James Blake @ Stubb’s:
There was definitely an air of anticipation (and weed) for James Blake’s first SXSW performance. After an approx. 30 minute delay due to technical problems the superstar of the Indieverse took the stage. First things, we noticed were 1) James Blake is really fucking tall. Like dude towers over everyone else on stage. 2) His band is very young. The other lads in the band were maybe 22-23. Blake started the set with “What Was It You Said About Luck”, immediately we’re struck by how strong the vocals come off live. The R&B influences are particularly palpable as Blake smooths in and out of each syrupy melodic line. The bass was really loud; windpipe shaking, back of your mouth rattling loud. The interplay between the physical intensity of the bass, the sweetness of the vocal, and the detached withdrawn quality of much of James Blake’s songs was quite powerful. “Limit to Your Love” was a highlight that included an excellent 4-5 minute dub reggae-styled section.
James Blake – Wilhelm Scream
Mona @ Antone’s:
Dressed in plain t-shirts and styled in pompadour-esque haircuts, Nashville’s Mona ripped into set opener “Trouble on the Way”. Despite some tepid early interactions with Antone’s house soundguy, the band blazed through an approx. 30 minute set with an absolute confidence and strong focus. Second song “Teenager” soared, “Listen to Your Love” filled the room. The venue was maybe 3/4’s full but those there were really feeling it and the band seemed to (almost unbelievably) level up with each song. Mona were great, a band truly in top form. Later in the set, they played some newer more Nashville, sort of Gospel-influenced material. What we heard sounded solid, with frontman Nick Brown sounding almost Joshua Tree-era Bono-esque (in a good way) at times. Mona are stars and primed to blow the fuck up on both sides of the Atlantic, and with sets like Wednesday Night’s at Antone’s (a favorite of SXSW thusfar) they’ve got the live performance chops to back up the hype.
Mona – Teenager
Belle Brigade @ The Phoenix:
We made it over to the KCRW showcase at The Phoenix just in time to catch the later half of Belle Brigade’s set. What we experienced was a well crafted, energetic set of tunes that showcased the band’s excellent harmonizing and onstage performance skills. Set closer “Losers” really cut the room well with the LA brother-sister duo’s backing band doing great work to really lift the song’s best moments.
Belle Brigade – Losers
Chapel Club @ The Phoenix:
Anticipation was high at the capacity filled Phoenix for Chapel Club’s up-to-this-date rare U.S. performance. The band opened with “Surfacing” and, at times, seemed tenuous, as if the weightiness of the moment caught the band a bit off guard. “Roads”, from the “Wintering” EP, was next and showed off the band’s newer more atmospheric sound. The chemistry onstage between guitarists Michael Hibbert and Alex Parry is really phenomenal. Their performances were definitely the highlight of the set. Singles “O Maybe I” and “All the Eastern Girls” engaged the crowd. Singer Lewis Bowman commented several times during the set to the effect that, the band were “suprised to be there”. We weren’t. Despite a few dodgier edges, Chapel Club certainly played as if they belonged on a stage like the Phoenix… or larger.
Chapel Club – After the Flood
Ellie Goulding @ Bat Bar:
The Bat Bar was packed for Ellie Goulding’s midnight set. A significant overflow crowd filled the street outside the small venue. Ellie and her fans seemed totally captivated with each other. That interaction was great. The kid’s knew and sang back the lyric to every song. What wasn’t good: The venue. Ellie and her band were jammed into a corner of a long brick corridor. The basic space and acoustics of the room made for some poor sound. We had difficulty hearing the band, hearing Ellie. From what we could hear, the band sounded small, too small for her sound. Set closer “Starry Eyed” ended the night on a positive note as the oblong room went brick discotheque, arms flailing wildly, bodies in motion, post-adolescent girl to aging hipster dude.
Tinie Tempah – Wonderman (feat. Ellie Goulding)
Contributed by Alex Sheehan
Photography contributed by Genevieve Sheehan