B3SCI took to the streets of Austin in March for the 25th annual South by Southwest. We braved/raged through the musical flurry of performances, ridiculous entourages, grid-locked streets, fantastic rumors and more while covering some of the world’s top breaking talent. Below are some choice highlights from our experience (during festival highlights here), including our most recent Virgin Mobile Live broadcast featuring tunes from festival acts as well interviews with Fast Years, Tashaki Miyaki, PAPA and Saint Motel tracked on the streets of SX.
Full set list here.
WEDNESDAY March 14, 2012
Millennial music-host royalty Carson Daly kicked off Wednesday evening at his Last Call showcase with punked-out pop rockers Roll the Tanks. After a flattering introduction from Daly himself, Roll the Tanks and their Never Mind the Bollocks-informed post 90s-fueled power-pop set a familiar tone. Some songs had a definite Weezer-type approach, in a cheeky sort of way, and when combined with the energy of decades worth of nostalgic punk, and for that the band made some new fans. Sans some technical difficulties, the band powered through a well versed set of savvy- for-commercial-voltage rock music.
SOFI is a contemporary pop artist. A type that might foreshadow a new wave of SXSW popular artists. Sophie brought her brand of Lady Gaga electro-heavy pop to Parish on 6th street with a strut. It was a spectacle of dancers, poles, lights, a mic, and some backing tracks. That about covers it, a few timely electro pop songs and a hot stage show that clearly attracted some die-hard fans. The bass-driven atmosphere worked so well that I wondered about the possible scheduling conflicts with the Winter Music Confrence just a Gulf of Mexico away.
The Knocks knocked it. The NYC duo finessed their gadgetry with a heaviness and energy that translated directly into a hall of moving bodies, a/k/a a serious party. In today’s Sea of electronic noise these dudes can mix in something like the B-52s with a freshness that doesn’t sound self conscious. The Knocks’ show works because of the duo’s dynamic urgency in performance.
Take a quick glimpse at Friends. If your hipster radar isn’t freaking out at this band then get it’s battery checked. When Friends rhythmic and tropically based glam-pop grace the stage you should be ready to see a fashion show along with your concert. Not unlike everything that is endearing about novelty disco, the band’s minimal sound is an urban jungle. Lead vocalist Samantha Urbani jumps into the crowd like it’s her loft party. Once this band dials in there’s no stopping the impending Studio 54. Friends’ catalogue can be spotty at times but they do have some songs that stick; like it’s that sort of abstract, new wave-flavored stick that can only come from deep record collection gold like the Thompson Twins.
Pond fucking rock. I walked into the band’s first set of SXSW and was shocked at what I saw; definitely something to see. The Perth band (worth noting, come from some Tame Impala blood) are one of the most charismatic bands I’ve seen in a minute. From fixing his hair on stage, the swinging of microphones, the sneering, the dinosaur-raptor like convulsions… front dude Nick Allbrook has a strong comfortability on stage to say the least. A sort of stage presence that walks the line of over-the-top and sheer genius. Pond’s sound encompasses a striking blend in qualities of classic rock. When the band’s ambitiousness and stoner, punk, and classic rock influiences congregate, the resulting product is a high level brand of rock and roll. POND leave an impression, enough of one that lead us to three more gigs throughout SXSW this year. More to come.
What kind of artist is Gary Clark Jr.? Is he a AAA radio staple still looking for that crossover hit? Is he the blues guy on your favorite festival circuit? or his he that guy that you and your dad can both rock out to? (Clapton fans were looking at you.) He’s probably a little bit of all the above. Gary Clark Jr. has the talent regardless of any label to be slapped on him. . His more popular songs like “Don’t Owe You a Thang” and “Bright Lights” stole the set at a song level but it was the sheer charisma of young G.C. that stole the show. Take Gary Clark featured on a guitar solo, take him featured as a vocalist.. our word, take him anyway that you can get him.
THURSDAY March 15, 2012
In the everdeep sea of soul pop legends, Lee Fields is a pearl. Coming to and from in a career of ups and downs, twists and turns, this man is still at his best. Dressed from what seems a Ross’ out of rural Nebraska, Little J.B. adeptly worked his crowds. He’s a pro. “I still got it” he sings from “…the new CD” (Faithful Man – get it) and he’s not kidding. Fields’ band, The Expression add an energy that other artists Field’s age wouldn’t be able to keep up with. Late in the set, ‘On a whim’ Fields directed his faithful band into an unrehearsed performance of their new song “Hanging On” from ‘the new CD’ (Faithful Man – get it). While getting down to the funky soul tones of Lee Fields, it was pretty hard to not notice that the dude loves singing to the ladies. Lee closed the set with “Faithful Man” which is the title track from the the CD. After letting fly his blood curdling screams of infidelity, Fields came back for a rare mid-day SXSW encore by audience demand.
BRETON performed their first set on US soil at Lat 30 during SXSW, the perfect venue for those ‘different’ sounding brits (to of course American ears), and as expected, were greeted with mixed reactions (playing both for and against their favor depending on how you like to look at it). The projects team delivered a set of electro pop that’s all their own. There’s a youthful energy in the band’s near Vans-tour style presence. With a new skool approach to pop instrumentation, Breton are likely to introduce electronic music to a few youngins or two. With BRETON’s remix work already catching fire, this band seems to have the right formula as was further evident in what we heard original material-wise.
In scurrying to make an interview we missed a set from Moonlight Bride but in the process we were pleased to stumble on a great set from Merge Recordings act Love Language. The band’s soothing middle of the road pop rock brought me back to the days of bands like The Stills. Love Language seemed to play because they live for it.
Athens, AL based four piece Alabama Shakes were definitely a band to see on most everyones list during SXSW. The good news is that the band played like 8-10 sets so that you couldn’t miss them. Regardless, frontgal Brittany Howard puts it all out on the table. Even after all the hype, all the Lefsetz, all the usual ‘ha-bub’, you still can’t take your eyes and ears off of Alabama Shakes. This is a band clearly eager to explore the depths of their musical creativity. With newer songs in the dylan’esque transition Beatles style and less of the swamp tinted pentatonic rock (which many have come to love from them), Alabama Shakes still at their heart have a soulful swagger. They are aiming for the top, which is what separates them from much of the hype. A career is about longevity. For now, Alabama Shakes are destined for festival billing but whether or not Alabama Shakes will deliver further (say an iconic album for the books) remains to be seen. Only the strong survive.
Tashaki Miyaki are a band with little to be known about. IS there something wrong with a band wanting the music to be what everything is all about? Isn’t that the way it should be? Adding a bass player helps with the live show of some generous covers appreciation. The band’s downtempo sound (which might sound familiar to some) is a signature stamp. Songwise – Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers… the singing-drummer duo has an appreciation for the singles era. An era where an artist’s tastes could be appreciated in a less time intensive fashion. Kinda ironic how the attention spans of music fans in the 50’s have never rang more true today. Tashaki Miyaki’s shoe gaze and wash of Lucy’s vocal coos and Rocky’s fuzzed guitar is a winner combination for us. Lucy sings and plays like its all she knows, beautiful consonant octaves at the third or fifth.
The shameless and expressive musical rantings of Dirty Beaches. I don’t know how Alex Zhang Hungtai can replicate the emotions performance after performance that he pours into each of his live shows, but I am always grateful for the chance to experience it. There is difficulty in always finding the pocket dealing with a more abstract/impulsive sound palette; but this dude is dialed in.
Colleen Green makes timeless strung out chic pop. The simplicity of her songs is a heavy contrast to the reflective themes that she conjures up in powerful doses. The short set of tracks was rocked at a full capacity; a bit of her pedal, a bit of Happy birfday Jeff! and a bit of moody power chord pop; perfect for this off beaten path Hotel Vegas venue.
K Dot had control of the house from moment one as he rolled through an energetic albeit brief set, comprised mainly of highlights from his much lauded Section.80 mixtape. There was a heaviness and rasp in Lamar’s voice that revealed a bit of fatigue (The guy has been literally all over Austin the past few days) but there was no let up in performance quality as the L.A. rapper 100% knocked it out.
22 year-old American-Chilean musician Nicolas Jaar kept the lights down low for his headlining slot at Central Presbyterian Church for Pitchfork’s party. Reading the room, the trio brought experimental electronic jazzish composition to a packed room of enthusiasts looking for an intimate experience outside of the chaos down on 6th street. Saxophone, laptops, strings, drums, no instrumental territory was off limits. Atmospheric in all of it’s aspects, lush, strings, electro, world beats, Jaar’s music generates a big sound both controlled and intellectual.
FRIDAY March 16, 2012
Ed Sheeran kicked off Friday morning SXSW 2k12 with something fierce. Armed with only his guitar, the UK dude tore it up at the Filter mag party.
It was at the same venue that I ran into Tristen last year at SXSW. How could those hauntingly beautiful tones not draw us back in? Her’s is a brand of poetic folk rock that touches every music lover’s inner country music. Tristen’s voice, in performance, floats as if were made for neo-trad pop. Tristen are a band comfortable in their own skin. Big.
Good old classic rock that’s not afraid to let its roots shine through. When shredding and belting vox out like American Royalty, we mean US Royalty… we mean dubbaya.
PAPA sound great. PAPA were tight, in the pocket, on their soul. And for their fourth show of the day the band were dialed in to the frequency of the circus of Austin around them. Mid-set frontman Darren Weiss even did handstands. (seriously is was pretty fucking hilarious). He said, “it does taste like chicken” and proceeded to lay down more of the soul-informed rock vibes from the band’s A Good Woman Is Hard to Find EP, and also offering some hints towards what to expect from a forthcoming new album release.
HAIM drew second looks at the Virgin Mobile Live house early Friday evening. The 3:1 lady lead collective sounded big. Crossover type big. Like advert campaign big. It will be interesting to see how and if this group will develop. It wasn’t that any of the musicianship on display was anything that would blow your mind, it was more the profound feel the band convey that drew us in. We will be watching what happens next with HAIM in 2012.
Fast Years are like the Motley Crew of jangle pop. Four cool looking dudes with a great feel for pop-informed rock music. While the fog machine (and LASERS) inside the Fire House was a bit over the top (almost choked then blinded us to death), the band still seemed to manage it. It was guitarist Mikah’s birthday and it was clear the partying on stage during set was no doubt part of the day’s celebration. With a nice collection of songs in the can, the group can look forward to hitting the road and honing their set for the masses.
Willy Mason is a good answer to AAA rock-leaning fans of artists like Noel Gallagher. Mason’s a sure bet expert collection of folk and classic rock songwriting was on display throughout the entire performance; each song telling a better tale than the last. Mason rocked the church with his fantastic band and his make-shift 19th century player-kick drum; a novelty on site but it actually added a musical depth to the mix.
Another band with a lot of hype leading in to SXSW were Daughter. Daughter have a uniquely intimate style to their songwriting. Lead singer Elen Tonra brings you into her vulnerable world with lyrics sung like they can only be said through song. Guitarist Igor Haefeli put on display one of the most beautiful/tasteful exhibitions of guitar work I’ve seen in years with such a mature sense of instinct and control. Should Daughter continue down a road of great songship, legions of fans await.
Michael Kiwanuka brings gospel-informed writing back to the mainstream of crossover songwriter pop. Like Jack Johnson, Michael Kiwanuka can pick up a guitar and potently tell a quiet story to masses of media-bombarded music consumers. Presences like his make for timeless moments and hit records. Kiwanuka is a budding talent with likely incredible things on his horizon.
Strolling back to my hotel room Friday night, I heard a gnarly version of The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” echo through the streets. Fuck it I’m at SXSW. I followed my ears and (surprise!) I found Dinosaur Jr. rocking the 80’s classic. Not much to say about Dinosaur Jr. except it’s the only thing that could have picked me up at 2am. The trio play like they just discovered rocking out with each other in their garage yesterday.
SATURDAY March 16, 2012
I ran into Michael Kiwanuka watching The War on Drugs. He seemed captivated by the band. Can you blame him? The War on Drugs are easily one of the next great American folk rock legacies. Frontman Adam Grundencial delivers dylan’esque rambles with brilliance. Guitar riffs played an important role in the songs as well; vocal and instrumental melodies met with a rootsful backing.
By the time we caught our third set of Pond I was convinced to have some conclusion. Especially after catching a second set in a venue better suited to host MMA on Pay-Per-View, and awful sound. Frontman Nick Allbrook took to the crowd in an early St. Patties Day jabber something like, “Busting is it? We’re Pond from Brixton. I’m Irish…” as they slammed into their blues rock, Led Zeppelin like wall of sound. The upstair patio at Maggie Mae’s took notice. Pond had the right amount of tameness this time, like their appearance at Hype Hotel two days earlier, and about 40% more tame than the ‘cage-match’ show the day before. With each set tactically different than the last, and this one being 20 some minutes in length, Pond held a captive audience. The band brought the pace back for “Broke My Cool”, a classic rock like ballad that showcased Allbrook’s voice more so than his personality; at moments Jagger-like in its’ tone-deffness. Perth’s Pond, have character. Some of the most character I’ve seen in a rock band in a minute. Add the Tame Impala backstory and a hearty new album, and we’ve got a band that might have us at fan status.
Bob Mould tore in to a complete performance of Sugar’s Copper Blue at the MOG party at Mohawk. Again he proved the album’s a classic, Sugar was epic, he’s a genius. Mould’s attitude and deamenor simply reads something like ‘fuck it’. The trio on stage killed the songs like they just wrote them yesterday. There’s something to admire about musicians that never loose the sight for and passion in their roots.
Clock Opera are a good reference point for contemporary indie pop rock bands. The five piece out of London put on a solid set of, mostly air-tight, rhythmically driven songs, and dis-enfrachised lyrics with non-traditional melodies and structures that you can’t get out of your head. Plus the band occasionally rock out on household kitchen ware! The crowd partied at the Nialler 9 showcase with an uptempo set of Clock Opera songs from their previous EP’s as well as their forthcoming Ways to Forget debut LP release.
This was a punk rock show. Posers take note. Provocatively genuine microphone gestures, moshers who mosh like it’s a profession, shit breaking on stage. The Bay area band ripped through an arsenal of material including cuts from their latest Matador release, Zoo. See this band but stand in the back.
O^2 bring out the inner garage rock in everyone. The muddied abrasive, but still melodic, guitars frame songs with lyrics that live forever (when audible.. which is kind of the point). In fact it inspired me so much that I was compelled to buy one of the band’s cassette tapes (yes, that’s right a cassette tape). This Toronto trio will rip your head off it you’re not ready for them. The music, as energetic as it was loud, was played HARD with a washy mix of heavily fuzzed guitars. The band’s song structure is simple and on the punkier side of garage music. “Handlebars” stood out as a favorite with it’s British-y sneer and kowabunga cool vibes.
Forest Fire are a band waiting for that big moment. With an almost Monkees quirkiness to them, the band must be on deck for the next Austin Powers movie. Plus lead singer Mark Thresher clearly knows a good parka when he sees one (James Brown would probably give it an 8.5)! Following the stage after Ceremony could not have been a good feeling for this band who might as well had been playing hippy rock in a field of daffodils. Still good pop is good pop music, and where stage experience lacked the, band made up for in melody and pure song.
After what seemed a soundtrack from hell, the Velvet Teen launched into their much anticipated set. The jagged chords of “Radiapathy” would soon lead the crowd’s delight. A new track presumably from their forthcoming 6 years in waiting LP was mainly rhythmic and had no guitar. In fine Velvet Teen fashion, a departure from anything expected next out of the band. Judah Nagler got the crowd into it “come on Austin”! but there wasn’t much selling needed to be done.
One of the most hyped acts at SXSW this year seemed to be Django Django. Lat 30 was packed to catch a glimpse of these popular new wave revivalists. The London collective rocked a new school DEVO type vibe. And like DEVO, in our opinion, DD either strike out or hit a homerun with what they are doing. Django Django are the type of band that relies on a penchant for strong tunes and consistency and have a successful career waiting where a boppy aesthetic makes for pleasant listening. It will be interesting to follow what 2012 (and potential music licensing, these are tunes that scream advert placement) will have in store for them.
The Manchester based beatsmith D/R/U/G/S filled in for Maverick Sabre who unfortunately couldn’t make it to Austin. While musically a major departure from the originally scheduled act, D/R/U/G/S took the stage, cast on left-arm and ready to deliver an electro induced set of dancey mayhem. Synced with his custom visuals, the DJ rocked through a set of intricate sound layers and manipulation. The music was great and his freshly minted remix on Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans” stood a set highlight
Reviewed by b3