SXSW 2013: Day 4 afternoon – Music from Ireland breakfast, then a run around Sixth Street for bands new(ish) and old – 15th March 2013
Friday afternoon I spent hanging around on Sixth Street, which is probably the best advice I could give anyone attending SXSW for the first time. Four days in and you’re tired. You’re rough from all the alcohol you’ve been drinking, and most likely, your body is screaming because it hasn’t gotten enough sleep. This year I made a pledge to myself to sleep as much as possible, which worked mostly, except I missed out on the Irish breakfast at Irish pub B.D. Riley’s. I had it last year and it was so good, so next year I am setting my alarm clock earlier! I ain’t missing it in 2014.
However, not was all lost. Music from Ireland puts on an all-day, no cover day showcase at the pub and it’s just a good excuse as any to have a delicious, cool pint of cider (there is a god, thank you Ireland!), sit down, relax and take in some amazing Irish music. I missed The Mighty Stef but the next band up were duo The Lost Brothers, who I’d been treated to at the NI@SXSW showcase on Monday night. Could it just be the confines of an Irish pub, but doesn’t every Irish band sound even better in such a place? I though the Lost Brothers, who already sounded great at Latitude 30, dazzled while framed by the Austin sun. Like last year when I spied Squarehead, General Fiasco and Cashier No. 9 at B.D. Riley’s, the shutters of the place were open, letting natural light in, passerby ducking their heads in to see what was going on.
Dubliner Declan O’Rourke and his band were next. Cheryl and I have a running joke that if it’s a singer/songwriter, I will run screaming from him/her and she will take to him/her like a duck to water. I really tried to absorb, trying to channel Cheryl and appreciate his music. Unfortunately, it sounded schmaltzy, in a kind of Irish Julio Iglesias fashion (listen to his track ‘Galileo’ on Spotify). His style struck me too precious for my liking.
I had an idea on where I wanted to go next, but I thought, hmm, let me walk around the bar once and see if I can find any Irish bands partaking in the free breakfast and maybe they will want to do an interview? Girls Names‘ American PR told me they would be difficult to find except at their gigs, but somehow providence stepped in and tucked in the back were Cathal, Claire and Philip from the band, and as I rightly suspected, having breakfast. I apologised for butting in during their brekky, asking them if they’d be willing to have a chat with me. They agreed and I left them to their breakfast, telling them to find me later. The interview went well and you can hear it here. Rather hilariously, the lovely Angela Dorgan who organises the Music from Ireland showcases took our picture, quipping, “ahhh…I see you’ve met the infamous Mary!” Since when have I been infamous? Chuckle.
Before the Girls Names interview, I was able to catch one final band at the Music from Ireland afternoon showcase. The band Kool Thing is made up of Irish and Australian members, but they are based in Berlin. This might explain their affinity to electronics, and I can’t be the only person who was surprised to hear electronic buzzing from the Irish showcase in early afternoon. I think if they’d been presented me a year or so ago, I might have had a different reaction, but I can feel myself moving away from oversynthesised music. They sound like a darker School of Seven Bells or Hundred in the Hands to me.
And then it was off to catch a band that I had criminally somehow missed at too many festivals last year. I made my way back to Maggie Mae’s before getting entirely confused by their staff, who didn’t know who was playing which stage. Real helpful. So this is how completely by accident I saw Royal Teeth from New Orleans on the rooftop. Their sound is of the sunny variety that mixes Two Door Cinema Club optimism with female/male vocals of Of Monsters and Men. In short, they’re tailor made for MTV. Not really my cup of tea either, but they were having a lot of fun, and this is exactly the sort of music shines in sunny Austin, even if it’s not entirely memorable.
So after I realised I was in the wrong place – the American accents were a dead giveaway! – I ran back downstairs to the other stage in Maggie Mae’s for who I was really there to see, Glenrothes, Scotland’s Tango in the Attic. I suspect if they were based in New York a couple years ago, they might have beaten Vampire Weekend in the jaunty, happy guitars race.
I saw a synth and thought, oh dear, not plinky plonky notes again (this seemed to be a running theme of nearly every band I saw at SXSW this). I saw guitars, but I wasn’t expecting the rocking out I witnessed. Wow! Singer Jordan Craig has that slacker / devil my care kind of drawl, which is not something I’d expect from the Scottish, but it works brilliantly. It cemented in my mind that this is a band that could be so much bigger…if they were on my side of the pond. While their music ‘sounds’ just as happy as Royal Teeth’s, I’d rather dance to Tango in the Attic, with catchier rhythms, winsome lyrics and even an occasional horn.
There was one band that my eyes fixated on the first list of SXSW bands were announced in autumn 2012. Figuring I had a better shot seeing them at a daytime showcase than at a night one like Stubb’s (yeah, what a joke) I planned the first half my afternoon around them and the HGTV and Paste showcase at the Stage on Sixth. I figured it would be better to arrive early, stake a spot and not be disappointed. This meant that I arrived just as Canadian act City and Colour just ended, so I didn’t really get a feel for Dallas Green except that he has a huge fanbase and screaming fans.
I chilled out and waited for the next act up, another Canadian, Ron Sexsmith. Singer/songwriter. Oh dear. Where is Cheryl when you need her? I did talk beforehand with a very excited Australian woman who said, “I’m a huge fan of Ron’s, he’s the main reason I came out to SXSW”. Well, with a ringing endorsement like that, I couldn’t just well leave, could I? He was wearing a flowery shirt that Stuart Maconie would covet, so that was in his favour as well. The highlight of his set was ‘Me, Myself and Wine’, which accurately summed up the SXSW experience: watching bands gig while relaxing with your favourite tipple. He explained it as an ode to his favourite hobby, listening to albums while drinking wine. Well, different strokes for different folks, right?
If you haven’t figured it out already, the band that I had been waiting for were the Zombies. I was freaking out madly as their members were mingling in the audience before their set. I was just too nervous to approach any of them; I doubted they remembered the interview two of them had with Braden in London a couple years ago. Sadly, this excitement was misplaced, I was entirely underwhelmed by the Zombies’ set. Don’t get me wrong, they are hugely important in the British music lexicon and so many bands were influenced by them years after they hit it big and made it out of St. Albans.
Rather confusingly, as later when I talked to other people who had seen the same set or seen them elsewhere such as Stubb’s that night, and their reaction was entirely different: I heard how “mind-blowing” and “amazing” they were. Did we all watch the same exact band? I realise they are getting on and they’re not going t be as animated as 20-somethings but I couldn’t get into it. (It also did not help that since it was an all-ages venue,I was surrounded by young kids who strangely were hyper about seeing the Zombies and they were pushy. I’d gotten there early, so I didn’t appreciate getting pushed around.) Finally, by the time they rolled out ‘Time of the Season’ out on a gurney, I decided to make a quick escape. Well, as quickly as I could. While in hindsight I suppose I can now say, “yes, I’ve seen the Zombies”, it was a wasted opportunity to see a couple of people I had not seen in nearly a year.
SXSW or no SXSW, I don’t think I’ve ever run out of a venue so fast like a crazy person and to another one. I’m sure I amused some people. Luckily I didn’t have to go far to the Blind Pig, where PledgeMusic was hosting an afternoon of free music and free booze. Always a winning combination, right? I went to the upstairs area, wended my way through the crowd and arrived at the stage just as the Crookes were hitting their stride. For the second time that afternoon, a pronouncement was made about my presence. I don’t think he meant to do it this way, but singer/bassist George Waite, pleased that I had come to see them, said into his microphone and to everyone there, “hell-o Mary!” I laughed to myself. Oh great, so everyone knows who I am now, huh?
This was the first time I had the opportunity to see the Crookes since ‘Hold Fast’, their second album and the one I’d anointed with my Best Album of 2012 honour at the end of last year, had been released, and I was raring to see them perform the songs that had become so important in my emotional life in the prior 8 months. I won’t wax too philosophical about them in this post, as I saw them two more times in Austin before all was said and done. But I will say at this juncture that there is something just so amazing watching an English band perform in the sunshine, as they’re clearly having the time of their young lives and soaking up this once in a lifetime experience. Though young, the Crookes are seasoned performers and are just bursting with confidence with every banged chord of a guitar and every frantic drum pattern by drummer Russell Bates.
It has been 3 years since they’d been in Austin and even though I was not there for their first time, I am positive that this visit, armed now with two full albums and tons of swagger, went down better the first. I mean, I had met local folks from Austin and Dallas who expressively came out to as many of their five shows that week as they could; we kept running into each other and as an American music lover, my heart melted that so many Americans were coming out to see this band that I had first heard being played on Steve Lamacq’s radio programme and whose sound I had fallen in love with years ago. There was no question what song would end the set. It would have to be *that* song: ‘Backstreet Lovers’. Sounding as fresh as the day Lammo chose to spin it on Radio1, they absolutely killed it. Cue the mad dash of new fans towards the band for photos and autographs, along with my mind silently saying to the crowd, “see? I told you so!”