SXSW 2012: Day 2 – Burning Ear showcase at Firehouse Lounge and Second Play Stage at the Omni – 14th March 2012

By on Friday, 23rd March 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

A little-known fact for first-timers at SXSW: the bands you like are probably playing unofficial showcases and gigs at small, hole in the wall-type places. (This can be a real problem if you have an allergy to renting a car in an unfamiliar town and hate parallel parking, both of which apply to me.) It’s incredibly inefficient, but the only successful way I’ve found to discover these set times and locations is by paying attention to individual band’s Facebooks or Web sites that will say they’re playing this bar out of walking distance from downtown, a burger joint with shows for all ages or a hotel offering free booze, they’re showing up as someone’s special guest, etc. etc. etc.

Being in my position, I had the benefit (I think?) of being inundated by PR emails with lists of shows and more gig possibilities than could be imagined; from the mostly well organised lists, I spent hours before arriving in Austin coming up with alternate plan B and C lists that had cross-referenced the big book of official showcases (only listing nighttime showcases – not especially helpful) with the unofficial ones by day and night I knew of, just in case the shows I wanted to go to were rammed and I needed another place to go. I can say now with experience that you can plan all you want for your ideal day of acts but sometimes, you should just go with whatever feels right. Or is less of a walk. (Not kidding. After the second day I thought my feet might break off at my ankles and my back would break standing so much.)

What felt right to me for Wednesday afternoon was an unofficial showcase being put on by the Burning Ear blog at an unofficial showcase at Firehouse Lounge, a good-sized place that you might miss if you weren’t looking for its small marquee. I certainly did not expect the nice space there was when I entered. Unlike many of the showcases I attended, this one was not region-specific and had a nice mix of international bands. (Unfortunately, with a small place like this, there is no room for lighting rigs, so my photos didn’t turn out all that good.) Hooded Fang, a band whose humourous song ‘Clap’ is getting a lot of love on 6music, stood out to me as a band I should catch in a daytime showcase. Further examination of the line-up revealed hey, this is pretty damn good! Unfortunately, there was a bit of a scheduling conflict with another band I just had to see at a hotel – SXSW hosts what they called “Second Play Stages” where the bands perform stripped down sets in a hotel lounge – but I did manage to get in 4 bands before I had to leave.

Paula and Karol are an indie folk duo from Warsaw, Poland. Paula plays a baby accordion (seriously, it’s adorable and has hearts on it!) and Karol plays acoustic guitar, and both of them sing. They tour with mates on guitar and drums and have great harmonies. Sounds a bit like Slow Club, doesn’t it? Funnily enough, I saw them, their mates and associated people all lined up in the front row at Communion’s showcase at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary 2 nights later, which made me go all warm and fuzzy inside. What punters probably don’t realise is that for the bands, this is often their big chance to see some of their contemporaries and the fact that these nice folks from Eastern Europe were able to experience Ben Howard and Daughter was a pretty amazing example of cross-culturalism.

I thought Paula and Karol were great – truly great pop and I just goes to show that SXSW can be a good place for new band discovery. Listen to their album ‘Overshare’ in full below and if you like it, buy it! I liked them so much – listen to ‘Calling’ and you will fall in love like I did – so it was with much sadness that I missed their set as part of a Polish showcase the next morning…but I overslept. Stuff like that happens at SXSW. And you’ve just got to pick yourself up and move on to the next band. (They confirmed with me that they will be performing at the Great Escape, so you all going to Brighton in May have no excuse to miss this talented twosome.)

The next band up was Dublin’s Minutes. Regular TGTF readers will recall that Luke first came upon the scrappy Irish trio opening for Flogging Molly at London HMV Forum last year; Luke also reviewed their fab debut album on Model Citizen Records, ‘Marcata’ (review here). By this time, the number of people inside Firehouse Lounge had gone up from 6 to about 20, which I took as a good sign that punters had heard of these guys. Oh my god. Despite the shy accents at the start, boy, did the Irish bring it. Lead singer Mark Austin, as he shredded his guitar as hard as he could, was a force like no other. Yowza. At that very moment I thought, I need to give that Luke Morton a hug for finding these fellas; as you should know, TGTF is a family and a team and I rely on all my writers for their expertise on sniffing out the next big thing. So many bands to sift through, so little time.

There was enough room for me to lean comfortably on a railing early on in their set, and this turned out to be a dreadful mistake: basically, Austin used this railing as a “road” down the side of the club, nearly taking me out on the floor with his guitar in the process. But I didn’t mind, and neither did anyone else. The punters ate it up. As they’ve just been announced for Tennents’ Vital festival in Ireland in August alongside headliner Foo Fighters, you can just already see them rubbing elbows in an Irish meadow with Dave Grohl.

Pretty appropriate that in 27 C+ Austin, an Oxford band called Jonquil, named presumably after the lovely yellow flower, should play next in the early days of a Texan spring. After getting over the weirdness that their player looks like a blonde twin of another bass-playing mate of mine, I settled in to listen to what they had to offer. Alert, I’m about to be critical: I can’t get over Hugo Manuel’s voice. Maybe that’s the intention? The vibe is vaguely New Wave-y Aztec Camera, but with a trumpet. Huh? And the songs aren’t that memorable. Dunno, maybe because they came after two very strong acts, I was left disappointed.

After getting my free cupcake (yes, there is free food at SXSW, provided you know where to look and be…early), it was time for Hooded Fang. The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is such a cliché, but gosh, given the droll lyrical wit of ‘Clap’ (video below), I’ll be honest, I was surprised by the players. Their guitarist had been hanging out all afternoon, looking like a boffin that was nervously keeping to himself on a sofa in the back. I imagine they are one of those bands that works better in the context of a sweaty, packed out venue; while there were definitely more people in Firehouse by this time (I felt like I was knee deep in hipsters after getting unfriendly elbow jabs in my back), the energy level for the Toronto rockers just wasn’t there. I’m wondering if I’d have felt better and in the zone if Steve Lamacq was present.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in1AgZBQKZo[/youtube]

So I decided to cut my losses and leave in the middle of their set for a change of scenery. Completely so. The Second Play stages are a collection of gigs that I believe are organized by SXSW themselves, and they’re a series of gigs that are all acoustic and take place in the lobbies of major hotels in downtown Austin. As my schedule had been filling up, I was getting quite concerned that I couldn’t crow bar a gig from 10 for 2012 poll winners London-based band Films of Colour, until I happily came upon the Second Play schedule. Aha! Omni at 6 PM? I can squeeze that in! I snuck in through the back, slightly out of breath from running up a hill (spare me the Kate Bush jokes, please) to the Omni, where a helpful bellhop pointed me in the right direction.

What an unusual place for a rock show. Granted, it was an acoustic set, but still, where else are you sat down for a gig and a waitress comes over to ask nicely if you want something to drink or eat? To be fair, how often are you sat down for a gig anyhow? So I relaxed in my comfy chair and watch Films of Colour spout off beautiful renditions of their new single ‘Running’ (acoustic video here), their cover of David Bowie’s ‘Slow Burn’, and gorgeous newer song ‘Creature of Habit’. I would also like to point out at this juncture that Films of Colour is the second band we’ve tipped (that I’m aware of anyway) whose music has landed as incidental score on Made in Chelsea (the other being I Dream in Colour). So if you’re out there reading this, fine folk of E4, I must say, you have very good taste…

But in the words of Karen Carpenter, “we’ve only just begun”. Wednesday was about to go into full swing.

More photos (and in higher resolution too!) from these showcases can be viewed on my Flickr.

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[…] And “don’t apologise to yourself if your body says to go home”. Before I went to see the Burning Ear showcase on Wednesday afternoon, I stopped into B.D. Riley’s (not knowing I’d return for an interview on Friday, then later for […]

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We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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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