SXSW 2014: the second half of Modern Outsider’s showcase at Parish Underground – 12th March 2014

By on Friday, 21st March 2014 at 3:30 pm
 

Rather conveniently, my next port of call at SXSW 2014 after the Astralwerks showcase at the upstairs Parish main performance space was mere steps away. Having seen Austin art rockers the Black and White Years earlier that afternoon at Empire Control Room, I arrived just in time after their performance to catch the remaining three bands on their label Modern Outsider’s showcase directly downstairs at the aptly named Parish Underground.

The first band I caught was Austin trio Mirror Travel, who I’d been looking forward to seeing for some time. Fusing elements of the grungiest garage with vocal stylings usually associated with a genre as far from garage as possible, dream pop, their sound is best described as creatively eclectic. Physically, they’re a powerhouse to be reckoned with, with the drumming of Tiffanie Lanmon driving the songs forward as frontwoman/guitarist Lauren Green and bassist Paul Brinkley providing those dreamy vocals.

There’s also not too distant whiff of psychedelia to the overall sound. I mean, come now, think about it. Doesn’t ‘Mirror Travel’ sound like a band to drop acid to? Their October 2013 EP even has a song on it called ‘Stoner’. The UK in particular I’d think would be particularly open to their sonic whims, and surprise! They’re bucking the trend of this two-woman singer/songwriter tide that seems to be washing over us now by having a male bassist in their band. I loved watching them.

I’ll preface my review of the next band by saying I’m probably going to be nailed to a cross for what amounts to a highly unpopular opinion of them. Black Pistol Fire are a Canadian rock duo who have since decamped to Austin; I’m not sure if they made the move to Texas on their own, or they just decided to be closer to their label, as Modern Outsider is based in Austin. Upon listening to tracks of theirs online when preparing for SXSW, I heard growly reminders of both Kings of Leon and the Black Keys, the latter also a potent rock / garage duo. I’m not the only one who heard this comparison to Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney: three years ago, Popmatters even called them “the greatest Black Keys tribute band ever”. I was actually quite keen on seeing what they would be like live to see if this was actually true.

On Wednesday night, the hype surrounding Black Pistol Fire must have been enormous, as the venue quickly became rammed and stayed that way for the entirety of the band’s set. It was so badly rammed for them that Carrie was texting me furiously from outside on 6th Street, saying she was stuck in a nonmoving queue and she couldn’t get in. The good: singer and guitar Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen (who was wearing nothing but a pair of track shorts from the start of their set, I might add) are quite the exciting act to watch live, as their performance is loud and animated. At one point, I must have missed how he got up there, but the next thing I knew, McKeown was dangling from the upstairs balcony railing, legs flailing as he wailed on his guitar. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The bad: I have a real hard time taking seriously a band who has to pilfer songs from rock’s storied history for their live set. Maybe they have a good reason for doing this, like they didn’t have time to rehearse a full set of original songs for SXSW? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But as a Led Zeppelin fan, I don’t need to hear a cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ at SXSW, I can queue that up on my record player anytime I want. I had similar feelings when covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ and Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole Wide World’ were played, albeit with extended riffage as I watched the crowd go completely mental, fists raised as if a revolution had just begun. Maybe their album ‘Hush or Howl’, getting an exclusive Spotify preview next week will change my mind, but for some reason, their set just left me cold.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of TGTF that the act I was most thrilled to see at this label showcase was the Crookes. We’ve been supporting their New Pop efforts since their single ‘Backstreet Lovers’ several years ago now, and it’s like I’ve grown up with them in a way. Arguably, the Crookes are the biggest UK success story from SXSW 2013, having signed to their first American record deal off the back of last year’s festival. Having always recorded and toured under their own terms, the fact that they got a record deal via SXSW without compromising their own principles is no small feat indeed.

When I found out weeks ago that Modern Outsider was giving them – an English band – the esteemed position of headlining their label’s showcase, it represented to me them coming quite a long way from their early beginning as a band thrown together in uni in Sheffield. Further validating was the crowd who had assembled to see them, many of whom were American like myself and who had been longtime supporters of the band. Similar to the feeling I got from watching Munich’s Claire earlier in the evening at the Parish main room, I’m sure the Crookes felt energised by the realisation that even thought they were far from home, hey, they really like us!

The set list was surprising to me. I expected ‘Outsiders’, with its ever melodic lyrics and the true voice of the album’s theme of ‘The Outsider’ as offered up by lyricist Daniel Hopewell, and ‘Marcy’, my guess for biggest hit from the new album, to both get airings. Nope. The evening’s set began like the one at Empire Control Room that afternoon with ‘Don’t Put Your Faith in Me’, probably the Crookes’ effort to emphasise straight out the gate to everyone listening that they had fully become a rock band and left the pop moniker behind. ‘Echolalia’, my favourite from their forthcoming third album ‘Soapbox’, was the bass epiphany I was waiting for, sounding fantastic.

However, they just couldn’t get away with not playing a couple of older numbers, such as the oft trotted out ‘Chorus of Fools’ with the ever melancholic words, “you and me were meant to be so damn blue”, and the rallying cry of ‘We don’t dance alone!” from ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, both of which turned the place into a frantic disco. The energy felt the same, just like the odd nine times I’d previously see them play, but at the same time, something about them has changed. They’re no longer New Pop. Gone are the days of watching them in t-shirts and jeans. Enter the smart buttoned down shirts and dress trousers: ladies and gentlemen, the Crookes are all grown up.

And yes, if you were wondering, I lost another bet to Carrie. I still owe the woman some four beers for betting her they’d play ‘Maybe in the Dark’ instead of ‘Afterglow’. Damn it! (I can hear her laughing as she reads this.)

Don’t Put Your Faith in Me
Before the Night Falls
Chorus of Fools
Echolalia
Bear’s Blood
Backstreet Lovers
Howl
Sofie
Where Did Our Love Go?
Play Dumb
Afterglow

However, for me, the best moment of the night was yet to come. I had been celebrating my 5 years in music writing that day and after we’d packed up and said our goodbyes to the band, we were ready to leave. As I zipped up the England jacket I’d bought in Covent Garden on my first trip to England in 2006, I heard a deep English voice calling my full name from within the venue. I knew it wasn’t one of the Crookes; I would have recognized their voices anywhere. I turned around. It was Steve Lamacq. We’ve known each other for years thanks to the internet, but it wasn’t until this night that we finally met in person. Lammo was the reason I’d heard about the Crookes the first place, having played their early records on his BBC radio shows, which I subsequently fell in love with. It’s like everything had come full circle for me that night.

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4 Responses

[…] After Cocos Lovers, I made yet another mad dash, this time to meet up with editor Mary for the end of Modern Outsider showcase at the Parish Underground. By this point in the evening, I was ready to put my notebook away and get my groove on, and the last act on that bill, The Crookes, were the perfect fix. Read Mary’s coverage of the showcase here. […]

[…] was going crazy. I hadn’t looked at my Android for hours while I was covering and watching the second half of Modern Outsider’s showcase. Oddly, my friends in Sydney, for whom it was then daytime the next day, were frantically Tweeting […]

[…] any festival are the dreaded schedule clashes that tear your insides apart. When I met Steve Lamacq Wednesday night at Parish Underground, he asked if I was going to be at his BBC Introducing night at the British Music Embassy at […]

[…] 2014, including their appearances at Empire Control Room on Wednesday afternoon, their star turn headlining their American label Modern Outsider’s showcase at Parish Underground Wednesday night, a secret Sofar Sounds show Thursday evening, and at the […]

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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