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