SXSW 2014: secret Sofar Sounds Austin show – 13th March 2014

By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

On the Thursday night of SXSW 2014, Mary and I had the unique opportunity to attend a special show outside the confines of downtown Austin. After our separate early afternoon activities, we met up and drove to a farther corner of the city for a Sofar Sounds showcase held in a private home and hosted by the Sofar Sounds: Austin team, which included the evening’s emcees, Amy Langton and Joanna Jurgens, videographer Brian Ferguson and photographer Bryan Taylor.

The stated purpose of Sofar Sounds is to connect emerging artists with enthusiastic new fans via small and intimate performances. The gigs are recorded and shared later with a larger audience, but only a select number of Sofar subscribers are admitted at the live shows. Though the lineup of bands for the evening was secret, we were assured that we would hear some high quality musicianship, so we decided to take a chance and try it out. We weren’t disappointed with the bill we discovered when we arrived, which included two British bands previously covered by TGTF. We were encouraged by the event organizers to share our experiences on social media and we happily obliged, as you’ll see by the tweets we’ve shared below.

The first act of the evening played outdoors in the host family’s backyard, just as the sun was setting. The atmosphere couldn’t have been more perfect for indie rockers Cheers Elephant, who played a cozy set featuring mellow acoustic guitar melodies and sweetly blended vocal harmonies. Fans of West Coast rock bands like Dawes won’t want to miss this band, who are no doubt more energetic in a fully electric context.

After Cheers Elephant’s set, and the sunset as well, we were moved inside the house to hear the rest of the evening’s acts, who had been busy setting up in the hosts’ living room while we were outside. Next up was Lansing, Michigan’s alt-country troubadour Small Houses, known offstage as Jeremy Quentin, who now splits his time between Atlanta and Philadelphia. He was accompanied by an old friend from Austin who was able to step in at the last minute and learn the second guitar parts especially for this private gig. The true magic of SXSW lies in this type of improvisatory cooperation among musicians; we were fortunate to see several examples of musicians’ kinship during the week, and this was indeed a special one. The two men played brilliantly off of each other, trading guitar riffs and countermelodies as seamlessly as if they’d played together for years.

Following Small Houses was folk singer/songwriter Kelley McRae, who performed with her husband in yet another case of exceptional communion between musicians. McRae’s heavenly singing voice was clearly the main focus of the songs in their set, but the couple’s warmth and familiarity allowed them a level of comfort and flexibility not always seen on live stages. Their brand of Americana completely lacks the slick and superficial predictability of mainstream country music, its authenticity shining through the honest lyrics and solid musicianship. I was impressed enough to nab a copy of McRae’s CD ‘Brighter Than The Blues’ after the show was over.

There was a slight delay after McRae’s set, to allow time for British electro-pop group Dems to prepare for what would be a complete 180-degree turn in terms of musical style and mood. More dependent on electronic equipment than any other band on the docket, Dems had some technical difficulties earlier in the day, which left them borrowing an amplifier from Langton for their show. Undaunted, they played an enthusiastic if somewhat unrehearsed set, and if I hadn’t been required to remain seated due to the videography at the secret gig, I would have happily bounced along to their beats. In lieu of that, Mary let her fingers do the dancing on Twitter.

The last act of the Sofar Sounds showcase was The Crookes, whom I’ve now seen a few times, but never quite in this context. Frankly, I had trouble imagining a seated Crookes show, because I always associate this band with joyful, unfettered dancing. But I did manage to remain seated, and I was delighted to hear unusual takes on some old favorite tunes, including George Waite solo on ‘The I Love You Bridge’ and a cover of the Wreckless Eric song and their ‘Maybe in the Dark’ single’s b-side ‘Whole Wide World’. While I gather that these versions are stalwarts for The Crookes on the British side of the pond, they were new and enchanting to this American fan. I smiled through the acoustic version of ‘Afterglow’, even though it left me desperately longing for the full-on electric version; I’d have to wait until later in the week to hear that one again.

Collected donations from this Sofar Sounds Austin show were given to the SXSW Cares Fund, to help the victims of the drink driving incident at the Mohawk the night before.

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2 Responses

[…] I arrived in downtown Austin late on the Thursday night of SXSW 2014, after we attended a special Sofar Sounds show earlier in the evening. Once we were back in the now-familiar downtown area, we split up, Mary […]

[…] my first Sofar Sounds show during SXSW 2014 in Austin in March (Carrie’s review and my photos this way), I was eager and raring to go for another one. I thought it was unlikely that there would be one […]

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