Thursday, March 18th, 2010
SxSW 2010 Night One
Rose Elinor Dougall, Fanfarlo, Trespassers William and more at SxSW
Frank YangIt used to be that at 8PM, you could still wander into Stubb’s relatively easily as most were still getting their beer and BBQ on and couldn’t be expected to be in go-mode so early in the night. Apparently those days are past. Upon arriving at one of Sx’s largest venues, I was greeted with a line that went down and around the block, certainly the largest one I’d ever considered getting into. But seeing as how I had no other enticing options for that time slot, I opted to line up with everyone else and hope for the best. Things moved at just the right speed to not abandon ship and I managed to get into the venue and as politely as possible, plow my way up to the photo pit just in time to be let in for Seattle’s Visqueen.
I had been enjoying Message To Garcia, the latest slab of power pop from Rachel Flotard and company, so to hear them start with a vocal-and-cello crooner was a bit of a surprise – had there been a change of direction in the past year, perhaps inspired by Flotard’s stint as sidewoman to Neko Case a few years ago? Not in the least – with song two, the electric guitars came out and the big rock began. Their set was only four songs, but they were jam-packed with hooks, riffs and melodies, anchored by Flotard’s not inconsiderable charisma.
It was as I was leaving Stubb’s and heading to the Hilton Garden 18th Floor – a clever name for a conference room on the 18th floor of the Hilton Garden hotel – that word of Alex Chilton’s passing reached me, ensuring that the rest of the night would be at least moderately bummed out. So in that sense, the serenely downcast sounds of Trespassers William were an ideal choice. The Seattle outfit do not tour North America much, so SxSW has been my only opportunity to see them – their show in 2008 was a considerably different affair from this one, featuring a much larger band and a much louder approach. This time out, it was just principals Anna-Lynne Williams and Matt Brown with some help on drums from Robert Gomez and accordingly, it was much quieter and intimate. Their set included a couple of new songs, hopefully from a forthcoming album, and closed with a remarkable cover of Radiohead’s “Videotape”, for which Williams’ voice seemed tailor-made. A welcome pause from the general chaos of SxSW.
A chaos which I flung myself right into by trying to get into Fanfarlo at the Galaxy Room Backyard next. There wasn’t any real urgency to see them this week since they’ll be coming to Toronto in a few weeks (April 9 at Lee’s, assuming that no passports are stolen), but gave it a go and after a moderate wait in line, got in just in time for the start of the set. Or what would have been the start of the set had they started on time. Instead, they continued to soundcheck for nigh on 20 minutes longer and then, when things were set and the clock ticking, the showcase sponsor actually came out and read a prepared introduction. Dude, the house is packed and things are already running stupid late. Shut up and get off. Which he eventually did and the London five-piece came on, playing an abbreviated set that didn’t quite match the grandeur of their show last year, but a big tent is not the Central Presbyterian Church so that probably couldn’t be expected. They sounded leaner and scrappier than that show, but more boisterous and less polite – positive things both. I attribute that to frontman Simon Balthazar’s not wearing a bow tie this time out.
Post-Fanfarlo, I was almost at Latitude 30 for Johnny Flynn when I decided I’d be better off seeing someone I’d never seen before, and that meant Norway’s Megaphonic Thrift – which turned out to be a great idea except that I had forgotten I hated Habana Calle 6 as a venue. They too were running late with sound check, not getting started until 15 minutes into their set, but you don’t need a lot of time to get across what they’re about. Take one part Sonic Youth and one part Dinosaur Jr, throw them in a blender and set to “pop” and let it ride. Hellaciously loud and rife with guitar abuse, if the above recipe sounds like an awesome combination to you, then The Megaphonic Thrift may well be the most awesome thing to come down the pipe in the last 10 years.
Ex-Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall went completely against SxSW convention by booking only one single show at the festival, official or otherwise, which made her midnight show at the Galaxy Room a must-see. Previewing material from her forthcoming solo debut Without Why, due out sometime this year, Dougall seemed quite keen to break from her past by trading polka dot dresses for a black leather jacket and assembling a band more keen on ’80s dreampop guitar textures than ’50s girl group sounds. Always the strongest singer in the Pipettes, Dougall’s solo material puts that voice front and centre overtop some solid songwriting and sharp pop sensibilities. I do wish the Pipettes Mk 2 all the luck in continuing on through all their roster changes, but it’s very clear that Dougall made the right choice in setting out on her own. Definitely looking forward to that album.
As a nightcap, I stopped in at Latitude 30 en route back to the hotel to see London’s The Invisible. They did me the favour of playing “London Girl” as their second song of the set, so I didn’t feel too bad when I ducked out early. Their low-key, chilled-out groove was clearly doing it for some – there was some impressive dancing going on in the audience – but wasn’t what I needed just then. I was not going to need any help in falling asleep this night.