Austin, Texas – Day four turned out to be one of the most action-packed and completely satisfying days of the festival so far. The busy day of even more music kicked off with an inside look at some new tunes coming out this year, at the 2017 New Music Meeting panel. Expect some good stuff coming from Perfume Genius, alt-J (who have another new single dropping soon), Steve Earl (a new record coming from him), Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Slow Dancer, Deslonds, and PWR BTTM.
The first show of the day was Canadian indie-rock band classic, The New Pornographers at the SXSW Radio Day Stage. Coming up on nearly twenty years, tthe septet consists of Carl Newman (vocals/guitar), Neko Case (vocals), John Collins (bass), Blaine Thurier (keys/synth), Todd Fancey (lead guitar), Kathryn Calder (vocals, keys, guitar), and Joe Seiders (drums/vocals). The audience at the show skewed a bit on the older side, and maybe that’s because the show fell more in the middle of the day and it was held in the convention center, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t rock any less. The band received rounds of hearty applause and generous jives from the upper-middle aged crowd, and well-deserved, too. One thing to note, usually when musicians resort to incorporating more sounds into their lyrics (like oohs, ahs, doos, and whops), it gives an impression that they have these ideas for songs, but they don’t have anything to say. But it didn’t seem that way with The New Pornographers, especially on “Brill Bruisers,” which has quite a few of those “bo-bah-bobobo-boh” moments. Maybe it’s because they’re a collaborative group of well-established artists with successful solo careers, or just the fact that they’re a group that’s well-respected throughout the music industry. Either way, it was a show that aired more on the relaxed side of things, but it was a perfect early-afternoon show to hit before an evening packed to the brim with more performances.
Listen: “High Ticket Attractions” – The New Pornographers
French surf-pop trio The Blind Suns took a small stage at one of the indoor portions of the Hotel Vegas at Volstead first on the fourth night of music at SxSW. Kicking their set off a little late, and with more of a dream-pop, acapella intro done by lead vocalist Dorota Kuszewska, it became clear early on in their set that they were about to own the small space no matter if it remained sparsely filled, or if a line formed outside for hopeful attendees to get in and experience the show. Not surprisingly, it was more of the latter as their set progressed. Once they got more into their forte (surf-pop), the venue quickly filled up. But, it wasn’t like that seemed to really matter to the band, they seemed to be having the time of their life regardless of how many people showed up. It probably helped that there was a sizable crowd, especially since the venue they were at isn’t located near the bulk of the SxSW events. The song of most note? “Rockefeller” – if you’re going to give one song of The Blind Suns’ a spin, that’s the one.
Listen: “Rockefeller” – The Blind Suns
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A quick power-walk to the other side of Austin, to the Victorian Room at the Driskill, and it was time for a major change of pace. Singer-songwriter Danny Malone describes his music as “future-folk, sexy-depression, foragoraphobia. Although a quick google search for “foragoraphobia” doesn’t come up with anything, “agoraphobia” is the fear of open spaces… So take that with what you will. Anyway, Danny Malone and his bandmate Kenni Hede were entrancing, and a nice change of pace from other acts found at SXSW. The Victorian Room wasn’t too full, and most of the audience ended up sitting on the carpeted floor to enjoy the show. Even though it wasn’t an “in your face” type of showcase, it was still hard to look away. Malone had one of those performance faces that kept you looking just to be sure you didn’t miss anything. Throughout his set, Malone kept the bantering with Hede going, and mixing that with audience conversations, too. On his 2013 debut album Balloons, Malone was able to showcase his incredible vocal talent, especially with his high note sustains. Afterwards, he came back down to earth after that high-flying and told us about how he forgot the power cable to the piano. “So I ran home, and got here with about five minutes to spare before the set. Then I took a look at the setlist, and realized I only would be playing it for one song. But it was worth it, I’m great at this song… I also like to pump myself up throughout the set.” Unfortunately, this song went un-named, so it’ll be difficult to re-live the beauty and splendor of it, but maybe that’s one of the things about these live shows that make them even more special. Above all, though, Malone reminded us that it’s important to mix these low-key shows into your festival diet too. You can’t be high energy all of the time, and it’s not any less of an amazing show if you can sit down during it. Well-deserved applause to close it off.
Listen: “Limbo” – Danny Malone
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A much shorter commute brought us up to 800 Congress for a couple acts, starting with Swedish electro-alternative band Skott. The first thing to notice about Skott is obviously the frontwoman, who is an excellent example of a powerful female lead with strong musicality. She absolutely owned the entire room (a bit larger than other venues we’ve been at this week), and demanded the attention of the audience members, even though the whole place was filled with flashing, distracting displays of lights. After their first song, our lead vocalist shared that this was Skott’s first show in the United States. “We’re so sad we had to cancel our show yesterday, but we left all of our winter clothes in Sweden. We only packed shorts! Well, when we landed in New York… we got stranded… in a blizzard! But we’re glad we’re here now,” she said, ending her short story with a smile. The smooth, easy-to-listen-to sound carried us through their set, including a balanced blend of actual instrument usage with electronics. In addition to the wonderful display of musicianship, she made sure to litter the set with these short anecdotes. Another one of note would be how excited they were to be in Texas specifically, since our female lead named her childhood dog Texas. “It’s just a great name, no?” She said with a smile, before taking the most confident swig of water ever, and breaking out into another song. Skott will be playing in the United States through the end of March, so if an opportunity arises to catch them, it’s highly encouraged.
Next up at the same location was indie-pop/electro duo Quinn XCII and ayokay. Coming from Detroit, MI, the first thing we noticed and appreciated about this show was the fact that it was loud enough to feel the heavy bass, but not too loud to distort the sound. Playing a blend of music the crowd was familiar with and (presumably) some newer tunes, Quinn XCII did his best to get the audience involved with about a 50% response rate. But, that didn’t deter from the incredible display of energy, creativity, and showmanship he posses. Even if he didn’t end up talking through songs, the transitions between each one were absolutely seamless, and made the half-hour showcase absolutely fly by. Songs of note: “Stung” got the crowd active in assisting percussively, a cover of Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue,” “Native Tongue,” and his show close-out; an extended version of “New Wave,” (differing from the studio version on Spotify), and earning him even more audience engagement and appreciation. After he was done, the crowd roared with appreciation, and both Quinn XCII and ayokay left the stage smiling with a spring in their step.
Listen: “Straightjacket” – Quinn XCII
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The rest of the night was spent at the Central Presbyterian Church, where we caught a British power punk-rock female powerhouse Kate Nash. The church was packed to the brim with a very eclectic mix of people, primarily an older-skewing audience, very similar to that of The New Pornographers. Nash was one of the most active bands of the night, since she never seemed to stop flinging her hair around and totally rocking out. Another example of a performer who lives in the moment, and every move she made in the later-night show earned her roaring applause from the audience. She also played some new music from a forthcoming EP, but all she would reveal about the release is that it would be “soon.” Aside from the music, Nash also cracked a couple of remarks about performing so late in a church, a story about her rescue dog, and a perfect amount of female empowerment.
The only problem with covering such a large festival isn’t even really a big problem at all, but the overwhelming amount of amazing acts we were able to catch in just the “day four” span didn’t really sink in until well after the last show of the night. And maybe that “problem” is just one reason why festivals like SxSW are so popular – the exposure to great art usually isn’t so condense, and consistent. But at events such as this, the access to wonderful art is limitless.
Stay tuned for Day 5.