Hall venue. Craft Beer, open outdoor stage, and Sausages...yep..good times!

First band up is Day Wave, an indie alt rocking band based in Oakland California. Jackson Phillips is Day Wave but tours with a band to fill out the sound of his melodic pop melodies. It's bright, light, and particularly suited to an outdoor stage at this venue and with a couple of singles doing well in the US, it has drawn somewhat of a crowd. Nothing too overwhelming, just some finely crafted pop songs that are very comfortable to listen to and considering these songs are all written by Phillips, it is impressive.

Next up....Gallant

Gallant is an American singer songwriter who's R&B falsetto style is pretty impressive. Its not just R&B though..his voice may be the centrepiece but the songs are complicated and rather well crafted, and there are plenty of surprises. Gallant draws in even more of a crowd, many who were just here to eat and drink. His range is very impressive and the songs are quite catchy..a great little set.

Jamestown Revival are up next. Fronted by two best friends, these guys harmonise as good as I have heard. Their Americana style is well suited to their voices and it’s a beautiful set of country roots songs in which its difficult to tell who is singing what. They are wonderful little songs that are played with a lot of skill and these guys sound terrific....especially with a great beer!

With some time to spare before dinner...we try for one more afternoon band. It’s across the road to the Container Bar for Tanlines

I have been a fan of Tanlines for sometime and really enjoyed their first album and I was hoping to catch their set here ,but as it happens, as it does occasionally at SXSW...the switch over from one band to the next is troublesome. Tanlines are an electronic duo from New York ...their music is simple and clever..but does require some sampling and depend on a certain amount of electronics and sadly its failing here. They attempt a number of songs and clearly something is amiss with their system.

There is a lot of running around trying to sort out the technical issues, but after a couple of failed attempts the band get through a couple of songs but it seems all is still not right.

If I am going to see them, I prefer it to be when its Tanlines at their best and so during their last attempt, we decide to head back to the hotel for a break before a long night ahead.

Tonight is probably the most difficult of the entire festival. There are at least 4 showcases where we could settle down and stay for the entire evening. One...is a special event with the Avett Brothers and Ryan Adams. To do this show, you have to commit to be at the new venue for the entire evening.

Then you have the Dine Alone party with Dandy Warhols. Heavenly has a party with some fantastic bands as well ...and another showcase features Money, Ezra Furman as well as Mercury Rev. To make the evening even more complicated, this evening also features the only showcase for Isaac Gracie that we can attend so the decision is made to make sure we see Isaac, the other reason to see Isaac Gracie is to join the BBC and Steve Lamacq and their tribute to Viola Beach.

As many of you know, Viola Beach were a young and upcoming band who sadly, along with their manager, were all killed in an accident on their first tour, and they were to open the BBC introducing showcase. I had already marked their show here as one to see, so it’s only fitting we join the BBC party. Steve Lamacq starts the evening with a great dedication to the band and the main screen on the stage is filled with BBC live footage of the band. It’s sad as the video is further proof how much potential these kids had, but BBC does a great job at celebrating this band.

Isaac Gracie is up next. There is so little available online for Isaac, but the one or two video's are very very haunting. His voice is phenomenal, it's haunting and electric, he can let loose at any minute and it’s wonderful to hear and see. He is so seemingly soft spoken that you need to push forward in the crowd, but that's what everyone is doing.

Similar to seeing Soak here last year, anyone that didn't know who he was before he began singing certainly perked up quickly. With a range of influences, he has been described by NME as having listened to Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Willie Mason for the last two years and it’s an accurate description. Very glad to have committed to seeing him here as Latitude and the British Music Embassy is well known for have the best sound of any venue in the city and its definitely a wise decision to see this delicate singer here.

Billie Marten is up next. Did not know much about this youngster, but what I heard online was pleasant enough so we stuck around for her set. She is a talented lady who is already quite comfortable on stage and her songs are clever enough not to be too plain and sweet. She is a very confident young lady and it seems that there is a very good chance that with the support she is receiving from BBC and others, there is pretty much no limit to how popular she may get. Even at this early stage in her career, the songs seem to be well formulated and that combined with a very lovely voice and personable charming manner...she is on her way.

Now its time to shift it to the Bella Union party as this is a perfect chance to see three bands I really wanted to catch at SXSW2016 up first is Money.

Money are comprised of 4 members, formed in Manchester, and are no ordinary guitar rock band. With a lead singer who's voice can move from angelic to gruff in an instance, with very good musicians forming delicate and abrasive songs and seamlessly switching from one to the other, these guys are a complicated and engrossing band. Like the best of the shoegaze bands, the guitar work tends to wash over you and its competing with a haunting voice at times and it’s a great set of songs. Very very good band.

Ezra Furman is up next. This guy is a showman and the band is tight and fun. If you are a fan of his work, you pretty much know what you are going to get from them live, it's going to be upbeat and clever, will invite sing a longs and a lot of dancing.

Ezra is a delicate frontman who clearly has a message in his words and his songs, but won’t drag the party down by making it more important to take notice of the lyrics then to enjoy the groove that the band is creating.

Tonight there does seem to be something going on in the background between some of the band members and when the bass monitor fails, that turns the set around a bit. There is an attempt to carry on with the issues, but the bass player quickly gets frustrated and wanders off the stage, followed by the sax player as well as the drummer after they tell Ezra to do a couple of acoustic numbers on his own.

Hard to miss some of the tension here and Ezra fights through one acoustic number but quickly finishes up and says a sheepish goodbye and the dance party is over.

Mercury Rev is up next and that sound that I have grown to love washes over the crowd as quickly as they hit the stage. It is a rather great moment having this band hit the stage at 1am, very blissful and imaginative and it’s like having an old friend hitting the stage as I have not seen them for sometime.

Takes no time to hear some of my favorites from the band and the sound issues have been left with the Ezra crew as Mercury Rev sound fantastic. But in the back of my mind, I seem to have a lingering desire to step up the game and get a little messier so after hearing most of the Rev show I sneak over to the Heavenly Party with some friends to hear Night Beats again. Sadly, I am not so lucky. The technical issues continue here and it looks like that combined with a band who clearly have had a very busy night partying, their set is marred by stops and starts and their perfect guitar sound, that I heard previously, is lost in this club.

Not sure what really is going on, whether it’s a technical issue or a combo of that and problems with the band but something is missing. Nevertheless it's been a solid day of shows and its 2:15 am.

Continues in Part 3

Jim & Sandra

SXSW Sunday 13th March

SXSW is upon us again and Sandra and I have changed things up a bit. The music festival really starts on Tuesday, March 15 and runs until Sunday, March 20, but we have decided to stay in Austin for the entire week...Sunday-Sunday

Sadly that meant we were arriving in the middle of the interactive portion of SXSW. The housing desk that books your hotel for you was unable to book us in one hotel for the duration. Upon arrival we would be staying well out of the city for the first two nights then into the core on the 15th.

There is music events on Sunday and Monday so it's a bit of a hike, but if you have a solid plan it can be done. The solid plan combined with the fact that for the first time in 10 years we could book a direct flight from Toronto to Austin meant getting to town and starting SXSW off well, but ...

Our direct flight left over 5 hours late due to two things, a flight attendant forgot to set her clocks ahead on Saturday (North America moves clocks ahead on the 13th) and then a computer malfunction before getting off the gate.

So....so much for a plan!

We landed quite late...took a taxi to our hotel and dropped our bags, took another taxi to Latitude (home of the British Embassy parties at SXSW).

Arrived in time to see a full set by Hooton Tennis Club. They were on my list so this has worked out well. This little band from Wirral packs a lovely indie rock punch and has succeeded in giving us a boost after today's flight and travel issues. A small crowd has gathered to enjoy the free music and the band play their set loud, and being influenced by everyone from Deerhunter to Guided by Voices, I can see these guys pulling off some solid festival stages all over England in the summer...check them out if you can.

Now that we have had that boost...and with Hooton Tennis Club being the only band we could fit in this late at night...it was time to end the night off with a few pints of Craft Ale at the "Craft" pub on Rainey street. They serve only local Texas Craft Ale and they serve it well. We enjoy a few and as the night ends it's time for the Taxi ride back out to our hotel and hopefully the plan we have for Tuesday will all work out!!


SXSW Monday 14th March

Monday in Austin ( or just outside Austin where our hotel is) brings a slight hangover from late night craft ale and some weary travellers trying to get motivated for a full day of rock n roll..so after a greasy breakfast we walk into Austin.

It's a good hour long walk but nothing is scheduled to kick off until after noon so we have time. We walk directly to the convention centre and pick up our music badges.
Then it's off to the parties put on by Strange Brew & Spotify.

First we walk into Spotify and get our free beer tickets and watch BADBADNOTGOOD. The band from Toronto is a mess of jazz fusion and hip hop beats mixed together to form some very solid instrumental songs. These guys are well known in hip hop circles and have worked will everyone from Ghostface to Danny Brown so they are a very tight band and they produce some very catchy and clever songs that go well with the blistering heat of the day.

Now it's time to head across the street to an ideal set up for music lovers...the Strange Brew party. Plenty of bands I knew of, plenty I did not...but there are 3 stages with a main stage outside and two smaller stages inside two separate adjoining bars. You can move from one to the other to find your spot.

We arrive just in time to watch Patch. These local guys are fantastic. Tight little Austin band whose songs are built around the accordion!! and acoustic guitar and drums. The guys play some perfectly crafted indie rocks songs with great voices and lovely harmonies. Great way to start and a fascinating band to watch. This is what SXSW should be about, discovery and enjoying live music.

The day is simple now...just shift between the three stages and see if anything clicks for us. Main stage is Volcano...a two piece electro pop band. Solid singers but on the outside stage, the sound drifts away and so does the crowd. Inside, you have Mirror Travel..a three piece garage rock band featuring three dynamic young ladies. Seems the crowd has shifted in here as well..they are solid, but I must check out the other stage.

There I find Blankus Larry..a solid two piece garage rock band from DC. Now a quick move to another stage and its Daddy Issues...another all girl group doing Breeders like songs. Another solid set outside on the main stage are the hard rocking..pop punk band White Reaper. They are garage punk and suited for the main stage. They are a great live band but inside.

Stonefield are going to be on soon...this is an another all girl group from Australia. They are sisters and they are very very good. Can see why they were invited to play at Glastonbury...lead singer is very confident, playing is quite good and they are one of the better sounding bands of the day.

Again...have to keep moving and we find a lovely surf psych pop band The Deer. This local band play indie pop with a passion that is rare. The lead singer smiles through every song and she can switch from pop to folk to country seamlessly and with a talented band playing with her...they are a treat.

Outside its an odd "chillipeppers" ish band called Purple, the lead singer of the 3 piece is a young lady who is also the drummer...and while I admire their energy, it's not enough to keep me outside because Tacocat are playing inside. Their feminist pop punk goes down rather well on the small stage inside and their set is full of songs I enjoyed from their album.

All of these bands were setting us up for the main reason to hit this showcase, and that is Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires..and they pack a punch. They are experts at southern rock and they kick ass. Their songs confront plenty of social injustices and they beat injustice with some pretty nasty riffs. Well worth sticking around for!

Following dinner..it's our usual trek to Latitude and a couple more Brit bands before we call it a day.

First off at latitude is the lovely Irish singer Ciaran Lavery. Great little songwriter who clearly is a fan of some Americana..not simply a folk singer, it's a mixture of Ryan Adams, and Bob Dylan...but it all mixes into a wonderful blend. He gets a sing a long going with the crowd in the bar, so I would say he was successful.

Up next, is the Crookes. This Sheffield band have been around for some time, but I have never seen them. They are a solid indie rock guitar band with some sweet melodies and some great songwriting. It is a great way to end the night, because we have to get a cab out of the city and get to our hotel, so that we can grab all our gear and shift to the downtown core Tuesday morning!


SXSW Tuesday 15th March

Finally...time to shift our gear and move into our hotel in the heart of the city. We head to our hotel, drop our bags and off we go. The plan for the day is a little loose...it's Tuesday and there are not a lot of big day shows so it's off to Spotify House.

It's a pretty easy music day at Spotify ...up first is Lukas Graham, a young Danish pop rock soul singer. He is a big deal back home playing to crowds of 40,000 + so this youngster is used to big shows and the kid has swagger. His voice is solid and the songs all seem to be possible big pop hits, so we believe this kid will be playing huge shows in North America soon.

Kacy Hill is up next...young American singer who was hand picked by Kanye to join his label. She pretty much has it made. Her band is tight and her trip hop/dream pop/ soul style goes over well with the crowd and it's a good showcase for her voice. It's very smooth and perfectly suited to this sunny day

Now it's time for a boost of energy. Jack Garratt hits the stage and the crowd swells. Considering a year ago we saw Jack and he performed to a much smaller crowd, clearly his popularity has increased. This singer songwriter/multi-instrumentalist forms some perfect little pop/electronic songs with quite the kick and it's a fun upbeat way to end the afternoon on a sunny day.

A quick check at the schedules reveal a new addition...NightBeats are playing close by....so...off we go! Playing at the outside stage at Hotel Vegas, we wander straight in and the band goes on. It's perfect Psychedelic garage soul played by 3 wonderfully talented young men. It takes no time with these guys to raise the volume and a wave of sound and heavy guitar hits you in a good way. These guys take no prisoners, it's a heads down full on assault of their instruments and what results is a smooth but loud set of blissful but challenging psychedelia!

Continues in Part 2

Jim & Sandra

What a unique way to spend Valentine’s Day at our very first Australian festival! The Laneway Festival series kicked off in Singapore two weeks ago and has travelled around the major cities of Australia before its final stop of the year in Fremantle.

It's a scorching day in Freo. Four stages (the main stage doubles up with two stages) and everything is well within walking distance. Early arrivals get the benefit of a spacious site to wander around as well as seeing first band of the day, the very talented Fait. Post Rock in the sunshine with big electric soundscapes.

Next band on the next door main stage are High Tension, a metal band who came on to a Stars Wars soundtrack. A big thing to live up to and not quite up to that level yet but, a competent band nevertheless.

The crowd starts to grow and everyone heads to the shade of the trees from where you can still see the main stages. Next up some indie pop from End of the Road festival bound, Methyl Ethel. Then it's a short walk to the Mistletone stage for Toronto's mighty Metz. Just out of bed, into the heat, rocking at full pelt, sweet drenched shirts and body shaking songs. A great set.

East India Youth was on the 'Red Bull Future Classic stage' (both Metz and East India Youth would have been much higher up the bill back home) and again a great set. For a one man show, Will Doyle just gets better and better with each show. It should not take long for Australia to catch on.

DllV prove to be the perfect band for a hot afternoon. Bouncy and lively, bright songs tinged with a surf rock feel. Now the site is getting really packed and the heat remains. Getting close to the main stage starts to become difficult. Best to adjourn to the craft ale bar and watch from afar.

The DMA's, a bit like Oasis meets the Pouges, are a grower in the afternoon sun and a band needing more investigation. Fidlar from L.A. blast away in blazing sunshine with their Garage Rock blend of high octane Rock n' Roll. A very solid set indeed.

Big Scary are on the opposite stage next and are a very soulful 5 piece. One of the most mellow bands of the day. Royal Headache on the Mistletone stage get the AC/DC Bon Scott award of the day. Lead vocalist, Shogun is in inspired form, on the last gig of the tour. Shirtless and rocking, the crowd lap it up.

Late afternoon brings 'The Freemantle Doctor' in (the daily afternoon wind) and a lovely breeze drives across the site. The Smith St Band draw a massive crowd for their anthems, but the band that takes us from daylight into night, is New York's Battles. Still one of the most original bands around, the crowds latch onto the rock, jazz, electronic soundscapes and are bouncing from the off. All the bands seem in party mode, this being the last night of the tour.

We stay at the Mistletone stage into the night, which is more comfortable than the main stages. Our reward is the dreamy Beach House, who play an awesome set.

We catch the last half hour of Chvrches set, and the band seem to have had a triumphant Laneway. They certainly seem to be the most talked about band of the festival. Last band of the evening are Purity Ring, with 2 piece, synths and vocals, a great light show and big songs.

A great day festival which, I reckon, if we looked for a comparison closer to home, would be Field Day, with its mix of indie and electronic bands. Oh and the sunshine!



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