Thursday, March 15th, 2007
SxSW XXI I
One down, three to go. My first full day in Austin was initially spent hanging out at the Convention Center getting my wristband situation sorted out, which it was and by early afternoon I had my wristband, camera pass, a spring in my step and tacos in my belly. First stop of the day. musically-speaking? The Mohawk, where Austinist, Gothamist and Gorilla Vs Bearist were throwing the best (and really, only) big party of the afternoon.
Headlights (Champaign, IL) @ The Mohawk Patio – I thought I arrived early so I was a bit perplexed to hear Headlights’ “TV” wafting down Red River as I approached the club. Since when do shows run ahead of schedule? Since never, that’s when. And yet, they were. So quickly getting inside, I caught most of their set, their jubilant pop chasing away the grey skies and enticing the sun to shine. Okay, it didn’t really – it remained overcast all day – but it felt like it could have happened. A terrific way to start the day and the festival.
Nicole Atkins & The Parlour Mob (Neptune, NJ) @ The Mohawk Patio – This was supposed to be billed as “Nicole Atkins & The Sea” but The Sea, her band, was stuck in Cincinnati so she had to enlist some ringers – The Parlour Mob – to back her up. They played an abbreviated set, but it was long enough to showcase Atkins’ powerhouse voice, steeped equally in raw blues and deep twang. I’d heard bits and pieces of her stuff before, but have been convinced to investigate her work a lot more closely. Wholly impressive.
Loney, Dear (Stockholm, Sweden) @ The Mohawk Patio – Though they were playing many showcases over the week, this was going to be my only opportunity to see them and it was a real treat. On Loney, Noir, Emil Svanangen views melancholy through sparkling pop prisms but live, with a five-piece band four of whom contribute backing vocals and harmonies, his songs take on whole new emotional dimension – they sound utterly joyous. It may simply come down to the difference between the sound of instruments being multitracked in a studio and played live, but it was really, really something to behold.
iLiKETRAiNS (Leeds, England) @ Emo’s Jr – This combo took to the stage in matching white dress shirts with black armbands, possibly in remembrance but more likely in affectation. They served up some decent if not especially remarkable tunes based on dark, swirling dirges, all deep and mournful lyrics and echoing, crashing guitars. And one very aggressive trumpet player.
Emma Pollock (Glasgow, Scotland) @ Emo’s – It’s important to remember that The Delgados’ dissolution wasn’t Emma Pollock’s idea, so there’s no real reason to expect that her solo material would be worlds away from her contributions to her old band. Though the one track from her forthcoming album made available below would imply a gentler, folkier direction, her showcase indicated that it was more the exception than the norm. “Limbs” notwithstanding, her set – backed by a full band – was actually quite raucous and uptempo, with a bit more raggedness than was evident in her old band. Consider my anticipation for her album officially heightened.
Beirut (Albuquerque, NM) @ Emo’s – I wasn’t overly bowled over by Gulag Orkestar – I thought it was okay but not much beyond that – but judging from the enthusiasm of the crowd that piled into the Emo’s main room to see Zach Condon and his mini orchestra, I’m maybe the only one of that opinion. The kids love Beirut, that cannot be debated. And I have to say, their roaring and ramshackle live show does come with a whole lot of charm – Condon and his deep croon ooze a definite charisma and his band, seven players strong, excellently bring to life the exotic Eastern European vibe of the album. For some reason the band thought they only had a short amount of time to play and when told otherwise, ended up soliciting requests from the audience.
Minipop (San Francisco, CA) @ The Parish II – It’s saying something said that even with lots working against them – an unfriendly venue (waiters carrying jalapeno poppers were walking in front of the stage and I was able to get the basketball scores by glancing at any wall), lousy sound and a blown power circuit midway through the second song, Minipop still managed to impress. Of course, I was already half-sold based on their sweet power-pop/dream-pop blend based on what I’d heard from the SxSW torrent and their MySpace but what did come across live sealed the deal. I got a copy of their debut album A New Hope and if it delivers as I hope, you’ll be reading more about these guys and gals here in the future.
Cortney Tidwell (Nashville, TN) @ The Ale Room – I was curious how the ethereal qualities of Tidwell’s Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up would be recreated live, and surprisingly the answer was “with lots of guitars”. In addition to Tidwell, either armed with an acoustic or omnichord, there were three other electric guitarists on the tiny Ale Room stage with her (plus a keyboardist and drummer) turning her dreamy country-esque tunes into miniature novas. And while you might think that approach would be contrary to the delicacy inherent in her material, it actually worked really well – especially since Tidwell’s massive, amazing voice was lifted up on the din instead of being smothered by it. By looking at things from a different angle, the show only served to reinforce how good that record is.
After her set, I called it an early night. There simply wasn’t anyone I wanted to be seeing and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about SxSW, it’s you take your rest where you can get it. And don’t forget – this was the SHORT day. Much more on the sched for tomorrow.