Durand Jones and the Indications at Mohawk
It's the scooters' world. I just tried to see bands in it.
My experience of SXSW Music 2019 began on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 12, in the city of Austin, Texas, previously known as the Music Capitol of the World, now known as a war zone between cell-phone-fixated pedestrians and bi-wheeled Terminators, with the smart money being on the latter, if only because the numbers favor the machines.
You think the damn things are annoying in St. Louis? You've never witnessed the carnage left behind when corporate ventures like Uber and Lyft and Spin flood a market of tech-addicted hipsters and millennials and turn sidewalks and street corners and any usable public space into tangled heaps of metal and plastic trash. And that's just when the twenty-mile-an-hour wind wrecked them. When activated, they are silent assassins marking anyone trying to get a show on time for death.
If the marketing plan was to generate as much bad press as possible and instill a soul-deep revulsion for the "e-transport service," well then congrats geniuses. Your work is done in Austin.
Scooter Hell in downtown Austin
[Rant mode off]
The first three days of this year's SXSW Music Festival had nearly as many triumphs and failures as weaponized rolling devices (vape pens optional). Here is my run down, with images by Photographer at Large Dana Plonka. Stayed tuned for weekend coverage.
LUCIA at the British Music Embassy.
LUCIA at British Music Embassy
Sure, fishnet and tartan is my favorite color scheme, but this band from Glasgow is fierce, with lead singer Lucia Fairfull wailing with more than a little Patti Smith in her voice, if only traces of her poetry. On stage, last year's single "Summertime" sounded like the best Best Coast song cut by that band. To finish its excellent Tuesday evening set, Fairfull waded into the crowd, licked a microphone like gelato and dropped it like a boss.
SOAK at British Music Embassy.
SOAK at British Music Embassy
SOAK, from Northern Ireland, has an endless supply of indie-pop archetypes, with 22-year-old lead singer Bridie Monds-Watson delivering songs like a less intense Big Thief perhaps, with lots of slow-burning androgynous grooves and charm.
Judy Blank at Dutch New Wave Showcase.
Judy Blank at Edwin's Sports Bar
My first full night at this year's SXSW Music fest had an unintentionally Eurozone theme, which was highlighted by Judy Blank, an Americana singer and songwriter from Utrecht, Netherlands, whose ace in the hole is her crystalline voice and a song like "Mary Jane," which fans of Brandi Carlile need to hear. She's a bit flaky on stage, but her songs, not to mention the fact that she arrived in Austin by cross-country Greyhound, deserve props.
Bedouine at Antone's.
Bedouine at Antone's
At the Spacebomb event, showcasing artists affiliated with producer and singer Matthew E. White's Richmond, Virginia-based studio and label, the highlight was Azniv Korkejian, a Syrian-born, LA-based musician (if one more blogger refers to her as "songstress" there will be blood), whose deep, trilling voice and enigmatic songs stilled a packed Antone's house. Comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday are tempting, save that she is wholly original and sounds like no one else one will hear at SXSW or anywhere for that matter.
illuminati hotties at Cheer Up Charlie's.
illuminati hotties at Cheer Up Charlie's
The Stereogum free day parties are arguably the best in town during SXSW, with this year being no exception. LA-based, punkish-pop band illuminati hotties, led by goofy and witty Sarah Tudzin, ripped through a set on the outdoor stage that had all the loud-quiet-loud thrills an indie-pop fan could want, with some withering sentiments thrown in. "You only like me when I'm sad" isn't just a great line; it's the zeitgeist.
Durand Jones and the Indications at Mohawk.
At the Paradigm and SoundExchange party on Wednesday afternoon, the Bloomington, Indiana-formed soul group moved the outdoor stage crowd with Jones's falsetto growl and some excellent horn parts. The grooves were cool; the songs set Jones apart.
Yola at the SXSW Radio Day Stage.
Yola at the SXSW Radio Day Stage
Sometimes it feels like cheating to hit a show at the Austin Convention Center (no lines, good sound, shit starts on time), but not when it's an artist like Yola Quartey, from Bristol, UK, who, prior to this year's Dan Auerbach-produced debut Walk Through Fire
, was best known for working with Massive Attack. She has a potent alto, rich and wide-of-range, and songs that span country soul and rock and defy all Americana stereotypes. Backed by session guitarist extraordinaire Anthony da Costa, Yola slew a hall filled with industry types. If you haven't heard of her, you will.
J.S. Ondara at St. David's Historic Sanctuary.
J.S. Ondara at St. David's Historic Sanctuary
The Nairobi, Kenya-born songwriter J.S. Ondara makes no apologies for his Dylan worship. Some songwriters and singers can still change your life. As Dylan did his, Ondara might yours. He has a piercing voice, fine finger-picking guitar chops, and stories of what it means — as in means to the soul — to be an immigrant in this unforgiving land. His set in the church was unforgettable.
Big Joanie at British Music Embassy.
Big Joanie at British Music Embassy
Deconstructed, primitivist art-punk isn't exactly in my wheelhouse, but the trio of Stephanie Phillips, Estella Adeyeri, and Chardine Taylor-Stone, all hailing from London and with a name on the city's growning DIY scene, more than held my attention. The band can just barely play, or maybe they just play it that way. The songs were weirdly catchy, pounded and plucked out with punkish insouciance.
Yawners at 720 Club Patio.
Yawners at 720 Club Patio
The Madrid band led by guitarist and songwriter Elena Nieto deserved more than a corner stage on a rickety patio in downtown Austin, but to her and drummer Martín Muñoz's credit, they played the fuck out of their set. Comparisons to the Breeders or Waxahatchee almost stick, but the duo has a totally locked in chemistry and hooks that don't stop. If the chance arises, I would see them at SXSW again — and again.
Ellis at Las Perlas.
Ellis at Las Perlas
Previously unknown to me (I guess I need to start reading the Gorilla vs. Bear blog again), Linnea Siggelkow records under the name Ellis. Her voice only seems like a whisper. It cuts like handmade vellum flecked with blood. Her cover of the Cranberries' "Linger," a song written and recorded before she was born, seared a room full of hipsters.
whenyoung at Music From Ireland.
whenyoung at Music From Ireland
Perhaps you've heard "Never Let Go," the single by Limerick, Ireland's whenyoung. It's a catchy tune, which is no dig, but the track's hyper-polish belies the urgency of this young trio, who knocked me out song after song. SXSW is about musical discovery. whenyoung will likely be my favorite new rock band of the whole week.
Fontaines D.C. at Cheer Up Charlie's.
Fontaines D.C. at Cheer Up Charlie's
One of the biggest buzz bands in the rock genre at SXSW 2019 is Fontaines D.C., with the initials referencing their home of Dublin City. The band's post-punk sound has force, but its indoor set at a fire-code-breaking Cheer Up Charlie's was an abortion after three songs. The bass amp blew, and then the backup blew, and the band walked off stage without apology. Buzz officially killed.
The Comet Is Coming at St. David's Historic Sanctuary.
The Comet Is Coming at St. David's Historic Sanctuary
Hyped as the second coming of Sun Ra (give me a break), the London trio of King Shabaka, Danalogue and Betamax (give me another break) turn fusion into a jamming endurance contest. They outlasted me. This is not psychedelic jazz. This is tuneless.
Edie Brickell and New Bohemians at St. David's Historic Sanctuary.
Edie Brickell at St. David's Historic Sanctuary
Blame falls on my own shoulders for wasting time on this vaguely jamming set from the late '80s songwriter. It's unclear why I expected more. I was probably drunk when I made my schedule. Brickell still has a fetching voice, but her new sentimentality does not improve on the old. And the band is as bland as ever.
Pip Blom at Swan Dive.
Pip Blom at Swan Dive
Amsterdam's Pip Blom have a great surfing sound on stage and all kinds of never-stop-hip-shaking charm, but I'll be damned if I could remember a single song or tell one from the other. Mercifully, I departed before the guitarist removed his shirt.
The Blinders at British Music Embassy.
The Blinders at British Music Embassy
The final act of BBC Radio 6's showcase, and my final band of the first three nights of SXSW Music, hails from Manchester, UK, as no less than three Brits in the front row shouted in my face. I didn't get it. The band wasn't quite garage-rock Spinal Tap, but it was close.
Stay tuned for Friday and Saturday SXSW 2019 coverage!