Saturday, March 20th, 2010
SxSW 2010 Day Three
Nicole Atkins, Holly Miranda, Johnny Flynn and more at SxSW
Frank YangOh, the best laid schemes of mice and men. Thanks to having gotten a most satisfactory Superchunk experience on Thursday night, I no longer had to devote my Friday afternoon to lining up at La Zona Rosa to see them there at three. The world – or Red River at least – was my oyster. Unfortunately, oysters can sometimes be closed up and hard to pry open, and such was the case on Friday.
Things certainly started out alright with one of BrooklynVegan’s umpteen official and unofficial showcases, this one at Club DeVille. An early arrival on my part and late start on theirs meant that I caught New York’s Twin Sister to kick off the day. They had a nice, airy sort of indie-pop, all jangly guitars, sweet vocals and burbling synths. A time-tested recipe that doesn’t get stale.
I was really there to see Nicole Atkins, though – since touring the hell out of her 2007 debut Neptune City, Atkins has lain low, parting with both her label and her band; The Sea has been replaced with The Black Sea, but they weren’t on hand for her SxSW appearances. Instead, she conscripted Austin’s Future Clouds & Radar to back her up and it’s pretty fair to say they were up to the task. Her set was comprised mainly of new material which confirmed not only that she was backing away from the stylistic ranginess of her debut in favour of a leaner, more focused classic rock-derived sound, but that she was damn good at it. Interestingly, she didn’t play guitar at all during the set, leaving six-string duties to two of Future Clouds – time will tell if this was just for these shows or if she’s put down the guitar for good. For a set closer, she dedicated a beautifully torchy cover of Sparkehorse’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” to the late Mark Linkous. Two years since seeing her last is far too long; news of a new record is anxiously awaited.
It was at this point that things went slightly off the tracks. Despite being told by Spin that I was on their list for their big show at Stubb’s, I was not so plans to see Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings had to be scotched. The listing I had for Serena-Maneesh at Red-Eyed Fly didn’t appear to be reflected in the venue’s schedule or anywhere else in reality, so obviously that wasn’t happening. The TapeOp party was a real private, RSVP-required show and not just a nudge-nudge “private” show so attempts to see Quasi were all for naught. And the lineup to get into Emo’s for Pitchfork’s presentation of Memory Tapes was well down the street, far longer than I was prepared to wait. It was, as the kids say, an afternoon made of fail.
Tail slightly between my legs, I headed back to DeVille which wasn’t quite full yet, but getting there, in time to see Holly Miranda. I’d seen her on this very stage a couple SxSW’s ago as part of Hot Freaks, but that was when she was still with The Jealous Girlfriends and things were very different now, what with her solo debut The Magician’s Private Library garnering more attention than her old band ever did. The record itself hasn’t completely won me over yet but her live show certainly made an immediate impression. In performance, the material sounds louder and punchier than the recorded versions, which feel a bit overwhelmed by David Sitek’s production, and put the focus squarely on Miranda’s sandpaper-and-velveteen voice and equally expressive guitarwork. It was a pretty marvelous showing that rekindled my interest in giving the album time to impress.
Having had enough rejection for one day, I tromped back to the hotel to evaluate the evening’s plans, which were shaping up to look nothing like I’d intended just 24 hours earlier. One change – and a pleasant one – was a gig by Johnny Flynn at the Hilton across the street from the Austin Convention Center. I’d skipped his official show on Wednesday night so getting the chance to make that up was a silver lining on the day. Flynn might not have thought so, looking a bit mortified as he got on the makeshift stage in the corner of the hotel lobby accompanied by a cellist, but he made a go of it in belting out his olden-days sounding, very English folk tunes. Even if the surroundings didn’t offer the best vibe, it was a good way of getting the attention of passers-by as more and more people stopped to watch and listen. I’m hoping that Flynn’s presence at SxSW implies more time spent in North America for his forthcoming second album – both of his tourmates the last time he visited are making some serious inroads over here, and he’s certainly good enough to do the same.
So day three – a bit of a letdown from one perspective but certainly not a bad day. And in hindsight, taking it easy and saving energy for the night’s programming would prove to be a really good idea.