SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Thumpers

Lead singer Marcus Pepperell from Thumpers.

Lead singer Marcus Pepperell from Thumpers.

Out in the streets of Austin now, we headed under the 35 highway and to the North Door to see Thumpers as part of Sub Pop’s showcase. North Door was a new venue for us. A big open first floor has a smallish stage at one end, stairs at either end of the room lead to a second floor balcony that would be a great escape if the main floor was crowded.

We didn’t head up there because the main floor was definitely not crowded. I was surprised. Guess either Sub Pop has lost its cache with the kids and/or the buzz I’d heard about Thumpers wasn’t that widespread.

I was also interested in why a label I associated with American grunge music was hosting a showcase featuring a UK indie pop outfit. Doing some research later, I found they are no longer entirely independent and have ties to one of the big boys, Warner and are the label of the more genteel indie rock bands like The Shins. Which makes the pairing more logical.

Thumpers is the duo of childhood friends Marcus Pepperell (vocals and guitar) and John Hamson (drums), though for this show they had two additional musicians playing bass, keyboards, additional percussion, and backing vocals.  As soon as they started playing, my wife leaned over and said, “it’s this year’s Bastille“.  I totally concurred.  We saw Bastille last year at SXSW, well before they broke through in the U.S. with the song Pompeii, which now is on the once an hour rotation with Katy Perry, Imagine Dragons and other U.S. pop staples here on L.A. pop stations.

What’s the similarities?  A photogenic, charismatic  lead singer with a good voice, a ton of energy with their live show, and infectious groovy songs.  Despite playing to a small room, they exuded positive vibes and seemed genuinely happy to be playing to the small group gathered at the North Room.  John Hamson’s drumming anchors the band’s sounds and he got to show off his chops throughout the set.  Pepperell isn’t a shredding guitar player, but that’s ok as they aren’t trying to be the Black Keys.  Even though we had only heard one of their songs, Unkinder (which was just as good live as the recorded version), everything else they played was fun and everyone that was there was getting more into as the set went on.

Speaking about getting into it, halfway through the set, a guy in glasses, burnt orange corduroys, and shoulder length straight hair (think a slightly nerdier version of this guy circa Dazed and Confused) came in and immediately got his dance on.  I wondered if he knew the band because he was dancing like he was very familiar with their songs and was rocking out almost a little too much.  Did Thumpers have a hype man they were planting in the crowd?  Before we could get any answers they finished up their set.  I expect to hear more from these guys.  But right now, we were trying to speed over to the Mohawk for another up-and-coming act.

Here’s a live version from another showcase Thumpers did playing Sound of Screams, another song we heard at the North Room:

Sound of Screams

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