Friday, March 20th, 2009
SxSW 2009 Night Two
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Little Boots and more at SxSW
Frank YangWhen I arrived at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church on Thursday night, the lines to get in were already folded on themselves several times over and spilling out onto the sidewalk. I’d have liked to think that they were all there to see The Rural Alberta Advantage like I was, but most were probably looking for a good seat to see Grizzly Bear.
Both opening bands should have thanked eMusic profusely for arranging the bill as they did, and basically giving two unknown acts an opportunity to impress a packed house of Grizzly Bear fans. First up were San Francisco’s Girls, who failed to make much of an impression. Their jangle-with-a-touch-of-psychedelia pop was decent enough, but really not anything that hadn’t been done many times before and better. Shrug-worthy.
I realize I’m pretty biased about The RAA on account of how much I love the band, but I think I am stating an impartial fact when I declare that for their debut SxSW showcase, they absolutely killed. It took me a little bit to adjust to hearing Nils Edenloff’s vocals, so strained and dry on record, echoing in the church acoustics but it really did give chills. Indeed, Paul Banwatt’s thunderous drumming and Amy Cole’s marvelous harmonies never sounded better – talk about presenting a band in their very best light. I’ve always believed that the only thing you need to make someone love the RAA is to have them hear them play and I cannot believe that wasn’t the case for everyone in attendance last night – the huge, absolutely huge response they got when they came down from the stage and into the centre of the church for their “Good Night Song” did not lie. Nor did the person I overheard leaving, saying “that may have been the greatest thing I’ve ever seen”. It sounds impossible, but the Rural Alberta Advantage gave Grizzly Bear a tough act to follow. A staggering performance.
I could have happily ended the night there, but that’d have been a waste of an evening so I after leaving the church (and making one Grizzly Bear fan waiting anxiously in line very happy), I hopped over to Rusty Spurs to see Italian-Canadian’s A Classic Education. I reviewed their debut EP last year but was quite surprised to see how far they’d come since then – the six-piece band on stage was quite confident and assured, and more than capable of creating stirring, epic-scale sounds. But having said that, I found that my initial criticisms that they didn’t sound fully realized somehow, still held – though less so. The newer material sounded good but it also sounded like they were reaching for something still just a bit out of reach – but with time, I expect they grab hold and do so firmly, and when they do, it’ll be something to behold.
At this point there was a break in my schedule during which I opted to head to the venue for the evening’s Playboy party, for which I had a precious invite. Now to be honest, I didn’t really want to go – Jane’s Addiction holds no kind of appeal for me – but I figured that I should at least give myself the option. Or someone else, since the registration guy opted to just hand me my admission wristband rather than put it on me and make it non-transferable. It’s here that I considered just walking down 6th Street, offering it up to the highest bidder but instead kept it handy in case I chose to go.
But whichever way I decided, it was still too early to go – doors weren’t open for another hour – so it was back into the scrum to find something to see. Chairlift were running way behind so after conferring with Kyle from More Cowbell for a bit, I opted to hit Emo’s Annex to see Little Boots, on account of her being an artist of no small amount of buzz, to say nothing of the fact that I was right in front of the venue and there was no lineup.
Before Ms Boots were peculiarly-named Danes The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, who near as I could tell played danceable funk-soul with a distinct Scandinavian iciness, an interesting mix though I was a bit more preoccupied with trying to assess just how heinous this show would be to photograph – a venue as large as Emo’s Annex really should do better than two red floodlights.
It occurred to me just before Little Boots came on that the things I knew about her – formerly of Dead Disco, plays a Tenari-On and styolophone onstage and is given to doing dancey covers and remixes – but didn’t really know what her own material, was like. Answer? Catchy electro-dance pop, no big surprise there, but what was somewhat surprising was how full-on diva (in the good sense of the word) Victoria Hesketh was. Resplendent in sheer strapless dress and impressive heels, there was no mitigating the glam for the indie masses – she danced, preened and worked the crowd like a pro, and the audience ate it up. I was going to say that this isn’t normally my sort of scene, but I seem to be developing an affiinity for the ’80s-retro synth stylings of late, so maybe it’s becoming my scene. Which is okay, because it’s rather a more attractive-looking scene than my usual one.
And speaking of attractive, I didn’t end up going to Playboy. Absolutely hit a wall before Little Boots’ set and barely managed to drag myself back to the hotel. My dogs, they were barking, and the bunnies were going to have to get by without me. Alas.