Being the editor of a UK music blog, it seemed only fitting that my first night would end at the British Music Embassy’s home for SXSW, at Latitude 30 on San Jacinto Boulevard. To be quite honest, I was planning on an as stress free as possible first night, and when we were having a walk around, I flipped through my book to see with some shock that Frank Turner was playing a showcase there that very night. I expected to completely miss Frank in Austin, as the only official appearance I’d heard about was an invite-only party Wednesday night that I did not get an invite for, even though I asked. I’m really wondering who was invited to that party, but it’s just as well, as being surrounded by punters passionate about Frank Turner was probably better than hanging around stuffy industry types, yeah?
Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun was first on the bill, which was an Xtra Mile Recordings showcase put on in conjunction with AiM. Lockey, from Cheltenham, quipped that the rest of his band was home in England and since they were so jealous he was at SXSW, he wasn’t sure when he returned if he still had a band. I’m not as good of a judge of the singer/songwriter genre as Cheryl is, but I’d say Lockey is a pretty good sample, as the conviction in his singing was obvious. Despite this being his first trip to Austin, he had enough guts to climb down into the audience and perform with voice and acoustic guitar only, playing to a round of new fans.
The next band up is probably not new to most of you; I’d certainly heard of them before but had never seen them perform live. The Xcerts from Aberdeen cranked it up several notches on the awesome scale with their wild and crazy set, with singer Murray Macleod belting his heart out. Several times I expected his teeth and tongue to fall out of his mouth, as he was singing so hard, and maybe his legs to get dislocated for catapulting himself in the air, legs flailing like a rock star whenever possible. (They were so great, I made it a point to see another Scottish showcase that featured them on Friday.)
However, the energy in the club reached the boiling point when the next band, screamo Cardiff rockers Future of the Left, took the stage. I’ve seen their name on countless festival bills in the past – and sometimes confusing them with the Futureheads – so I was curious what they sounded like. Well my friends, if a small town American girl liking Future of the Left is wrong, I don’t want to be right. This really isn’t my genre at all – it’s too loud, too frenetic and too hard – but the raucous performance, spurred on by a primarily fanboy audience and combined with an at times blinding light and smoke show, was an incredible sight to behold and music to one’s ears, truth be told.
They even managed to play directly to the crowd when dedicating ‘Robocop’ to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, threatening that if anyone at the show voted for him, they’d…well, actually they didn’t say, but I think the sentiment came through loud and clear. And from the people that were cheering in response to their threat, my guess is that the majority of SXSW attendees aren’t Republicans and/or are very progressive thinkers, so the equivalent I guess would be if We Are Scientists showed up at the Great Escape and complained about David Cameron. Way to endear yourself to the crowd.
After such a fired up performance from Wales, Frank Turner had his work cut out for him. He’s been enjoying an increasingly bigger and more devoted fanbase in the States (good on him), so it’s really not a surprise to see so many people crammed in to one place for the expressed purpose of seeing him play. How unlucky am I: both times I’ve seen Turner, he’s been solo and minus the Sleeping Souls, his usual backing band. But as everyone who has seen him knows, him being by himself doesn’t affect the performance at all. In fact, I’m imagining without a band, he can be more personal and I think it actually works in the singer/songwriter’s favour. He proclaimed half his songs would be the hits and the other half would be new songs. With nearly any other artist, a statement like that would be met with boos, jeers and possible physical confrontation. Not these fans.
One of the standout new tracks was ‘Tattoos’: it’s witty as hell, making fun of people’s tattoos that sag and fade as the years wear on, but with the prevailing message that even though you might not believe in what you did when you got those tattoos, you wouldn’t trade the special memories of those days for anything. I forget the exact line now, but there’s one part of the lyrics where Turner is emphatic, saying he would go back in time and get all the same tattoos all over again, because those memories are so important to him.
A song about tattoos is pretty appropriate for Austin; I never could tell if it was because there were so many music industry types at SXSW (who, as we all know, can be covered in tats as well) or it’s because all the Austin locals have tattoos, but nearly everyone I saw roaming the streets during this festival had at least one arm completely covered or at least part of a back with body art. (On my last day in town, I saw a girl on a bus with tiger stripes tattooed across her face and from the neck down. No joke.)
No tattoos for me so I can’t really relate directly to Turner’s sentiment, but I do share his feelings on never forgetting your best memories. As crazy as SXSW was, looking back at it now, I can smile about the people I was lucky enough to spend time with and saw gig and laugh about some of the accidental run-ins with celebrities. So with day 1 done and dusted, I left Frank Turner’s adoring masses – the venue was rammed so punters were spilling out on to the street – and headed for a couple hours’ rest before the onslaught of day 2.
More photos (and in higher resolution too!) from this showcase can be viewed on my Flickr.