SXSW 2015: worshipping at the feet of legends (or not) at Central Presbyterian Church (Friday night part 1) – 20th March 2015

By on Wednesday, 1st April 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

I think everyone comes to SXSW with a list of must-see bands. Come hell or high water, you are so determined to see these acts, no one will get in your way, you will queue for hours in advance, etc. etc. etc. For me, one of my must-sees at SXSW 2015 was French/Cuban sister act Ibeyi, whose self-titled debut album released on XL in February is likely to be on my top albums of 2015 list when it comes time in December to thinking about the year in review. While I was disappointed they would be playing at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, where I’d had a near religious experience and bawled my eyes out watching Daughter perform there back in 2012, I was happy to see that Ibeyi’s official showcase would be at Central Presbyterian Church, where I’d never been.

Immediately preceding the sisters was a name that been going around my friend circles, Vancouver, Canada’s Tobias Jesso, Jr. At first, sat in my pew, I had no idea where he was as he began to speak to the audience. My pew mates explained he was behind the large grand piano centre stage. Ok. I’d been told he had a Randy Newman-esque, self-deprecatory way about him, which is neither here nor there, but I thought, okay, if it works for Randy Newman, maybe it’ll work for this kid. The week he was in Austin was also the week his debut album ‘Goon’ was released on True Panther, so the timing was ripe for him to pick up some new fans. Judging from the number of people who couldn’t find a seat in one of the pews, the buzz about him must have gotten around town. Initially, I had an open mind. One song made me think, okay, he’s a little like Billy Joel in his storytelling. But then as the song went on, I changed my mind, deciding that such a comparison was insulting to the Piano Man.

Tobias Jesso Jr. at Central Presbyterian Church at SXSW 2015

If my count was correct, he had to restart a song three different times (twice on the same song) because he couldn’t remember the lyrics. If I am to give him the benefit of the doubt to say he wasn’t used to the pressure of SXSW or to playing to this many people and maybe he got nervous and cracked, I think that’s giving him too much credit. You’re playing on the world’s biggest stage at the world’s biggest festival, a festival than thousands of bands around the world only dream of getting a shout to, and you’re not ready? It’s unprofessional and embarrassing. Even worse, I found his attempts to laugh and wheedle his way out of his shortcomings made things worse. Just get on with it. The title of his last song, ‘How Could You Babe’, pretty much sums up my impression of Jesso, Jr.: numbingly plain and boring. I hope his other shows in Austin went on with less hitches.

Ibeyi at Central Presbyterian Church at SXSW 2015

So thank goodness for twins Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz to bring some energy to the church next. The sisters may have been overwhelmed by their week in Austin and the reception they got everywhere they went, but in their case, it was entirely deserved. As expected from a sibling act, the harmonies between the sisters were tight, and straight off the bat we were treated to a brief a cappella bit that allowed their vocals to shine. Also included in the set was a never before tried rearrangement of ‘Oya’ that was peerless and of course, the super sultry ‘River’.

The church also erupted in cheers when the pair announced they were about to do a Jay Electronica cover of ‘Better in Tune with the Infinite’. It was soulful and beautiful. In between the songs, the twins were softspoken but that was part of their charm endearing themselves to the audience: these are two young women who are passionate about what they do, about continuing their family’s thread through music, yet it was evident in the almost breathless way they would speak that they are honestly blown away by how everyone has come to regard them as singers and musicians. I felt terrible leaving Ibeyi‘s set early, but I just had this gut feeling I was supposed to be somewhere else.

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