Posts Tagged ‘2013’

SXSW 3/14/13 Frightened Rabbit

September 19, 2013

After Atlas/Genius’ set, the international portion of the evening continued with Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit. The first of the “featured bands” of the night, I was excited to see them as they had been on our list of bands to see based on listening to their newest release, Pedestrian Verse.

The most veteran band to play so far in the night, you would think their stage presence wouldn’t be a problem. Their music is a little on the dour side, but my overall impression of their time on stage was “flat”.

Partially that memory might be tainted by the act that followed (more on that next time), but I do remember commenting after they finished that they had sucked some energy out of the room. It was a “by the numbers” set that could have left you wondering if they should have been named Deer in Headlights.

That’s just my opinion of course, and a band is entitled to an off night just the same as anyone can at their job.

Here’s a short video from someone who must have been standing very close to us, audio quality is bad:

SXSW Atlas Genius 3/14/2013

August 14, 2013
Keith Jeffrey from Atlas Genius

Keith Jeffrey from Atlas Genius

After a tight and quick set by Surfer Blood, next up at the Belmont was Australia’s Atlas Genius.  I hadn’t heard of them until I started going through bands for SXSW.  I had put them down as a “would see” and my only other note was “mellow”.  Laid back might be a better descriptor as they rock while making it look and sound easy.  If you’ve heard one song from them, it’s probably the song “Trojans”.  It’s an earworm for sure even if it’s a pretty straight-forward guitar pop on the surface.  Jeffrey’s voice doesn’t really have any hint of his native land, it’s smooth and polished and glides well over his guitar and the rhythms drummer  Michael Jeffrey lays down.  One of their influences is the Police and you can definitely hear hints of that band in a few of their songs as well as a few 80s synth-pop influences.

Just like Surfer Blood, their set wasn’t that long (remember, at this point we still had 3 more bands before headliner Flaming Lips) but they were confident and fun to listen to.  In addition to “Trojans”, “If So” was the other stand-out from their set.  Guitarist Keith did come do some solo work off to the edge of the stage, and also made his way into the crowd.  If a band doesn’t send someone into the crowd, I’m going to be worried.

Here’s a quick vid from their set, sorry audio is not the best but only one I could find:

SXSW 3/14/13 Surfer Blood

August 5, 2013

P1050784Picking up from when I last wrote about SXSW, after Guards finished their set at the Belmont, next up on the bill was Florida’s Surfer Blood.  Lead singer John Paul Pitts came out with kitten whiskers and nose painted in black on his face; I had actually seen him before the show walk past us but figured he was just another Flaming Lips fan.  The band ripped through a combination of material from their well-regarded Astro Coast as well as songs from its new album Pythons, which wasn’t out at the time of this show.  Surfer Blood plays catchy guitar pop and the crowd enjoyed both songs that people knew (Swim) and didn’t (the excellent Demon Days).  Pitts has a slightly nasally delivery that has got the required attitude to accompany the hook-y music.

Taking a cue from what seemed like every other band we’d seen, Pitts came out into the crowd during the middle of the set and sang while his bandmates slayed on stage.  I was impressed with the tightness of their set, and seeing how young they looked, they seemed very put together.  I didn’t know of Pitts’ domestic violence charge (later dropped by his girlfriend) at the time of the show, but one would hope he’s learned from that situation.

P1050787Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Surfer Blood continues along the same track they are on or diversify their sound.  For now, I’m happy for them to keep rocking.  Would definitely go see these guys again.  Two acts into the night at Belmont, we were 2 for 2.

You can see the entire set here:

Rodrigo y Gabriela, Devotchka, and Lord Huron @ Hollywood Bowl, 7/14/2013

July 23, 2013

My first show of the year at the Hollywood Bowl was a good one.  We got to the Bowl early enough to have a great picnic spread in the park adjacent to the stadium and still make it to our seats for the first of two openers, Lord Huron.  The L.A.-based band played a nice set of folk-tinged rock.  The catchy “Time To Run”, the second to last song of their set, was the highlight.  The beat and melody remind me of something 80’s Paul Simon would have put together.  The rest of the songs seemed to be played as more straight-forward rock than the softer, harmonizing touches of their studio album.

Next up was Colorado’s Devotchka.  Not sure when I’d formed my opinion of this band, but I wasn’t as excited to see them as some others in my group.  Having spent some time listening to them after the show, combined with the great energy in their live show, I was won over.  They have a little bit of a kitchen sink approach to their sound, there’s bits and pieces of a lot of different musical styles in their songs.  The constant is the distinctive and soulful voice of lead singer Nick Urata.  He can really convey emotion in his voice and he kept the interest of the gathering crowd throughout their set (except for the chatters behind us who talked almost constantly through the first two acts and the first part of R&G’s set).

I had seen R&G one other time in LA at a theater and they didn’t do much in terms of a stage show because they don’t really need one.  They provide plenty of entertainment themselves.  So I was a little surprised when the Bowl’s rotating stage swung around and their was a video screen flanked by two cardboard recreations of brick walls.  I thought for a second, that would be cool if they did an acoustic instrumental version of the “The Wall”.  Alas, that’s not what they had in store for us.

P1090187Not to worry though, they still put on a hell of  a show.  They are working on new material so they announced they would be playing mostly old songs with a few new things thrown in that they were working on.  If you’re not familiar with the group, they are, as their name suggests, a male / female duo from Mexico.  Who play guitar very well.  Like super great.

Since they have no percussion section, they make their own using their fingers and hands on the guitar frame.  And they often do this while simultaneously playing.  The video screen did some great close ups of their fingers dancing all over their guitars.  Gabriela especially has rubber fingers that bounce all over the place.

You’d think that two people playing instrumental songs on guitar might get a tad boring over an hour and a half.  It didn’t.  They mix it up a little with solo pieces, where I imagine the other person goes backstage and dips their fingers in ice for five minutes.  Gabriela transfixed the audience with her finger “beat boxing” and Rodrigo eked out some sounds from his acoustic guitar that I did not think were possible.  They did throw a curve ball when they wheeled out a piano and had some accompaniment for a few songs of Cuban-influenced songs from their 2012 collaborative album with C.U.B.A.  Those songs really got people on their feet.

An encore of a few songs kept the tempo upbeat and Rodrigo went shirtless.  Gabriela did not join him.

Here’s a video of one of Gabriela’s solos:

Iron & Wine, First Unitarian Church, LA – 6/23/2013

June 24, 2013

When I went to SXSW earlier this year, I got to see an acoustic set by Samuel Beam, aka Iron & Wine, where he played a few songs from his upcoming album and took requests from his fans.  I had wanted to check him out but I was only a casual fan before that show.  It was a highlight of the festival for me.  A few nights later at SXSW, we went to a show at a local church featuring several artists, closing with Mr. Beam.  However, this time we had to make a tough choice and opted to skip a second performance by him and go to see Vampire Weekend.  There was a little bit of regret in that decision given the venue and how much I had liked his performance.

So when I saw that Iron & Wine was playing in LA at a church, I had my second chance and we grabbed tickets.  The venue was the First Unitarian Church in Koreatown.  We got there just as the opening act, Bonzie, was playing a Radiohead cover, when we walked into the darkened auditorium, a suitable mood setter.  It was a true auditorium with seating, not church pews, and the most obvious sign this was a church were the stained glass windows on one wall and the old-time chandeliers on the high ceilings.

After a short break, Sam took the stage sporting a beard even bigger than he had at SXSW.  And he was joined by a brass section, string section and three back up singers, in addition to a drummer and bassist.  His newest album has some more complex arrangements than previous albums and he was definitely intent on recreating that with this live show.  The first part of the show focused mostly on his new album, though he did play one of my favorite songs on the third song, Tree By The River.  Sam played up to the enthusiastic crowd and he played up to the venue when he announced he and God had come to an agreement to let him play Monkeys Uptown, which contains a few f-bombs.  His three brass players (who also swapped out horns for flutes and clarinets at various points) were their own sight to see, swaying in unison when they weren’t playing with the fervor of old Motown.

Beam then did a set without the band, and like at SXSW, he took in the shouted requests and opened up his back catalog freely to his fan.  My favorite of this set was his cover of Love Vigilantes by New Order.  I didn’t realize he had recorded a cover, but I absolutely love that song and his cover is a great substitute for the original.  As he played to the rapt audience, his shadow played on the huge wall on the side of the room around three rotating circles of light, a nice visual accompaniment to his music.  He eventually had his band rejoin him for a few numbers including an epic instrumental freakout (blanking on which song but thinking it was something from the new album) that would have made Explosions In The Sky blush.  By the time he had come out for an encore and played one last song, he had played almost 2 hours and everyone left happy.


SXSW 3/14/13 Guards

March 28, 2013

After Local Natives, we had wandered in the direction of where we thought French singer Fredda would be doing a set, but then realized she was playing far away at a hotel. We swung by the food truck caravan and got a call from our friends that they were in line at the Belmont and that we should get over there. We finished our grilled cheese (yummy) and walked over to see the large line at the Belmont.

Actually two lines, one for badges and one for wristbands, those without either weren’t getting in. The lines were mostly there because Flaming Lips was playing, but we had also been enticed by several other bands on our respective to-see lists. We had a nice chat with some folks from Sweden in line and then got in within minutes of the doors opening thanks to our badges.

We snagged a prime spot in a corner about 10 feet from the stage. It was an outdoor venue with a small stage, a small area in front of the stage where we were and then a bigger patio a few steps above the front area.

It was crowded but not packed when the first band, Guards, took the stage. This was not one if the bands we came to see and I mistook them for Surfer Blood when they first started playing due to the languid guitar pop sound coming from the stage. Oops, I obviously am not a connoisseur of either band.

For the opening band of a 7 band bill, they were surprisingly good which is a testament to the depth of talent that SXSW brings to the table. Silver Linings is a good representation of the band’s style and one of the songs from the set I recognized when listening to them after SXSW. It has a catchy chorus, a neat guitar riff, and elements that would evoke shoegaze as well as power pop in the same song.

Their live show had a bit more zing than their recorded material and guitarist Richie Follin ventured out into the crowd with his guitar near the end of the set. Apparently there was a memo encouraging this behavior sent to bands, this was not the first, or last time, we’d witness this.

I only learned afterwards that Follin is the brother of Cults singer Madeline Follin and played guitar on that group’s album. I’m a huge fan of that record and looking back I can see some similarities. Cults is probably a bit more poppy and has a more polished sound, the Guards a little fuzzier around the edges. Fuzzy was my last impression of the band as they left one by one in a buzz of feedback.

A good start to the night!