SXSW 2017: BBC 6 Music at the British Music Embassy, plus Spoon and friends at The Main (Thursday night, part 2) – 16th March 2017

By on Monday, 3rd April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

Thursday night at SXSW 2017 at Latitude 30 was a showcase sponsored by BBC 6 Music and the UK Association of Independent Music (AIM). Carrie covered the first act, and I’ll let her tell you about her experience herself. I was able to catch the next three acts on the docket. Lookman Adekunle Salami, who goes by the more streetwise moniker L.A. Salami, is a singer/songwriter who has gentle and bluesy sides to his music.

LA Salami, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

Maybe I had missed his softer, introspective numbers because I arrived after my 5 bands in an hour test, but I was surprised by how loud he and his band was for what I did manage to catch. I realise that the British Music Embassy is the place for UK acts to be seen and to make an impression and while I did enjoy the funkiness of the performance, I felt disappointed the set sounded very similar from song to song. NPR seem to have realised this too, as they invited Salami to perform an acoustic number solo on the rooftop of the Hilton Austin, which I would have enjoyed more.

Meilyr Jones, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017, 2

I’d been pulled left and right to see Meilyr (pronounced “MAY-leer”) Jones at SXSW, and Thursday would be the night I would finally get my chance. There are certain moments you always remember if you are covering SXSW as a music journalist: during the soundcheck, Jones waving and grinning slightly maniacally at me like I was a little kid as I was setting up my camera is one of those moments. Emcee for the evening Steve Lamacq commented that his sound reminded him of Aretha Franklin. White man from Wales, black woman from Detroit…how and why, exactly, would those worlds ever intersect?

Meilyr Jones, British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

Listen to the big band foot-stomper ‘How to Recognise a Work of Art’, and you will understand exactly what Lammo means. The man also appears not to know – or understand – that the human body has limitations: this set was the first time I’ve seen anyone attempt the caterpillar on the Latitude 30 stage, coupled with what looked like spastic pop locking. Of any act I saw at SXSW, he was the unlikeliest (I thought anyway) to have fan boys, but there were a group of guys down the front who dance and screamed and shouted for more. He was their ‘Don Juan’, if you will. As echoed by many I spoke with, Jones was definitely an unexpected find for many in Austin for the week For sure, the British Music Embassy will never be the same again.

She Drew the Gun from the Wirral were up next. Louisa Roach and her band won Glastonbury’s 2016 Emerging Talent competition and they are a favourite of 6 Music’s, so their appearance on this night isn’t a surprise. After such a strange yet weirdly engaging set from Meilyr Jones, it was hard to get back into more standard indie rock mode. The socially conscious ‘Poem’ is a fragile moment deserving kudos for its content, but I felt unconvinced this was the year for them to come out to SXSW. After a handful of songs hanging out in that weird no man’s land between indie and folk but being neither fully, I left for my next adventure.

She Drew the Gun British Music Embassy, Thursday 16 March 2017

As mentioned in my review of the sexy title track single ‘Hot Thoughts’, Texan band Spoon took over The Main for a 3-night residency at this year’s SXSW. It was all in anticipation of the release of ‘Hot Thoughts’ the album on Friday. To be honest and based on how many people I guessed would want to see them, I didn’t think I had a chance to get into The Main for any of the nights they were playing. However, I had some luck that morning in getting a press pass for the final night, so that I could hear the single that had impressed me so much being played live.

For all 3 nights, barring the special guests announced on the day (Tuesday’s was The New Pornographers, Wednesday’s was !!!), nearly all of the bands supporting Spoon were from the local area. A fave of Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Sweet Spirit are proud to be an Austin band; their ‘St. Mojo’ album out this Friday is being released on Austin’s Nine Mile Records. ‘Collective’ is a better word to describe them than ‘band’: they currently have nine members and somehow all of them, plus all their equipment fit on the stage.

Sweet Spirit, The Main, Thursday 16 March 2017

I’ve seen ‘country rock’ bandied around to describe them, but you’ve never heard a country rock band like this before. ‘Take Me to a Party’, they do. With that many members, theirs is a cacophonous but entertaining mélange of sound and attitude. While I don’t think I’d choose to listen to a band like theirs – there’s nothing subtle or really artful about their music – they’re definitely a band who will get folks dancing. Trouble is, we were packed in like sardines on the floor, so dancing was impossible.

With anticipation building in the Main, I was pretty sure I was the only person in the room that didn’t know who would go on next. At first, all I saw was a cowboy-looking guy pacing on stage with visible anxiety and wondered who he was. It has been a while since his band went on an extended hiatus, with many of their members going on to their own solo projects. But I will always think of Hamilton Leithauser as popular Noughties American band The Walkman’s frontman. For his last solo album, he joined forces with Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, to come up with ‘I Had a Dream You Were Mine’. Oddly for someone who has spent most of his adult life performing to people, I never got the sense that he was 100% comfortable on stage. Maybe he felt naked with his wingman Rostam?

Hamilton Leithauser, The Main, Thursday 16 March 2017

Older and wiser than his Walkmen days, Leithauser’s new career as a solo artist has been an interesting evolution. There’s a country air to some of the songs on his latest LP (‘Peaceful Morning’), which makes sense given his preference for an acoustic in live performance. But on LP opener ‘A 1000 Times’, he goes from crooner to tortured performer in the span of 4 minutes. Which is the real Hamilton Leithauser or rather, which guise will he choose going forward? Food for thought.

Britt Daniel had spent the evening passing in and out of the green room to periodically check on the proceedings. But now it was time for the main event, Spoon. The crowd roared to life when Daniel and co. took the stage; Daniel rewarded some fans who had probably been stood there since the venue opened that night by shaking outstretched hands and kissing ladies’ palms. ‘Do I Have to Talk You Into It’ to start the set seemed like a knowing joke to the devoted; ‘Hot Thoughts’ quickly followed it, bringing up the energy in the room that seemed to have been sapped out during Leithauser’s set.

Spoon, The Main,  Thursday 16 March 2017

But they weren’t there just to preview the new album. Spoon wowed punters with ‘Inside Out’ (with a synthesised harp?) and ‘The Beast and Dragon, Adored’ from earlier albums. I scanned the crowd and saw the look of wonderment on faces and every word to their older songs on their lips. Not only was I out of my depth, it no longer made sense for someone like me who wasn’t a massive fan of theirs to be second row from the front. At SXSW, I’m of the opinion that no-one should stay in a venue any longer than needed, and this is especially true if you’re not paying attention to who is onstage and your sole intention is to get drunk. You can do that in any bar without a band playing.

In a world when a lot of things are inherently unfair, leaving a packed venue to let the next super fan in the queue outside dying to get in is a simple act of kindness not enough people are willing to do. Bending my head down to speak into the ear of the young woman next to me, I told her I was leaving and to get ready to take my spot as soon as I made a move. She had a look of incredulity on her face, but it was clear she was grateful. In the end, this is a music festival for fans and full of fans. BE NICE. It isn’t hard to be nice.

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