Friday, March 25th, 2011
SxSW 2011 Night Three
Noah & The Whale, Lanterns On The Lake, Revolver and more at SxSW
Frank YangI went into this year’s SxSW with a shorter than usual list of must-see acts, not necessarily because there wasn’t as much I was keen on seeing but because I just didn’t have the time to do a lot of research leading up to the festival – hence my frequent “what am I going to go see now?” moments throughout the week. One of those on the list, and who had been on my to-see list be it at SxSW or anywhere else, was Baltimore’s Lower Dens.
Their debut Twin Hand Movement had been recommended to me at some point last year and though I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it, I did find myself compelled to keep listening to it over and over again. It sounded to me like a Deerhunter that I actually liked, sharing a sort of garage-gaze aesthetic but with Jana Hunter’s project creating a sense of mystery rather than Bradford Cox’s meandering. Purely subjective and not a popular position, I know, but there it is.
And for the start of the evening’s program, at the unfortunately-named Klub Krucial, there was Lower Dens. I’d been warned that they weren’t the most visually appealing band – not as in ugly but as in not doing much on stage – and it was true, but any shortcomings in that department were made up for in how aurally hypnotic they were, with Hunter’s languid and androgynous vocals and their hazy, spiralling guitarwork. Their allotted time slot was shorter than a standard set at the festival, but I had gotten what I needed.
It was then back to Lustre Pearl, which at this rate I would surely have become Foursquare mayor of had there been any cell reception there. This time it was to see Noah & The Whale, whose Toronto show I’d be missing this week in favour of British Sea Power the same night. The English quartet had just released Last Night On Earth and with it, essentially reinvented themselves for the third time in as many albums. After the bouncy folk-pop of their debut and the depressive orchestration of First Days Of Spring, Night finds them again feeling upbeat and enamoured with ’80s New Romantic synth-pop and The Velvet Underground and trying to make the two mix. And while the lyrics on Night are rather banal – Charlie Fink is not a poet and this record lacks the earnest emotionalism that carried Spring through some of its clunkier moments – the band has an irresistible melodic sensibility and inherent charm that makes them difficult to dislike. And live, they’ve also got volume at their disposal. You wouldn’t expect it, but Noah & The Whale were one of the loudest bands of the fest so far, and the application of sonic force acted as a great unifier for the different styles – folk? Orch? Synth? Rock.
Completely un-rock but wholly enthralling was northern England’s Lanterns On The Lake, who were a recommendation from a reader (thanks Giselle!) and showcasing at the Central Presbyterian Church. Recently signed to Bella Union, the six-piece often playing facing each other on the church dias rather than the audience in the pews while crafting some of the prettiest sounds I’d hear all week. With singer Hazel Wilde’s delicate vocals overtop, their widescreen songs ebbed and tided like the ocean on rocky shores, possessing the dynamics of post-rock, the textures of shoegaze rendered orchestrally and the intimacy of folk or singer-songwriter, with all the unlike facets complimenting each other rather than conflicting. Simultaneously soothing and heart-rending, Lanterns On The Lake would be one of my best discoveries of the festival.
The intention had been to close out the night at Buffalo Billiards for some familiar sights and sounds with The Joy Formidable and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, but I was apparently one of hundreds with the same plan and so while the badge was effective at getting me into the venue, it couldn’t help me get any closer to the stage than about 10 rows of unusually tall people back. Which in and of itself wouldn’t have been a dealbreaker but the fact that The Joy Formidable were running about 20 minutes late made the futility of the situation clear, and I cut my losses and engaged plan B.
This involved battling my way the length of 6th St to the Easy Tiger Patio for Paris’ Revolver, even though I skipped seeing them back home at the start of the month. That choice was more out of self-preservation than lack of interest, however, so I was pleased for the opportunity to make up for it. I wasn’t sure what sort of turnout to expect for a French band in the heart of Texas, but the patio was quite happily full for their set. And really, why not – their vein of power pop has distinctly Americana/rockabilly overtones and you don’t need to be of any particular nationality to appreciate their impeccable 3-part harmonies and classic(al) melodicism. Superb stuff and a top way to end the night. Technically, I could have found one more showcase for the 1AM slot but there wasn’t anything I particularly wanted to see that I could get into and by the third night of SxSW, you’d have to be a pretty damned interesting band to win out over sleep.