Summer has arrived for the Sunday of Field Day 2016, following the monsoon on Saturday, Sunday brings mud and showers.
First band up are Arthur Beatrice and a fine early afternoon show this is, vocalist Ella Girardot is the focal point of the band and her vocal range is excellent. The band have an enthusiasm that really lights the spark for the bands to follow.
Parquet Courts are the first band on the main stage. Twenty minutes late, they waste no time in bringing their Talking Heads/Pavement style songs to our earlobes as they hurtle through a set of material mainly from their new album Human Performance’
Steve Mason is on solid form and is another one with a new album to promote. The Return of the Rual tent is packed for his set. The Thurston Moore Band follow next and are in sonic form. Just a 45 minute set was short particularly, as the band were scheduled for an hour. Some great guitar work!
Blossoms have a steady growing fanbase and a heavy shower meant a packed Shacklewell Arrms stage (as it is for most of the afternoon) for their set of pop tunes.
Set of the day goes to The Ben Watt Band featuring Bernard Butler who had a teatime slot in the tiny Moth Club tent. Quality songs, mind blowing guitar, a tight rhythm section and a fine beard courtesy of Laura Marling’s bass player. a brilliant set from a band of quality musicians plying their trade.
John Grant gets an hour in the sunshine on the main stage and really gets the crowd engaged and dancing. Beach House headline the Shacklewell Arms stage, which I suppose is the second stage at Field Day. As a second stage this really needs to be bigger or an open air stage, over the years it is constantly packed and overflows (12 people deep for Beach House and something similar for the Fat White Family) but this has been the same across the many years of the festival. Beach House played pretty much in the dark but, they sounded magnificent.
PJ Harvey is the headliner and it is a brilliant show to round off another excellent day in Victoria Park.
Well..today is it, The last day of our adventure here in Austin? We have had a good rest, and a lovely breakfast and we have decided to try to get into the Rachel Ray party at Stubbs. An American cook show host has a large party every year that usually consists of some very solid artists and this year it is no different with Jenny Lewis, George Clinton, and Andersan Paak.
This party is a popular one. Open to the public, it’s always quite busy, but we figure we will give it a go and that was a mistake. Even an hour early, at 9am, there are over 1000 people in line. Security tells us that the line was well over 500 people at 7:30 am. An open party, with a solid lineup that has free food and booze is always going to be popular, but this is ridiculous. As the doors open, our hope is that we make the cut as we have already waited for well over an hour. Stubbs holds a lot of people and we have already committed to this showcase so we just shuffle along. Luckily, there is no other showcase this early in the day so we are not missing anything.
As it happens, we get within 60 or so people to get in, and they shut the doors down. The venue has hit capacity. Sadly, it takes a quick look at the schedule of shows inside to see that with the free food and booze and the fact that most people are here to see the bands that come on in about 3 hours...we don't stand a chance.
What we can do is check our back up plans and make a decision.
We decide to wander around and then head to a party that starts at 1pm and we go and hang out in the wifi lounge at the Hilton. There we run into a friend from Toronto who has decided to head to the show we are going to as well so everything works out for a reason!
We are off to a party at the Barracuda. It’s another venue with an inside and outside stage, perfect to keep moving and maximizing the amount of bands we can see. Not sure what to expect here as the bands I am familiar with are coming up later so..here we go.
First up is the Danish band Yung. These guys are relentless, a mess of feedback and rhythms, a quality rock band who's opening set is spirited enough to wake everyone up. It’s noisy but it is rock n roll and that's fine with me. Have seen a lot of guitar rock bands this week and these guys definitely know what they are doing as well.
Inside it is the Sun Club. These guys are a wacky 5 piece band from Baltimore. Big percussion, crazy upbeat and frantic singing, solid guitar work, it's an odd mix that plays itself out on stage. They don't do mellow..there is nothing that slows these guys down. You can’t watch these guys, it’s a rather amusing band to watch and the songs are pretty good, but perhaps pushed to a different level because of their frantic live show.
Back outside and it’s the NYC band called the Drowners. Its kinda "friendly post punk" that is sung by Welsh singer who moved to NYC years ago. The songs come on like a softer Strokes, and the singing is quite good. The songs switch from short 3 minute punk pop tunes to longer more complicated Smiths like songs. It is a great overall set of some pretty accessible songs and the set finishes a bit too soon.
Inside is a band I have tried to see a few times over the years. They tour a lot but it just has not worked out. Inside is Public Access TV.
Public Access TV is another band from NYC. This 4 piece band have been buzzed about for the last year or so. It's a splendid pop punk band that will end up reminding me of the Clash fairly often. They play very well and I can see why NME considered them one of the best bands to have recently come out of NYC. It’s sort of a retro punk sound that pleasurable to listen to and for such a young band.
We could stick around here for the rest of the showcase, but I really want to see the band that s coming up at the Brit Embassy bar Latitude and that is Nai Harvest.
We walk over to the venue and walk straight into their set. I have been a fan of theirs for some time. Nai Harvest is a 2 piece band that draws influences from 90's emo and alt pop bands and morph the sounds into their own. As a two piece, they to do a lot within their songs, a lot of stop start moments, some distorted voice and guitar and some frantic drumming and screaming that create all sorts of different levels of music. It is hook laden and riff driven and often reminds me of a smaller version of a messy Teenage Fanclub so I am pleased.
We can stay for one more band here before a quick trip to a nearby bar so up on stage, its Autobahn. This band is loud, and dark. A mix of Sisters of Mercy & Joy Division but with some growling guttural singing and a mess of noise. They are spirited but it’s a quick set and we have to move to get to the next venue.
Up next at the Vulcan Gas Company bar is Fantastic Negrito. This band won the NPR "Tiny Desk Contest" in 2015 and have been an often mentioned band in many friends lists of bands we have to see. Described as Black Roots music for everyone, and Blues with a punk attitude, it’s a band that strives to bridge a gap from Leadbelly to modern sounds by using loops and samples and some wicked musicians. Lead singer Xavier Dphrepaulezz is dynamic and assured. He speaks to the crowd as if he is leading a sermon, and the crowd eats it up. It's funk with a message and its sounds fantastic in this new bar.
It is difficult not to notice the meaning of his words and the themes are all statements on social issues and the band tries to push a message using instruments. It’s a quality set of songs and I am glad we made the time to get over here.
Now late afternoon and decisions need to be made. Our last night in Austin and we want to make sure we make the most of it. We have to make time for dinner, but also want to catch a few bands in multiple different venues and locations. Once we map out our approach, we have dinner, a fine craft ale and then we are back at it.
We hit the Blackheart on Rainey Street to catch the band Pins. Pins have been mentioned on numerous occasions as a band I need to revisit this trip. Two friends have seen them already this week and they all found ways to see them again because they were so good. I have seen Pins in years past but it works out that we can see them over here.
Pins are an all girl band from Manchester. They have been around for awhile but they seem to have stepped it up a bit. Guitar work is catchy, the Rhythm section is as good as I have heard on this trip and the voices are spectacular. It’s a beautiful wave of guitars and pop vocals, it’s as catchy as it gets and its delightful to see and hear. They have improved tremendously since the last show I saw and they are fun to watch. They are a very good group mixing up the girl group pop with some punk elements and it works well.
We are off now to check out the Aussie band Harts again. Sometimes you have to fit bands like these back into your schedule because the first show we saw of theirs was simply not enough. We enjoyed it so much, we have to see them again. In the back of my mind is the fact that we run the risk of getting shut out of the last showcase we plan to hit but it’s worth it for Harts.
It’s a walk to Esther’s Follies and we get there in time for the band before Harts. Breanna Barbara is up on stage and her band is really quite good. Always love these surprises and she has fantastic voice and a great band. Her first album is coming out shortly and I am quite intrigued by it. She is a lo fi punk blues artist with an incredible voice and I can’t wait to hear more. Sadly we catch only a few songs.
Harts is up next and they do not disappoint. This kid is ridiculously talented, with a Hendrix guitar style, throw in some funk, a greater drummer. It takes no time for pedestrian traffic outside the front window of the venue, to stop and start accumulating to take photo's and to witness this guy.
6th street is a madhouse tonight, but we watch from our seats at this venue as people wander by and can’t help but to stop. It’s a fantastic set of songs and despite the risk, whatever happens for the rest of the night, it was clearly the right decision.
We now rush over to the British Embassy at the Latitude bar, again, to catch Barns Courtney. This would be the only chance I had all week to see him and we are able to get in so the worry is over and I am happy.
Barns hits the stage and I certainly understand what the talk is about. This kid is awfully confident for being such a new artist, he sings like an old pro and he stands along plucking his guitar singing his country style pop hits and every song sounds strong.
There is no dud among them and his country style often morphs into a blues rocker and it’s easy to see a Carl Barat influence who is someone that has taken a keen interest in this kids future. There is an edge to this kids music which will appeal to many and I certainly can see why he has earned himself the opening slot for Ed Sheeran and the Libertines. Kid has talent and its fun to watch.
Now it’s time for a complete change of pace. Seems the British Music Embassy is going to finish off their showcases in Austin by having a bit of a dance party. Formation hits the stage and again, everything kicks off. The bar is full of many of the bands that have played here over the week and they are here...to dance. Everywhere I look..they have moved forward and as soon as the band hits the stage and the lead vocalist, Will Ritson starts singing, its full on.
Quite the change from Barns Courtney, Formation are energetic and overwhelmingly boisterous and fun..full of funk and a dance beat frenzy that is quite welcome at this point. Will eventually comes into the crowd and dances along with the rest of us and its been rather entertaining. Not a bad way to make sure we end this festival in a way that we won’t forget..it was a blast.
Perhaps it was all the dancing, but all of a sudden I am feeling the effects of a full week of this. Though the next band has been promised to be the ultimate party band..aptly named PartyBaby, a guitar based funk dance band from Los Angeles, they can’t get this guy to move anymore. I was done in by Formation and PartyBaby, despite throwing out a lot of grooves and entirely danceable songs, I am done in. It’s here that I wave goodbye to my favourite venue of the city and walk to 2 blocks to our hotel because I do have to fly home sadly.
Overall, it was yet another successful SXSW and a quality visit to Austin. Was able to go from showcase to showcase without any hiccups, was able to get into the night showcases without a problem and despite the few technical issues at some shows and the ill fated attempt at heading to the Rachel Ray party, all has gone well. I hope to see a few more friends in Austin next year in March for SXSW2017
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!
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!
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.