Thursday, March 19th, 2009
SxSW 2009 Day One
Amanda Palmer, Yelle, J Tillman and more at SxSW
Frank YangFor brevity’s sake, I’m busting up the days and nights of SxSW into separate posts. Of course, a greater volume of posts doesn’t exactly equal brevity, does it. Anyways. As with last year, photos, multimedia and assorted sundry links for all acts covered will come in the following week.
I started Wednesday with a plan. It took exactly no time for said plan to go off course. I’d meant to start with Henry Clay People at Paradise but a promise of free food and beverages at the Austinist party from Donewaiting had me starting things off at the Mohawk with a cup of absinthe. It was… kinda nasty, actually. There was music but nothing I paid particular attention to, and with my head just a bit fuzzy, it was to the Radio Room to see Amanda Palmer. I’m not especially a Dresden Dolls fan but I did see them at Lollapalooza a few years back and enjoyed them quite a bit, and Palmer solo didn’t disappoint. Just off a plane from Australia or New Zealand, she was a bit loopy but still in fine form, playing material from her recent solo record and closing with a ukulele-led, audience sing-along cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”.
Then it was across the street to Maggie Mae’s for new Scottish outfit We Were Promised Jetpacks. I’d been hoping they’d impress the way Frightened Rabbit did last year, but while they weren’t bad by any means, they didn’t make much of an impression with their mildly angsty and anxious indie rock. There were a few moments in a few of their songs that stood out, but not nearly enough.
I was headed out the door of Maggie Mae’s when I ran into a friend who said that French electro-pop act Yelle was about to start just upstairs. Sure, why not – I’d made half-hearted efforts to see her a couple times in the past (which is to say I thought about it), so now was as good a time as any. As it turned out, they were running quite a bit late but when Yelle finally took the stage, it was absolutely worth the wait. Backed by a live drummer and keyboardist and even with a truncated set, frontwoman Julie Budet was an electrifying presence, bounding about the stage and working the packed house into a frenzy. So much sweaty fun.
Gears could not have shifted more with the next act, as I moved from Parisian dancefloors to the Pacific northwest for J Tillman. Though best known as the drummer for Fleet Foxes, Tillman is also a notable singer-songwriter in his own right and was set to demonstrate his skills at Emo’s Annex. Unfortunately, persistent feedback prompted him to abandon the stage after a song and play unamplified in the audience. It was a terrific gesture and the crowd pulled in close around him, but with the racket of all the other day shows bleeding into the open-air venue, it was nigh impossible to hear him play or sing. But still, a noble effort.
Sound problems were also prevalent back at Paradise where I hopped over to see Justin Townes Earle, where there was much feedback coming through the monitors as music. And while Earle took it more graciously than his increasingly grumpy sideman, he was still obviously perturbed though not so much as to take it out on the audience. He may have gotten initial attention because of his famous father, but Earle is his own man and draws little from Steve Earle’s country-rock template, favouring a more traditionally-styled sort of country music. an impressive songwriter and performer.
It was then across the street to Peckerhead’s to wrap up the afternoon portion of the day. I got there in time to see Brooklyn’s Phenomenal Handclap Band. I’ve heard them called “Brooklyn’s Broken Social Scene”, which might be accurate if Broken Social Scene traded in ’70s funk-soul pastiches. There were a lot of members, though, maybe that was the angle. Mildly interesting, but I soon hopped over to the other side of the venue.
And that was where Reading, UK’s Pete & The Pirates were setting up. I’d heard a bit of buzz around the five-piece and had given their debut Little Death a few spins – it didn’t send me over the moon but I was curious enough to give them some time. Live, they weren’t any sort of revelation, one part Noah & The Whale and one part Arctic Monkeys, but adequately catchy and energetic – just kind of anonymous. I didn’t leave thinking that these guys were underrated, just properly-rated.
And then it was time for dinner.