Looking for previews and reviews of SXSW 2019? Right this way.

SXSW 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2018 | 2015 | 2013 | 2012

Don't forget to like There Goes the Fear on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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: Tuesday morning and afternoon spent with Irish artists and an exceptional English band – 14th March 2017

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

The Tuesday morning of SXSW 2017 found me out the door early, headed across the Colorado River to the Hyatt Regency Boat Dock, which the launching point for the Output Belfast Boat Party. The Boat Party, a collaborative event among several agencies including Generator NI and the Belfast City Council, is quickly becoming a Convergence tradition at SXSW, popular among attendees from across the Interactive, Film, and Music categories.

I was lucky to get onboard, as the boat quickly reached capacity. I had only just made my way to the upper deck when I was approached by one of the morning’s performers, electronic musician Ryan Vail. I recognised him from his press photos and felt a momentary panic, worried that I would be expected to say something intelligent about electronic music and drawing a complete blank. Fortunately, Vail was knowledgeable enough for both of us, and he kept the conversation afloat until the official festivities began.

Guy internal

The morning’s distinguished emcees included our friends Mark Gordon of Generator NI and Belfast city Alderman Guy Spence (pictured above), as well as Help Musicians UK CEO Richard Robinson. All three were cordial but brief in their remarks, wanting, like the rest of us, to get straight to the music performances. Vail took the stage, such as it was, first. Balancing his sensitive electronic equipment on the gently rocking riverboat was something of a challenge, but Vail managed it beautifully, setting a soft and mellow sonic atmosphere for the rest of the show.

Ryan Vail internal

Alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (pictured in header above) returned to Austin this year after a successful debut at SXSW 2016, this time with her full band accompanying her. For this brief semi-acoustic riverboat set, she was joined only by keyboard player, Hannah McConnell who also provided lovely backing vocals. I found myself whistling along to the now familiar ‘Goji Berry Sunset’ and hanging intently on the literary-leaning lyrics of ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’. You can check out another SXSW 2017 performance of both tracks, courtesy of NPR, right here.

Ciaran Lavery internal

Final performer Ciaran Lavery opened with an a capella take on ‘Let Bad In’ that had me in tears before he had even completed the full song, which made it a bit difficult to take photos. He acknowledged that his songs aren’t exactly upbeat “dance numbers”, but his richly-textured vocals and stark acoustic arrangements felt pleasantly warm and inviting in the early afternoon Texas sunshine.

After the boat party was complete, I took a few minutes to sit down with the three featured artists for this impromptu interview, then I headed quickly back downtown for another interview with a band from the Republic of Ireland, Dublin’s Picture This. I was few minutes late to reach them, but fortunately they were gracious enough to wait, and band members Jimmy Rainsford and Ryan Hennessy gave this fascinating introductory soundbite. They exuded confidence and swagger, which immediately struck me as unusual, but in a positive way, very different from the self-deprecating humility of so many artists I meet. I wouldn’t have the chance to hear Picture This play live until the Thursday afternoon of SXSW, but needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.

From there, it was back to the Radisson for me, where I had arranged an interview with Reading quartet Sundara Karma. They were fresh on the SXSW scene, having only arrived in Austin hours before, but they were chomping at the bit to immerse themselves in the experience. In contrast to Picture This, Sundara Karma seemed genuinely unaffected by the hype surrounding their SXSW appearance. Click here to listen back to my poolside chat with band members Oscar Pollock and Haydn Evans.

AS Fanning internal wide

Interviews complete for the afternoon, my next stop was at the Convention Center Next Stage, where I met Mary to catch Irish singer/songwriter A.S. Fanning. Later in the week, (in this interview) Fanning would describe the Convention Center vibe as more like a lecture hall than a proper gig, and I have to agree with his sentiment. The large stage and open seating area was almost too spacious for Fanning’s dark, intimate songwriting, but his captivating lyrics and resonant baritone vocals very quickly minimised the emotional distance between himself and his audience.

AS Fanning internal tall

Keep following TGTF’s continuing coverage of SXSW 2017 in the coming days for more on all of the excellent artists featured here: Ryan Vail on the grand piano at St. David’s Bethell Hall, A.S. Fanning and Picture This at Thursday’s Full Irish Breakfast, Ciaran Lavery at the Output Belfast day show, Sundara Karma at Stubb’s BBQ, and Jealous of the Birds on Saturday’s Music for Listeners showcase at El Sapo.

 

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: Germans and Swedes at Swan Dive, and an Italian and Norwegians at the Sidewinder (Saturday night, part 1) – 18th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Remember what I said in my Saturday afternoon review about relaxing and picking up bands you missed at SXSW? Sounds like conflicting advice. After you’ve done this festival for a few years, you actually get a weird sense of calm coming over you on the last night. You’ve got this, and you know you’re going to have an amazing time tonight. Your feelings are also tempered by the fact that tomorrow, you’re go home and back, begrudgingly, to Real Life. So you might as well make the most of it, yeah?

Before I went out to the Latitude 30 for the final time at SXSW 2017, I had a few more bands to experience. I had never spent much time in Swan Dive during past SXSWs, but I can say from this year’s times I really enjoyed both the indoor and patio venues. The staff there were always super nice and eager to get us scanned and into the venue as soon as possible. Was it because the venues are on the smaller side and they weren’t hosting the most hyped bands? Most probably.

Still, even though I might not have made this obvious in my mad dash through 70+ bands in my reviews, you can’t and shouldn’t discount the human element in making (or breaking) your time in Austin. While some of the volunteers at the convention center could have used a lot more training (there’s a problem when I know more about the building and what sessions are going on than you do), you must remember that we are guests in this city in the Lone Star State and for a week, they have been our gracious hosts. Every act of kindness, for every smile, for every attempt to keep us safe, all of it: we should be appreciative of everyone’s hard work, time and energy in pulling this thing off.

Gurr, Swan Dive, Saturday 18 March 2017

This is what I was thinking when I was watching Berlin girl band GURR (say it with me) play to a packed Swan Dive to start my evening. Happy, peppy pop with the occasional wail of garage rock. Are they sweet or a little bit devilish? That’s the kind of question no-one is going to think about too heavily Saturday at SXSW; all anyone cared about was dancing to the music. If you live in the UK, you’re in luck: they’re embarking on their first-ever headline tour of the Isles with Brighton’s Yonaka later this month through May. They’re also playing Live at Leeds and The Great Escape.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEyXv6gN010[/youtube]

Simian Ghost, Swan Dive Patio, Saturday 18 March 2017

Around the corner and down an alley with no queue, and that was all it took for me to witness Swedish alt-poppers Simian Ghost at the Swan Dive Patio. Compared to the much newer acts getting their first close-up in Austin, they’re relative veterans in the music world, and this showed in singer Sebastian Arnström’s relaxed manner onstage, even giving me a thumbs up as I tried to photograph him. Their syncopated new single ‘Stop Moving’ (ironic, that) is out now on Heist or Hit, and it actually sounds brasher than I remembered them. They’ve always had a light touch with their music, keeping things dreamy, echoey. Is it wrong to say they sound so…Scandinavian? A fourth album is purported to be on the way, so we’ll have to see if they plan to diverge from the wistful sound of their past.

I ducked into the Sidewinder for the first time ever, and what a cute little place. I could see how this would totally be a cool place to see a band for the first time. Both stages here were showcases being put on by The Burning Ear, whose showcases I had partaked in past years in other venues. I had arrived a little too early for who I wanted to see on the outside stage, so I thought I’d hang around for a few minutes for the act who was performing inside. Here I am, trying to snap a photo of a slight girl with long hair from the side of the stage, and it turns out I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.

GIUNGLA, Burning Ear showcase, Sidewinder inside, Saturday 18 March 2017

Without warning, GIUNGLA (aka one woman band Ema Drei from Bologna, Italy) leaps out into the crowd, and with her guitar no less. I don’t think the stage crew had any idea she would do this, as I’m the only person who can throw out her lead behind her so she can continue attacking her guitar in the middle of the room. This was the classic case of don’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve no idea how anyone could classify GIUNGLA as pop: she’s a riot grrrl and wants to wail on her guitar, and it just happens that she has a drum machine. According to The Line of Best Fit, she’s signed to London collective Some Kinda Love, so expect to hear more from her soon.

It can’t be too hard to imagine that any band out of Norway wishes to match the success of a-ha or better yet, surpass it. The last Norwegian band I thought who would go the distance, Casiokids, received a grant from those highly successful ‘Take on Me’ blokes; the last time I talked to them, they told me their collective had started to fall apart once band members were having kids. Enter Chain Wallet, the Scandinavian pop band of my dreams.

Chain Wallet, Burning Ear showcase, Sidewinder outside, Saturday 18 March 2017

Like Casiokids, they are from Bergen, the second largest city in Norway after Oslo. Yes, there are synths. Yes, there are washy guitars. And yes, Stian Iverson’s vocals perfectly match the dreamiest pop imaginable. Give in, because you’re going to get lost in these songs in the end. I recognised ‘Faded Fight’ from their set, which sounded incredible. Just 3 days after I saw them in this back garden in Austin, they were playing with Flyte at London Old Blue Last. Unbelievable. Just remember, you heard about them here first.

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

 

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.

RSS Feed   RSS Feed  

Learn More About Us