SXSW 2014: Friday night at Communion showcase, British Music Embassy, and back to B.D. Riley’s – 14th March 2014

By on Tuesday, 1st April 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

After spending the entirety of my SXSW 2014 Friday afternoon at B.D. Riley’s on 6th Street for the Full Irish Breakfast, I had just enough time to dash up the hill to 8th Street to St. David’s Episcopal Church for a quick interview before the Communion Music Showcase. I had heard rave reviews of the acoustics inside the sanctuary at St. David’s, as well as the consistently amazing lineups sponsored by Communion Music, so of course I was fairly bubbling over with excitement by the time I reached the church.

Evening activity was just beginning to pick up in downtown Austin, and the outside of the church was still mostly quiet when I arrived. By the time I finished my interview with the lovely and laid back Nick Mulvey in the Holy Grounds coffee shop, music fans were beginning to queue for showcases in both St. David’s venues, the main sanctuary and the smaller Bethel Hall. I chatted cordially with a few other music fans in the queue, and the wait to get into the sanctuary seemed very short indeed.

Unfortunately, I was far enough back in the queue that I didn’t get a fabulous seat inside the sanctuary. To be clear, as far as the acoustics are concerned, there aren’t any bad seats. But I was hoping to snap a few photos, so I chose to sit along the center aisle, and even though I was several pews back, I think I managed to capture the ambience of the evening.

The first band on the showcase was London folk trio Bear’s Den, who stopped in Austin as part of a full North American tour. They had evidently become used to more raucous American audiences than the polite crowd at St. David’s Sanctuary, as lead singer Andrew Davie paused more than once to tell us that our stillness made him a bit nervous. His mild admonitions did lighten up the somewhat stiff atmosphere, and by the time Bear’s Den reached the last song in their set, which included singles ‘Agape’ and ‘Writing on the Wall’, they were comfortable enough to step forward and do it “unplugged”. I was so delighted by their echoing vocal harmonies, and the rest of the congregation were as jovial as they could possibly be while seated on wooden pews.

Bear's Den at St. David's 14 March 2014

The showcase was perfectly organized and running on a tight schedule, so there wasn’t much time for audience members to shift in and out of the church between Bear’s Den and the aforementioned Nick Mulvey. Luckily, not many people chose to leave, as we were treated to a set that spanned Mulvey’s short but impressive solo career. I smiled to myself at the sound of familiar tunes ‘Fever to the Form’ and ‘Nitrous’, but it was the new (or new-to-me) tunes that proved most captivating. This was my first time hearing ‘The Trellis’, from Mulvey’s November 2012 EP of the same name, and a pin drop would have echoed mightily in the sanctuary when he finished it. Also well received was the newer and more upbeat track ‘Meet Me There’, which is due for release in May along with his full length album ‘First Mind’.

Nick Mulvey at St. David's 14 March 2014

As Mulvey closed his mellow set, the sanctuary began buzzing with anticipation for Irish singer/songwriter Hozier. Having already gained radio play in America with his religiously analogous single ‘Take Me to Church’, Hozier was ready to preach his gospel to those in attendance St. David’s Church, and he certainly made a believer out of me. I was stunned by the power in every song on his set list, from the earthy, deceptively sweet folk of ‘In A Week’ to the visceral blues and overt sexuality of ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’. And while the gospel tinge of ‘Take Me to Church’ might have been appropriate for the setting, Hozier’s performance of it on the night was enough to steam up every single one of the stained glass windows.

Hozier at St. David's 14 March 2014

I needed some fresh air after the breathtaking sublimity of Hozier, so I stepped outside to gather my thoughts and check in with Mary via text. Once outside the venue, I quickly realized that I would have some difficulty getting back in, as the queue was growing for the final acts on the Communion roster, Tennis, Sam Smith and Vance Joy. I would later regret missing out on those artists, especially after seeing this video of Smith’s recent single ‘Stay With Me’.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB-5XG-DbAA[/youtube]

In the end, I hedged my bets and headed to the British Music Embassy to meet Mary for another band I’d recently written about, Scottish duo Honeyblood. The queue outside Latitude 30 wasn’t much shorter than the one at St. David’s, but I did eventually make it inside. Mary was, naturally, down the front, but I wasn’t able to squeeze in through the enthusiastic crowd, and I had to settle for a spot in back near the bar. My photos of Honeyblood weren’t fabulous but for my money, neither was the band’s performance. Their single ‘Bud’ was the only song that stood out among their muddled, distorted grunge pop set. The sound at the venue had been fine all week, so I have to assume that this less than stellar show was a just a small blip on Honeyblood’s radar.

Honeyblood at British Music Embassy 14 March 2014

Disappointed, I met up with Mary for a brief conference in what had become a customary spot for us in the alley outside Latitude 30. Our energy was waning by this point, but I convinced her (read: begged and pleaded with her) to make the short walk back to B.D. Riley’s, where we’d taken in the Irish Breakfast earlier in the day, to have another listen to Rams’ Pocket Radio.

It seems silly, at a festival like SXSW, to see the same bands over and over again when there are so many options so close at hand. We’d already seen Rams’ Pocket Radio twice, but both times I’d been a bit distracted, and I felt that I hadn’t given the songs their proper due, at least in my own mind. This late night show suffered from a few technical glitches and the wandering attention of the audience, which slightly marred the emotional connection of the music. Despite those frustrations, I was increasingly fascinated by his juxtaposition of beautiful, rich musical textures and curious, often strange lyrics. Maybe this is why the ever present ‘Dieter Rams Has Got the Pocket Radios’ appeals so much to me, but I did find myself missing the more straightforward ‘Love is a Bitter Thing’ when he left it off the set list. I didn’t walk away from this show feeling any more enlightened about Rams’ Pocket Radio, but my interest is most definitely piqued to see what he does next.

For the moment, I had to put my bewildered thoughts aside in preparation for the following day, which would be our last at SXSW 2014. But even weeks later, I find myself amazed as I mentally revisit the spectrum of mixed emotions and musical styles from that exhilarating Friday.

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4 Responses

[…] off to a bit of a late start after our busy Friday (read all the recaps including my thoughts on the Communion showcase at St. David’s and more, my review of the full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s, Mary’s Friday night […]

[…] Wicklow born singer/songwriter Hozier wowed the audience, including Carrie, at the Communion night at St. David’s church at SXSW 2014 last month. But this seems an even more appropriate venue for him to perform in: the […]

[…] in America at SXSW 2014. I was lucky enough to hear the song myself as part of Mulvey’s set at the Communion Showcase during his time in […]

[…] of the most talked about artists from SXSW 2014 off his appearance at the Communion showcase on Friday night, Hozier, appeared on Late Night with David Letterman last night, which marked the Irish […]

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