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SXSW 2018: Friday afternoon at the Full Irish Breakfast and British Music Embassy – 16th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 4th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

During the week at SXSW, those of us who have day jobs outside of the music industry must check in on occasion on what pays the bills. While I was stuck in our hotel dealing with emails and loose ends, Carrie left early to make our now annual visit to the BMI brunch, so stay tuned for her coverage on the artists who played there at the Four Seasons this year. After getting things in order, I hopped over to B.D. Riley’s for the annual Full Irish Breakfast sponsored by Music From Ireland and First Music Connect, both great friends to TGTF. To my happiness, the place was already full up at noon, requiring quite a bit of jostling and patience to get a bartender’s attention and to find a spot where you could lay out your complimentary breakfast.

Accompanying the free food – with white pudding this year, yes! – were plenty of Irish-born talent raring to go, going nicely with the green décor B.D. Riley’s had already set out ahead of St. Patrick’s Day the next day. Joshua Burnside and his band, who wowed us on the Output Belfast boat ride Tuesday morning, began the day of festivities at the Irish pub. Looking tan in the face (or was that sunburn?), he looked relaxed performing his sixth and final performance in Austin in front of a room of Texan strangers.

Joshua Burnside Friday at SXSW 2018

It’s no wonder why his album ‘Ephrata’ won the Northern Ireland Music Prize in 2017. Burnside’s unique usage of world music influences while maintaining an inherent Irishness through the lilt of his gorgeous voice made the LP released last year unlike anything else. The crowd approved of Burnside and his band’s early yet wonderfully spirited set. A particularly lovely moment was when Burnside went part acoustic for his single from last year, the politically charged and very Northern Irish ‘Red and White Blues’. While its poignant meaning may have been lost on the audience he played it to, the combination of his strong voice accompanied only by acoustic guitar had a quiet beauty, before the rest of his band joined in for added oomph.

The Lost Brothers are Irish, yes. But if you looked at them on the street with their cowboy hats and acoustic guitars, you’d swear they were Americans born and raised in the Wild West. No strangers to SXSW, B.D. Riley’s or Austin for that matter, they took to the stage at the pub with their usual performance aplomb. Whether performing on a boat or in a venue on dry land, the Lost Brothers are the consummate professionals.

The Lost Brothers Friday at SXSW 2018

They arrived in Texas with their latest album effort ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’, recorded in Arizona, and the critical acclaim it has received so far, all deserved. (Read my glowing review of the LP through here.) ‘Echoes in the Wind’, the lead single from the album, came across as effortless, as did more recent single, the sweet, yet humourous ‘More Than I Can Comprehend’ (promo video here).

The third act at the Full Irish breakfast was also ready to put his last SXSW 2018 appearance in the can. Cork’s Talos, who closed out the Music From Ireland showcase at the Velveeta Room the evening previous, was back out with his band and alongside the blinding sunshine streaming in from 6th Street. It was a good thing for musicians from abroad and music fans alike to hide inside B.D. Riley’s for the afternoon: for the first time that week, the mercury reached over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 32 degrees Celsius plus). The sunny afternoon provided contrast to their performance Thursday night, though the sun or heat didn’t dampen their enthusiasm or Eoin French’s falsetto.

Talos Friday at SXSW 2018

Friday was the only afternoon at SXSW 2018 I had some free time to spend at the British Music Embassy. And it was a good day for it, as a slice of sticky toffee cheesecake and a bloody Mary awaited me at Latitude 30. I arrived just as most visitors were finishing up their lunch and ready for the first act, The RPMs. Brighton’s brightest prospect in the pop/rock stakes began the afternoon at the Embassy with gusto, blasting out their upbeat tunes with vigour.

The RPMs Friday 4 at SXSW 2018

Although he must have been boiling in his leopard print jacket, lead singer Jack Valero was a great frontman, flashing a winsome smile and showing a youthful exuberance. Under the better lighting of and with the better sound system of Latitude 30, they shone, and plenty of Americans who hadn’t heard of them until that moment started taking notes. I know, because a bunch of people came up to me and asked me to spell their name and for help finding their Facebook. Ha. I was glad to be of service.

Next up on the bill was Natalie Findlay, the Manchester songstress who scorched former writer Martin’s eyes and ears at Liverpool Sound City 2013. Since those days, she’s morphed like a chameleon many times, never staying put in one specific genre. In an otherwise all-male lineup, it was nice to introduce some good ol’ fashioned girl power into the mix and remind the Americans in attendance that there’s great female talent coming out of Britain, too.

Findlay Friday at SXSW 2018

Flyte’s closeup has been a long time coming. We’ve been writing about them for quite a long time; they nabbed the #5 spot in a reader’s poll here at TGTF at the end of 2013. Last year, they released their long-awaited debut album ‘The Loved Ones’, the culmination of years of hard graft. Performing songs from it live in Austin must have tasted so sweet.

Flyte Friday 2 at SXSW 2018

The group from London sounded decidedly different from the acts before them, with a Beatles-esque indie rock edge. While I thought it was unnecessary for them to do a cover (Alvvays’ ‘Marry Me, Archie’), Americans next to me swayed their head to Flyte’s version, stoked in their unexpected selection. Unexpectedly, I found myself at the bar and next to an unlikely fan, or so I thought: folk pop singer/songwriter Lucy Rose stood spellbound watching them play, only stopping to occasionally note to her drinking companion how great Flyte were. Couldn’t have had a nice endorsement, eh?

Dance funk purveyors Le Galaxie were the perfect choice to close out the Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s. Led by well-bearded frontman Michael Pope and performing with ex-Fight Like Apes MayKay on occasional vocals, they turned the Irish pub in the late afternoon into an enthralling disco, the thumping of their catchiest tunes reverberating in every molecule in the place.

Le Galaxie Friday at SXSW 2018

I last saw them in the basement of Audio in Brighton (now Patterns) at The Great Escape 2015. Times may have changed but some things stay the same, and thankfully, Le Galaxie is in the latter. It may not have been 5 o’clock yet in Austin, but it was 5 o’clock somewhere, and punters had no problem shaking a tail feather to their songs.

 

SXSW 2017: Saturday night’s fond farewell to SXSW at the British Music Embassy – 18th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 24th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

In contrast to the rest of the hectic week, the Saturday night of SXSW 2017 was a fairly relaxed one, at least for my weary feet. According to my smartwatch, I had logged over 87,000 steps and almost 45 miles of walking distance over the course of the week, and I was happy to be staying in one place for the evening. Even happier because that place happened to be the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, which hosted the BBC Music / UK Department of International Trade showcase. Mary’s additional thoughts on this showcase are back here.

Anna Meredith internal

The first performer of Saturday night was Scottish art-pop composer Anna Meredith. She and her rather unusual band (comprising cello, electric guitar, tuba and drums along with Meredith herself on synthesiser, clarinet, xylophone and vocals) made a truly joyful noise on stage, starting the showcase on an incredible high. Meredith has carved herself a unique niche on the classicial-popular music continuum in Britain, and the presence of NPR’s Bob Boilen at Latitude 30 on the night may well indicate that Meredith’s star is on the rise here in America as well. NPR recently featured ‘Dowager’, from Meredith’s 2016 debut LP ‘Varmints’, on All Songs TV.

Alice Jemima internal

Singer/songwriter Alice Jemima created a very different mood in her set, one with significantly fewer bells and whistles. Jemima’s stage presence was reserved, but in a flirty kind of way, and the same could be said of her songs. They catch your attention in a subtle way, with clever lyrics, trippy electro-dance rhythms and Jemima’s softly soothing voice. ‘Cocoa Liquor’, from her recent self-titled debut album, was one of the standout tracks on her set; you can find out more about the song in my post-performance interview with Jemima.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/Xp0Dnsgocf0[/youtube]

Aquilo internal

While I was outside chatting with Ms. Jemima, Lancashire pop duo Aquilo were taking the stage inside Latitude 30. By the time our short interview was complete, the venue had filled to capacity, and we had some difficulty getting back inside. We arrived back to find that Aquilo’s soulful pop sound, defined by Tom Higham’s falsetto vocals and Ben Fletcher’s deft keyboard playing, had quickly set the entire room swooning and swaying.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/Rh__vTd7CoY[/youtube]

SuperGlu

I’m not a big fan of so-called slacker rock, but Manningtree four-piece SuperGlu brought an unexpected and infectious energy to the genre in their live set Saturday evening at the British Music Embassy. Bold, colorful, and never too serious, this band is just flat out fun to watch. Take a listen to their anything-but-sleepy latest track ‘Dreams’ just below.

Sundara Karma Oscar internal

The midnight slot on the Saturday night showcase was occupied by Reading alt-rockers Sundara Karma. Frontman Oscar “Lulu” Pollock gave us a bit more banter between songs on this night than he had at Stubb’s the night before, and the injection of character was quite welcome. He’s a curious persona, is Lulu, elusive in some ways but nevertheless engaging. His three bandmates didn’t do much speaking, but it quickly became clear that they didn’t need to. Their slick, seemingly effortless playing style is almost unintentionally flashy, yet visually and sonically mesmerizing. [Check out Carrie’s interview with Pollock and drummer Haydn Evans in Austin through here. – Ed.]

[youtube]https://youtu.be/zaevPi1nEFA[/youtube]

LIFE internal

BBC 6 Music presenter Steve Lamacq did his final duty for the evening, introducing the last band on the bill, Hull punk rockers LIFE. He was clearly excited to see them play, even rubbing his hands together in delight at one point after he stepped offstage and before he joined in the moshing. Once the band started, it was easy to understand Lamacq’s eagerness. This band is unapologetic, unalloyed punk, with none of the qualifiers (folk punk, post-punk) we so often see in this genre-bending era. Lead vocalist Mez Green really played up that rebel quality for the gathering of cameras at the front of the stage, but it felt authentic to their in-your-face, devil-may-care sound. The photo above was taken just before Green descended from the stage and mounted the bar, prowling its length like a predatory cat and sending his audience into a fit of wild, ecstatic dancing to close out the final night at the British Music Embassy.

Though Mary and I left Latitude 30 on a euphoric high, chatting and laughing about the great bands we’d heard, I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of sadness at leaving it all behind for another year. The British Music Embassy has played host to some of the best up-and-coming artists and certainly some the most exciting showcases in my SXSW experience; this year was no exception. So, rather than goodbye, I said a silent “au revoir” to the venue, to the people inside, to the artists who graced the stage, and to SXSW for another year.

 

SXSW 2017: Tuesday night at the British Music Embassy and Blackheart – 14th March 2017

 
By on Thursday, 6th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

I started my SXSW 2017 Tuesday evening at Latitude 30 for the BBC Radio 1 / PPL and PRS for Music showcase, emceed by BBC radio presenter Huw Stephens. Stephens himself curated the acts on the night’s British Music Embassy showcase, and he couldn’t have chosen a better act to open the showcase than London art rock trio Dream Wife (pictured in the header photo above) Their music is in-your-face and unapologetically feminine, with songs like ‘Somebody’ and ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ driven by an unrestrained defiance of male-centered societal norms and a bold rebellious streak. In the ever-growing mix of desperate-to-be-taken-seriously female rock bands, Dream Wife doesn’t need to beg for your attention; their combination of raw talent and focused intent simply leaves no room for other alternatives.

SWEAT internal

Sensual dance-rock band SWEAT followed Dream Wife, and they were a somewhat easier listen, in the sense that their hypnotic sensuality didn’t require a lot of thought to invoke swaying hips and waving hands. Their sound was no less intense, but more immediately visceral, bypassing the brain and going for a straight physical response. Lead singer Dante Traynor combined smooth, sexy vocals and serpentine dance moves that could barely be contained on the small Latitude 30 stage.

Lets Eat Grandma internal

The mood changed considerably with the next act, experimental pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma. They were heavily hyped coming into the evening’s set, and Stephens himself was excited to introduce them to the British Music Embassy crowd. Their eclectic mix of vocal harmony, widely varied folk instrumentation, and electronic backbeats is an interesting one on paper, and it should have been a winner in live performance. But following on brilliantly flashy acts like Dream Wife and SWEAT is difficult in the best circumstances, and Let’s Eat Grandma’s more cerebral style ultimately fell a bit flat. Still, they’re one to keep an eye on if your tastes lean toward the more introverted side.

In the Valley Below internal

I took the shift in momentum as my cue to exit the British Music Embassy and head down to Rainey Street’s Blackheart for American duo In the Valley Below. The Blackheart stage perhaps wasn’t ideal for the pair’s atmospheric rock sound to begin with, and technical problems led to their set being significantly delayed. Co-lead singer Angela Gail was clearly rattled by having to cut the setlist short, and she promised a better set at the band’s next gig. But for my money, her vocal interplay with Jeffrey Jacob and the duo’s anthemic rock dynamic were a hit despite the truncated show.

Big Jesus internal

I might not have gone out of my way to hear Atlanta rock band Big Jesus, but they were next on the Blackheart stage, and they rocked the venue to its fullest advantage. Their testosterone-fueled rock, light on lyrical content and heavy on gritty guitar riffs, appealed particularly to the men in the crowd, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it at least a little bit myself.

Odetta Hartman internal

The final artist on my agenda for the evening (or early morning, as it was by this point well past midnight) was eclectic “cowboy soul” singer Odetta Hartmann. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to classify her music into a genre. There is a definite folk element, on one hand, with the violin and banjo taking center stage. On the other hand, there is an electronic component that is vaguely similar to acts like Sylvan Esso, but without the sensual dance groove. And Hartmann’s wild vocals defy easy description as well, running the full gamut from yodeling to growling. Maybe it’s best if I let you have a listen for yourselves.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/hXYw5iJKMVo[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: living it up at the British Music Embassy, and Mary’s goodbye to Austin (Saturday night, part 2) – 18th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

It’s the “best American champion of British music” part of Mary Chang that always pulls me back to the British Music Embassy at the end of every night during SXSW. But then Saturday evening comes, and the final visit to Latitude 30 turns bittersweet. It’s where my friends from Britain – the new ones made here, and the old stalwarts I’ve known for years – and I say our final goodbyes. We order our last drinks in Austin and share our last tearful hugs and the wish that we’ll meet again next year in the same exact place or hopefully sooner, and with loads more success under our belts too.

No-one ever says it out loud, but it is understood that some bands will leave Austin with new business deals, the luckiest signing to labels. Others will go on to similar deals after they get back home, off the back of having showcased at the biggest music festival in the world. And yet others will either stay at the level they’ve already achieved in their home country or region, or otherwise fade into obscurity altogether, never to be heard from again. I say this not with cynicism about the industry, but with the egregious disappointment I feel when a band I’m crazy about doesn’t achieve the heights I thought they would reach. It has become my personal challenge to do as much as I can with what gift I have been given: the written word to tell the stories of music and the people behind it. Some people might say I take SXSW way too seriously, but for these bands, these musicians, these singers, this is their life. And I feel incredibly honoured to be taking part in their stories.

Having gotten my Scandi pop fix satisfied, my intention was to join Carrie at the British Music Embassy so we could enjoy the rest of the bands on the UK Department of International Trade showcase together. This was the first year that I can recall Latitude 30 letting people who didn’t have a wristband or badge pay a cover charge to get access to the venue. As a result, there were three queues outside the venue: one for badges, one for wristbands and one for those who paid the cover.

I get that the people who paid the cover really wanted to get in, and rightly so: the British Music Embassy is rammed every year on Saturday night, and it’s always a stellar line-up. It’s to the credit of the bookers that the bill on the last night is always amazing, but it’s definitely a victim of its own success. Two years ago at midnight on Saturday, I was stuck outside in the queue with Huw Stephens and Kate Tempest and her entourage, and eventually Huw gave up and left. So how fair is it to charge people in an additional queue when you have no idea whether they’ll even get into the venue? To add even more incredulity to the situation, Carrie had interviewed showcasing artist Alice Jemima outside the venue after her set. Alice wanted to do the right thing and go back in through the front door, and staff wouldn’t let either of them through. Hey, you guys did see her onstage earlier, right? Sorry, rant over.

I eventually got in and rejoined Carrie inside for her first taste of Aquilo live. Along with two others of the four remaining bands left on the evening’s showcase, I had seen them earlier in the week, so I’ll keep my comments here brief. In Aquilo’s case, the two shows I’d seen them at previously – the KCRW showcase at Elysium Wednesday night and the Get Buzzzed showcase at the Brew Exchange midday Friday – eased them into their much higher profile appearance at the British Music Embassy. For the bands who are chosen to perform there Saturday night, it’s practically the biggest coup ever. It would be completely understandable for nerves to show.

Tom Higman of Aquilo, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

However, whether it had to do with the length of time Tom Higman and Ben Fletcher have been in bands separately or together in Aquilo or not, onstage they were the model of aplomb, winning over a new crowd with their brand of emotional, soulful pop tailor made for mainstream radio. I couldn’t have been prouder of them. You can practically hear their future fans screaming and squealing.

I was keen on finding out what Carrie thought of SuperGlu, who had already wowed audiences in Austin twice, Monday night at the DIY / Ticketweb showcase here, followed by Tuesday night at the Killing Moon / ReverbNation showcase at Scratchouse. As I expected, their carefree, fun rock songs that were more pop than slacker were just the ticket for the last few hours left to punters at SXSW 2017.

SiriusXM favourites Sundara Karma took over on stage next. Carrie knows more about them than I do, having reviewed their debut for RCA / Chess Club, ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’, when it was released back in January. Young musicians who write and perform pop music often get a bad rap about being lightweights and sellouts. While for sure there are many manufactured pop bands and singers, or at least a lot acts whose label pays off some hitmaker to write a bunch of songs, the Reading group are an exception to the rule.

Oscar Pollock of Sundara Karma, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

As enjoyable as single ‘She Said’ is, a closer examination of the lyrics shows that singer Oscar Pollock and his band have thought about what it means to be young on a philosophical level. Certainly more than any other 20-year olds you know. This is exactly the kind of band we need to nurture and support going forward to keep not only music alive, but to inspire the next generations of musicians that it’s possible to be thoughtful in your artistry and make a statement, while still becoming a success.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRORIKvOR4Y[/youtube]

Steve Lamacq, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

The “Special Guest”, to be introduced by none other than Steve Lamacq to close out the evening, was not a well-kept secret. For sure, LIFE were my favourite closing act of the last 6 years that I’ve been going out to SXSW, which says a lot. It also seems almost too appropriate that LIFE were chosen for this coveted spot, as now more than ever is the existence of each and every one of us and the things we love are being threatened. As the world grows more me-centric and selfish, those without will fall through the cracks, but who will speak for them? As their Bandcamp biography reads, this is a band who make “Irresistible dark pop that holds a dirty mirror up to modern life”. No-one ever said life was easy, or perfect or pretty for that matter, right?

Mez Green of LIFE, UK Department of International Trade showcase, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

LIFE had already shown Thursday afternoon at the British Music Embassy that they weren’t afraid to pull a few punches and point a few fingers at the crooked establishment, all the while rough and ready. Frontman Mez Green dressed for the occasion in a Don’t Mess With Texas t-shirt, suggestive of what laid ahead for us. The band took it up another notch Saturday night, Green clambering on the bar to deliver his vitriolic barbs while his brother Mick Sanders jumped into the crowd with his red Stratocaster. While they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they were the final loud, sweaty, uncompromising parting blow the British Music Embassy would deliver to Austin, and I wouldn’t have wanted to end my SXSW 2017 any other way.

Now to rest up the next 6 months before the preparing for the next carnival of crazy in 2018. Good night, Austin, and all you sweet princes and princesses. See you next year!

 

SXSW 2017: Sounds Australia’s Sound Gallery II and the British Music Embassy Saturday afternoon – 18th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

By the time you reach Saturday at SXSW 2017, you’re not longer the eager, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed person who arrived in Austin just days before. You can’t remember where you put your shoes last night, you’re dragging your feet and your sunglasses are no longer a fashion staple, they’re a necessary evil to hide the exhaustion that your eyes will betray.

Saturday for me at SXSW is all about taking it easy, picking up the final few bands you haven’t seen, seeing again anyone who really wowed you and hopefully getting in brunch and a Bloody Mary (me) or mimosa (Carrie) somewhere. We shalt not speak further of the fact that by the time I made it to the British Music Embassy on this day, they had completely run out of Bloody Mary mix (?!?!?), so let’s focus on the acts, shall we?


As the opening bookend to SXSW on Tuesday in part I of it that preceded it, Sound Gallery II at B.D. Riley’s on Saturday afternoon is a civilised, chill way to ease yourself into Saturday. I arrived in the middle of a set by The Coconut Kids. The one thing that Austin lacks is a tropical atmosphere, something the Adelaide ‘world folk’ group was all too happy to provide through their music. Lest you think they’re one-dimensional, one of their lead singers Julian Ferguson brought forward a tender, slower song about the Brussels terror attacks. Rather than be a buzz kill, it was nice to see there was more to this folk band than their sunny exterior.

All Our Exes Live in Texas, Sound Gallery II, B.D. Riley's, Saturday 18 March 2017

Country and folk girl group All Our Exes Live in Texas came highly recommended by many friends from Oz and beyond. Not since the Staves at my first SXSW in 2012 have I experienced such tight, female, multi-part harmonies in Austin. They also have two new, very young fans: in the audience at B.D. Riley’s were a couple with two young children, both sporting hip-looking ear defenders that you normally don’t see anywhere except outdoor music festivals. Good on them. Speaking of ear defenders, stay tuned for Carrie’s report on the free hearing tests the both of us did in Austin. (Small spoiler: my hearing is better than Carrie’s, no doubt with my longer use of proper earplugs. Smirk.)

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcaDmeSXENQ [/youtube]

Hamish Anderson, Sound Gallery II, B.D. Riley's, Saturday 18 March 2017

Hamish Anderson is no stranger to SXSW, having come out here for the first time in 2015. After pop and folk acts, this Melbourne singer/songwriter’s approach to blues rock provided a welcome contrast to the acts that came before him. Masterful is probably the best word to describe Anderson’s guitar playing ability, something I’m sure will stand him in good stead for years to come. It is sometimes easy to forget that we wouldn’t have rock ‘n’ roll if blues had not come out of the Mississippi Delta before it. He and I talked about the debt we have to the originators in this interview I had with him on 6th Street after his blazing Sound Gallery II set.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhMi8CA8lBI[/youtube]

More so than any other afternoon, Saturday at the British Music Embassy sees more people who have not frequented the venue for the rest of the week. The weekend warriors have descended on Austin and naturally, the natives are curious to hear what our friends across the water have to show us. This afternoon was devoted to pop from Britain. In salmon-coloured crushed velvet trousers, Welsh popster Casi was ready for her second performance at Latitude 30 after an early evening appearance the night before at the BBC Introducing showcase. I previously saw the Bangor native wow the crowd at Patterns 2 years at the Gorwelion Horizons Welsh showcase at The Great Escape 2015.

Casi, British Music Embassy, Latitude 30, Saturday 18 March 2017

It’s a cliché, I know, but the girl is all grown up. Even more so than is usual for entertainers from her region of the UK, Casi is very proud of her Welsh heritage. I’m glad she’s done nothing to change her unique accent, and with the electro and r&b beats backing her, she provides a refreshing combination of new and familiar. The punters of Latitude 30 rewarded her with well-deserved cheers. Check out her performance of ‘The Beast’ at the BBC Introducing show below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgXIG__Cc8U[/youtube]

Youngr, British Music Embassy, Saturday 18 March 2017

Youngr, aka Dario Darnell and son of Kid Creole, would be the last act of the afternoon showcases at the British Music Embassy for the week. Either everyone was well sauced or his reputation must have preceded him, as the crowd went absolutely mental for him. I had to get out of there to get some air! Like a lion (have you seen his amazingly mad hair?) surveying his pride, he held court with his highly accessible blend of soul and electronics. Whether he was singing or going spare on his drum kit, he had a whale of a time at Latitude 30, and so did his audience.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2f5oDL9XTg[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: visits to St. David’s, the Velveeta Room and the British Music Embassy (Friday, part 2) – 17th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 4th April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

I want to add another rule to those I presented yesterday as part of how I saw five bands in 1 hour on my Thursday night at SXSW 2017. Rule #5: take advantage of secondary or even tertiary shows your favourite artist is playing. Knowledge is power, and any research you do into additional shows an artist is playing will help you make the most of your time in Austin. Research is not just for the purpose of avoiding schedule clashes: smaller, less prominently advertised shows, especially those off the beaten path, are likely to give you the priceless opportunities to meet your heroes and/or to see them in more intimate settings. And if you’re anything like me (short and small) and have any level of claustrophobia, this is an unsaid key to keeping your sanity during SXSW.

For a long while, the only show Berlin-based Dane Agnes Obel had scheduled at SXSW was Thursday night at Clive Bar, in the Rainey Street area of the city. Unfortunately (for me anyway), closer to the time of SXSW, it was announced Clive Bar would become the Twin Peaks Showtime venue to celebrate the reboot of the cult tv show. Further, on Thursday night the showcase would host a very special appearance by none other than FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper himself, Kyle MacLachlan. Coupled with the announcement that ‘90s boy band Hanson would be appearing at Bungalow around the corner, it didn’t make sense walking all that way and to queue up only to be disappointed.

Thankfully, Obel announced a second show at the main room at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary as part of the Communion Presents showcase, which afforded her fans like me to have a better chance of seeing her and to be able to sit down while doing so. Many did, filling the venue easily and well before she even took the stage. SXSW was just one stop in her North American tour that had already passed through the East Coast the week before. I’m still unclear why venues seem to think throwing red light on their performers is a good idea. The celebrated Obel and her truly international, all female backing band were under a sea of crimson for her entire set, so I took a rare break at shooting bands at St. David’s.

Released in autumn 2016, her third and latest album ‘Citizen of Glass’ demonstrates the imaginative Dane’s commitment to defying convention in an industry where fitting in is de rigueur. With a flurry of instruments both conventional (piano, guitar, drums) and unusual (cello, celesta, mandolin) the unique performance was beautiful, especially in the confines of such a hallowed space. ‘Stretch Your Eyes’, which I reviewed ahead of SXSW, was a masterpiece live, exceeding all my expectations.

While there are two queues for the two stages at St. David’s, the main room and Bethell Hall, I can think of only one time I’ve been in Bethell Hall in the last 6 years where the place has been packed and they weren’t letting anyone in. In that respect, it’s a placid, infrequently visited SXSW venue hidden in plain sight. Good news for me, as I was wanting to catch up on the new material from an artist who had wowed me in DC a few years ago. Stepping out of Agnes Obel’s show a little early, I was able to catch the tail-end of another set here.

Bethell Hall is less pretentious than its name suggests. It has a recreation / social room-type vibe, and therefore it has more of an everyman flavour. While it’s not like I didn’t enjoy his set at B.D. Riley’s Thursday morning at the Full Irish Breakfast, there’s something very special about seeing Ciaran Lavery performing in such of a room. Think about where many legendary singers of popular music honed their craft: that’s right, with their families and in the church.

Ciaran Lavery, St. David's Historic Sanctuary, Bethell Hall, Friday 17 March 2017

With the acoustics of the bare walls of Bethell Hall bouncing back Lavery’s gritty yet gorgeous vocals and acoustic guitar chords to us, you couldn’t have asked for a better venue to see the Northern Irishman. Deadpanning that he would warn us next time if he was to perform another set of “overly positive songs”, he had the audience not only in rapt attention but also chuckling at his dry Irish wit. Ending with an incomprehensibly rich sounding a capella version of Tom Waits’ ‘If I Have to Go’, it’s not an understatement to say Ciaran Lavery slayed the audience at Bethell Hall.

Ciaran Lavery, St. David's Historic Sanctuary, Bethell Hall, Friday 17 March 2017, 2

It fell to Oxfordshire’s Lewis Watson to follow such a great performance. The contrast was unfortunately stark, as even though I don’t think the two artists differ that much in age, lack of festival experience (or perhaps lack of practice in recent months) showed in Watson’s comparatively lacklustre set. While I am very familiar with and loved Watson’s 2014 breakthrough LP ‘the morning’, I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to his latest album released the week after SXSW, ‘midnight’. Based on his performance in Austin, I’m not sure I want to. Maybe his latest breakup knocked him harder than he’s willing to admit? The one bright spot of new material was the wispy ‘Hello Hello’, in which he asked the audience to join in.

Lewis Watson, St. David's Historic Sanctuary, Bethell Hall, Friday 17 March 2017

Watson’s nervously chuckled assurances that the new songs sounds better with his full backing band and his asking us to imagine one song or another with a thumping drum beat implies, whether he meant it or not, that these new songs cannot stand on their own in their original form in which they were written. Further, while I completely understand the prohibitive travel and visa costs involved in bringing a full band over from England to America, one wonders why Watson appeared at SXSW solo at all, when a North American tour with his band was already in the works for later in the spring. It’s also hard to overlook that he broke not one, but two strings in the middle of his set. Chalk it all up to nerves or unpreparedness, but I was sorely disappointed.

After a quick brisket and coleslaw break and a gawk at and a farewell wave to the hordes already queued up to see Rag’n’Bone Man’s show in St. David’s main room at 1 AM, I headed back down to 6th Street. It was St. Patrick’s Day, so a visit to The Velveeta Room’s Music from Ireland showcase was definitely in order. (Sadly, there was not even time for a Guinness!) I had been interviewing Hull punks LIFE at the British Music Embassy while Carrie caught the Academic at the Full Irish Breakfast Thursday afternoon. It was now my turn to catch part of a set by the band I’d been wanting to see live for a long time.

The Academic, Music from Ireland showcase, The Velveeta Room, Friday 17 March 2017

Having seen the Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room for so many years, I have to say the Velveeta Room feels like a much better venue for the bands. It also oddly reminds me of The Tivoli where MFI’s Canadian Music Week showcase was in 2016, so it has that going for it. The Academic from Mullingar were worth the wait. Full of the fun and vigour that made me fall in love with Two Door Cinema Club back in 2009, they brought an intensity and energy to the venue that only youth can. Singer/guitarist Craig Fitzgerald is an effective frontman, leading his band into every dynamic number, from single ‘Mixtape 2003’ that we reviewed last summer to their 2015 EP standout ‘Different’. Check out my very funny interview with the whole band that we did after their set through here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu8M3Cw6fuU[/youtube]

I then returned to the British Music Embassy for the BBC Introducing / PRS for Music showcase to witness Glasgow pop rockers Catholic Action have Latitude 30’s punters in the palm of their hand. They proved that being given a much bigger room that earlier at the Mohawk was no problem at all. (Stay tuned for Carrie’s report of their performance Saturday afternoon at El Sapo, which was additional evidence that outdoor Mexican-themed venues are no match for them either.) Following the Scots was another band I’d been recommended to see, though to be honest, I was expecting it to be full of shenanigans. I wasn’t wrong, and it seemed everyone who was there that Friday night to see them couldn’t talk about anyone or anything else the last day of SXSW.

Bristol punks IDLES (yes, all caps again) are probably best known to 6 Music listeners for their track ‘WELL DONE’, which hilariously name-checks not only Steve Lamacq but also ex-Great British Bakeoff octagenarian Mary Berry having a job and enjoying reggae. People are angry with what’s going on in Britain and in a similar vein to what LIFE are doing in East Yorkshire, IDLES are the South West equivalent in providing the opening of a pressure valve. In Red Hot Chili Peppers-style, guitarist Mark Bowen seems to enjoy performing in nothing but his underpants, which if you’re a photographer is not for the faint of heart.

IDLES, British Music Embassy, BBC Introducing / PRS for Music showcase, Latitude 30, Friday 17 March 2017

I get that it’s part of their anarchic style that continues into their debut album ‘BRUTALISM’ out now, but it’s distracting (I think negatively) from the messages Joe Talbot wants to send in his lyrics. Their live performance is everything you would expect: a ruckus onstage, leading to equally crazy scenes down on the floor. IDLES did everything they set out to do: create havoc.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Oxqf_15k0w[/youtube]

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it.

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