Posts Tagged ‘SXSW’

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Deap Vally

March 27, 2014

P1100257We took the good vibes from Thumpers set and went out into the afternoon sun to walk over to the Mohawk. The goal was to see Angel Olson and then stick around for Deap Vally, who I hadn’t listened to but had gotten some good words from Operation Every Band.  We spent a lot of time at the Mohawk last year and had always been able to walk right in and enjoy either the relatively spacious outdoor stage or squeeze into the small indoor stage.

This year we were met with a rather long line.  Dang.  Our only hope was that there had been enough delays during the day that we’d make it through the line before Angel went on.  In my haste to get into the line I got too close to a palm tree, which cleanly sliced the sleeve of my shirt and my shoulder.  First blood of SXSW drawn!

As the minutes ticked by and we did not move, we resigned ourselves to not seeing Angel Olson.  But we decided to stay to see if we could get in for Deap Vally.  Finally people started leaving (probably from Angel’s set) and we were in.  We grabbed a beer and slid into the back of the indoor stage.  The two women of Deap Vally were doing their soundcheck.  Lindsey Troy sings and play guitar, Julie Edwards drums and also has some vocal duties.  The soundcheck was relatively tame and didn’t prepare me for the rocking I was about to receive.

Donned in a sequined halter top and matching short shorts, Troy played fast and loud and her singing reminded me of Janis Joplin,P1100267 if she had made it in life to punk rock.  And Edwards, also bedazzled, bashed the drums and kept pushing the songs faster.  They had portions of the crowd headbanging along with them as they moved from song to song with minimal crowd talk and maximum riffing.  My reaction was this was a mix of Rubber Factory-era Black Keys and Black Sabbath because of the heaviness of their sound.  Which means I liked it a lot.

Having found that they are from the San Fernando Valley and met in Silver Lake, I was stoked to know we could be seeing them again in the future in LA.  I had already forgotten about missing Angel Olson.  We were almost done with our Wednesday day sessions, but we had one very short walk to see our last band before dinner.



SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Thumpers

March 21, 2014
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

SXSW 2014 Wednesday Day Session: Tennis

March 18, 2014

P1100240We arrived in Austin around noon, dropped off our stuff at our hotel, and hoofed it over to the Convention Center to pick up our badges. Since we were already at the Convention Center we decided to see some things while we were there to start the day.

My wife opted for the St. Vincent interview with Ann Powers, while I wandered over to the Radio Day Stage to see Denver’s Tennis.  In what would develop into a theme for the week, they were running late and the soundcheck took what seemed to be  a long time.

The Radio Day Stage has its pros and cons. On the good side, there’s no lines (only badge and wristbands can get in), there’s seats (which can be a godsend after standing for hours), easy access to drinks, a decent sound set up, and no need to worry about weather. On the negative side, it’s sterile, cavernous, and can be prone to small, lethargic audiences. Which means it can consume bands that don’t have a ton of energy and cause bands to play scared or apathetic.

I wondered if Tennis would get overwhelmed as a similar indie pop band we saw last year, Cayucas.  Fortunately, they did not and played a pleasant set of five songs.  Started as a husband and wife duo, they’ve added a drummer, and for this set a bass player. Singer Alaina Moore has a pretty, though not overly rangy, voice that goes well with the summery music the band plays.  I’m not that familiar with the band, so I only recognized Mean Streets and Petition.  Mean Streets is really catchy and packs a little more attitude than some of their other songs.  It was just as good live.  I would definitely go see them again, I’d imagine they’d be even better in a smaller venue.  A good start to the day, I met up with my wife to hear about the interesting interview with St. Vincent (I was only slightly bummed to have missed it) and we headed out of the confines of the Convention Center and into the city.

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:

Getting Back at It

June 3, 2013

Been quite a while since I posted anything, had a little thing called a wedding/honeymoon keep me occupied for the past month or so, and then getting back into the swing of things after our return.  We debuted the first single from Daft Punk’s new album (thanks Ken!) the day after it was released on the dancefloor at our wedding.  My gut reaction when it first came on was, well this is no Homework, but it quickly turned me to its side.  Having listened to the whole album now a couple times over the past two weeks, I’ll admit this is better than Homework, or Discovery, or anything they’ve done as an album.  For a good review of the album, check out my friend Meadow Muffins’ review.  On our honeymoon, we got to take in a night of live jazz at the Copenhagen Jazz House, which was a great experience.  Made me want to delve into jazz more deeply.  I recently found the Blue Note app on Spotify and have been randomly listening to some albums from different eras of the legendary label.

I have a lot of stuff to get to.  Lots of reviews still left over from SXSW.  I’ll have more concerts to review as well, going to see Bjork Wednesday at the Hollywood Palladium, and have tickets to see two faves from SXSW, Alt-J and Local Natives later this summer.

One other quick note about an album that came out of nowhere for me was Tricky’s new one, False Idols.  I didn’t even know he had something coming out, his output in recent years has been shoddy, in my opinion, at not up to the classic sounds he was creating in the early 90s as one of the “stars” of trip-hop coming out of England.  This album is a return to that form.  He’s found a new stable of female singers to accompany his growling voice.  Here’s a video for Does It, love the bass line running through this track:

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!

SXSW 3/14/13 Shout Out Louds & Local Natives

March 15, 2013

We went back to the venue we’d seen Bastille at to try and catch Local Natives. We’d missed them in LA a couple times so I really wanted to see them.

Unfortunately, when we arrived it was packed and the “line” to get in was a cluster, to put it mildly. We got close to the front of the line while Shout Out Louds were playing. Since it was an outdoor venue on a patio below the street, between two buildings, we could see and hear the band.

Shout Out Louds are from Sweden and have the pop sensibilities that Swedes seem to be born with. They play hooky guitar pop that seemed to get the audience inside moving. I’ll admit that I was a little preoccupied with jockeying for position at the front of the line and so I probably didn’t get the full enjoyment from their set that I should have.

It became clear that we weren’t getting in when the security move the entrance to the line 5 ft from where it was when we were three people away from the front. This was the only venue all weekend that didn’t seem to have its act together with lines.

So we got to watch Local Natives from the sidewalk above, along with at least 100 others. Their brand of rock is well suited for outdoors on a sunny day, mixing guitar licks with harmonizing vocals. They did a mix of songs from their debut and just-debuted new disc. Taylor Rice gave a heartfelt thanks during the set to SXSW and its fans for helping their success to date. And that gratitude shone through in a tight set highlighted by closer Sun Hands. The crowd sang along with the chorus, the band freaked out appropriately with vicious guitar and drums missing, and then brought us all down lightly with an extended outro. Great end to the day portion of Thursday. Next up, night descends and more bands appear.

SXSW 3/14/13 Cayucas

March 15, 2013

Moved over to the convention center’s Radio stage to see San Luis Obispo’s Cayucas. I’ve liked the two songs playing on satellite radio now so I was excited about their set. Those songs definitely have a beach-y vibe and their set lived up to that expectation. There was definite reggae and beach boys harmony influences, one of my friends thought Jimmy Buffett. They did have a pineapple maraca, so not entirely an unfair comparison.

As a new and “upcoming” band, they showed definite signs of nervousness. The big room was mostly empty which didn’t help as the good vibes they were sending out got lost quickly in the big hall. The songs were technically proficient and nice, but they couldn’t overcome the obvious uncomfortableness. The only one who seemed to be having fun was the keyboardist. I’d give them another chance at a smaller venue.