Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
SxSW 2010 Day Four
Free Energy, Lissie and The Middle East and more at SxSW
Frank YangIf you’ve been following SxSW coverage anywhere else over the last few days, then you know that Saturday, the final day of the festival, was cold. Damn cold. Colder than Toronto on that same day cold, which was particularly galling. I had brought just enough clothes so as to be able to layer a reasonably suitable outfit, so the loss of approximately 15 degrees overnight wasn’t enough to stop me from going out, just make it a bit less fun.
That said, I got out and about a little later than usual, opting to hit up Flatstock at the convention center first (no purchases, just browsing). A quick stop at the Rachael Ray party at Stubb’s came to nothing as the lineups for free food were massive – I like quesadillas but not to the point of spending an hour in line for them – and the music was already running a half hour behind schedule, so I popped into Red-Eyed Fly next door for WXPN’s day show and basically stuck around the rest of the day.
I arrived in time to catch most of the set from Lissie Maurus, who simply goes by Lissie. She’s an old-school country-rock singer-songwriter who isn’t banking on being fresh or innovative to get attention, just good. And she’s pretty good. Her voice has a raw yet wistful twang and her songwriting evocative and melodic, and oh yeah, she can play a pretty mean guitar as well. People have gotten much further with less, and judging from the jam-packed inside room at the venue, she was well on her way. Or people were just trying to get indoors.
The crowd was only slightly leaner for Sharon Van Etten’s set, but she had to contend with the sound of Jukebox The Ghost making a racket outside. This didn’t make for the most sympathetic environment for her quiet, heart-rending tunes and while she gamely tried to keep up by turning up, I couldn’t help thinking how perfect a setting St David’s Historic Synagogue would have been for her official showcase two nights prior. Or at least I imagine it was more perfect – I didn’t make it out to that show. Here’s hoping things are quieter for her when she plays the Horseshoe on April 5.
Despite the chill, it was to the outside stage for the next couple acts, and though it was Winter that was reminding us it wasn’t quite finished, Philly’s Free Energy were ready to be champions of Summer, at least musically speaking. People may have been expecting Cheap Trick to be the flag-bearers for big, ’70s power pop at this year’s festival, but with all respect to the veterans, Free Energy were untouchable when it came to hugely hooky, ass-shakingly great guitar rock. After their set, they handed out free copies of their debut Stuck On Nothing to all in attendance even though it’s not due out until May 4. The only catch was that it was on cassette. Thanks, guys.
I’d never heard of Australian 7-piece The Middle East before SxSW began, but they were one of the acts whose name got mentioned more and more with each of their performances so by this, their second-last show of the festival, I was actually making an effort to see what the hubbub was all about. Apparently they used to be some odd hybrid of folk-rock and post-rock, but now had a sound that was much more the former, but with some of the scope and grandeur of the latter and a heart-on-sleeve emotionality that tied it all together. With a short set time that was eaten up with soundchecking of their many, many instruments, they probably didn’t have time to really deliver their A-game and I wasn’t as won over as many seemed to have been with previous appearances, but I could see how it could happen.
At this point I was done with Red-Eyed Fly and crossed the street to Barbarella, which I didn’t realize used to be Spiro’s. And while the name had changed, the fact that it’s an awful room hadn’t. But I didn’t want to miss the chance to see Slow Club again – their one appearance at Eastbound & Found on Thursday was not going to be enough, especially since there was no indication that there’d be further North American touring in support of the Stateside release of their debut Yeah, So?. And perhaps because that record is so old to the band, despite not being available over here till March 30, the set again didn’t seem to include many of my favourite songs from that record but instead fresh tunes that at least still adhered to the album’s recipe for success: simple, gleeful guitar-and-drums arrangements, and wicked (witty) sharp songwriting. Highlights of the set included inviting the sisters of First Aid Kit up to sing a song before picking up and heading into the audience to play a tune amidst their public. They went back onstage for one final tune, but I preferred to leave the final impression of the show as that one, and anyways there was an enchilada calling my name.