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.
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