SXSW 2013: Day 3 evening – a nice stay at the Hype Hotel, followed by a rave sponsored by new friends from Sheffield – 14th March 2013
Today’s SXSW 2013 post has been written to remind everyone of the size and stature of the SXSW music festival. While in my 2 years of festivaling in Austin I’ve managed pretty well on a press wristband, not really ever been shut out of a showcase I was desperate to see because the place was at capacity, there comes a time (or times) in your SXSW life that you just decide you want to see a big name. But at the same time, I implore you to seek out the smaller shows too, because those might just change your life.
When Depeche Mode were announced to be celebrating the opening of a new, 900-capacity club in town, I knew as soon as I read those words, the faithful had already been queued up around the block and it was pointless to even contemplate the thought of trying to go. (Not is all lost: NPR has a complete transcript of the band’s interview with KCRW’s Jason Bentley here, if you fancy reading it.) Similar thoughts went through my mind about Vampire Weekend‘s closing out of the festival at Stubb’s; gunshy after Tuesday night’s tussle with security there and knowing the New Yorkers playing brand new songs would be a huge draw, I just thought…no, never mind.
As I had been recommended to see at least one band at Brighton Dome during the Great Escape last year (which didn’t happen…), I thought I should make it a point to see one big band. Thoughtful perusal of the SXSW music guide made this decision relatively easy: I decided on the Specials, who ironically will be touring widely in the UK when I am over in May, but don’t tour very often in America. They weren’t due to appear until 11, but with my wristband, I thought it was better to queue early, arriving a whole 2 hours before doors were set to open. A very nice Austinite named Pat saved my spot in the queue so I could get a Thai dinner in me so I wouldn’t faint from hunger later. Turns out there weren’t a huge number of badge holders who wanted in early on, so after about 100 passed into the place, we were let in.
Unlike last year’s Hype Hotel where I’d spied Oberhofer as my first SXSW band ever, the place that had oozed character with brick archways, this year’s at the Whitley was more warehouse-like and less warm. Whoever decided that this year the stage should be lowered to just an inch shorter than me should be sacked. Pretty disappointing in that regard. I don’t know, do they expect their punters to be that much taller? The stage was also far, far away from us, and it wasn’t like there were any higher-up balcony vantage points that would have made viewing any better. Free Taco Bell tacos and drinks flowed, but I was more keen on getting down the front to stake my spot.
While I was stood there waiting, I met a new friend from Toronto and tried to extol the virtues of Kodaline from my experiences seeing them twice the night before. (He has since written me and said he thought they were excellent. Yes. Job well done.) I also met a photographer for Getty Images, Andy Sheppard, who I would fortuitously run into later in the week. A delayed soundcheck and what I’m guessing was a delayed entrance time into the place for the bands themselves forced all three bands prior to the Specials to cut their sets short, and as you shall read, two took this in stride and the other, well…not so much. During the intervening time while waiting, we entertained ourselves with actual production props for the night, which was pretty cool.
Kodaline had the unenviable task of being first that evening, and I learned later that they were only in Austin for 2 days (read Wednesday night’s review for more explanation on this). Their tour manager, who was nervously puttering around the stage, stopped a moment in front of me, smiling broadly to shout to the band, “hey! The woman that came to see you twice last night is here!” That was pretty heartwarming to know I’d been remembered. While there weren’t a huge number of people who had shown up for them – remember, this is America, and they had never heard of Kodaline and probably not paid attention to the BBC Sound of 2013 like we have – I did get a sense that the four of them were overwhelmed by the size of the stage they had been asked to play.
Steve Garrigan nervously cracked jokes and I could hear myself saying “bless” to myself as they were obviously nervous. But as soon as the music started up, any delay or misgivings were soon forgotten. The sound I’d seen on the night previous that easily filled a club and a rooftop also proved to fill a much larger space with similar ease. They only got to play four songs and their stay was far too short, but ‘All I Want’ and ‘High Hopes’ soared in the surprisingly decent acoustics of the Hype Hotel. While I am sad I will miss their first visit to Washington DC in May, I have no doubt in my mind that they will use their support slot with the Airborne Toxic Event to make that name for themselves in America that I know will become huge.
My new Canadian friend came to the Hype Hotel that night to see Trails and Ways from Oakland, California. He explained to me that they incorporated Latin sounds with pop. Don’t know why, but the Oakland origin threw me; shouldn’t they have been from South America or something? (If you Google them, they are described as making bossa nova pop, and one of their songwriters KBB used to live in Brazil.) It all didn’t make sense in my head until they actually started playing.
Latin music has such a strong and beautiful reliance on percussion, and this band’s sparkling percussion with the ethereal harmonies of two boys and two girls were truly stunning. The thing though that stood out most for me during their set was their cover that KBB introduced as being from “one of the most gifted artists of our time, Miguel”. Groan. I can’t stand Miguel, but for Trails and Ways to have taken a Miguel song and make it palatable, that alone makes them stars in my book. If you like to hear them, you can get a free EP from the band from their official Web site.
The third band of the night was Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils, who endeared themselves (I guess?) to the audience as soon as frontman Dustin Payseur got fixated on thanking Taco Bell for “feeding the fucking beat!” Um…yeah. Compared to the two previous groups, Beach Fossils’ sound was decidedly edgier and punkier. Unfortunately for me, I’d lump them into the same lo-fi, laddish Peace / Palma Violets / Vaccines pile and they didn’t do a thing for me. Been there, heard that. Actually, heard that kind of sound far too much in England these days…
My opinion of them dropped further when later on how they ended their set. Evidently the band had not been told until it was far too late that their previously promised set of x songs had to be curtailed for the Specials coming on next. Payseur proceeded to throw a temper tantrum onstage, though it was unclear who exactly he was angry with: Taco Bell, the event organisers or the Specials themselves. It’s too bad because everyone I know who was at the Hype Hotel that night remembers the temper tantrum and how badly it reflected on them as performers, and not their performance.
The Specials were, in a word, good. There was something about singer Terry Hall that put me off a little, but I’ve been told by others that “he’s always a little miserable” behind the microphone. Oh really. Maybe it is just his singing style, but I had envisioned this animated guy in the front. Singing has always come naturally to me and brings me a great source of joy, so to see someone who didn’t look 100% happy to be there was a little disappointing. Luckily, sound-wise they were on point.
I got chills hearing ‘A Message to You Rudy’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ live for the first time. You don’t understand; up to this point I had been subsisting on live performances from Maida Vale via Steve Lamacq in December, for example. I explained to a couple people in Austin that when I went to uni, all the girls I knew either had posters of John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, or one of the Specials. Did I ever think I would ever see the Specials gig in my lifetime? Honestly, no. This, too, is part of the SXSW magic: being in the same room with a band that has loomed so large, in near mythological proportions, in your past. I nearly had to pinch myself to remind myself what was going on before my very eyes was reality.
And then there was guitarist Lynval Golding, who cracked me up nearly the entire time. In a dapper purple suit, he looked like the happiest guy on the planet, grinning constantly in my direction, and every time he mentioned “the younger crowd” who now come with their parents to see the Specials play, he kept pointing to me as an example of the younger crowd. You rock, dude. The crowd was rough and moshing but I was glad I was at the front, being able to hold on to the barrier. Hey, I survived.
Because the Specials and the whole night really went on far beyond when they were supposed to, I had to make a decision: do I call it an early night before 1 AM, or do I go see someone else? My energy was flagging – I guess the pad thai I’d eaten earlier was gone from my stomach – and I didn’t think my feet would get me the nearly 8 blocks up a hill to Hickory Street club. So I grabbed a pedicab to save my tootsies. Admittedly, it was a selfish move. But I didn’t feel like sleeping just yet. I had a date with and needed to save them for…a rave. Well, the closest thing you can find to a rave in Austin on a Thursday night. With some new friends from Sheffield.
Though it was never going to be the most highly attended show of SXSW 2013, Reverend and the Makers turned this 100 or so group of people (mostly men) in their own private party. The very energetic American bloke super dancer I’d seen yesterday afternoon at their British Music Embassy show was present as well, so I knew I was going to be in for a good time. I’m not sure what the Brit to American ratio was, but it didn’t really matter. Everyone was there to dance, and Jon McClure and company weren’t going to disappoint. I found Jon to be so incredibly nice and candid during my chat with him the day before, it seemed almost rude if I did not show up for their final official showcase at SXSW! (It also seemed awfully rude at the show to be photographing and not dance. This is why I don’t have any photos of my own from this event either.)
‘Shine the Light’, ‘Out of the Shadows’, ‘Bassline’: there are just so many corkers on their third album ‘@Reverend_Makers’ that has only just been released in America this month that I hope it’s just a matter of time that our country will take to them and their energetic set. I never would have taken McClure to be a wrestling fan, but his dedication of ‘The Wrestler’ to a fallen comrade of the sport was strangely sincere before the band laid into you with groovy beats.
Back to the audience though. An Englishwoman from an indie label amused me by continuing to drink, until she got to the point where she as walking into people in her drunken stupor and finally had to sit down next to a speaker and rest because she couldn’t speak. And she missed out on the best part of the night. During their closing number, McClure was pulling punters up on stage to dance with him, and he gestured that I should do them the honour. And I couldn’t very well say no, could I? I found out later that members of the Enemy had also turned up to Hickory Street and joined the party onstage; when else am I going to say I was dancing onstage with Reverend and the Makers and the Enemy? I was so high on life afterwards from the amazing set that I gave Jon’s wife Laura a hug, and she was beaming. When I was leaving, Jon gave me a quick peck on the cheek and said whenever I found myself in Sheffield, we all should have a drink.
There are a couple photos floating around on the internet of the mayhem (this is probably the best one) but all that’s important is I was there and I enjoyed myself immensely. Ha! It must have taken me 2 hours to get home because a pedicab driver finally took pity on me and drove me back to East Austin (Andrew, you’re a star!) but all I could think about was the amazing night I’d had. A little bit of Sheffield in Austin? Yup. And I couldn’t have been happier.