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SXSW Friday – trying to get out of bed was a major problem

by Peter Dysart and Mike Hughes

PD: Friday morning came like a dull thud. Fell out of bed and down to breakfast just before the kitchen shut. The morning was more challenging than any previous that week, and I hated missing perfectly good sets starting at noon, but there are only so many 03.00 roll-ins one can manage without deleterious effect and I’d reached that limit. It was an odd morning drifting in and out of total consciousness. Having missed The Joy Formidable set last night I had a faint feeling that we’d bump into them today. It was work to get the heaviness out of my head, down a few cups of tea and coffee. Finally after a hot shower, it was off to Red 7 for another afternoon affair of bands, beer, some shade, and place to sit and recover from the past four days.

The walk from our favourite neighbourhood secret parking spot was a long one, and we purposely avoided Sixth Street, which by now had devolved from a music conference into nothing more than a weekend long St Patrick’s Day party with locals and university students pouring into Austin. The crush of human mass on Sixth was unbelievable this late in the week, and avoidance is critical to your personal sanity.

So, there we were, me and Pam, enjoying a leisurely walk on Seventh and gladly missing Sixth Street, when I hear a “Hey, hey,” and immediately think Rhydian? Crossing the street to join us came Rhydian, Matt and Ritzy with huge smiles across their faces. They asked us where we were off to so we told them about today’s line up. They were headed to Stubb’s for another interview (they logged at least ten of them that week). I asked Matt about his culinary quest in Austin. He was on the hunt for barbeque.

We all had a nice chat as we walked and slowed things down a bit in spite of a certain tour manager’s insistence that we pick up the pace. Rhydian asked me what the highlights had been seen so far (Savages for sure), and then I shared my hit list with Ritz and she seemed keen to see CHVRCHES. “Yeah, join us there this afternoon,” I said in full knowledge that they barely had a minute to themselves the entire week. They asked if we’d gotten into their show the Belmont last night, and I told them that not even the platinum badges were getting in, but I assured them that we’d get into the Lustre Pearl tonight one way or another. With that sorted, we walked them to Stubb’s, said our byes and then cross the street to Red 7. This kind of thing happens only at SXSW.

I thought for sure the detour to Stubb’s had cost us the first gig, Alpine, but we had only missed the first song. I jumped in front of Ryan and started playing air bass, mimicking his signature dips. And this is the odd part about showing up late to see a band at SX. You’d expect the front of the stage to be swarmed, but no, there seems to be this sort of ‘courtesy zone’ between the fans and the stage that I was only too happy to fill up with my awkward gyrations. Alpine is one of the rare alt pop bands at SX who are completely sincere about producing and playing pop-tinged melodies that crackle with brilliant arrangements, driving rhythms, and sprite-like vocal harmonies. And then there’s Ryan, the hotwired member of the band on bass. I’d like to think he’s responsible for at least half of this band’s energy on stage and today he was in top form. Today’s set drew a rather sustained cheer at the end from an appreciative portion of the large crowd.

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Alpine

Next up were Parquet Courts, from Brooooklyn, NY, who have successfully revived some of the more pure elements of the garage band sound. I say ‘pure’ even with when the guitars and bass take a very atypical tone, laying down angular riffs and glimmering, non-standard chorded voicings. Their highly infectious tones had me swaying from side to side and nodding heavily to the beat. And the beat, that metronomically precise drum kit beat, is the true heart of any garage vibe — that and a vocal delivery that was also purely Brooklyn, such as found on ‘Borrowed Time.’ I was especially taken with the decay into a slow burning jam, complete with ad-libbed solos full of noise and feedback on ‘Stoned and Starving.’ Again, another band I’d just seen for the first time. Quite good.

After that, CHVRCHES changed the tone with shimmering electro-pop sound. It was my first times seeing Glaswegian trio, and I was eager to hear their lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, a wee angelic lass. She looked well underage for such big gigs but acquitted herself with a single vocal. Looks are very deceiving and she was very serious about her work. I’d seen keyboardist/sequencer Martin Doherty last year with fellow Scots, The Twilight Sad. Completing the band is producer and keyboardist Iain Cook. All I can say is my expectations were running high for this band prior to that week. What I discovered blew that expectation out. Behind the gloss of the produced tracks is something far more human and emotive, especially from Lauren. Maybe it’s that Scottish murkiness that I share deep inside, but this music tugs at your guts and where this band excels is when they rise above that murky gloaming, shed their downcast lot and achieve a more proper and uplifting cry such as on songs like ‘The Mother We Share’ and ‘Recover,’ which have a more accessible and participatory feel to them. I’m eager to see them again soon.

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CHVRCHES

MH: Oh Lord, but it was all starting to catch up with me. I finally made into town in time to wander round, stunned, and then go and catch Ringo Deathstarr playing an outdoor set in the backyard of a bar at the ungodly early hour of 5pm. Yes, today 5pm was an early start. I’ve seen Ringo before, and they were great fun. It’s got to be said that it is straightforward garage rock with a Texas drawl from vocalist Elliott Frazier. Like UME, they are well-known local band. They played with their usual gusto, bassist Alex Gehring hammering away on just three strings. Maybe I was sun-hungover, but they only partly ignited for me in that hot back-yard today.

Ringo Deathstarr

Ringo Deathstarr

The problem with SouthBy — and it is a problem — is that there are just so many bands. Officially, 3000+. Unofficially and more accurately, four and a half thousand. If you read this blog, the chances are we’re of a similar ilk; you are forever listening to music that none of your ‘normal’ friends has ever heard of. That’s all very well-informed, but stack that against SXSW and despite your supposed indie-hipster knowledge, it is very much like a needle in a haystack. For that reason, I decided to go to a showcase run by Paper Garden Records. They are a New York label whose roster I very much respect: my thinking was, this will probably rub off on their showcase line-up, and this proved entirely accurate.

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Paper Garden showcase – one of the mellow moments of SXSW

I caught the end of Widowspeak. I liked what I heard and very much wished I’d got there 10 minutes earlier, they so need to be explored further. Thank heavens they’re playing 10 miles from my home in Chester in May! So far ‘random’ was working for me.

The next act was someone I’d caught the end of last night at the British Music Embassy, in the form of Mikhael Paskalev. He is Norwegian by way of Bulgaria but is UK domiciled and studied at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, again, just down the road from me. So much for random! They played a really nice set, country rock but with big guitar sound. It started off songwriter-confessional but legged out into party dance music, albeit of the hoedown as opposed to disco sort. There were apparently sound problems on stage, although it sounded fine out front. Mikhael asked “Is there any way this monitor could possibly go any lower?” The sarcasm was clearly lost on the engineer, who did indeed turn it down lower.

Mikhael Paskalev

Mikhael Paskalev

ON AN ON were another testament to the good sense of pinning my colours to Paper Garden’s mast this afternoon. It was guitar driven with big swirling beats and keening vocals. They told us from the stage how it was only at last year’s SXSW that they decided to form a band, and now look, here they were performing. It bit more complicated than that, there were actually at last year’s SouthBy as members of another band, Scattered Trees. It’s been a good choice to strike out as a threesome, they were impressive. That they are signed to City Slang is just another mark of quality.

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ON AN ON

The band I’d really come to see were up next; Little Tybee from Atlanta Georgia. It’s got to be said, there had been some pretty stiff competition through the afternoon. I still think they topped that showcase for me. It might be simply because I already know their current single ‘For Distant Viewing’, it’s little signature glissando hooking my ears tonight. Their whole set, acoustic, violin heavy, and therefore somewhat off my usual radar, was utterly charming and in equal measures compelling. Enough to stick in the link to the video here.

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Little Tybee

As beautiful a setting as this was, looking out over Austin, it was time to make a move. There was a difficult choice to make, two girls I’d been sitting next to kindly offered to take me to see Flaming Lips, but I stuck with my original plan and headed back downtown to meet with Peter and the guys. The plan was to see The Joy Formidable‘s last SXSW set and wave them off for their US tour.

 PD: With the afternoon drawing late, I headed over in the direction of the Lustre Pearl to see if a queue was developing. Much to my dismay, one had already developed an hour prior and the outdoor venue was opening up for another hour. In need of food, I walked over to the Iron Works BBQ alone and not sure if there’d be any Joy that evening. I can understand long queues for just about everything at SX, but I won’t stand in a line for food. So, there I was in a 30 minute queue for Texas brisket. I started making calls to see who would join me and the response was that they were still at other shows. At this point, it didn’t matter. Tired with sore feet and hungry, I waded through the inside of the restaurant, only then realising it was cafeteria-style service. I settled into a corner booth with my brisket and just relaxed. An early evening would be nice, I thought.

Shortly after finishing, Pam and Dennis showed up; I stuck around long enough to share best gigs, general complaints, and plans for the rest of SX. The Lustre Pearl was calling and I now had friends holding a spot for me as they approached the entrance. I bounded over and was inside in a flash, and met up with Mike a few minutes later.

Small Black was the opening act and they sounded something akin to OMD and New Order, with big synths churning ominous sounds to rattling bass lines and a steady beat.

MH: I’d been really keen to see DIIV, but without being all snarky, in the event found them rather Adam Ant-ish. Repetitive and not in a good way. Maybe they’d be worth more exploration if only there weren’t so much other music to listen to.

PD: I was impressed with front man Zachary Cole Smith. But while he was a highly talented guitarist and lead singer, the band’s songs suffered from a general sameness. At least drummer Colby Hewitt offered some comic relief, as he sat glamourlessly behind his drum kit, chain-smoking cigarettes dangling from his lips throughout the better part of the set.

DIIV

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MH: I’ve written so much about The Joy Formidable,but it was unmissable to catch up with a band who really have turned into good friends. It is public knowledge that Ritzy and Rhydian are no longer together in ‘that’ sense. Without reading too much into it, it felt like that had been apparent that their first show on Monday night, where Rhyd had been on form but contained. In stark contrast, here and now the musical symbiosis was back: Ritz and Rhyd were literally bouncing off and into each other, playing with their heads resting on the other’s chests. It was great to see Rhydian down on the floor over the effects pedals. This band has always set out to be three very equal partners, and tonight it clearly was.

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Rhydian climbing the furniture

PD: I couldn’t agree more. There was a huge spark of good chemistry in this evening’s performance. It started with an over exuberant Rhydian getting his tuning pegs getting caught up in his mic cable. Upon trashing the mic and stand, he proceeded to drop the butt of his Jag on his pedal board, rendering one pedal inoperable. Ritz plays on like nothing has happened. With one mic down and super(sound)man Dan working feverishly to restore it and the pedal, Rhyd and Ritz shared her mic for the rest of the song. Rhyd had a true impish look on his face; well chuffed with himself. There were massive grins all around between band mates and they were off to the races for the set, crisscrossing each other like Spitfires on stage, and smashing Matt’s cymbals and dancing on his cage. A highlight was Rhyd standing and playing atop one of the monitors and shouting to a full house. Such fireworks.

MH: Peter, Pam and I ended up on the tour bus drinking beer to wish them well on their journey. Hells teeth but it was huge charabanc, and it needed to be to convey 11 of them. Next stop, San Diego, 3 days hence.

PD: Such a top night with wonderful friends. I finally got to meet my friend Angie.

MH: Angie is Ritzy’s mum; she and dad John were at SX as part of a US tour of their own – driving up the West Coast, with a few opportunities along the way to see their little girl on stage. John had come to Austin with hopes of seeing lots of bands, but confessed he’d seen more backstage and dressing rooms than the Americana he craved. SXSW ‘choices’ affect everyone.

With torn loyalties, and with all proper regard to hugs goodbye, I then gave it legs to another part of town to try and catch Angel Haze, banking on her starting late. I was amazed to find they had been bang on time, played for 15 minutes, and I’d missed the lot. I’ll just have to see her in Manchester then.

PD: Another late night but easily the high point for me.

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Also published at http://www.eastportlandblog.com/

All Mike’s SXSW photos here

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.