Friday, March 20th, 2009
SxSW 2009 Day Two
Glasvegas, School Of Seven Bells, Graham Coxon and more at SxSW
Frank YangFor the second day of SxSW, I eschewed all the running around that marked the first day – instead, I let the bands come to me. The best place to let this occur was the Mohawk, where Rhapsody were again throwing an impressive party.
Leading things off and obviously dazed in the bright midday sun were Vivian Girls, who manage to grow on me a little more each time I hear them. I think their live show worked better for me because it shed the deliberately tinny production of the records and actually delivered some serious oomph with its simple pop sensibilities. Lock me in a room with the album on repeat for a week and I might even become a fan.
I decided to not pay attention to Wavves, who was up next, but was front and centre for the following act – School Of Seven Bells. The band maintained the trio-plus-sampler live format they used when they visited Toronto in November and while I still believe a live drummer would really take things to another level, I found their performance to be a lot looser and more natural this time out – one of the perks of relentless touring, I guess. This was most evident in the Deheza sisters’ vocals, which while still spot-on in their harmonies, had an extra expressiveness that I hadn’t noticed last time. Nice to see and hear their live presentation doing proper justice to the material.
And while not the afternoon’s headliner, it could be argued that Glasvegas were the biggest draw on the bill – after all, the Scottish quartet had rolled into town on no small amount of hype and many, myself included, wanted to see if they could measure up. And in a word, I would say yes. The reservations I had about their self-titled debut aren’t allayed, but they are significantly outweighed by the sheer intensity of the music’s delivery. Decked out in their signature black outfits – and flushed and sweat-drenched by set’s end – Glasvegas proved to have plenty of live charisma. Of course frontman James Allen provided much of it, with his Ray-Bans and pompadour, but much credit must be given to Rab Allan who I was surprised to see handled much of the difficult musical details – guitar, vocals, keys – that make the album a winner, and that he did so while bounding around the stage with bassist Paul Donoghue. A spirited performance from a band that I’d half-expected to phone it in (don’t ask me why I thought that). Very impressive.
At this point there were a few options open to me, but all were filed under “contingency” depending on whether or not the Brush Square Park tent was a badge-only venue, as it usually was in years past. The draw was Graham Coxon, who was a late addition to the festival lineup and the good news was that the venue was indeed open to all.
The bad news was they were running quite a bit late and that I was going to have to sit through a performance from an outfit called Esser to get to Graham. They were a British outfit that you’d have to call pop, but only in the most vapid sense of the word. With a frontman whose only distinctive qualities were a gimmicky haircut and annoying on-stage mugging, they pillaged soul, reggae and dance styles without managing to adopt any of their respective redeeming qualities.
Thankfully their set was somewhat truncated to allow Coxon to play his almost full-set. It’s remarkable – putting aside his skewed pop maven role in Blur, I knew Coxon in his solo guise mostly as a noisenik of the highest order, paying tribute to his American punk and hardcore influences. If this solo acoustic show is any indication, however, his new record The Spinning Top – out in May – will cast his as an improbable folky. Even assuming the arrangements on the album are more electrified, the songs are still very lyric-centric and decidedly unlike his past works. And speaking of his past works, I will confess a tiny part of me was hoping to hear “Coffee & TV” or “You’re So Great”, but I know that’d have been as likely as, well, something entirely unlikely. But still a treat to see one of my favourite all-time guitarists live, in any setting.