Faronheit | A Chicago Centric Music Blog

The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Category: sxsw

SXSW 2012: Final Thoughts + Photos

Four days, 32 artists, and one physically/mentally tired guy. That about sums up my SXSW 2012 experience. While I was stumbling around Austin in a haze the last hour of the last day, my first trip to SXSW was a wonderful experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. After hearing so many great things about the city and the conference/festival, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and simply had to go just once, just to see what it was like. The end result was largely what I expected it to be, but with a few surprises thrown in as well. My hope here is to chronicle the things I think worked about SXSW, and a few that didn’t. Also, if you click past the jump, you can see all the photos I took while in Austin. If you’d like to read about individual performances that I saw last week, have a look at the following daily reports:

Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

The Good
Perhaps the thing that makes SXSW truly great is the sheer size of it all. There are literally thousands of bands performing over a handful of days, almost all of them within the span of about 2 square miles. Getting around from show to show isn’t bad, whether you’re on foot or feel the need to take a pedicab. Of course 6th Street can get a little packed during peak hours and create some slow downs, but it’s never anything too unmanageable, even if you need to get somewhere fast. The wide array of shows and showcases happening at any given time can also create a bit of a headache, as it’s not exactly easy to pick and choose if there are 6 artists you want to see all performing at once. Learning the city and the locations of all the venues both legitimate and illegitimate goes a long way towards helping you make such tough choices based purely on conveniece and distance from where you’re currently at. Do you go see Cloud Nothings playing down the block, or do you walk 6 blocks to see Grimes? As I see it, the decision is pretty much already made for you.

Yet there are also a few SXSW music moments that you can’t always plan for, simply because they weren’t planned. There weren’t many “secret” shows this year so much as there were secret guests like Kanye West jumping on stage at the 2 Chainz show or Eminem showing up to support 50 Cent or Bruce Springsteen bringing out everyone from Jimmy Cliff to members of Arcade Fire to Tom Morello and Alejandro Escovedo. Those extra thrills only make the experience more special. Also a major contributor: the people. Austin is already something of a cultural melting pot, but with music fans and artists coming into town from all over the world, the diversity factor multiplies by about 10. But here’s the thing aboug most music fans: they’re good, friendly people. You could strike up a great conversation with the person standing next to you in line and not blink an eye. Everybody was there because they love music, and the easiest conversation starter was always finding out who they’re most excited to see while in town. The only time I ever saw anybody get angry was when a couple of people cut in line trying to get into a show. The reaction was less anger and more, “That wasn’t cool, guys.” If we as a society behaved more like everyone in Austin at SXSW did, the world would be a more peaceful place. Unless of course you’re at an A$AP Rocky show and somebody’s throwing full beer cans at the stage. That near-riot situation was a showcase of the worst side of humanity.

But outside of good music, good people and good weather, good food is another thing Austin is known for. There were food trucks and street vendors on most corners, each specializing in a different type of cuisine. You could get breakfast tacos at one place, and some Korean version of spaghetti at another. There was plenty of BBQ to be found too. If you’re a fan of slow-roasted meats that are tender and delicious, you didn’t have to walk more than a block in downtown Austin to find some. For the cheapskates, there were also a bunch of showcases giving away free food. It’s worth noting that like grocery store samples, the “food” they give you for free is often small and may not be of the highest quality. It also gets snatched up almost immediately for those reasons as well. You’re costing yourself a potentially great meal if you’re not paying for it.

The Bad
For all the great things that happen in Austin during SXSW, it’s not a perfect situation by any means. First and foremost among the issues is overcrowding. Things may get cramped when you’re walking down the street, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening inside many of the venues. Jam packed to the gills, trying to get anywhere close to the action was tough, let alone trying to make your way back to the exit. When things did get that bad, the waiting games began. Lines built up outside venues that were a city block or more long, everyone beholden to the “one in, one out” policy. Pitchfork’s evening showcase at Central Presbyterian Church was the height of madness, and I stood in line for 3 hours, missing Fiona Apple, just to get into the 500 capacity venue. Was it worth it? Eh, kinda. Every performance I saw there was a revelation, which is more than I can say about the other venues in town. I’m not entirely sure how all these sound engineers stay employed given how many times I saw an artist ask for a levels adjustment or something broke. I know these artists don’t get a soundcheck during SXSW and they want to put on the best show possible, but constantly stopping or even aborting some songs right in the middle because of a small issue takes away whatever mojo that might have developed in the meantime. The worst night of all was at Clive Bar, where Tycho played without any sub-bass, New Build’s monitors weren’t functioning properly, and Grimes was forced to start her set even after everything wasn’t tested to see if it was working properly (it wasn’t).

Sound issues are just one half of the paradoxes that SXSW presents. The other is overextension. While SXSW can be a great thing for artists (performing in front of music industry bigwigs brings all sorts of exposure along with it), agreeing to play 3 shows a day for 4 days in a row can put you near death’s door. Touring is tough enough when you’ve got one show every night for 3 weeks straight, but SXSW is a marathon compared to that long distance run. Artists function on little to no sleep and can easily blow out their voices from singing too much. On Thursday night I saw Grimes play a perfect show at Central Presbyterian Church. 24 hours later, she had performed at least twice more before arriving at Clive Bar with a voice that was barely there. She fought against it as hard as she could, and eventually had to call it quits in a set that was also plagued with sound problems. It was a valiant effort, but likely left most of the crowd disappointed. Then again, everyone was so kind, understanding and enthusiastic, it probably didn’t matter as much as I thought it did.

Finally, I want to mention the hierarchy that is SXSW. Your amount of access is almost entirely based upon your status within the music industry. If you’re not part of the industry and are simply looking to see some free music, there’s lots to choose from if you don’t mind a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of. If there was a line anywhere, it was almost guaranteed the general public would not be allowed in, as those with badges or wristbands automatically had first dibs. Among the badges and wristbands, only the badges were given priority access into any venue. Every badge would be allowed in before any wristbands would, no matter when they showed up. Of course if I had a badge I probably wouldn’t be complaining about it, it’s just that there were so many of them. There must have been at least a dozen shows I tried to get into but was denied because the room was already filled with badges. Granted, badges cost around $900 and you should be getting something for that money, but it would be more fair if they offerend some balance like for every 100 badges let in, 10 wristbands also get in. Alas, wristband holders got the shorter end of the stick, while the general public was more shafted than anything.

To Conclude
SXSW is something that every obsessive music fan should attend at least once in their lives. It can be a genuine blast if you let it, and only gets better the more access you have. Not but a few years ago, the several day conference/festival served as a proving and development ground for new music talent. Today, that’s not really the case anymore. You may discover your new favorite band while wandering around Austin, but for the most part our discoveries are contained to the hype cycle on the good ‘ol Internet. Then again, were it not for SXSW I never would have stumbled into the band Tearist and one of the most batshit crazy/weird live shows I’ve ever seen. I’m still not sure whether it was supremely stupid or incredibly clever, but if you like incomprehensible psych-pop and somebody showing an iron beam who’s boss with a lead pipe, Tearist could be for you. Outside of the occasional exposure to an artist you didn’t intend to see, you’re quite in control of your own destiny. Unless you’re the adventuresome type willing to walk into a venue without knowing or caring who’s performing, most identify and target acts based on personal tastes or recommendations of others. With so many choices, you can use the time to check a few acts off your personal bucket list. That’s what I did, and though I didn’t get to see every artist I wanted to, I feel like what I did see was extremely worthwhile anyways, with the aforementioned issues or not. I hope I get to go again, be it next year or in 10 years. And if you didn’t go, I hope you take the opportunity to get to Austin soon. It’s a great American city, and the Live Music Capital of the World for a reason.

Click past the jump for photos of many of the bands I saw at this year’s SXSW, in alphabetical order:

Read More

SXSW 2012: Saturday

St. Patrick’s Day and SXSW collided this year, and the result was mayhem. People everywhere, and if they weren’t looking to see a band they were looking for a drink. In some cases it was both. There was plenty of fun to be had, but you had to keep a close eye on drunken revelers at shows – they were liable to do anything. I’m not going to get into it, except to say I barely avoided getting vomited on. But Saturday also meant the final day of SXSW Music, and the offerings were actually a little more meager than in days previous. Still, there was plenty to do and see if you were motivated enough, so here’s my recap of the fourth and final day of my SXSW adventure.

After 3 days of standing on my feet and walking everywhere, my body was ready to quit on me last night. I took that into account and slept later than usual to try and bring my energy back up for one more day of live music on the streets of Austin. It was mid-afternoon by the time I ventured out of my hotel room, and I headed straight for the outskirts and the Mess With Texas party. There were a few artists performing there I’d been wanting to see but hadn’t got around to. The first of them was 2:54, a British band made up of two sisters that have an affinity for shoegaze and 90s rock. They’re probably best experienced in total darkness, but there was still something gothic about their outdoor tent performance. They didn’t play for very long, but were remarkably good anyways. 2:54’s EP Scarlet is out now, and is deserving of your attention if you haven’t heard it yet.

Tanlines followed 2:54, though they were playing the big indoor stage instead of the small outside tent one. Despite not having released any albums yet (their debut Mixed Emotions comes out Tuesday), Tanlines earned the spot of pre-headliner. They’ve put out a few singles and a pair of EPs, not to mention a bunch of remixes, so based on all that and some good ‘ol hype, the band is doing pretty well. Their set went pretty well too, flush with mostly new material that got the crowd dancing. The set also proved the band has moved beyond simple, straight dance music and into something more complex and interesting. The duo are still a little awkward when it comes to stage banter, as percussionist Jesse Cohen’s go-to line was always “We’re Tanlines.” Seriously, he said it after almost every song. Maybe he thought we’d forgotten, or maybe he just wanted to make sure fans that were waiting on A$AP Rocky were fully aware of who they were and what kind of music they were making.

Speaking of A$AP Rocky, I was mainly at Mess With Texas to see him. As he’s another member of my Class of 2012, I was pretty much obligated to check up and find out what his live show is like. Well, first of all, he showed up an hour late. That wasn’t very cool. But when he did finally make it, along with his crew the A$AP Mob, he put on a show worth waiting an hour to see. The crowd was riled up and ready to go, and he gave them exactly what they wanted – cuts off his mixtape LIVELOVEA$AP. They sang/rapped along, hands in the air with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for huge hip hop stars like Jay-Z and Kanye West. “I don’t give a fuck what y’all do here; moshing, crowd surfing, throwing shit, or even fucking each other – just so long as you have a good time,” Rocky told the crowd. So cartons of water were being thrown around like crazy, smoke filled the air, and the A$AP Mob dove off the stage and into the crowd more than once. Rocky also told the crowd that he tried to come to SXSW last year to perform, but couldn’t afford the plane ticket. Clearly his situation has changed, what with a reported $3 million record deal. If you think he’s big now, just wait 6 months.

I wandered over to the polar opposite side of town and ACL: Live at the Moody with a small bit of extra time on my hands before Sleigh Bells were set to perform their only SXSW show. They were supposed to have another act on the bill to open for them, however it seems that slot was never filled. That meant my early arrival was more or less a waste of time. I stood inside the theater for an extra hour just waiting and anticipating. I’ve only seen Sleigh Bells in an outdoor festival setting, so when they took the stage with an intense light show, it was quite a different experience. Of course they started with “True Shred Guitar”, as the track was built almost solely for the purpose of opening a show. From there they bounced freely between their debut album Treats and their new one Reign of Terror. Obviously the older material got the better response, but I also think a couple of the newer songs just generally wouldn’t do well live. Actually, it’s just the slower ballads like “End of the Line” that kind of takes the show down a notch. You do need a breather now and then though. Of the new songs, “Demons” was by far the most potent, proving its status as the best thing on Reign of Terror. All the while Alexis Krauss danced around the stage, sometimes approached the barricade, and even crowd surfed once during “Rill Rill”. Derek Miller and the other guitarist are the spark in that live show, and Krauss is the flame. What an explosively good set.

Upon leaving that show, I came to the realization that one of my other Class of 2012 artists was getting ready to perform a few blocks away: Kreayshawn. So to Austin Music Hall it was, only to find out they were way behind on their showcase bill. It was a party being put on by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, and as he said himself, sound issues forced them to delay some of the performances. So in order to get to Kreayshawn I had to sit through sets from Ed Sheeran, Cher Lloyd, and Dragonette. I’m not really going to comment on any of those sets, except to say all 3 are interesting and dynamic artists at different points of success right now. None of their music hits my sweet spot, but they’re all talented in their own ways. Due to the packed bill and delays, artists were being held to 20 minute sets. Kreayshawn’s was about that long, and she had time to do 4 of her tracks. The requisite “Bumpin Bumpin” and “Gucci Gucci” both made an appearance, and she also did a couple new ones as well. The first was about sniffing glue, which afterwards she told the crowd she doesn’t condone drug use. The second was about “the most important meal of the day” aka breakfast. It included the lyrical gem, “Grapes, what’s up? Breakfast!” And she’s supposed to be a rising voice in hip hop? Even I’m starting to doubt my decision to place her among my Class of 2012. Still, I will not pass official judgment until her debut album is out later this year.

If Kreayshawn’s set had happened on time, I would have been able to go see !!! perform. Alas, I missed their set, though I walked past their stage and heard a little of it on my way to try and see Givers for my last set of the night. Turns out a lot of other people wanted to see Givers too, and I wound up shut out there as well due to capacity. With that, I made the executive call to go and see a band I’ve seen a couple times before back in Chicago because that’s where they’re from too. That band was JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. They’ve been playing shows all over Austin this past week, 11 in total, and I wanted to see how they were faring after such a grueling schedule. Not only did they survive, they still sounded great too and with energy to spare. They’re probably more tired than I am, and I’m about ready to collapse. It felt fitting to end with a band from back home, as that’s where I’ll be headed soon anyways. Near the end of their set, the guys did a funked up cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, and the whole experience just felt like it came full circle. I’ve loved my time in Austin so much these last few days, the complete exhaustion aside, but I’m even more excited to go back to Chicago. SXSW has been so much fun, I may just try to do it again next year.

SXSW 2012: Friday

Friday was an interesting day for me at SXSW. I saw some good performances, some mediocre ones, a truly devastating one, and a legendary one. I also got denied admittance to a couple of important shows, including The Shins and Jack White. But let’s not dwell on those things I missed out on, and talk about the ones I actually saw. Once again, as a reminder, I’ll have photo sets of most of what I’m writing about next week, when I get home and can get the pictures off my camera.

My first live show of the day was a little later than Thursday, in part because there wasn’t much I wanted to see early in the afternoon. Also I had trouble making a decision. I chose to explore Austin a little more, and venture out to one of the more “off the grid” venues, away from the hustle and bustle that is 6th Street. There was a house party going on for the Comedy Central show Workaholics that I considered attending for a brief period, but there was a huge line to get in. Just down the block was Clive Bar, and they had a pretty decent afternoon showcase going on. I arrived there moments before Class Actress took the stage. Honestly, seeing Elizabeth Harper perform has been on my musical bucket list for awhile now, and I always seem to have something big happening the days she’s playing shows in Chicago. Now in Austin, this was my chance. Her set was surprisingly short, perhaps in part due to a late start after some sound issues, and she mostly stuck to material off her latest album Rapprocher. She was warm, funny, engaging and all-around a delight. I don’t think enough people realize what a talent she really is, and hopefully some important heads were turned watching her during SXSW. I was also quite fascinated by her choice of outfit for the 80 degree and sunny day – a loose-fitting, over the shoulder sweater, a sport coat, a pair of gold necklaces, and high heels. She truly does put the “class” in Class Actress.

Next on the bill were Friends, a band from Bushwick, NY that has been making serious waves in the last year. In addition to some healthy blog buzz, Friends caught the attention of Sir Elton John a few months back, and they attended his holiday party. Really it’s still the tip of the iceberg, as they don’t even have a debut full length out yet. Before the end of the year they will though. In the meantime, they’re going out on tour with Neon Indian and doing other fun stuff like SXSW performances. Friends make a very percussion-heavy tropical pop, if you want to call it that. They’ve been compared to Lykke Li and that’s only one facet of their multi-layered sound. Their set at Clive Bar was one to behold though, and I’m glad I stuck around for it. While the rest of the band pretty much plays it straight and light, singer Samantha Urbani is the live wire keeping the crowd in a fit of wild bliss. She jumps around, makes faces, and directly interacts with audience members in the middle of songs. During the song “Friend Crush”, she hopped off the stage and began hugging and touching the faces of people in the crowd. When the band launched into their cover of the Ghost Town DJs classic “My Boo”, she pulled a few audience members up to dance. It made for a fun little party in the late afternoon. I’d like to think the members of Friends became my friend after a set like that. You’d be wise to see them yourself, before they get huge.

Once Friends had finished, I was all set to skip over to see Fanfarlo, but on the way I stumbled onto a show I wasn’t aware existed until that very moment. Vivian Girls were playing a set in a parking lot. There were no listings for any Vivian Girls shows, only Katy Goodman’s La Sera solo project and drummer Fiona Campbell’s other band Coasting. But that’s one of the great things about SXSW: sometimes a last minute surprise show happens, and kudos to you if you can discover it. I only got to see them play a few songs, but any songs from Vivian Girls are kind of a treat. I don’t expect them to be around forever, given the strong side project work they’re all up to, but just having them around and playing a show together is all anyone can ask for. Here’s the thing though: they’re a very good, but not quite great live band. Their music translates exceptionally well from the record to the stage, but they don’t do a whole lot while they’re up there. In some ways it’s like they’re on autopilot. Those songs are such a delight too, which gives them more live show slack. So to sum up, it was nice seeing Vivian Girls live for the first time, even if it was a shortened set in a parking lot.

By the time I’d caught up with Fanfarlo, they were about halfway through their set. Playing at the same time as a surprise Vivian Girls show will do that to one’s arrival time. I was pleased to see a moderately large crowd watching them in a shaded courtyard. They stuck with mostly material off their new record Rooms Filled With Light as expected, though they ended with the classic “Harold T. Wilkins” that the crowd was quite pleased with. Also pleasing were a pair of strong saxophone solos courtesy of singer Simon Balthazar. Yet the band’s performance was a lot like Vivian Girls’ in that they didn’t so much breathe new life into decent material but instead performed it almost verbatim with the record. Once you see so many live shows, playing it straight simply doesn’t cut it anymore. In other words, Fanfarlo was good but a touch short of great.

After getting stuck in long lines for The Shins and the Third Man showcase only to not get in, I ventured back to Clive Bar for an evening showcase that was well up my alley. Tycho was first on the bill, but from the start there were problems. Apparently the speakers weren’t working, or at least not properly. A 30 minute delay later, and the 3-piece just decided to start even though there wouldn’t be any bass pumping through the speakers. The crowd was told to imagine there was some phat bass to the songs played and that hopefully they’d fix the problem during the set. Of course then other sound issues began to appear, like monitor trouble and the like, so it became a game of small adjustments throughout the set. Still, Tycho was good enough to impress me and make me wonder why I don’t listen to/own more of his music. Gonna have to get on that one. Sprawling instrumental electro post-rock that’s as gorgeous as it is fun.

MNDR was next on the bill, and unlike when I tried to see her Wednesday night, she actually showed up this time. Actually, after a brief Twitter exchange with her, she showed up on Wednesday night when I was there, but was bumped off the bill as they were running late. So consider that a correction. Anyways, she wasn’t bumped this time, and her show was fascinating to say the least. Yet again they were having sound issues, which would become a recurring theme throughout the night. For those that don’t know, MNDR makes pop music, but in a little more independent fashion than most other music stars these days. I had always assumed there were producers and writing teams responsible for her music, as is the case with your pop stars of today. But no, it’s only MNDR (Amanda Warner), completely producing, writing and singing these songs herself. That’s a very DIY attitude and I admire it significantly. That said, I’m not the biggest fan of her music. She’s lovely and hilarious, but her songs failed to get me going. She’s got a new record coming out this summer, so I wish her the best of luck with that.

Next up was New Build, a band from the UK that has ties to Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem. Ironic then that New Build sounds just like what would happen if you took those two bands and combined them. They’re a whole lot of fun, and have 3 percussionists, among other things. There were sound issues galore during their set, including a defective monitor, but the band did their best to make it through their set with minimal disruption. They only got to play a handful of songs, but the ones they did were great and got the crowd seriously moving. Their debut album Yesterday Was Lived and Lost is out now and worth checking out if you like a good organic dance sound. I predict much bigger things for them in the coming years.

SXSW can be hard on the artists sometimes, especially if they’re booked for multiple shows multiple days in a row. Such is the case with Grimes, who has been working harder than anyone the last few days. She’s also in the middle of her first really big tour, which naturally is putting her resolve to the test. All that came to a head Friday night with her Clive Bar set. The sound issues that hurt the bands before her continued, not aided whatsoever by the MC between sets, coming out to “introduce” Grimes but not being aware she hadn’t even soundchecked yet. Claire Boucher just kind of stood there with a puzzled look on her face wondering when she was going to test some microphone levels and such. The crowd was itching to hear her start, and kept yelling for her to forget the soundcheck and just go, but every performer wants to get those sorts of things right to ensure a quality show. Once things were finally in a satisfactory state, Boucher introduced herself and mentioned she had a sore throat from not sleeping, so her high notes might sound shitty. Ah, the perils of too many performances. Things started off okay, but quickly descended into a hell of more sound problems and a vocal blowout. Certain equipment stopped working, the speakers went out, and she was visibly clawing at her throat like it was on fire. Truly everything that could have gone wrong during that set, did go wrong. Yet she pressed onward as best she could, and the crowd was very forgiving. She got through “Oblivion” well enough, and a light bit of dancing while also multitasking between keyboards and her effects table made it all the more charming. It may have been the worst Grimes performance to date, but none of it was really her fault. The whole thing was a sharp contrast with the night before at Central Presbyterian Church, where I walked away in awe of what she’d accomplished. This time I just felt sorry for her. I’ve got a great feeling she’ll bounce back though, better than ever.

Headlining the night was YACHT, who I was excited to see because I’d never seen them before. I’ve admired their last couple albums but wouldn’t say I was in love with them, and was intrigued to hear how the colorful characters of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans would bring the songs to life. Turns out, a YACHT show is one of the biggest and best parties you can ever go to. Both Bechtolt and Evans are super entertaining people that dance around and interact with crowds and get everyone riled up in the best sort of way. When they too were plagued with a little bit of sound problems, they either ignored them or took Q&A with the crowd while they waited for the issues to be sorted out. Their songs, while ordinarily very beat-heavy and fun, only got heavier and more fun when performed live. Both Bechtolt and Evans came into the dance pit fun zone near the front of the stage at one point or another, and Evans even got in some serious crowd surfing. She also climbed up on speakers and threw microphone stands. It was by far the most entertaining show I’ve seen so far at SXSW and I could not recommend it more highly. That turned into the party of all parties, and a crowd that came to dance but was often left disappointed due to sound issues, finally got their chance to let all inhibitions go. My feet are in terrible, terrible shape from standing all day the last couple days, but even I couldn’t help busting a move or two. When a band pushes you beyond the limits even you thought you’d go, there’s something special there. How are YACHT not huge right now?

SXSW 2012: Thursday

I’m going to attempt to make this Thursday recap of my SXSW adventure as brief as possible. Knowing me though, brief is a relative term. Let’s just see how this goes. Oh, and as a reminder, I’ll have all my photos for you sometime next week when I can properly edit them down.

My first stop of the day was over to Google/YouTube’s parking lot party. They had a stage set up on the roof of a parking garage and all the free drinks you could handle. Best Coast had an early afternoon set, and I wanted to hear some new songs off their forthcoming second album. I came, and the band delivered. Bethany, Bobb and two other guys played about 5-6 new ones, with a smattering of old “classics” in there too. There was “Boyfriend” and “When I’m With You”, but also “Why I Cry” and “How They Want Me to Be”, among others. Overall an excellent set, better than the last time I saw the band which was a couple years ago.

Sticking around and drinking more, I caught Cults next. In the about 7 months since I saw them last, they’ve grown quite a bit. I don’t mean physically, but performance-wise. The more touring they’ve been getting under their belts, the better they seem to get. Everything about their performance was spot on, even though I was standing right across from Brian Oblivion’s guitar amp and my ears were getting blasted. Madeline Follin is more confident behind the microphone as well, which is a big help. They played material off their debut album, and maybe a couple new ones, though I can’t be certain they weren’t obscure b-sides or something.

I could think of no place I’d rather be after Cults than waiting at that same stage again but this time for Frankie Rose. I really like her new album Interstellar, plus it’s been a little while since I saw her last. She was performing with the Outs back then, who were subsequently dropped. She’s now got a core backing band of about 5 other people, and they all do a solid job. But really it’s Rose’s show, and her masterful stage presence helps make the hot outdoor stage just a bit more bearable. She also played it pretty liberal with her song choices, pulling almost equally from her first album and her new one.

What’s sad about the Frankie Rose show and the two before it was how sparsely attended they were. Sure, that meant no lines, no fighting to get to the front of the stage, and more free alcohol for me, but those were 3 great bands I saw in a row that maybe 50 others were also there to witness. Nobody even approached the stage or hung out at the barricade until Frankie Rose started her set. Even then it was myself and 4 others all the way up there. I’m sure all 3 of those bands will have much better crowds for the rest of their SXSW, but for an event put on by Google you’d think more people would come. Or maybe it was too early/people were at the conference listening to Springsteen do his keynote. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see those performances without being packed like sardines into some small club. Which is where I went next.

Chairlift are playing about 3 shows a day every day during SXSW, and because I’m kind of in love with their new album Something, I promised I’d go see them at least once. They were playing at a small club for the Under the Radar party, and of course it was crowded. To the point where it became a “one in, one out” situation and I was stuck in a long line. By the time I got inside, the band had already finished half their set. The half I did catch was all stuff from their new album, so I walked away pretty happy. Caroline Polachek appeared to be having a blast too, which is super hard when you’re playing multiple shows every day. Part of me wants to see them again before SXSW ends to get the full set experience.

After trying and failing a couple times to get into the Hype Hotel (a venue put on by the Hype Machine) due to seriously long lines, I decided that standing in line for Pitchfork’s showcase at Central Presbyterian Church would be my next best option. In case you were not aware, the church holds about 450 people total, and Fiona Apple was set to open the showcase. So many people were in line just to see Fiona. Having seen her the day before (albeit at a much larger venue), I was far more interested in the 4 members of my Class of 2012 that were performing after her.

After 3 excruciating hours of standing in line, I was kindly granted access to the church, arriving at the middle of Charli XCX‘s set. She’s really only got a couple songs to her name right now, but she’s already being tipped as a future star by myself and a few others. Her debut album will be out before the end of the year, and undoubtedly all the songs she performed Thursday night will be on it. Everything sounds fantastic, she’s got great stage presence, and I’m intrigued to hear how the recorded versions of a couple songs sound. All in due time.

Purity Ring were up next, another band without a debut album to their name and only a couple singles floating around the internet. Their marriage of hip hop beats and smooth female vocals naturally brings the duo into the sphere of Sleigh Bells by just a little bit. Like Sleigh Bells, it’s also a whole lot of fun. Purity Ring works harder to make it special too, requesting that all the lights in the venue be turned off so they could play around with multicolored orbs that glow and change colors when struck. As visually arresting as their set was, the music was just as excellent. Singles “Lofticries” and “Belispeak” couldn’t have been more on the money, to the point where most of the other songs seemed a little weaker by comparison. It was fun and danceable, but it’s a little tough to get people’s natural reaction in the middle of a seated pew church. Still, I’d like to think the standing ovation at the end of their set was a realistic response to what we’d just seen.

Next up was Grimes, who was quick to set up and get started. She didn’t want to waste any time, nor should she have. Using plenty of looping and synths, she crafted an incredible avant-pop soundscape that was wholly engaging and rather delightful. There were a couple moments where she messed a thing or two up, and that’s almost expected when you’re doing everything on your own, but it was a very forgiving crowd and she was super goofy about it. Most of what she did involved constructing songs off her latest album Visions, however there were a few experiments in there with vocal harmonies and the like that were sheer beauty. “Oblivion” and “Genesis” both got their turn as well, the latter after she was told there was time for one more song. She then refused to stop, playing another song in spite of the house lights coming up and organizers pulling their hair out. It was over after another couple minutes though, and she was treated with another standing ovation.

Much of the crowd cleared out after Grimes, only to make way for Nicolas Jaar, who was set to compose an original set based on the church setting. I expected it to be just a little boring and quiet, because the guy isn’t necessarily big on dance-worthy beats. Yet he still managed to piece together an excellent long-form piece that was introspective and beautiful while also upbeat and fun. That’s no easy feat, and he had a couple friends on hand to provide some live instrumentation along with his laptop-composed elements. I was a little angry at all the people taking flash photos during the set, because that’s long been a rude thing to do. Of course Jaar and his band were playing in near total darkness, and if you wanted a halfway decent picture flash was needed. I took no photos for the exact reason of it being too dark and I didn’t want to use the flash. Some people will do anything for a photo, and it looked like a lightning storm or paparazzi attack for at least the first 15 minutes before tapering off somewhat. The music was amazing though, transcendent would be the word I’d best use to describe it. Go see Nicolas Jaar if you have the chance. The guy’s crazy talented.

Finally, to cap off my night I wanted a little rock and roll. After being kicked to the curb at the PureVolume House because I hadn’t picked up my venue-specific badge earlier in the day/week, I dashed over to catch Cloud Nothings performing on a rooftop. It was an extremely packed space, but even on the very busy 6th Street you could hear the band’s set quite clearly. No doubt many enjoyed their music without actually seeing any of it performed. But up on the roof people were jumping and throwing their fists into the air, like any good punk show should have going for it. Oh, and head banging. Plenty of that too. From what I heard of their set, which was about the back half of it, they played almost entirely material from their latest album Attack on Memory. It’s a great record, one of my favorites of 2012 so far, so I was having a blast. I was also super tired having been on my feet all day, but it was so much fun. A great capper to my night before heading back to the hotel to rest up for Day 3 of this madness. To think we’re only halfway there!

SXSW 2012: Wednesday

My first day ever at SXSW was only a half day really, or even less depending on what you’d call running around from 6PM-2AM. I arrived in Austin late in the afternoon and by the time I’d checked into my hotel and picked up my registration materials from the Conference Center, it was already 6. Have no fear though, that left plenty of time to do a little exploring, get a grasp of the land, and wait in a long line. Here’s a quick summary of what I saw during the evening’s excursions. It should be noted I also took some photos, but forgot to bring my camera cord with me to get them onto my laptop. I’ll have a complete photo wrap-up for you next week then. In the meantime, continue reading.

Originally I had planned to see Santigold perform at the Fader Fort, however I was still getting my bearings and failed to realize where the Fader Fort was located. For the record, it’s about 4 blocks away from most everything else, on the opposite side of the highway. By the time I’d figured that out, Santigold’s set would have been nearly over by the time I got there. Plus, who knows what kind of line there was to get in? The line outside Stubb’s for NPR’s showcase was tremendously long. That’s where I headed after giving up on the Fader Fort (for now). But I was drawn to the NPR showcase thanks to the presence of Fiona Apple and Sharon Van Etten. If I were a less motivated person, I would have stuck around there all night to see sets from Dan Deacon, Alabama Shakes and Andrew Bird. What a great overall lineup. But first, Fiona. I barely made it in the doors before she went on, and so many were excited to see her first major performance in quite awhile. She started her set with “Fast As You Can”, and not seated behind a piano but with a full backing band, she writhed like a woman possessed behind the microphone. There were oh so many highlights from her set, including 3 new songs and positively visceral renditions of “Paper Bag”, “Sleep to Dream”, “Carrion” and “Criminal”. There were a couple moments where she appeared to put a little to much force behind her vocals, causing her to sound just a touch hoarse, but a warm cup of tea was there to help remedy that situation. She got better as the set went on. There were a couple of brief moments of stage banter in which she admitted she’d forgotten whether she’d already sung the second verse of “Paper Bag” because her mind had started to wander before snapping back into place upon remembering she was in the middle of a performance. In all it was a great “comeback” set for Fiona Apple, and one I hope I’ll get to see repeated tomorrow night at Pitchfork’s showcase, assuming I get in.

I stuck around Stubb’s after Fiona Apple because I wanted to catch up with Sharon Van Etten. The last time I saw her live was a couple years ago before her album Epic had been released. Her new full length Tramp is another smart step forwards for her, so I was interested in hearing those new songs performed. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that almost her entire set was Tramp material, and boy does it sound great. She’s got a backing band now, which wasn’t the case when I saw her last, and they do a stellar job both adding to the melodies and filling in vocal harmonies. Particularly affecting were “Warsaw” and “Kevin’s”. While part of me longed to hear “Peace Signs” off Epic, a wish that wasn’t granted, I still walked away very satisfied.

Not to discount Dan Deacon’s live show, but I wanted to do a little exploring after Sharon Van Etten, so I took to the streets in search of sets from Friends at the Hype Hotel or Tennis at Red 7. When I approached both locations, the lines were super long and I didn’t want to have to wait. So luckily I stumbled over to the IFC Crossroads House for some Youth Lagoon. I’ve been wanting to see Trevor Powers for quite some time, and now turned out to be as good of a time as any. He hit all the necessary marks from his debut album The Year of Hibernation, including “Cannons”, “July”, and “Posters”. Color me impressed with his live show, even if he had to pause mid-set when his keyboard’s batteries went dead. Yes, one of his keyboards runs on AA batteries. He tried to joke around about it, but the crowd wasn’t quite laughing. I was amused because they weren’t amused. Dead batteries aside, everything else went swimmingly.

Speaking of swimmingly, things were not going so well over at Kimbra‘s performance at Haven. She was set to go on at midnight, however there were soundcheck issues that delayed its start by 25 minutes. When they finally got things to a level of satisfaction, the band began to play yet there was still no sign of Kimbra. They held a note for a few seconds and she quickly ran on and began to sing. If you’re familiar with Kimbra only through her duet with Gotye on his hit song “Somebody I Used to Know”, now’s the time to get to know her on her own. Wednesday marked her first ever performances in the U.S., and from every indication she’s going to be a star. She was fun, energetic, and possesses an incredible singing voice. She was pitch perfect through the entire set made up of songs from an EP that came out earlier this year along with her debut full length which will be out in May. The old songs are good, and so are the new ones. I commented on my Twitter feed that Kimbra is everything that Lana Del Rey isn’t. To clarify in more than 140 characters, Kimbra has a supreme stage presence, smiles a whole lot, and makes songs that are more compelling than most of Del Rey’s debut. Yet something about Kimbra’s songs left me bored, and I think it was the lack of anything new or innovative about them. They’re pop songs performed with guitars and drums instead of samples and beats. Don’t expect her to earn a big indie following, but do expect her to pick up some serious mainstream heat before the end of 2012.

I thought I’d end my night by keeping the trend of female artists going. Youth Lagoon was an exception, but otherwise it was an all female evening. MNDR was scheduled for a 1AM set, and I was intrigued to see her live for the first time. Her pop songs aren’t entirely my cup of tea, but SXSW is about expanding horizons and finding new talents. Upon arriving at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room where the show was supposed to be, I was shocked to see the venue nearly empty. I was arriving late because Kimbra started and finished late, but it appeared things at Maggie Mae’s were also a bit behind. In a venue that appeared to fit a couple hundred, there were only about 30 people there total, and they were mostly at the bar or sitting at tables. They were frantically setting up the stage for what I assumed would be MNDR, and at about 1:30 things were officially underway. I’m no MNDR expert, but I could have sworn Amanda Warner was blonder and less strange than the brunette singing these songs. Okay, they were less actual songs and more sonic experiments, complete with vocal echo effects that turned deciphering lyrics into a fruitless endeavor. I’m going to go ahead and clarify now that while I thought it may have been MNDR performing, I found out afterwards it was not. MNDR didn’t show up for her set. The duo known as Tearist took her time slot. Yasmine Kittles fronts Tearist, and they consider themselves to be avant-pop. That’s an accurate description of what they do. I also suspect she was either on something, incredibly drunk, or simply angry at the small crowd watching the performance. Either way, she had a scowl on her face most of the time, thrashed around like she was being tortured, and stumbled and fell into the back wall behind the stage once or twice. She took a sip of beer at one point, and it looked like she was having trouble swallowing it. Towards the end of the set she brought out a metal beam and a lead pipe, beating and scraping them against one another in the most grating ways possible. Her bandmate William Menchaca stood on the side the whole time, putting together the beats and synths for the songs but looking just a touch embarrassed by the whole thing. Crazy and weird as the whole thing was, part of me thinks that’s what every Tearist performance is like. If so, it’s a shitshow to behold. They’re taking performance art to Bradford Cox and “My Sharona” sort of levels. Part of me wants to go and see another of their shows to see if it’s any different than the one late Wednesday night. Part of me is also turned off by it. Which side will win? Let’s find out together as this crazy SXSW week continues.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén