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My final day at SXSW 2015 was truly a mixed bag of shows as I tried to squeeze in every last opportunity before my long drive back home the next day. In the course of the day, I stumbled upon a few exciting new artists before rounding off the festival back at the British Music Embassy.
I started with a planned visit to the free showcase at Waterloo Records, which featured English electro-dance group Clean Bandit. In spite of the uncooperative weather, punters donned ponchos and popped up umbrellas in the courtyard to catch the danceable grooves of recent single ‘Stronger’ before lining up inside for the band’s CD signing session. Fellow English vocalist Jess Glynne made her anticipated cameo appearance near the end of the set for Clean Bandit’s previous single ‘Real Love’ and breakout hit ‘Rather Be’.
After a stop inside the record store for some souvenir shopping, I headed downtown to meet up with Mary, who was in the middle of a busy Saturday schedule of her own. She suggested that I stop in at B.D. Riley’s to catch Aussie blues singer/songwriter Hamish Anderson.
I was warmly greeted by the staff at the door of B.D. Riley’s, where I had spent most of the previous day at the full Irish breakfast. On Saturday I was surrounded by Australian accents rather than lilting Irish ones, as the Sound Gallery showcase hosted by Sounds Australia took over the venue. Anderson clearly had more than a few fans in attendance, and I had to squeeze around fellow punters to get a good view of his guitar chops on the small stage at B.D. Riley’s. Anderson’s opened with a cover of Them Two’s ‘Am I a Good Man’ before he turned the focus to his new ‘Restless’ EP, starting with the aptly titled ‘Burn’ and ending with another scorcher, ‘Howl’. Anderson’s heavily blues influenced guitar style was matched only by his heavily blues influenced keyboard player.
Finding myself at a bit of a loose end after Anderson’s set, I checked my Twitter feed to find an online acquaintance urging me to catch local Austin band O Conqueror’s final SXSW 2015 set, at a venue called The Tiniest Bar in Texas. It was a bit of a walk, especially given the continuing rain, but I decided to take a chance. As it turned out, the bar itself might actually be the tiniest one in the state, and I almost walked past it before I realized that the showcase was just outside in the awning-covered courtyard area.
I arrived early enough to grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks in the courtyard, and while I was noshing, I used Twitter to arrange a quick meet up with O Conqueror’s keyboard player Alex Hartley before the start of their set. Alex and I shared a laugh when he mentioned that O Conqueror had been confused several times with Northern Irish band More Than Conquerors, whom I had covered earlier in the week. O Conqueror’s set included edgy recent single ‘Lost Your Mind’ whose video was filmed, appropriately enough, in downtown Austin. Their engaging stage presence, led by frontman Dustin Doering, and melodious guitar-driven rock have clearly already won the hearts of Austin locals, and they gained at least one new fan at SXSW 2015 as well.
Feeling quite satisfied with my new musical discovery, I headed back to Latitude 30 to hear the final evening showcase of the year at the British Music Embassy. The first featured band was Scottish duo Honeyblood, who have had a change in lineup since I saw them last at SXSW 2014. New drummer Cat Myers appeared not only at ease with the situation, but well and truly in control of it, showing off her chops at the drum kit on more than one occasion. Singer Stina Tweeddale appeared equally confident, singing with greater intensity and conviction on last year’s hit ‘Bud’, which features on Honeyblood’s self-titled debut album from last summer.
As the side project of Mazes’ Jack Cooper and Veronica Falls’ James Hoare, London guitar duo Ultimate Painting are another in a long string of artists playing the rock ‘n’ roll version of musical chairs. Their hazy psych rock left a vague impression on me, but the impression was deliberately indistinct and broadly atmospheric rather than sharply focused on specific guitar melodies or vocal lines. Their songs might not have been not my cup of tea, but they surely a represent a notable stylistic expansion for both band members.
Spanish sensations Hinds, formerly known as Deers, were next on the lineup, but they were plagued by sound issues and ultimately had to cut their set short, much to the disappointment of the fans who had crowded in to see them. (Our own editor Mary was unfortunately among those stuck in the lengthy queue outside Latitude 30, but she had managed to see this band Wednesday at the daytime Sounds From Spain showcase.) Despite the difficulties, Hinds were engaging and energetic on stage, smiling bravely as they played through a handful of songs. Their uneven rhythms and stark tempo changes would likely have worked better had it not been for the sound problems, but in context it was difficult to tell when their stops and starts were deliberate. Nevertheless, there was a group of determined Hinds fans at the front of the stage who danced, cheered and sang along as best they could.
Among Hinds’ fans in the audience was Carl Barat, who had appeared in Austin with his new band the Jackals. From my vantage point at the front of the stage, I turned around to see if Mary had gotten inside and instead found Barat standing just over my right shoulder. In the intermission after Hinds’ set, I introduced myself to the former Libertine, saying that I’d gotten some photos of him earlier in the week. He pulled a genuinely shocked expression and asked, “on stage, though, right?” I laughed and assured him that they were stage photos from Wednesday’s FLOODfest and not paparazzi-style snaps. Hearing this news, he gave me a hug and a kiss and thanked me for being there to promote the band. I slipped a TGTF card and badge into his black leather jacket pocket and set my sights back on the stage.
Another psych-rock band, Happyness, was up after Hinds, and they appeared to have a much easier time of it on stage at Latitude 30. Admittedly, their music is so aloof and deliberately low-key that it might be difficult to know if they were having a problem. But their extended guitar jams built in intensity throughout the set, leading to a massive coda at the end which found guitarist Benji Compston flat on the floor by the time it finished.
The final act on the schedule for the night was Irish punk quartet Girl Band, who I had caught briefly the day before at the full Irish breakfast. After having to fight her way through the queue and the crowd, Mary and I decided to call it a night. Frankly, I was feeling a bit “flat on the floor” myself after the long and exciting SXSW week. I left town the next morning with a myriad of new sounds and new faces permanently etched into my memory, and naturally I made them each a part of my eclectic road trip playlist on the drive home.
After the madcap hustle and bustle of the full Irish breakfast at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, I was ready for something a little more relaxing to finish my Friday night at SXSW 2015. And since it was still raining, I was happy to settle in for the night in the warmth of St. David’s Episcopal Church for the Communion Music showcase. I had attended the 2014 Communion showcase at St. David’s and was amazed by the talent on display there, including Bear’s Den and Hozier, so though I wasn’t familiar with all of the artists on the 2015 lineup, I eagerly anticipated another night of incredible music. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed.
The night’s first artist was Swedish songwriter Tove Styrke, whose spunky, hook-heavy pop style came as a bit of a surprise in the context of the St. David’s chancel. She was energetic and engaging, and her songs would surely have had her audience dancing if we hadn’t been respectfully seated in pews. I recently heard her single ‘Borderline’ playing on the radio here in America, which leads me to assume that she had a positive SXSW experience in terms of gaining exposure, and I will happily count myself among her new fans.
In a bit of fortuitous timing, I had caught Laura Marling’s set at the BBC Barbecue on Thursday, and after that brief taste of songs from her new album ‘Short Movie’, I was interested to see her play again at St. David’s. Her set at the Communion showcase was a bit rough around the edges, with a notable lyric flub during (of course) ‘David’ that sent her into a fit of giggles, but I was mainly impressed with her storytelling on stage, both in her incredibly sharp new songs and her mild-mannered banter in between them. Balancing her powerful lyrics with music that was by turns delicately pensive and fiercely emotional, Marling proved once again that she is a force to be reckoned with on the singer/songwriter scene.
Next on the docket was a band I hadn’t heard of before, but who will definitely be on my radar from this point forward. Nashville duo Foreign Fields were perhaps an obvious choice for the Communion showcase, with sumptuously orchestrated melodies and lush vocal harmonies, but in this case the obvious choice was also a wise one. Foreign Fields’ music was both as complex and as pastoral as their name would imply, particularly current single ‘I Have Your Weapons’.
I was also unfamiliar with the next artist, American soul singer Leon Bridges, but judging from the number of people who streamed into the sanctuary before and during his set, his reputation had preceded him to Austin. Accompanied by a full band including brass and a pair of female backup singers, Bridges treated us to a gospel-tinged sermon on the retro artistry of Motown, starting with a track called ‘Better Man’ before touching on popular single ‘Coming Home’. Bridges was suave on-stage, and his songs were laced with a smooth r&b style that swiftly warmed the room on this cold and rainy evening.
If you’ve been reading TGTF regularly in the past few months, you’ll already be acquainted with Hitchin’s hatted prodigy James Bay. I had seen Bay on tour with Hozier here in America last autumn, and I remarked on the similar career trajectory the two songwriters have taken in my recent review of Bay’s album ‘Chaos and the Calm’. Bay took the opportunity here at the Communion showcase to whet our appetites for the new album, which was released the following Monday, and to further fan the flames sparked by his soaring hit single ‘Hold Back The River’.
As I’ve remarked previously in my SXSW 2015 coverage, the last artist on a showcase is often left to perform for a dwindling audience, especially at night shows where the final slot actually begins in the wee hours of the following morning. Such was the case for Jack Garratt, and once again it was a shame that so many people left without hearing him play. I had thought that his electronic style might be an oddity for the Communion show, but as he progressed through his set, it became very clear that Garratt is, at heart, a singer/songwriter who happens to base his music on electronic instrumentation rather than the typical acoustic foundation. He deftly played keyboard, guitar and percussion to accompany his own singing, and I left at the end of his set feeling both delightfully impressed by his skill and sad for the people who had missed out. You can find previous TGTF coverage of Jack Garratt, including his upcoming UK tour dates, right here.
Communion Music continues to highlight a fine array of up and coming artists, and their showcase at St. David’s once again proved to be a popular Friday night choice. In the past, the show has been open to the public, but this year the audience was restricted to official SXSW badges and wristbands. That decision was most likely prompted by increased attendance, and though many disappointed punters were turned away this year, it’s nice to see Communion artists receiving such well-deserved attention.
The Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub on the Friday of SXSW 2015 drew a full crowd throughout the day, probably in part due to the rainy weather outside, but in greater part because of the talented and widely varied lineup of musicians on the docket. After a last minute interview with Frank Turner, and by the time I found Mary sat at a table enjoying her full Irish, the pub was already starting to fill in. Mary had to leave early for her other engagements while I stayed to navigate the fun, hectic madness that would ensue throughout the day.
First on the day’s lineup were two very different female singer/songwriters, Dublin’s Orla Gartland and Derry native SOAK. Gartland’s bright and catchy brand of pop was just the burst of energy we needed to get the grey and drizzly morning off to a good start, and her onstage charm matched her offstage persona when I interviewed her a bit later in the morning. SOAK, otherwise known as Bridie Monds-Watson, captured our attention with a very different mood. Her delicately poignant songs might not have translated as well to the pub atmosphere at B.D. Riley’s as well as they had to Latitude 30 earlier in the week, but her name was certainly on everyone’s lips after her set was finished.
After taking advantage of a break in the rain to step outside for interviews with both Gartland and SOAK, I ducked back into B.D. Riley’s to catch the end of Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s solo violin set. I had heard him play the previous day on the Lost In Austin boat ride, and I was pleased to see that his music wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the somewhat more disorderly audience in the pub. I almost missed the following act, Dublin punk act Girl Band (pictured in the header above), while interviewing Mac Con Iomaire, but I saw enough of their set and the crowd’s enthusiastic response to get the feeling that these four guys are well and truly on their way up.
Next I had an encore performance from Walking On Cars, whom I’d seen at their sparsely attended Wednesday night set at the Music From Ireland showcase. While their performance that night hadn’t been lacking in any way, they were more energetic at B.D. Riley’s on Friday morning, feeding off of the more enthusiastic crowd. They elected not to perform their medley of pop hits here, wisely allowing their own energetic pop tracks to make an impression on our ears instead.
I was scheduled to interview self-described “cosmic reverb rock band” Buffalo Sunn ahead of their afternoon set, but they arrived to the venue later than they had planned due to the uncooperative weather outside. They did turn up in time to play, and their vibrant guitars and rich vocal harmonies were a perfect accompaniment for the mellowing ambience of the late afternoon. Luckily, the band were available to do the interview after their set; you can listen back to it here.
Unfortunately, rescheduling the Buffalo Sunn interview meant that I once again missed out on Dott, who played the Irish breakfast showcase at SXSW 2014 as well. Again, I heard just the end of their set, but it was enough to confirm that the band have refined both their sound and stage presence in the past year, as well as working up some new material for their upcoming studio album.
By this point in the afternoon, B.D. Riley’s was fairly packed in with people escaping the rain outside. Despite the tight fit throughout the venue, it was a favorable situation for experimental five-piece band Meltybrains?, who channeled the room’s restless energy into an ambitious and dynamic set including their by-now-famous face masks, which were floating around in the audience as well as on the stage. Their quirky stage antics and infectiously danceable rhythms made them instant crowd favourites, and their natural enthusiasm translated from the stage into my lively interview with them.
Hard rock duo All Tvvins followed Meltybrains? with an equally energetic set of their own, gearing up the crowd for the unabashed joviality of the final two acts, Fight Like Apes and Le Galaxie. Fight Like Apes lead singer MayKay was in particularly fine form and fine voice, engaging the audience both with her vocals and her seductive stagecraft. She was called back to the stage to join in on Le Galaxie’s recent single ‘Carmen’, adding even more fuel to their already pulse-racing electronic dance set and bringing the afternoon’s festivities to a sensational finale.
The annual full Irish breakfast event at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub has gained a not-to-be-missed reputation, which is well-deserved both for the high quality of the musicians on the showcase and its ever-present atmosphere of warm hospitality. This was my second time attending the event, and I must say that while this year’s showcase was a bit more eclectic than what Mary and I saw in 2014, Music From Ireland once again hosted a spectacular and memorable show. Cheers!
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 8th April 2015 at 2:00 pm
Before heading out on a proper tour of North America with Matt Pond PA (read: 6 weeks, it’s long!), Young Buffalo played a celebratory kickoff show in Washington DC this past Monday night as part of an ongoing campaign to support their latest release. ‘House’, their debut album that came out at the start of March, is out now on Votiv Recordings, and last month, they played a bunch of Southern festivals including that biggie that is SXSW 2015. (More on all of that in a future interview feature soon to post here on TGTF.) While this was a much more low-key affair than a massive music festival, dedicated fans danced and bopped their heads to the Oxford, Mississippi group’s brand of feel good, melodic indie rock infused with touches of bright surf pop.
The band has been a five-piece since last summer, when they road-tested their live line-up supporting Sheffield’s The Crookes on their first headline tour of America in 2014. As a touring entity, they remind me of Brooklyn’s The Dig, as they can switch off lead vocals between their two primary songwriters, Ben Yarbrough and Jim Barrett, who have been close friends and writing songs together since they were teenagers. ‘House’ standout track ‘Sykia’ is such a fun track live, with a rapid fire drum-in from Tim Burkhead and an upbeat tempo that never lets up. Its sunniness is due in part to its subject matter, its name coming from a small Greek village where Barrett once holidayed. Think Surfer Blood, but with much less emotional baggage.
With piano chords and falsetto harmonies reminding me of Grizzly Bear but with a melody that sounds anything but Grizzly Bear (if that makes any sense at all) and sprightly guitar notes, ‘No Idea’ is another energetic track, delivered live with wildly staccatoed vocals that you can’t help but tap your toes to. The opening track on ‘House’, ‘Man in Your Dreams’, dazzled with its glittery synth opening before it turned into a surf pop masterpiece.
While you can draw comparisons between them and loads of other bands currently on the indie rock / surf pop scene now, few have the history, friendship and heart Young Buffalo do. They’re still a very young band in terms of releases, but on the strength of their live shows (their last SXSW gig at the UPROXX House Saturday night had Bill Murray in attendance: make of that what you will) and of ‘House’, with graft they have the potential to have longevity in this business.
The Thursday night of SXSW 2015 turned out to be a mixed bag for me, as it was one of those evenings when things didn’t exactly go according to plan. In the end, all was well that ended well, and I came away feeling satisfied with the way the night played out.
After my jaunt over to the Driskill Hotel where I saw the enchanting singer/songwriter Josh Savage and caught up with him for a brief chat, I hurried back to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, which was by now beginning to feel like a second home. I turned up there for the Ben Sherman / UKTI showcase just in time to see Dry the River begin their set, though the venue was so crowded that I had a hard time finding a good vantage point to watch them from.
Unlike their curtailed set at the Transgressive Records showcase on the Tuesday night, Dry the River played in their full band arrangement here, and their songs were well-received by the crowd. The plaintive tunes and delicate harmonies I had heard from the band at Buffalo Billiards were transformed here into dynamic, hard-edged rock anthems, though I was pleased to hear that their folk sensibilities weren’t entirely obliterated by the increased size of their sound. When the band reached the end of its allotted time, there were a few vain cries for more from the front of the stage, an outcome that brought a smile to my face and was surely more satisfactory for Dry the River as well.
Next on the set list at the British Music Embassy was a band who are of at least peripheral interest to us here at TGTF, namely Black Rivers. Principal Black Rivers members Jez and Andy Williams were (are?) part of Manchester trio Doves, whose track ‘There Goes the Fear’ gave this Web site its name. Appearing here with a full four-piece set up, Black Rivers appeared to have some problems in their brief soundcheck, in the end playing only four songs once their set actually started. Even so, we heard enough of their heavily rhythmic, guitar-laden sound to permanently distinguish the Williams’ new project from their former band.
At the end of Black Rivers’ set, I beelined out of Latitude 30 and made a mad dash to the Mohawk, hoping to catch American folk-soul singer Matthew E. White. I arrived at the venue with time to spare, but unfortunately for me, so had a long queue of other hopeful punters, and I was left to listen to the faraway strains of White’s recent single ‘Rock & Roll is Cold’ from the sidewalk outside.
At this point, I had a few backup options to consider. The Dodos at Cheer Up Charlie’s? Frank Turner at the Red 7 Patio? Both were tempting, but I’d just seen them the day before, and I was in the mood for something new. I consulted the handy SXSW GO app on my smartphone to see what else was going on around downtown and almost immediately hit on a winner. Natalie Prass, another American singer/songwriter and a Spacebomb Records labelmate of Matthew E. White, was playing in the cozy downstairs venue at Maggie Mae’s. As luck would have it, I had time for a leisurely walk to Maggie Mae’s before Prass was scheduled to begin at midnight, and I happened to walk past Cheer Up Charlie’s while The Dodos were playing ‘Competition’, sounding as fresh as when I’d heard them on Wednesday’s Dine Alone Records showcase.
I arrived early at Maggie Mae’s and found the downstairs venue nearly empty, though it filled in quickly after I had positioned myself in front of the stage. Starting her set from a seated position at the keyboard, Prass slowly drew in her audience with a sultry mix of torch-song romanticism and blues-rock grit. She kept her short set lively throughout, alternately flirting with her admiring crowd and showing off her admirable guitar chops. But I was most impressed with the clear tone and finely-tuned inflections of her singing voice, which reminded me very much of alt-country singer Caitlin Rose. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Prass’ left-handed bass player, pictured below, who plays his instrument upside down in the style of Jimi Hendrix. After my impromptu stop at Maggie Mae’s, I’ll be certain to arrive early to another gig later this month at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, where Prass is scheduled to open for Ryan Adams.
I said a quick hello to Prass as she packed up her gear from the stage, then I headed down 6th Street to Esther’s Follies, a familiar venue from last year where I’d caught Gabby Young and Cocos Lovers. This year I aimed to see an equally lively band that I’ve always liked on recording but had never seen live, Washington, DC trio Jukebox the Ghost. Their latest self-titled album is rife with the band’s signature upbeat melodious pop and simple lyrics that are by turns quirky and thought-provoking. Their set at Esther’s Follies was equally ebullient and idiosyncratic, featuring new songs ‘Sound of a Broken Heart and ‘The Great Unknown’ among older crowd favourites like ‘Oh, Emily’ from 2012 LP ‘Safe Travels’.
The enthusiastic crowd gathered at Esther’s Follies on the night were clearly fans of the band, engaging them with shouted requests and one-liners and laughing at a few inside jokes that I must admit I didn’t understand. But the punters around me didn’t seem to mind my unfamiliarity; in fact, they encouraged me to put down my camera and dance. I happily obliged and was soon grinning from ear-to-ear at Jukebox the Ghost’s zany stage antics and their infectiously peppy performance. Unfortunately they ended their set without playing my personal favourite of their tracks, ‘Adulthood’, because co-lead singer Ben Thornewill was losing his voice. But fear not, I won’t disappoint my readers the same way; you can stream the audio for ‘Adulthood’ just below.
After the delightful Lost in Austin brunch on Thursday morning, I made my way back across the Colorado River and into downtown Austin. I had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee and jot down my thoughts before I received a text message from editor Mary, who wanted me to stop in and join her at the Old School Bar and Grill for the BBC barbecue. Mary has already covered the event in full, but I was lucky enough during my brief stop to catch a set by Laura Marling, including songs from her newest album release ‘Short Movie’, which TGTF previewed back in December.
While Marling did her preliminary soundcheck on the Old School Bar and Grill stage, I took the opportunity to scout out the room for good photo angles. I was testing the settings on my camera when another photographer made a comment to me about how beautiful Marling’s guitar collection was. I agreed, and thus found myself in an informative conversation with SXSW 2015 staff photographer Ziv Kruger about shooting effective photos at SXSW shows. Kruger took a quick look at my camera and gave me a few useful tips, which I immediately put to use in photographing Marling and her band. (If you’re interested in seeing more of my photos of the set, check them out on my Flickr.)
After Marling played, the BBC barbecue started to wind down, and I headed over to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 to catch The Twilight Sad, with whom I’d had a nice chat earlier in the week. I arrived at Latitude 30 in time to hear the end of a set by fellow Scottish band Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire, whose six-piece band set up was a tight fit for the British Music Embassy stage.
Despite the close quarters, Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire impressed me with the size of their anthemic rock melodies, and I made a mental note to listen to them again after returning home from my trip to Austin. Their single ‘Bright Light Fever’ earned the band a week-long residency on Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show in America early last year, and it was a hit at the British Music Embassy in Austin as well.
The Twilight Sad were the final act on the afternoon’s British Music at SXSW showcase, and as frontman James Graham had promised in our earlier interview, their set was heavy on tracks from the band’s latest LP ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’. They opened with two tracks featured previously here on TGTF, ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’ and ‘Last January’ before touching on ‘I Became a Prostitute’ from 2009 album ‘Forget the Night Ahead’ and closing their set with the epic sound of ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ from their 2007 debut ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’. Though their set here was effective, it did feel quite short and left me wishing for more. Fans of The Twilight Sad will no doubt relish the opportunity to hear longer and more expansive set lists on the band’s upcoming UK tour; find those live dates here.
The British Music Embassy cleared out after The Twilight Sad finished playing, and I had enough time between engagements to meet Mary for a quick dinner before I headed to the historic Driskill Hotel to see singer/songwriter Josh Savage. Mary had recommended Savage to me after seeing him herself at a Sofar Sounds show in Manchester last year, and I’d had his latest EP ‘Spaces’ on repeat in my car during the long road trip to Austin, so I was especially excited to see his only official SXSW showcase on this night.
The Victorian Room at the Driskill was a perfect venue to showcase Savage’s elegant and refined songwriting. While the space might have been intended for standing room only, we in the audience chose to seat ourselves either in the few available chairs or on the floor in front of the stage. The room was very comfortable with good viewpoints all around, and Savage took advantage of the intimate space by telling a few sentimental stories to go along with his tunes and even stepping down off the stage to be closer to his audience.
He further drew us under his spell by asking for our harmonic participation in the chorus of his enchanting ballad ‘Lost in Paris’, and by the end of the set I found myself completely smitten by his graceful songcraft. I was able to sit down with Savage for a brief interview outside the Victorian Room after his show; you can listen to his soft-spoken commentary right here.
I had to cut my conversation with Savage shorter than I would have liked so that I could rush back to Latitude 30 to follow up on Dry the River, with whom I had become become acquainted earlier in the week. Stay tuned to TGTF for more coverage of my Thursday night adventures, including Dry the River’s showcase at the British Music Embassy.