SXSW 2012: Day 3 – Filter Magazine / American Rag Showdown at Cedar Street at Cedar Street Courtyard – 15th March 2012
Something about SXSW that some indie bands and bloggers have complained about: the festival will draw several better-known, high-profile acts that inevitably pull punters away from the smaller shows. To me, this is somewhat of a hollow complaint: people who are drawn to those shows probably wouldn’t be that adventurous enough to go see the truly unknown and unsung heroes. For the entire 5-day period of the fest, I didn’t once set foot at the giant Auditorium Shores outdoor amphitheatre that hosted the Shins, Counting Crows or the Cult – I just wasn’t interested to get bitten by mosquitoes and jostle for position to see toothpick figures marching around onstage. Most of the bands I saw can be comfortably classed as “indie”, except some that I saw Thursday.
Once the schedules were announced for Filter Magazine’s daytime showcases, I made note on my calendar in large red capital block letters “PARK MYSELF AT CEDAR STREET COURTYARD ALL AFTERNOON FOR KEANE”. Would I take a bullet for Tim Rice-Oxley? Probably. I think he’s one of the best songwriters of our generation. Keane hasn’t toured in America for 3 years, and the promise of hearing new material made me weak in the knees. Even better, the line-up was brilliant and the good folk of Filter Magazine and American Rag should be commended for putting together such an eclectic line-up. Of all the days I took a shuttle from my hotel to the convention centre to start my day, of course it had to be Thursday that the shuttle was late. I was going out of my mind, waiting. And when I finally got aboard the marked white van, I looked at my watch and groaned – I was missing Paula and Karol, who I’d seen the previous day and really loved and were the last band on the adorably named Don’t Worry, We’re from Poland showcase at the same venue that morning. And free barbecue. Damn.
Worse, it was already after 1 PM and I was missing Zulu Winter. Eep! Flustered, I yelled to the driver that I wanted off, jumping off the shuttle, then booking it to the place on 4th Street. I had no idea where I was going and then I considered, “how the heck am I going to find this place?” The band came to my rescue: I could hear ‘We Should Be Swimming’ from down the street. Hearing this wonderful song, I suddenly had an additional burst of energy, got in, got my Filter wristband and quickly made my way to the front.
These people who had arrived early for free food had no idea who they were – the girl next to me who grabbed their set list excitedly had to ask me who they were (hipster fail) – but gosh, I thought they sounded amazing. After seeing the dramatic video for ‘We Should Be Swimming’ I wasn’t sure if an English band like them could translate appropriately to performing in the Texas sunshine, but they did admirably. And didn’t wilt like English flowers. When singer Will Daunt announced ‘Silver Tongue’ (video here) would be their last song, I was upset. I wanted them to stay longer! (I’m a very lucky girl, I got to interview them 2 days later at the convention centre, and they were some of the sweetest musicians I’ve met yet.) I’m all over your Brighton Jam show at Great Escape, guys!
Continuing the party atmosphere was the group Reptar, hailing from Athens, Georgia (previously better known as the birthplace of R.EM. and the B52s). I’m a sucker for synths and what’s fun about Reptar (besides sharing a name with a green dinosaur from an American childrens’ tv programme) is that they’ve got an intriguing blend of disco and rock. (Some have described them as electropop and I don’t think this label does them justice.) It’s pretty hard to pull off a dance party vibe in broad daylight; think about it, that genre works best under darkness, and often with alcohol. What else is intriguing about this band? Googling reveals that they’re all still university kids with every intention of completing their degrees. Good on them. They were the only American, non-English band in the line-up and their guitarist wore a shirt with the American flag on it, probably to remind the crowd of this, lest people think they’re Brits. They’ve got a new album called ‘Body Faucet’ (eh?) on the 1st of May in the U.S. and I’m looking forward to this release.
Third on the bill was Band of Skulls, whose recently released second album John adored (read his review of ‘Sweet Sour’ here). In vast contrast to the previous two acts, the Southampton trio was clad in black, which probably wasn’t the greatest choice in 26+ C heat. They played a regular, non-SXSW gig on Tuesday at Antone’s that I missed, but Cheryl and I had planned on catching them when their tour made its way west to Washington 2 Saturdays later.
Thudding drums and bass coupled with squealing guitar? While the sunny surroundings seemed to the wrong kind of background for this band, they proved they’re the closest the iPod generation is going to get to a modern-day Led Zeppelin.
Kaiser Chiefs. Beloved by many a friend of mine and also by large pockets of fans back in Britain, I still had not seen these guys before. They were supposed to play in DC last September…until their American label folded, leaving them scrambling for their next stateside move. The Friday before SXSW, they actually appeared via a rescheduled date at the 9:30 Club but my day job had me out in California for the weekend. Bummer.
I thought I’d never see them this year until Filter revealed this line-up. It was very hard for me to choose among the 51 bands I managed to catch at SXSW but I think the title of best performance by an established act goes to Yorkshire’s finest.
Just like for Band of Skulls, I thought the sunny patio of Cedar Street Courtyard would directly undermine the ethos of this hard-rocking band. Instead, Ricky Wilson reveled in the sunshine, seemingly feeding off the sun’s rays and using it to his advantage. Looking like a fashion plate even though he was profusely sweating from the heat, he playfully slid down a banister before one song and then later decided to deliver to the masses, literally, set closer ‘Oh My God’. At first I had no idea what was going on when everyone started screaming and yelling. And then I saw Wilson’s figure bobbing down the length of the patio, supported by an accommodating fan’s shoulders. Wow. I was so impressed, I decided to reorganize my entire Thursday evening schedule to catch them later in their more natural habitat at Stubb’s. They were that good.
Now, for the main event: Keane. I’ve often joked to some of my mates who are also avid Keane fans (see what I did there, I avoided using “keen” to describe them) that something I’d like to do before I die is sing onstage with Tom Chaplin. So if you’re reading this Keane, you know my dying wish. I’ve seen them twice now since ‘Perfect Symmetry’ was released in 2008, so I know they put on a great live show. I’m baffled by the couple next to me who stood in the heat for 4 hours and 4 bands, only to leave and miss Keane entirely. Are you mad?
Women screaming and squealing commenced as soon as Chaplin, spied in a corduroy shirt, t-shirt and jeans and rocking it out like Elvis, was stood on the staircase directly above the stage. Gah. I nearly had a heart attack when one of the roadies brought out a regular length set list, only to be chided by another roadie that he’d grabbed the wrong set list. (Darn. Like Reading/Leeds or any other festival really, SXSW sets are not as long as those of gigs.)
They played four new songs – ‘Silenced by the Night’, ‘The Starting Line’, ‘On the Road’, and ‘Sovereign Light Café’ (the first three I posted last week as Live Gig Videos here – but it was obvious that the fans were there for the old hits. They started off with the lively ‘Bend and Break’ and worked their way through fan favourites ‘Everybody’s Changing’ and ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ before finishing with ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. Now, that final song once was the bane of my existence. Overplayed on American radio, I hated that song. But standing there, several ounces lighter from sweating in the Texas heat for over 5 hours, stood in front of one of my favourite stadium live acts ever, it came all together for me. I finally understood why fans love this song so much. Getting to see such a massive English act on a tiny little – and outdoor – stage like this one will be one of the experiences from SXSW 2012 I’ll never forget. Thanks everyone.
More high-res photos of the bands, their set lists, a naughty guitar pedal of Keane’s and a butterfly that enjoyed Kaiser Chiefs so much, it hung around for their entire set can be viewed on my Flickr here.