Festival Reviews

Thanks to social media and a few great SXSW websites that dedicate themselves to highlighting the open parties each day (showlistaustin) we decide to hit a party that we have not been to before. The party put on by Wild Honey Pie is in a perfect venue. Another outdoor 2 stage venue that means they can have bands play back to back all day long and there is lots of good beer and lots of sun and plenty of seating!

We walk into the showcase in time to catch some of Madeline Kenney's set. A 3 piece is a indie shoegaze mix. Some solid songs, a lovely voice, and a solid little band.

On the smaller stage, its QTY These guys were a 2 piece but now they seem to have morphed into a 4 piece. The native New Yorkers create some splendid songs. Think Lou Reed fronting The Strokes and I figure you get the picture. Its indie rock with a sweet sonic edge and can see why Bernard Butler has decided to help them out with some production on a new single. These are very well written songs and with a glam rock feel to them, they come across very very well. These guys could easily have been on the bigger stage.

Up on the big stage is Hoops. This American group produces guitar heavy indie rock songs. They immediately remind me of Real Estate but some of the songs have a slight 80's nostalgic feel. Its a full 5 piece band with the lead singer sitting up front on keyboard and the songs bounce along nicely. It is leaning on the pop side but there is a lot going on and sounds great outside.

Small stage now has our Canadian lad, Teen Daze. He calls his music "Glo-Fi" and I am not sure if that does describe it. He performs on his own with very little electronic backing. His songs are simple and his voice is soft, he sings elegantly and you have to pay attention to hear it all on this outside stage. He is well known for performing a full set without stopping and some of these songs seem to go on forever but he really endears himself to the crowd with his banter between these long songs and its a pleasant little set.

One of the reasons we head here today is the band that just hit the main stage and its Yoke Lore. Its a great little 2 piece band based around the multi instrumentalist that leads this indie folk band with a fantastic voice. Its almost to the Animal Collective level of indie folk. Its a basic set up and effective as these 2 guys work really well to create a full indie rock sound using samples and multiple instruments and great singing. I am pleased that what I have heard online from the band translates quite well live and this New York duo really pulls off the set.

Another buzz band is setting up on the smaller stage and its L.A Salami. These guys are led by a dynamic singer songwriter who creates images with his words and singing that makes the performance very fascinating. He really is Dylanesque and being considered as the Folk music for the New Age. This British artist is a bit of a poet and a bit of a crooner and with a very good band, it all works together rather well.

Next up is Undercover Dream Lovers More blissful chilled out indie rock coming from New York City. This 4 piece have a good groove going onstage, very steady and fits in with all of todays sweet set of bands. Its more indie/psych rock and that's fine with me.

Another buzz band is up next and we have The Big Thief. Another NYC band who do some very refined folk rock. Another 4 piece but they change things up to set them apart from the others. They throw some psych rock indie Americana in and you never really know what you are going to get next. The lead singer has one of the better voices I have heard recently and when her band gets it cranked up a bit, she matches it and the result is another solid set.

Another Indie rock band is up next with Future Generations. They change the vibe a bit by throwing a bit of mgmt. style groove into the mix and then, we get some Friendly Fire style songs..its a nice blend of groove based indie rock and it again fits with the venue.

Mobley is up next on the small stage. This solo performer is all good on his own. He switches between guitar, keyboards, percussion, all the while, singing his indie folk pop songs. He gets the audience to join him by using his drum and he sings to them, it all works. This Austin performer does really well here with his upbeat energy based show and is clearly popular around Austin.

Calliope Musical Band  are one big psych pop party band. Led by a very charismatic young lady, there is a lot of flowered outfits and sing a longs going on and its all kicking off. This venue is open to the public and there are a lot of local folks and university students here and they all know these guys. its a fun show and it does not lack energy!

Born Cages a big big sounding 3 piece hits the small stage and this indie rock band really kick it off. Its a synthesizer heavy modern rock start to the set and it seems really really polished. I have never read anything about these guys before but some research discovers they are yet another NYC band and have toured quite a bit, including sometime as openers for Guns & Roses. They have a big heavy sound for a 3 piece.

Back to the main stage and we have Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Its a good blend of early Kings of Leon/Mumford sound and the 5 piece creates some pretty heavy folk influenced rock. Its a solid energetic set of songs by this 5 piece. They have been playing together and it shows, its an effortless easy sound and its pretty entertaining. Surprised we have not heard much about these guys in Toronto ..

We head back to the small stage for yet another big buzz band, The Overcoats. These two young ladies, hit the stage and immediately give each other a huge hug. These two are best friends. They clearly love performing. There is some theatrics, some samples, and some stunning vocals. These two create a wonderful electronic folk set that demands attention. They smile at each other often and that does nothing but make their set even better. Its mysterious, sweet, dark, and at times almost has a Celtic feel which I found out makes more sense when they start talking about them living in Dublin. Their voices blend together really well and its a wonderful early evening show.

Food then it's off to Stubbs. So much room, plenty of area to roam around and lots of places to hang out and chat. Before the first band hits the stage, we see Josh from Mondo Cozmo again and I asked him about some online reviews I had just read about him ending his set with a cover version of the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony", he promises that it will make a reappearance soon and he is off to go backstage and we head into the crowd for Sundara Karma.

I was a big fan of Sundara Karma's album in 2016 and here was a good chance to hear it live. I am somewhat surprised by how many people here seem to know the songs. This English 4 piece guitar band are clearly trying to create some anthems and considering how many people are screaming out the lyrics, they may be well on their way. It is easy to see how the songs have become anthems as they are all quite catchy and easy to follow. The lead singer does well to soak up a lot of the attention but they are all quite capable and the sound is one of a band that is happy with what they are creating and they want others to be as well. Its a big rock show with some fantastic harmonies and then its done.

The other reason to his this showcase tonight was to see Mondo Cozmo again. We had planned on heading to another showcase for the entire night but, sometimes you just have to change things up based on new bands you have found, or, new bands and an old friend.

Mondo Cozmo hit this big stage with even more energy then the previous set we had seen them play. The songs sound even bigger here, the crowd is even more into it and Josh leads the band again with a huge smile, he is clearly enjoying himself. Its anthem level indie rock and on this stage, its huge. There are a lot of people paying attention to these guys and we are very very glad we made the switch to this showcase. Then...he pulls out the Verve "Bittersweet Symphony" and its as good as I had hoped. Its a song that I have always loved and these guys do it justice. 

We head over to Rainey street to "Try" to get into the Twin Peaks evening party with M Ward and Neko Case. We knew it was a risk to try to fit in the Stubbs shows and as we approach the Clive Bar, a very small bar featuring one of the more awkward stage set ups, its clear we are out of luck. There must be 400 people lined up outside and there is no chance we will get in. Luckily there are plenty of options and its a short walk to see a band I missed years ago at SXSW because of Jack White (long story).

We head a few doors down to the Twix sponsored party to see Electric Guest. For those of you not aware of what 'Twix' is, its a chocolate bar, and there are buckets of them all around the venue which is great! Before Electric Guest is on, Hayley Kiyoko does a set of dance pop/hip hop and I am not sure if the crowd is here to hear her sing or to watch this sometime actress but either way, the songs are pretty catchy and its mighty glossy but it will do, ...the chocolate helps

Up next is Electric Guest. I was a huge fan of their first album, I wonderful blend of 70's and 80's influenced funk, soul, and rock..That was 5 years ago, and they finally brought out a new album in the last few months. The set was upbeat, and primarily songs from the new album but it is a similar vibe to their earlier work so it was a bit of an electro funk fest. These two guys love to perform and it shows and the combo of chocolate and craft beer have me shuffling around a bit myself! Its a fun little set and I am glad we got to see them.

Now its the time to make yet another choice. We could shuffle back to Stubbs to see White Denim and Granddaddy but we had been told about a band that was playing close by (and had done some last minute online searches about a band playing there we had never heard of)so we decide to head to a bar we had never spent any time in and we are off to a neighbouring bar, Lucille.

Lucille is a great bar, lots of room, has a great stage outside in the back and its easy to find a spot to watch the bands about to perform. The first band up was the one I had just done some research on, Devon Gilfillian is a Nashville soul artist who, according to online sources, is one of the few soul bands who were hand picked by Willie Nelson to come to Austin to perform at his Ranch at a party that occurs every year during SXSW. With that kind of backing you head to know he was good.

Sure enough, him and his band put together one of the best sets we would see. According to some friends I met in Austin, this Nashville Soul is a new trend and I like it. Its a roots folk soul style that really works well. The singer songwriter has a terrific Nashville based band and they play...they really play. Its stunning. We had to move a bit closer to watch Devon sing, play guitar and tell stories while his band created these wonderful songs. If there was any doubt that we had made the right choice coming here, its long gone now.

Next up was Gabriel Garzon-Montano. This New York City soul singer was another that intrigued me before we got here what I heard from him before I got to Austin reminded me a lot of a Prince/Stevie Wonder hybrid. Turns out I had heard his voice previously as Drake had sampled his voice on his track "Jungle". Gabriel performs alone and seated at his keyboard but is remarkably lively using his voice and his hands to keep the set rolling. Its a solid new soul set of smooth smooth songs. His voice is enough to carry him but I wonder what he would sound like with a full band and if he was not restricted by sitting behind his keyboard.

The next band is one that friends said I had to hear while in Austin. Chicano Batman will be up next, oddly enough, I can sit at Lucille and in between sets, while Chicano Batman is setting up all of their gear (and there is plenty) I can comfortably sit back and enjoy Talib Kwelli's set that is occurring next door. He is blowing that place up and is certainly keeping me entertained between sets over here!

Chicano Batman hit the stage to a huge roar from the crowd that has built up in front of the stage. Its a full on latino based dance party, with all the band dressed up in some fancy ruffled tuxedo shirts and I lose track often of exactly how many people are on stage. There is some pretty brilliant guitar work going on and some big keyboard as well and, a lot of dancing. The band really kicked everything off when they started touring with Jack White and they have done nothing but improved their live show. Its a psych Brazilian blend of sound and its pretty infectious. Somehow, its 2 am again and tomorrow is our last day and its back to the hotel for some rest.

Jim

Our plan today is to head out of the city centre, get away from the masses, and go to a yearly party at Hotel San Jose. This party, referred to as South By San Jose, is a completely free event, no badge required. Its an ideal setting no matter whether you have a badge or not. Its always well attended and the promoter who curates the show has very good taste in music so there is always quality bands playing.

Before we get over there, we can fit in a quick visit to Cheer Up Charlies bar for a Brooklyn Vegan party. Its another ideal venue, with two stages, a large stage outside and a smaller stage inside. Its ideally laid out with plenty of tables so that you can get some rest and watch bands which is perfect.

First up is Lo Fi group from New York called LVL UP. There is a buzz about these guys in advance of the festival so I am glad we can fit them in. Its erratic and energetic and the 4 members of the band toss out influences in each and every song. You have Pavement & Dinosaur Jr..for sure and as 3 members often sing together, the blend of the voices and some wicked guitar work remind me of some great guitar bands from the 90's. These guys make some great subtle guitar noise and its a very blissful set of songs.

Inside we find a lovely young lady named Stef Chura. Her and her very solid guitar work lead a very fuzzed out 3 piece indie rock band. Her voice is subtle, and there is some attitude there but she plays with her voice to make these songs even more inviting. She is one to check out.

Outside is the reason we came to this event and its Hurray for the Riff Raff. This band have been around for sometime and have produced some fantastic American Folk Blues. The band has a new album out so the set featured a couple of new songs. Alynda Lee Segarra is the lead singer for the band and she has put together a very strong group of musicians. They flow through their folk blues set with ease and some of the songs will remind you of old classic blues while others have a little more contemporary feel. Either way, the band is professional and sound good and have much to offer.

Now its time to make the long walk over to South Congress and SXSJ, we get to the venue in time to see Savoy Motel. This 4 piece 70's style funk rock band are a quirky bunch. They rock their own way and they obviously enjoy what they play. They perform their upbeat funk party rock for a very happy crowd and its fun to watch. Up next is New York soul artist Nick Hakim. This guy is intriguing ..hard to pinpoint everything that's going on but his voice and fantastic guitar work produce some haunting, simple, and stunning soul songs. Its a layered, complicated sound and its like this guy is baring his soul to anyone that is listening and its a change of pace and a sunny outdoor stage makes it all work even better.

Next up is The Big Moon a lovely, fuzzy, summery 4 piece from London makes some big noise from the stage. The 4 very talented young ladies in The Big Moon have been around for a little while but I don't think they have made a lot of trips over to North America. Their grunge style suits their attitude and they whip through some very aggressive songs but add some solid voices and harmonies and a perfect mix is found.

A quick turn over on stage and the main reason we are here hits the stage and that is Lemon Twigs. Had missed these guys in Toronto, and here in Austin once already so now is our chance. These youngsters are unique. They are talented. They are many things, and sometimes are hard to describe They sound a bit retro, they dress in some outlandish outfits, and sing powerpop and there are immediate comparisons and some of the more simple ones include Beatles, and some say Harry Nilsson but a quick look in this bands background will also find a love for Hendrix, and The Who, and even MGMT. They are flamboyant and entertaining and they put on a "Show". Its never boring, and it sound wonderful and I wish I had of caught them in a small club show that occurred in Toronto.

Now its time to head back into the city centre, closer to our base, and go to the Aussie BBQ. The past couple of years we have witnessed some very very good shows here and today would be no different. First up, I get to see Alex Lahey again. The crowd has a lot of Aussies in it and the band that have been playing there all day are in amongst the crowd to watch Alex so that is a good sign. She whips through another great set of songs that are already my favorites so its easy to enjoy.

Next up is Kasey Chambers. This Aussie Country artist has had a lot of success in Australia with 6 top selling albums and constant touring but as even she admits, she has a lot to thank America for as her style of singing and playing, even her song writing is all seemingly based on the American country style. She sings classic country songs about heartbreak and death, depression and relationships and she sings rather well. If you like the classic country sound..this young lady is great at it.

Up next though is the main reason we hit this event and that is to see Rolling Blackouts Coast Fever. This new signing to SubPop are gathering steam and are yet another buzz band that are a must see this visit. This five piece beach punk pop band are great. They are a pure rock band. They do a lot of things well, they will wrap you up in a wave of remarkable guitar work while 4 of the 5 members share the vocal duties. Some songs like "Julies Place" will remind you of summer while others are bleak like winter but no matter what song they are playing, they sound fantastic. Its a riff friendly zone, with great percussion and great song writing, this band lacks nothing. It is well on its way to becoming a much bigger band and I believe we will see them making the journey from Melbourne to Toronto very soon. In fact, I believe they are playing a European tour shortly so be prepared.

After a quick dinner, its off to the Blackheart Bar and the Transgressive Label Party. Having wanted to see a number of Transgressive bands here in Austin, no better way to do it then to be here. First up is Odetta Hartman. Odetta on Violin and her partner mixing up some serious samples and beats, this is an interesting start to the evening. She sings when she feels its needed, plays an instrument when she feels it..and the samples behind her can be upbeat at times and include bird call samples. Its emotive and fun, a real departure from what we have seen this week. Its a great blend of pop, soul, electronic indie ...all over the place and a fun start.

Up next is Marika Hackman Tonight, Marika is performing with a full back up band. The back up band tonight is The Big Moon. This is a very good combo. We enjoyed The Big Moon this afternoon, but the combination with these gals and Marika is fantastic. Marika writes some very clever songs and she is quite competent guitarist and her songs are well written. Marika seems to have a dark side as some songs are rather brooding and others more light but it never seems simple. It is a set that goes all over the place but its performed well and its clear these ladies are all very talented.

Sadly, Johnny Flynn who was to be the next performer couldn't make the trip over seas so its another band we had seen in previous years and its PartyBaby. These guys are the same...upbeat funky and try to get the crowd involved but its not quite working for me but others seem to be enjoying them.

Hippo Campus are up next. This young American 4 piece band have already built up a reputation as a solid live act. Big riffs and playful songs and great voices all come together in a great package. Its polished, and upbeat and its fun to watch. These youngsters sing stadium size songs but its early in their career. Some of their newer songs seem to be a little more complex and they involve a little more noise and a little more of an edge but its still quite easy to listen to and I rather enjoyed their set. Its indie pop and its done well.

Blaenavon is the next band and these three guys are intense. They play big, loud, indie rock. ITs very good. For a three piece, they make the same amount of noise as a much bigger band. They are not afraid to mix things up, they freely drift from grunge to indie rock with easy precision. They make some quick changes in tempo that seem harsh but it works. The songs are blissful, free spirited and complicated but done with ease. It is great rock and roll.

The final band is another buzz band, one that has intrigued me for sometime, and its time for Let's Eat Grandma. These two, very young ladies, have been talked about for a while now..their sound is hard to describe and I was very interested to see how they could pull it off. Having watched these two young ladies roam around various venues over the past day or so, there was even more interest in seeing how they would do. Sadly, as happens at SXSW, technical issues strike. there is a considerable delay as techs try to sort out the problem the two young ladies are having with their back ground sampling loops on their equipment and considering how much they rely on technology to create what they do, they need to get it fixed.

It takes awhile but when they begin, theatrical stage movements and all, its mesmerizing. They play instruments and sing at a level I did not expect. They seem to be old souls in the bodies of youngsters. It really is quite fascinating whey you see how they perform, how their songs are built and performed. It is rather magical. Ethereal and dream like, their voices are stunning. What songs they are able to complete in the time they have left represent a few different moods and even though they play for about 20 minutes, its enough for me. If you have an open mind and are willing to give these two young ladies a chance, its a sweet show and well worth your time.

It's 2am, and its time to get some rest!

Jim

Its another solid day of shows but there are a few key performers we need to see today and some favorite venues to visit and with SXSW Music really kicking off today, the city is getting a little busier.

With some prodding, (Louise) we have readjusted our plans at the risk of getting caught up in a lineup and will head to Latitude for the first showcase of the day but before that, we can catch one artist at the Convention Centre and we get to see Aldous Harding. This hauntingly odd folk singer from New Zealand is a rather bewitching. Dressed all in white, playing her white guitar, she sings her painful songs with a passion that seems subdued but comes across with power. Her performance is theatrical and emotive and is probably best suited for a dark dingy bar and is rather bleak in this sterile bright convention centre stage but is still rather mesmerizing.

Meilyr Jones hits the Latitude stage as the first act today on the British Music Embassy stage and dressed all in white and ready to play, he kicks off the show in fine form. He is a very dynamic performer and reminds me of many voices from my past. His full band produce some wonderful backing orchestrated pieces involving a multitude of instruments. Meilyr leads the way with a haunting yet playful voice that is immediately irresistible. Its a lively chamber pop showcase of instantly classic songs. Its fun, its upbeat, it demands attention and when Meilyr tosses his microphone aside and the band stop playing and he sings "Be Soft" he takes a bit of a risk at the showcase but most of the folks attending are paying attention and the showcase goes quiet except for his singing. The way that his set flows from one song to another does remind of orchestrated pieces and constant tempo changes and dreamy songs really works well in the venue. With one of the best sound and lights systems in the city and with the investment made by BBC for some of the best equipment available, its a great place to see him.

As soon as the show is done we have to move...quickly. we have about 20 minutes to get to a showcase that we had to be at as the next performer I really needed to see was one of my favorite from 2016, Alex Lahey. Alex is playing a showcase at Bangers, a huge outdoor German beerhall with a considerable amount of room and a lot of great Craft beer but it is also a party that is open to the public and the danger is getting caught out in a lineup. Luckily, the sun is shining, there is a very small line, and we get in well before Alex goes on.

Alex Lahey, one of the new brilliant singers coming out of Australia, hits the stage with simple songs, songs about difficulties in life, in relationships and with friends and in a way that is clever and inviting and upbeat. Its not depressing, its lively. The band is along for the ride as Alex leads the way with an amazing voice, great stories and some great guitar work. Its so wonderful to see someone perform the songs you have fallen in love with and perform them at a level even higher then you expected or even wished for.

Every song off of the Ep as well as 3 incredibly good new songs have created quite the stir at the venue and there is quite the crowd in front of the stage. Alex truly looks to love what she is doing and is finding her first US shows and crowds forming a little overwhelming but her and her band are soaking it all in and the set is one of the best we will see This young artist, hand picked by Tegan & Sara to tour with them around Europe, is just starting out but there is no doubt in my mind that we will see a lot of this band over the next few years.

Up next, Dams of the West hit the stage. This band, led by the former drummer of Vampire Weekend Chris Thomson, is a 4 piece indie pop group. Its an up tempo, and moody set of clever songs. I believe the album has just been released and the songs fit with the sunny outdoor patio and are well received. Chris is the last of the band to put out a solo effort and from what we hear, its of a high quality and sounds solid.

Next on the outdoor stage is The Shelters. Again, these guys do brilliant, straight ahead rock and roll, and on this outdoor stage and to a much larger crowd today then when we saw them previously, they step their game up. Its louder, its cleaner, and while the crowd in front of the stage may be smaller then for Alex Lahey, its a lively crowd, seated or standing and they appreciate this full on rock set.

Next up was a bit of a surprise for Sandra and I. I had done research in advance and had listened to much of what the next band "Mondo Cozmo" had available and I really liked what I had heard. There was a buzz online but I really hadn't looked any further then some social media sites and listened to the music online so I had no idea who was in the band. Just before the showcase, I received a text from a friend, who wanted to make sure I checked in on his friend who we had met previously, who was performing in Austin at SXSW. Turns out the lead singer for Mondo Cozmo was someone who we had met before and had some great sessions with back in Toronto, and he was about to hit the stage as lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band Josh Ostrander was the lead singer for a group called Eastern Conference Champions and shut the group down a few years ago.

ECC were a great 3 piece..loud guitar based indie garage rock band who were great live and here he was hitting the stage as Mondo Cozmo were about to perform. Josh is Mondo Cozmo and has put together a really great band to help him bring these fantastic songs to life. Every song is a hit..its smooth and its on the pop side of the rock spectrum and its big. Each song has a life of its own, some sounding desperate, some sounding uplifting and powerful, some mournful, but all are anthemic and at times a bit Brit Pop style. To see it performed live, and the surprise of having some connection to the band however indirect..is fantastic.

Josh clearly enjoys the new songs, he smiles and is playful and we are hearing a band early in its life, and without an album out yet though soon to come, its clear this is just the start of something big. It doesn't hurt that the band has been asked to open the full North American tour for Bastille. Next up, we find out after the show with a chat with Josh, is a Kimmel show this week. It truly is the beginning and you may as well slot them in at some point wherever you live as they are fun to watch and will no doubt be hitting some festivals around the world very soon.

The evening plan has been in place since the announcement that BNQT were playing one showcase at SXSW and it was at the Bella Union 20th birthday showcase at Easy Tiger. BNQT is the super group that includes members of Grandaddy, Travis, Midlake, Franz Ferdinand, and Band of Horses. Loving all of these bands and being particularly fond of Fran Healy of Travis..it was an easy decision to commit to this showcase. We got to the showcase before the doors opened and were looking forward to being there for the evening. The venue, our second favorite Craft Beer venue in the city, is always one we hope to visit and this showcase was killing two birds with one stone.

When we were finally let in to the venue, we quickly discovered that Bella Union were nice enough to offer up an open bar for the beginning of the event so once again, we had lucked out!! Icelandic band Mammut were to open the showcase but in fact had been stranded due to weather so the band Field Division filled in. Field Division are a lo-fi folkwave American band. Its a blissful and soulful set of songs from this duo and they perform rather well considering they are a last minute replacement. It was around the next bands set, Bella Union's newest signing, folk artist Will Stratton, that I recognize someone in the crowd. Afraid that trying to place the name to this person distracted me from Will's set but from what I did hear it was a very solid singer songwriter set from someone who has been through a lot over the last few year as a cancer survivor. By the end of his set, however, I have figured out who was wandering around the venue and it was a former Blue Jay (our professional baseball team) When I wasnt able to track him down (long story but suffice it to say when I stopped searching for him I found him chatting with Sandra) J.P Arencibia stood with us for an hour or so and was great to talk to him and find out he is a pretty genuine guy and really wanted to know about the bands playing (his wife is in a very big country group called The Band Perry) it was a great moment at SXSW.

BNQT were up next and even though 2 members were not available to play (alex Kapranos and Ben Bridwell) this supergroup performed as you would expect from some of the most talented musicians in the business. All three main members took turns singing(with other members of Midlake as the back up band) including a number of songs from BNQT's forthcoming album as well as versions of Midlake's "Roscoe", Grandaddys "AM 180" and the last song of the set, Travis's "Why does it always rain on me". I am reassured by the fact that the songs from the band fit in perfectly with the versions of these songs that have been favorites of mine for sometime. There is clearly a mutual love between these artists, and they admire each other and their body of work, and its fun to watch them all have fun. Its a great mix of psych rock, prog rock, indie alt classics and was a great way to celebrate Bella Unions birthday bash.

Going to be hard to follow that up but Pavo Pavo are up next. These guys are a 5 piece indie pop band from Brooklyn ...a band that features harmonies similar to Fleet Foxes, its upbeat and fun and there are hints of 70's soft rock but it has an edge.

Next up would be Horse Thief. These guys really kicked it up a notch. Its another set of psych, folk, roots, indie rock n' roll style and as a huge fan of full, pure voices, the singing really pulls it all together. Its a great cross section of Americana and its awfully tasty.

The crowd has trickled out as clearly BNQT were the big draw tonight but I couldn't help but stick around as next up was one of the few sets that SXSW would see from new Country/Blues singer songwriter Holly Macve. This Galway native sounds like she could have grown up around Mississippi and has a pure country bluegrass flavour. Her voice is heartbreakingly beautiful but I struggle with the set as its 1am and its been a long, long day. Her voice is as pure as you will hear and her guitar work is wonderful and with minimal backing, her voice is the base to all the songs. It is beautiful and clearly the buzz around Holly is well deserved, but I need some late night Rock so I am off for one last taste.

Its a quick walk around the corner and I hear the last half of a noisy, funky and blues laden set by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybear. What I hear is a few old and new songs from a band heavily influenced by the classic blues artists and they are playing to their hometown crowd here at this late night set. Its a solid way to end a very successful day.

Jim

 

So it begins....

A considerable amount of research went into this Austin visit. With changes over the last few years happening at SXSW, with less dependency on corporate sponsors and big name acts and an emphasis on discovery and new bands, it was essential to have a clear plan before we arrived.

Despite a new focus on badge holders, and less lineups at venues, there is still a very good chance that if you try to get to too many venues to see bands around the city, you will run into an issue getting into one of the spots.

Nothing is worse then standing outside of a venue trying to see one band when you had a very good option elsewhere, especially if you had just left a perfectly good showcase...so my plan was to find a showcase that featured a band we really wanted to see, listen to all the bands playing there in advance, and we would just stick to one venue.

The plan worked since the festival is about discovery, ...we succeeded and were able to see 95% of the bands we wanted to see...some twice!

Our trip to Austin started on Sunday, March 12. The music portion of the festival starts earlier every year and now Music Badges can get into other parts of the festival including SXSW Interactive which has a number of great music showcases on their own. We arrive...in Austin, a couple of days before SXSW Music festival really begins but there is still plenty to do, and despite our flight being 4 hours late, we arrived in time to get a good night in.

First a showcase that featured Austin bands....one who we had seen before and a couple of new bands. Amherst Live brought out the local acts as well as a night full of free craft ale and food and for those who know us well...you know how much Sandra and I are fond of good Craft beer, so that little surprise combined with some great little bands was a great way to start our visit.

The first act was Erin Ivey, a young Austin singer songwriter with a lovely voice but sadly, she was having a hard time competing with the volume of neighborhood venues who were cranking out some seriously loud dance music. Still, the songs were solid and the beer was flowing, not crowded and very inviting so we stuck around.

Next up was another local band who we had seen in Toronto playing a free show close to our home. Tje Austin a former contestant on NBC series the Voice, this guy has a very very good voice. An American soul artist accompanied by a full band with plenty of horns and percussion, he had no problem competing with the noise and he put together a great set of his own material.

Tameca Jones was up next, Austin's Queen of Soul, and like Tje Austin, has an incredible voice. Well respected in the industry for putting on great live shows, her and her band put on another great set of music. It seems others have discovered her talents as Gary Clark Jr has used her on his albums and the venue is full now with fans and the venue is jumping, especially when she jumps into a very funky version of Elton Johns "Benny & The Jets” Its a full on funk fest now and we are bouncing Tameca, though, is the last of the bands to perform at this showcase so we are off to Latitude for the start of the British Music Embassy.

We arrive at Latitude for the last show of the night and it’s the band Sykes. This 3 piece Electro pop alternative group from London, featured on BBC 1 and NME a lot over the last year or so, put up a very upbeat, smooth and somewhat nostalgic synth laden set of pop songs that is a perfect way to end the night and after a short set, we are off to rest and get ready for the full days ahead.

Monday is a beautiful morning in Austin. The sun greets us as we wake up. As it is still early in the week and the music showcases have really not kicked off yet, the choices are few today but there is one massive party at the Mohawk from noon until 11:30pm that features a considerable amount of bands so we head to the venue after lunch. There is quite a lineup as this is one of the many parties that occur during the festival that are open to everyone, you need not have a music badge, so into the lineup we go.

When doors open, the bands hit the stage, the venue has two stages, a large stage outside and a smaller stage inside so the sets are back to back and there are plenty of them. As a note for anyone that plans to ever attend the festival, be warned, the stage inside is very small so it gets crowded. Best to leave the main stage area a little early, before the band gets off there, and head into the smaller room, to make sure you get a good spot!

First up outside is Chrissy & Hawley. A Dance Electro Pop group that they themselves refer to as nu-disco...is a energetic duo that perform very upbeat and active dance tracks and their onstage activity and fun approach is perfect on a sunny stage outside.

Inside is a complete change of pace and a blistering punk set from The Muncie Girls. This group from Exeter feature a very active lead singer who reminds me of Patti Smith and sounds like she could be singing for Sleater Kinney. The three piece is exceptionally tight and wakes everyone up from the slumber of the nu disco with a set of fast paced punk that is loud enough to push the day along.

Bash & Pop are up next outside and the crowd has grown even more as this band, who features lead singer and guitarist Tommy Stinson (Replacements), is one of the big buzz bands in Austin and they are only playing a limited amount of shows. They perform a blistering set of Alternative rock and roll...very very loud, and it’s a fierce blues based rock that is led by Stinsons guitar work and his distinctive voice, and his band are great. It is a professional crew of musicians and when they jump into a cover version of the Who's "Kids Are Alright"...it is fantastic. Again, picture yourself outside on a sunny day and a very very good band is cranking out a classic like this and pulling it off...its a great little moment during the day.

Inside is a band I have been really looking forward to seeing, Frankie Rose. Former member of the Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, this band features a very dynamic lead singer and her distorted dream like voice and along with a drony, sonically beautiful guitar work, Frankie Rose is a great afternoon band perhaps best suited to a dark late night setting but this show will have to do. Its a very blissful set of music that reminds me a bit of Lush and that pleases me and really hope to see this band again, back in Toronto.

Outside, and another change of pace with the dance band GGOOLLDD Synth pop hooks and upbeat dance tracks by this big 5 piece band, and if dancing is what you are after, you found it outside with these guys. It’s a big sound and a full set of dance pop.

Inside..we switch it up again and we have the 3 piece Alt Rock band Split Single. This band, hailing from Chicago, put out some Replacements'ish rock. Led by former members of Superchunk and Bob Mould Band, they have some great vocal melodies mixed with some distorted riffs and it all works very well. Another great set of rock and roll

Outside our next band was supposed to be Lizzo but she cancelled so, happily, Har Mar Superstar fills in and its a full on funk party led by one of the most charismatic and entertaining singers you will every see. While he may not ook the part, this guy is a talent, his band are tight and it’s one of the most enjoyable sets of the week. He is a popular artist around here and the crowd is bouncing, it’s wonderful to watch and wish it could go on for hours.

Inside it’s another buzz band with singer songwriter Adam Torres. This 4 piece that features some great violin work creates some solid country tinged roots rock led by Adam's solid singing and while a departure from outsides party, it is still rather lovely.

Outside, a rather large crowd has gathered for Noname.This very popular American hip hop artist was associated with Chance the Rapper and got a reputation as a stand out performer and her freestyle rapping style is clearly why this crowd is here. She is great, very entertaining, and with the amount of people who are singing along with her rhymes, its clear this crowd of mostly US college kids are enjoying this as well. She is a very positive entertainer, choosing to smile and dance around even if her lyrics are about some serious subjects. Good fun.

Inside again and it’s loud, messy guitar band and a great set from Mothers. Its hard to really describe what this band produces live. It’s loud, drone, intense and influences are all over this band. The lead singer will reminds me of Angel Olsen or Sharon Van Etten at times but her voice fades in and out around her band that will one minute be at Pixies level and then swing into a prog rock sound.

Outside is probably one of the bigger bands of the day, English electro singer songwriter Sohn Signed to 4AD, Sohn has worked as a producer for a number of different bands but his work on his own is really quite powerful live. He is a singer, multi instrumentalist, and performer, who I gather is singing rather sad songs but you couldn’t possibly tell that by listening to his live show which, is s a brilliant mix of effects and beautiful singing and despite its rather slow pace, its a constant beat that keeps everyone moving. It may be minimal electronica but it feels much bigger live and is a treat.

A quick peak outside from an upstairs patio reveals that despite the fact that there is only one band left at this showcase, there is still hundreds of people hoping to get in for the last band on the outside stage and that is Sylvan Esso.

Sylvan Esso are a very popular indie pop duo. This two piece pop duo features a lead singer and her partner, who provides the samples and beats. They work hard to entertain but compared to Sohn, it seems a little tired. It is upbeat and is making the crowd happy but it is pure pop and not as clever as what we found Sohn to be so we stay for most of their set and move off to Latitude again for the end of the evening

Quick walk to Latitude and the British Music Embassy and we arrive just in time for Jamie Issac. This London performer leads this downbeat electronic group through transitions from ambient electro to hip hop, its bass heavy and upbeat and good for a late night.

It is 1am and the last band of the day is supposed to be Blaenavon but scheduling issues mean they cannot perform and the band False Advertising is here to play instead. A hard edge 3 piece from Oxford and Manchester produce some very loud, hard rock/alt/guitar rock and they have a bite. The guitar work is rather good and this rock band produce some memorable moments despite the fact i am nearing complete exhaustion! It’s a fuzzy and passionate set to end my evening and an easy walk home to rest up for another day!

 

Tuesday morning finds a chill in the air and lots of discussion on TV and online about storms that are hitting the US. Again, its early and there are only a few showcases today and we choose one in a bar that we enjoy going to called the Blackheart It’s an afternoon that also features a two stage event so there is no downtime

First up, inside the venue, is a band called Swimming With Bears. A pop/nu soul 4 piece that produce some atmospheric guitar based rock its blissful enough and arty and a comfortable start to the day Outside is another 4 piece pop band, from Brooklyn, called Charly Bliss. Synth based guitar rock with another solid singer, it’s another dreamy pop band in the sun, hard not to like

Inside, is Eric Slick, the drummer from the band Dr Dog. These guys produce some solid Alt Pop Americana. Eric has taken his years of experience producing some quality Americana with his former band and, while his new band has a bit more of a bite to it, it still rolls along smoothly with guitar work and his singing pulls it together as he takes the opportunity to be up front.

Outside is the band The Shelters. Touring with Tom Petty, hand chosen by Tom himself, this is a great rock n roll band. They sound very polished and with Byrds like guitars and great harmonies, The Shelters check a lot of boxes if you like guitar rock and they are a great live band. The songs are well formed and with lots of changes of tempo, it never gets dull. Another great show out in the sun!

Hate to leave the sun but have to go inside to see Naked Giants.These guys are a highly touted new alternative punk band from Seattle. Blistering Blues guitar rock moves seamlessly into some heavy punk, they are loud but its a great bit of noise. If you like lively guitar rock, go check them out.

Outside to another change of pace with Ben Sollee & The Kentucky Native. This band are the real deal, a Kentucky band, lead singer/cellist plays in a unique way with some R&B influences and assisted by banjo, fiddle, lots of string and a true Americana Louisiana sound. Drifting off into the sun, these guys play some great bluegrass based folk music and it’s a nice change.

Back inside and we have Split Single again. Another set of rock n roll and it may be louder than the previous set!

Outside is Communist Daughter. Loved their album last year and am glad to be outside in the sun to see them. 5-piece band, with 5-part harmony and a pure indie rock sound. The songs are rather sad as they seem to tells stories of the lead singers past, time spent in rehab and difficulty dealing with his issues but the songs are built up to portray a more sunny look to the future. It comes across well in a live setting and the songs flowed quickly and the set was finished and I was happy to have had the chance to see them.

Inside, its Jamie Isaac again, just as lively as he was the night before and he made the crowd happy inside

Outside, its Ne-Hi.I had very little knowledge of the band before we got to Austin so I was surprised to see a crowd gathering for these guys. As soon as they kicked off their set, people were singing along and it was clear they had some fans around here!. They are from Chicago, a big grunge/garage rock...at times quite similar to The Cribs. There is a quality to the band and do the indie rock thing very well and they do look like they are a band who is just about to break. They appeal to a large cross section of fans and looks like they have a very dedicated fan base already.

Inside we have Johnny P. This Nashville based soul singer songwriter is a very skilled singer. He is smooth and his band plays very well around him and his voice is suited for his R&B style. The songs he has written are solid and he has a good way about him on stage with the crowd and its a strong set.

Outside is the sunny psych rock band Temples. I was curious to see how the new songs translated to a live show and am happy with how they sounded. Having seen the band a few times, it was a typical Temples set and they are quite popular here so the crowd is into them as well.

In the evening we are at Latitude for one band before we take off for the main showcase of the evening. That one band is Dream Wife. Having heard some of their songs, I was intrigued to see how they would manage to pull it off live. It turns out they have no problem playing their hi octane punk garage rock live.

The band is led by 3 young talented women, one from Iceland and 2 from England with a very versatile drummer behind them. The singer has a delicate style about her but the songs are fierce and powerful. The guitar work reminds me of some very good grunge rock bands and the songs are fantastic. They have an endearing style about them that you can’t ignore and the songs are so sonically smooth that the set is over before I was ready to leave them. Definitely one of the better bands I was going to see this week and I am glad I fit them in here

Next up is a walk over to the Spoon showcase. Spoon were asked by SXSW to create a 3 night residency at one bar and curated showcases based on bands they admired.

On the way to Spoon, we walked through the lobby of the Hilton and happily ran into quite a good band playing there. James Junius was playing inside and this kid was fantastic A young political 70's style singer songwriter who calls his music "heartland shoegaze" and I quite liked it. He is a huge Ride, Slowdive and Cocteau Twins fan and you can tell. His sound is unique and a pure sound, his voice was stunning and I am going to have to do more research on this youngster, as I was very impressed

Now we head to the Spoon party just in time to see Big Big Love. This Mexican rock band is heavy on keyboards and a very big sound. It’s an energetic show of dreamy rock songs and being on the big stage set up for Spoon, they have the advantage of professional sound crews and lighting and its a solid show. Nothing new but a quality set of upbeat lively rock songs

Next up is Bright Light Social Hour. These guys were fantastic. I am partial to big psychedelic rock bands and this one fits the bill. Austin based and with albums produced by Britt Daniels from Spoon, these guys are popular here and it is noticeable with the crowd. This band is very good. Great voices, clever guitar work, rhythms that are brilliantly infectious and it all comes together in a perfect package. Its a high quality set of brooding songs or ones that pack a mighty punch and it keeps you on your toes. I am very impressed

A Giant Dog is up next on the stage. These guys are the big buzz band of the festival. The band has been together for a while but its only recently they have come into their own. The lead singer, Sabrina Ellis, is your quintessential lead singer for a punk rock band. She is fearless, and lively and engaging and a fantastic singer. Her band, of four very solid musicians including two guitarists, bass player and drummer, follow her lead and its a great set of instant punk rock classic songs. When Sabrina splits her lip with her mic, and with blood pouring out of the wound, she doesn't miss a beat, she sings, screams and runs around with a manic approach that must be hard to keep up with.

She is onstage wearing a red one piece bathing suit with a hood, it’s an odd sight but it works. Their songs are powerful and about many social issues and the band is unapologetic, they have a message and its coming at you quick. It was a very very good set of punk rock.

Things slow down a bit with a bit of Canadiana and a rare set by the band New Pornographers. This indie rock band has plenty of songs to choose from but their set was quite solid as far as what I was hoping for. A few new songs and a best of set of some of my favorite songs (Brill Bruisers was brilliant) was a great way to lead into Spoon. New Pornographers are one of the premiere indie rock bands out there and they sound fantastic. Dreamy Rock and Roll is great at midnight and this was very dreamy and high quality stuff.

Local heroes Spoon are up next. The band were once based in Austin and a couple of their members including their lead singer Britt Daniel have moved back. Their new album is out the week of SXSW.

There is a huge lineup outside and the place is buzzing. While the bands leading to Spoon have been great, really, most are just here to see Spoon. The guys hit the stage and the place erupts and that includes people outside as well, they can hear and they know the band has started up. Classic hits like "Inside Out" and "The Underdog" light the place up as does new song "Hot Thoughts". Spoon are a very good rock and roll band and they have a lot of high quality songs, it must be tough to pick and choose what songs to play and I think the crowd would be happy with anything. It’s 2am and its time to get back, get some rest, and start again tomorrow.

Jim

Temple Bar Tradfest is now in its twelfth year, and as a certain Michael Eavis would say, this year's was the best one yet! A welcome attraction at the end of the bleak month of January, the event is comprised of concerts, recitals and special events in venues, pubs and churches in the centre of the capital. The term trad is applied loosely. There are indeed events that are very traditional, but the line up also included Billy Bragg, Fairport Convention, the Rails, Martin & Eliza Carthy, Mundy and an ultra-rare concert by Maria McKee.

MARIA MCKEE

Perhaps not quite as extraordinary as Kate Bush returning to live performance after thirty years, this Maria McKee show had a similar vibe to it all the same. Maria has not toured since 2006 and she released her last conventional album in 2007. Since then she has been working with her filmmaker husband on films and soundtracks. She still has a devoted fan base, which became clear when she asked on Twitter what people would like to hear at this one off concert in Dublin. Many obscure requests were tweeted. People travelled from the U.K., Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Norway to be at this gig.

St Patrick's Cathedral is a fabulous venue for a concert. The vicar came on to welcome us, mention fire exits and introduce support act Luan Parle. After a short interval Maria walked onto the stage, to a huge ovation, which prompted her to say, “I must come out of retirement more often!”

On some songs she was accompanied by friends on acoustic or electric guitar, but the main part of the show was performed solo, either with acoustic guitar or piano. It is amazing how well complicated songs such as 'High Dive' and 'Absolutely Barking Stars' translate into acoustic versions. She played the hits - 'A Good Heart', 'If Love Is A Red Dress' and a particularly impressive 'Show Me Heaven'. Her voice is as strong as it always was, and it sounded huge, reaching all corners of the cavernous cathedral.

Maria's in-between-song-chat was very funny and despite her becoming a bit of a recluse she seems well and happy. We learned that she is the same age as her dog, is Facebook friends with Linda Thompson and is not ruling out living in Ireland again. The encore, 'Life Is Sweet', was the highlight for me. Several people were wiping away tears.

Afterwards Maria came out to chat and was generous with her time. Fans stood around and listened to each other's conversations. A man in front of me announced that he had come from Italy, which caused Maria to exclaim, “Are you Lorenzo? You called your baby after me!!” Hard to top that... My trump card was a photo of me and her at Tower Records Piccadilly from 1986. Most people just wanted to say however how grateful they were for the opportunity to see her perform again after such a long time.

SHARON SHANNON

The Tradfest has a number of free events, including the Front Row Sessions, with artists such as the Fureys, Stockton's Wing and Sharon Shannon. Each act performed a number of times over the weekend. I caught Sharon Shannon at the Old Storehouse for an afternoon gig. I have followed Sharon since her Waterboys days, so I knew she would be great. It was lovely see her in an intimate pub setting.

Sharon was accompanied by Jim Murray on guitar, Sean Regan on fiddle and beatboxing and Jack Maher on electric guitar and vocals. This is as good as trad gets and it is to Sharon's credit that she has made this music accessible to an audience that would not normally go for this kind of thing. Of course none other than the late great John Peel was a Sharon Shannon fan.

Her one hour set featured her biggest tunes, 'Coridinio', 'Mouth Of The Tobique', 'Rathlin Island', but also a new set. A new album will be out in March. Jack Maher sang a lovely version of Dylan's 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' and the inevitable, but always hugely enjoyable, 'Galway Girl'. For the final song, 'The Bungee Jumpers' the band were accompanied by a class of special needs children on about twenty bodhráns. It sounded fantastic and put a smile on everyone's face.

SARAH JAROSZ

Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist Wunderkind Sarah Jarosz played St Werburgh's Church early on in the festival. There was a long queue well before the doors opened. I had seen Sarah before but this was her best show yet. She was accompanied by two musicians who played various string instruments and who were superb. I thought the electric guitar parts were particularly beautiful. It made you wish you were somewhere in a vast sunny open space, rather than in this extremely cold church (note to self: If I ever go to a concert in St Werburgh's again bring a flask of vodka..).

Sarah commented on the cold a number of times, also indicating that it affected the instruments. Some furious tuning went on. It made for a very quiet atmosphere, though it is hard to say whether people were too cold to move much or just listening so intently as the show was that good.

NOTIFY

Notify are a modern trad quintet, lead by concertina player Pádraig Rynne. Their songs feature traditional-sounding melodies, played by Pádraig, backed by more contemporary sounds coming from keyboards, drums and an electric bass. It works wonderfully well. The compositions are their own. The band are unassuming and non-showy. Check out their CD 'In Concept'.

Notify played in St Michan's Church (heated!) and were followed by Jiggy, a nine piece collective who are trying something not dissimilar to the Afro Celt Sound System. Although the group includes very talented musicians including Éamonn De Barra on flute and Matthew Noone on sarode (a Indian instrument) it did not work for me as a whole. I would always be sceptical of a band that includes someone on MacBook on stage...

LUNCHTIME RECITALS

I saw two lunchtime recitals at the City Hall, and they are terrific events in a very pretty setting. The most traditional of gigs, they are introduced by festival director Kieran Hanrahan himself, and his enthusiasm for the music he is presenting is plain to see.

Concertina player Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh treated the lunchtime crowd to an hour of reels, jigs, hornpipes and airs on three different types of concertina. His banter was witty and the tunes hypnotic. I often think that in trad less is more and it was great to have the opportunity to hear these instruments at length and unaccompanied.

Flute player Órlaith McAuliffe is from London with Kerry roots. She played a one hour show on flute and whistle. As Mr Hanrahan said afterwards, not a note was out of place. It was also refreshing to hear Órlaith talk about the tunes, in a break from the trad habit where musicians think it is hilarious that they do not know the names of tunes.

LIVE AT THE HUB

Under this banner the Tradfest presents up and coming artists at free late night concerts at the Old Storehouse. Singer/songwriter Sive has her own band, her own songs and a confident stage presence. One to watch for sure.

Female a cappella quartet Landless were good too. They sing four part harmonies, with songs from the Irish, English, Scottish and American tradition. Their set was well received. They made people stop chatting despite the late hour.

Cáitlín, Ciarán & Cathal were not listed in the festival programme, so they must have filled in. Their set was one of the most traditional and all the better for it. The guys looked old-fashioned in their tweed jackets; their music was top-notch. Ciarán is a member of the Na Mooneys musical family from Co.Donegal, and Caitlín Nic Gabhann is an All-Ireland concertina champion and a former Riverdancer.

Temple Bar Tradfest is held annually the last weekend of January.

Helen.