SXSW 2014: the first half of Huw Stephens’ night at Latitude 30 – 11th March 2014

By on Wednesday, 19th March 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

The British Music Embassy at its Latitude 30 home has been hit (2012) and miss (2013) for me in past years of SXSW. Luckily, this year‘s line-up was made all the better by the bevy of BBC Radio presenters who flocked to Austin this year, including Phil Taggart who emceed Creative Belfast (read Carrie’s review and see my photos from Monday night here); Steve Lamacq, who made his triumphant return to SXSW after a 6-year absence, and the two that were players in Tuesday night’s programming at Latitude 30.

The cuddly Welsh teddy bear we all know as Huw Stephens has been curating a night at the British Music Embassy for I don’t know how long, but you can trust that he always chooses a good line-up. I was luckily present for the first three acts on Tuesday night. Sweet Baboo, aka fellow Welshman Stephen Black, was up first in solo form. I’m really quite glad I got to see him play with a full band in Glasgow’s King Tut’s last year, as I had a reference point in which to compare and contrast Tuesday night’s performance with. If you listen to Sweet Baboo records, the feeling you come away with is one of fragility; when Black performs live with a full band, there is fragility but also chaos. Black’s solo set felt somewhere in between those two extremes, with him being his usual self-deprecating self, cracking jokes while bemoaning his lack of band (“if you heard this one with the full band, it’d sound like Prince”). While EP title track ‘Motorhome’ and ‘Cate’s Song’ are gentle numbers that work well in solo confines, my personal favourite from 2013’s ‘Ships’, the brilliantly incisive yet poppy ‘If I Died…’ didn’t really work without a full band.

Next up were London’s next great hope for alt-rock, Wolf Alice. In her Doc Martens and sparkly tights, Ellie Rowsell held court, guitar in hand in front of an all too excited crowd at the British Music Embassy. I don’t know if I was just surrounded by Brits who had come over to cheer on Wolf Alice or these were new converts, but the screams were deafening. This seemed to be the week I would be taking the unpopular opinion, which included my stance on Wolf Alice: it seems to me that Rowsell’s ‘sweet’ voice is at odds with the harder edge of their band’s songs and would be more appropriate for the folk genre in which she started, and on songs like ‘She’, she seems to be stretching the Justine Frischmann and Courtney Love comparisons. But I’m thinking their fortunes have already been made. I mean, just think about it: the only other female-fronted massive rock band is Paramore, and they’re American. Maybe it’s time for a British rocker girl to take away Hayley’s sceptre?

I had no idea my world was about to be rocked by the third band on the line-up, Prides. I had already been impressed by early MGMT-sounding ‘Out of the Blue’ and more recent ‘The Seeds You Sow’. But I was not prepared for the synth / guitar / percussion powerhouse that was in front of my eyes. It should have come as no surprise that this New Wave lover once dubbed years ago as “the sucker for the synth” by Steve Lamacq himself absolutely fell in love with these Glaswegians. Just WOW.

The coloured lighting in Latitude 30 complemented the band’s sound as well, fitting the carnival / party / happy atmosphere their music created. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next. It was great to chat with them after, as they were clearly running on the adrenaline of playing a packed venue and having such a great reception in a town that they’d never played in before. (Listen to my interview with the band here.)

But it was still quite early in the evening. It was time to me to jet off to another venue a few blocks away.

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