SXSW 2017: Wednesday night’s marathon, with stops at Lambert’s, Clive Bar, St. David’s Bethell Hall and Elysium – 15th March 2017

By on Monday, 10th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Wednesday night at SXSW 2017 was always going to be a test of my speed and endurance, with a veritable smorgasbord of choices on the schedule at venues spread widely across downtown Austin. When I nailed down my own agenda for the evening, I was a tiny bit cranky at the prospect of so much walking, but in the end, the shows I saw were entirely worth the athletic effort. (To give you an idea of how much walking was involved, my smartwatch recorded over 20,000 total steps and 10.5 miles’ distance on Wednesday!)

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After a brief dinner break, I ventured west of Congress Avenue to Lambert’s, where the SESAC showcase was being held. I would have happily stayed for the entire evening, as the SESAC docket included several favourites of mine, including Ciaran Lavery and Silences. However, the crazy Wednesday night schedule didn’t allow me to stop that long, and I only stayed long enough to satisfy my curiosity about singer/songwriter Allison Pierce. Formerly of sister-act The Pierces, Allison Pierce has stepped out on her own as a solo artist, and from the sound of her set at Lambert’s, she’s gone country. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given her Alabama upbringing, but this was definitely more of a streamlined, pure country sound than the psychedelic folk I last heard from The Pierces. Pierce followed her SXSW appearance with a run of live dates supporting The Wind and the Wave, and her debut album ‘Year of the Rabbit’ is due out on the 5th of May.

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My next stop was on the other side of downtown Austin, at Rainey Street’s Clive Bar, which was hosting the Showtime ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ launch party. Mary had warned me that the Showtime event would be a madhouse, and when I arrived at the Clive Bar after walking all the way across downtown from Lambert’s, I was disheartened to find a long queue outside. Surprisingly enough, the line moved quickly, and I was able to secure a spot close to the stage for Los Angeles indie rockers Magic Giant, with whom I’d had this lively interview earlier in the day.

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As advertised in the interview, Magic Giant’s live show exuded a brilliant energy and included a cacophony of creatively-devised sounds. Despite my prime spot at the front of the stage, I found it difficult to take photos, as none of the three band members (lead vocalist Austin Bisnow, multi-instrumentalist Zambricki Li, guitarist Brian “Zang” Zaghi) were in one position for very long. The momentum of the music and the quick rotation of instruments kept them in constant motion, even finding them down in the middle of the crowd at one point for what might be called a low-level acoustic mosh.

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Magic Giant’s incredibly organic indie folk debut album ‘In the Wind’ is due out in May, and the band is planning to be on tour for the rest of this year. Keep an eye on the Tour section of their official Web site for upcoming dates, and be sure not to miss them if they pass through your area.

My mood improved considerably by Magic Giant’s vibrant set, I left the Clive Bar and embarked on the long uphill walk to St. David’s Episcopal Church. Though I’d seen several shows at the church over the past three years at SXSW, I hadn’t yet been inside Bethell Hall, and I was initially taken aback by the very minimal set up of the stark room.

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The stage area, such as it was, was positioned in the front of the room, with a grand piano and an electronic keyboard, along with a soundboard and a projector screen for visual effects. Despite some technical difficulty in the initial setup, this was perhaps a more natural situation for Ryan Vail, whom I’d seen earlier in the week at the Output Belfast Boat Party. Vail took advantage of the lovely grand piano in Bethell Hall to play tracks from his piano-oriented debut LP ‘For Every Silence’, which is described on Soundcloud as “the story of a piano that was made in England in 1927, shipped to Derry in Northern Ireland, cherished by Ryan’s wife’s family and restored for use on a stunning debut album, where the warm, well-loved character of the instrument takes centre stage.” I was pleased to see a new facet of Vail’s talent, namely his genuine skill as a composer, shine through in a different context than what I’d previously heard.

My last stop of the evening was at Austin dance club Elysium for the end of the KCRW showcase. Earlier bands on KCRW’s lineup had included Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Aquilo (see Mary’s past coverage of her Wednesday night covering the two of them here), and Mondo Cozmo, who I’d already seen earlier in the afternoon. By the time I arrived at Elysium, there was an impressive queue for hotly-tipped Aussie band Middle Kids, and I wasn’t sure I’d get in to see them, but once again good fortune prevailed.

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It’s always a pleasant surprise when a heavily-hyped band actually lives up to its billing, and such was the case with Middle Kids. Their indie rock sound leans just enough toward the pop side to be catchy, but aside from being eminently listenable, it’s also charmingly quirky. Lead singer Hannah Joy doesn’t go out of her way to do anything weird just for the sake of being noticed, which is refreshing in a time when female frontwomen are definitely feeling the pressure to stand out in the growing crowd. (I did, however, take notice of Joy’s Hendrix-style left-handed guitar technique.)

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Los Angeles alt-rockers Cherry Glazerr immediately positioned themselves on the opposite end of that continuum when their lead singer Clementine Creevy did a spidery commando crawl onto the stage and announced her presence by bellowing “Hey, assholes!” into the microphone. This was an immediate turn-off for me, but many of the punters in the crowd responded positively, both to her deliberately obnoxious demeanor and to Cherry Glazerr’s raucous, rebellious grunge. Judging by the reaction to the creepy Kewpie-style doll attached to Sasami Ashworth’s keyboard, I’d say their track ‘Nurse Ratched’ is well on its way to being a sleeper summer hit.

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After overcoming the seemingly standard technical issues faced by electronic artists at SXSW, London-based SOHN closed out the night at Elysium with a delirious 1 AM set that swayed between sensual and sweaty in a room drenched in dim red lighting. I always feel bad for artists who get stuck in the final time slot after a big-name act, when the room invariably empties, and SOHN was no exception. But in a proper club atmosphere, this would clearly have been a better-received set, and I’ll wager that fans of electro artists like Jack Garratt (who faced a similar situation at SXSW 2015) will catch onto SOHN in the very near future.

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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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