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SXSW 2014: last dance at British Music Embassy – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 3rd April 2014 at 3:00 pm
 

By the final Saturday of SXSW 2014, my addled brain was full to capacity with new music, new faces, and new experiences. Mary and I got 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 free-for-all featuring London, Tokyo and Glasgow bands, and Mary’s busy interview schedule), in no small part due to the rainy weather we woke up to. Mary had scheduled a quick stop at Holy Mountain (read the start of her Saturday review here), but I wasn’t officially covering any of Saturday’s events, so I was able to sneak in a leisurely cup of coffee before I headed to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. (Where else would we have ended up?)

Frankly, after Friday’s whirlwind of music and interviews, I was ready to let loose and dance. Happily, the lineup at Latitude 30 seemed tailor-made to accommodate me. The afternoon started off slowly with Welsh singer/songwriter Sweet Baboo, but the energy level was quickly ratcheted up by Scottish rockers Meursault, Oxford groove factory Glass Animals, Sheffield’s latest and greatest, The Crookes, Brighton-based Kins, and London jazz/funk/pop band Melt Yourself Down. Mary has already covered the acts we saw in detail here, so I will just add that I did indeed fall in love with the edgy rock of Meursault and that my second time seeing Glass Animals was every bit as steamy as the first.

By the time the fourth act, The Crookes, came on stage, I was on my fourth gin and tonic. At some point in the set, I believe I may have had a mildly embarrassing exchange with lead singer George Waite about the errant button on his shirt. I can only hope that everyone else’s memories of that are as cloudy as my own. Luckily for me, I was able to disguise my blushing with one last feverish dance to ‘Afterglow’.

Drinks at British Music Embassy, SXSW 2014

We did actually end up stretching our SXSW Saturday for just a few hours more with sushi and acts at the Hype Hotel (read Mary’s thoughts on the night here), but in my heart, that last dance at Latitude 30 was the perfect wrap up to a perfect week. I had a fabulous time, and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about it, though I did learn a few lessons that might prove useful for next time.  And yes, Mary and I are already scheming and planning for next year!

On that note, and in closing, I have to thank Mary for bringing me along with her on this year’s SXSW adventure. I had a 12-hour road trip home from Austin, and I spent all of it listening to music I’d picked up along the way, mentally revisiting the faces and places I’d seen. Despite the lengthy trip, it was an incredible week in so many ways, and I look forward to giving it another go in 2015.

Mary and Carrie, 15 March, SXSW 2014

Au revoir, Austin!

 

SXSW 2014: a short stay at the Hype Hotel before bidding this year’s festival adieu – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 3:00 pm
 

After we left Latitude 30, I decided we needed a real meal before we went home for the week. (Come off it, people, that veggie burger that everyone was complaining about there was delicious! But it was probably because I was hungry, and you know how everything tastes 1,000x better when you’re hungry?) I’ve been a regular at Piranha Sushi just down the street from the venue every year I’ve come out for SXSW, so it made sense to get some good food and drink from there before we said goodbye to SXSW 2014.

Carrie ordered the one with the strawberries on top, which I have to say looked pretty good but it just wasn’t my thing. (If anyone fancies seeing what I ate while in Austin, I’ve got a whole slew of photos I can share. My love for music is the only thing that trumps my love for food and cooking. You can blame my Chinese upbringing.) Our waiter Zachary was ubercool and was so nice to us, even though we were a little tipsy from our time at the British Music Embassy earlier. Seriously though, it was Saturday afternoon, and how could I not indulge in multiples of my namesake drink, the Bloody Mary?

We had every intention of going home after our bellies were full. But after a fortuitous accidental run-in with more friends from the AU Review and the reappearance of our Canadian friend Jordy, who insisted we should join him at the Hype Hotel with the promise of the famous free drinks and free tacos, we relented. I argued with myself in my head, when else am I going to see Gary Numan? He ain’t coming to DC anytime soon! Actually, we didn’t need as much arm twisting as I make it sound. Edinburgh’s Meursault, who had rocked our world at the British Music Embassy just hours prior, were playing again right before Numan, so we could make it a two-fer.

Following minimal queueing, we got inside and I was surprised how much smaller the Hype Hotel was this year compared to previous years; the location moves every year. Last year when I saw then unknowns Kodaline and the Specials there on the Thursday night in 2013, the space seemed ridiculously cavernous and empty when I arrived, #2 in the queue to get in. To be honest, this time I was little crestfallen in the lack of overall grandeur. It also didn’t help that by the time I’d gotten the munchies and wanted a free taco, they’d closed up shop.

The first band on at the Hype Hotel Saturday night was Caught a Ghost, a project of LA songwriter and producer Jesse Nolan. His Twitter describes the music as ” vintage soul with modern electronic influences”, and I would agree wholeheartedly. Songs like ‘No Sugar in My Coffee’ show off Nolan’s soulful, jazzy tendencies, evident in the vocal stylings and the bass-y grooves. If the song sounds familiar, it’s because it was used in season 4 of Boardwalk Empire, probably for its sleazy slinkiness. As a full band, they’re pretty cool to watch and enjoy.


Next up as promised were Meursault. I was so pleased for them that by then – 9 PM – there was a sizable and highly receptive American crowd just waiting to hear then do their best (er, or worse, depending on which side of rock you’re on lingo-wise). What an exciting thing it must have been for them to play on such a massive stage and in front of so many more people who didn’t know who they were, and it was their chance to shine. I was excited for them too because the Hype Hotel was so much larger than Latitude 30 and the sound system at the E. 7th Street venue made them sound huge. Contrast that with the show Cheryl and I saw in Baltimore on Sunday night, and I think I’ve gotten the full Meursault live experience over a 9-day period. I’m a lucky girl.

Then came 10 o’clock. Time for Gary Numan. Gary Numan is not Carrie’s kind of music at all. So I give her a lot of credit for hanging in there for the first three songs before she bailed, patiently waiting outside for the set to finish and for me to come out. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to his new material; he is, of course, most famous for ‘Cars’ and ‘Are Friends Electric’, his hits of yesteryear. But what was more amazing to me was how huge the sound was from his evolution into an industrial rock god in the late ’90s, following on from his mastery of being a commercially viable electronic artist with those aforementioned hit singles, at least for a time in his early career. (I apologise for the poor quality of the below photo, but I wanted to show you just how excited I was and how grateful I was to the Hype Machine to put him on the Saturday night bill.)

The ‘Splinter’ LP, released last year, continues Numan’s commitment to uncompromising industrial, goth-y rock. ‘Love Hurt Bleed’ sounds more Nine Inch Nails than Nine Inch Nails does, if that makes any sense. But in the same set, ‘Cars’, despite all its layers making it sound so much more complicated than in its original form, easily proved why the song has endured in the collective hearts and minds of us synth heads. It’s just that good, as is Numan. At age 56, the man is still wearing eyeliner, has a shock of punky hair on his head, can rock out on a guitar like nobody’s business and wail on the microphone too.

For me, it had been an extremely emotional week, meeting up and spending time with the dear people in my life I don’t often see, while also finally meeting others who I had known for a while online but this being the first time I got to meet them in person. Saturday night was the culmination of a marathon I and all of us at TGTF had been running since the first band announcement was made in November, and now it was over. So this was the show where I truly let my hair down, allowing it to fly as I just gave myself over to the music.

I had been sad for the needless deaths of innocent music fans at the Mohawk Wednesday night, and I had been sad because I received signs over the weeks before arriving and while I was in Austin that certain things in my life had reached an end. But after several important conversations on Saturday, I became optimistic that my music career had only just begun, like the feeling you get when you open a brand new book for the first time and you run your fingers down the first page, anxiously awaiting for what is yet to come. I’m a little scared but also raring to go into this next phase of my life. Gary Numan looked over at me a couple times and smiled; I doubt he realised he was witnessing a transformation.

I gave Jordy a final hug and when I finally emerged into the night to meet up with Carrie, I found her grinning from ear to ear as we were leaving. She said we definitely had to do this again next year. Shall we? I think yes. Until then…goodnight, dear Austin.

 

SXSW 2014: a flying visit to a New Zealand festival and doing a re-make/re-model at the British Music Embassy – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

When we woke up on Saturday, we were greeted by rain. Not just rain. Very heavy rain. So heavy initially that I considered going back to bed. But it was our last day in Austin and I intended to make the most of it. While it was a wee dreary walking around with an umbrella after so many days of carefree strolls in the Texan sunshine, when life hands you lemons, you have to make lemonade, am I right?

Carrie went to find coffee (if you’re reading all our posts, are you sensing a theme here?) and was to meet me later, having a leisurely early afternoon, while I went off in search of the London act I didn’t think I’d be able to see all week but somehow the organisational gods smiled down on me and suddenly I found I could. St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is an annual music event in Auckland, New Zealand, and at this year’s SXSW, they hosted an afternoon showcase covering both stages of Holy Mountain out on 7th Street.

I arrived too early for who I was there for, so I walked between the stages to see if my ears perked up to anything I heard. In the backyard stage when I arrived were Brisbane rockers The Creases, who have that Beach Boys-ey, Best Coast-esque sunny surf pop sound nailed down all right. Not my thing at all but certainly enjoyable enough under a tent that was keeping us dry from the elements. Far more impressive to me was the guitar singer Jarrod Mahon was playing, in a shape that defies description. Maybe ‘The Preposterous Pentagon’?

After the Creases finished, I almost got impaled by one of Bo Ningen‘s guitars (that would have been awful) and quickly went back to the indoor stage to find a very tattooed, not at all huggable one man band Kirin J. Callinan, who according to this FasterLouder article was one of the big Aussie success stories of SXSW 2014. There was nothing about his performance that screamed ‘trailblazer’ to me, but I suppose for you ladies (and certain men) who enjoy a shirtless man with tattoos performing on a guitar and screaming into a microphone, you should probably get on this bandwagon ASAP.

By this time, you’re probably wondering what the heck I was doing at Holy Mountain in the first place. I’m glad you asked! Tourist, aka London musician and producer Will Phillips, was due on shortly after 1 PM. I actually saw him skulking around outside the venue beforehand. It must be really hard to psych yourself for an afternoon of DJaying when you really want to be playing your music in a dark club late at night, but Phelps took it in stride, even taking a joyful stab at the weather:

I’m not sure how best to describe the Tourist set to you. It was way too short – it seemed like less than 20 minutes – and Phillips doesn’t sing, so when you’re watching him perform, it’s him attacking a wide array of synthesisers, sequencers and other electronic gizmos, while he’s bopping his body around, clearly caught up in the music. Dance without words is hard to explain to other people, because you have to *be* there experiencing to really ‘get’ it, to have the music pulsing through your veins.

“I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go”
-‘Re-make / Re-model’, Roxy Music

Carrie and I had decided the night before that we were going finish up at the afternoon session of the British Music Embassy, where I had made plans to meet Steve Lamacq and have a meeting of the minds there (about bands of course). The very funny thing about Latitude 30 is that no matter who you know or have met during the week and is/are British, inevitably you will run into him/her/them at the venue at some point, because it’s like Latitude 30 has a beacon only Brits can hear and they are drawn in, usually multiple times during the week, to the place.

For me, going back to the British Music Embassy would bookend a mental week of seeing bands old and new as well as seeing old friends while making new ones. I didn’t want to miss the chance of saying goodbye and best wishes to any of my friends before I left Austin. We arrived in time to order a round of drinks (it was our last day, after all) and get positioned for Meursault, a trio from Edinburgh.

I had heard of Meursault and maybe two songs of theirs, so going into their performance pretty much uneducated about them, I was surprised when I was faced by their fabulous aural assault on our ears, led by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Scotsman be witty with his banter between songs in which where he’s practically ripping your ears off with a scream of emotion. This kind of harder rock is more John’s domain, but Meursault’s two performances on Saturday came to be defining moments of my SXSW 2014: Carrie and I were so impressed with their set, we changed our plans entirely to have an early night and swung by the Hype Hotel that night to see them again for the second time in 7 hours. I still don’t understand how another blogger could have confused their sound and called it alt-folk. That one definitely needs his (her?) ears checked. Emotionally raw vocals, raucous guitar, accompanying bass to feed the raucous sound, and driving rhythm on drums? Meursault ticks off all the boxes.

Carrie had seen Glass Animals on Tuesday at the Haven for the Harvest Records showcase Tuesday night, but I hadn’t up to that point. On paper, Glass Animals’ formula of pop and r&b with synths seemed to be right up my alley, while entirely not Carrie’s bag at all. Sadly though, I wasn’t impressed with them live. As Carrie was busy getting pregnant to ‘Black Mambo’ and ‘Gooey’, I had to wonder if my countless hours of listening to exemplary electronic music had jaded me, because their set was very much to me a “I’ve already heard that before, nothing new to see here” kind of disappointment.

Thankfully, I had the next band to look forward to, and look forward I did, as singer George Waite tuned up his bass. The Crookes, whose shows either in the UK or here in America I’ve covered on TGTF, were about to restore my sanity. It’s quite funny being in Austin with other American Crookes fans, of which there weren’t that many for SXSW 2013. However, word had clearly spread about the Sheffield band, as Latitude 30 was rammed for their 3:50 PM set.

As they played, the front section of friends new and old turned into one of the most fun dance parties I’d had in a long time, as we kicked up our heels to the infinitely rough on the edges single ‘Play Dumb’ and the driving ‘Before the Night Falls’, both of which figure on the band’s third album ‘Soapbox’ out in April on Fierce Panda. (My review of the album can be read here; it’s fantastic.) This display of unfettered dancing did not go unnoticed by Steve Lamacq, who commented on one of his first 6music programmes after returning from Austin that he felt it quite heartwarming that there were so many of us who were singing along to the Crookes because we knew all the words to ‘Afterglow’. We don’t dance alone, indeed.

“The night is still young, but the story’s so old.” The first part was most definitely true at 5 in the afternoon, but as you will read soon, my SXSW story wasn’t over just yet…

 

Live Review: Meursault with Sick Lion at the Crown, Baltimore, MD – 24th March 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

While Baltimore is not that far away, it is a hike from DC, so I personally don’t get out there as often I probably should. However, this past Sunday was a very special occasion and related to the week Carrie and I spent out in Austin for this year’s SXSW. We haven’t gotten to our Saturday SXSW coverage yet (hopefully it’ll be all online later this week), but a band that impressed us so much that we ended up seeing them twice in 7 hours was Edinburgh band Meursault, fronted by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. Myself and Cheryl, who I knew would love them upon first listen, headed north to see the band play in Baltimore, as the previous night’s show in Washington had been cancelled. It’s like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures… Joining Pennycook at SXSW and on a tour of America via RV are Rob St. John on bass and Sam Mallalieu on drums.

I celebrated my 5 years in music writing while we were in Austin, and I have been contemplating quite a bit about how my musical tastes have changed since 2009. I like to think that since starting my music as a professional venture, I have broadened my horizons significantly when it comes to sounds and voices I like, though I sincerely wonder if I would have liked Meursault if they had appeared at my first SXSW in 2012. Probably not. However, this year as we stood spellbound watching them play stood down the front at the British Music Embassy, there is no question that in Mary Chang’s life, there is certainly room for headbanging. While I think both Cheryl and I assumed the Crown on North Charles Street would be a dive bar, we were surprised by the impressive array of libations on tap (they had cider on tap, which is rare to find in DC) and the menu from which we could order from even at 10 at night. Take that, Washington. Crispin’s for $6? We may have just found our new favourite bar.

The opening act was local to Baltimore solo artist Lucas Rambo, playing under the moniker Sick Lion. The gig promoter explained to me that Rambo is in another band, American Folklore, but his work with Sick Lion is “more soundscape-y”. Definitely on the experimental side of things, Rambo wore a large straw hat and a navy blue trenchcoat-cum-housecoat, but you couldn’t really see him because he was squatting down behind one of the monitors on the stage. I’m not sure if he did this because he’s shy or if in that position, he felt his voice sounded better.

From what we could see from our vantage point, Rambo had a fairly swish sequencer at his disposal, and was intoning gloom into his microphone. A visit to his Bandcamp does show you even he himself describes his music as ‘spooky’, so make of that what you will, in addition to a video of burning Mexican prayer candles projected on the screen behind him. Unfortunately, he was a little too out there experimentally for us to appreciate, I think.

After watching and thoroughly enjoying two sets by Meursault in Austin, I recognised the guitars on stage when we arrived at the Crown and started to get a little giddy. Oddly, the woman taking covers at the door asked *me* if I knew what was happening there that night. I was happy to help – I explained to her that a kick arse band from Edinburgh were to play there that night – but being asked that by staff there was a little strange to say the least! That began my night on a funny note. And the humour kept coming, thanks first to a projection of the ’80s film Blue Velvet superimposed on top of the band as they played, then on to Pennycook.

The man is clearly witty, and I don’t know if it’s a Scottish thing, but I was bowled over by the friendships I made – and continued – with Scots at this SXSW that I am confident that the Scots are a very charming people. Pennycook made everyone at the Crown laugh by asking open questions like, “is there anyone here who has never seen a Scottish person before?” He even solicited questions from the audience, with one punter biting, asking him, “what does Scott Hutchison smell like?”, to which he answered, “vanilla.” The punter was won over, saying, “I was just testing you.” Laughter all around.

But we were there for the music, right? Pennycook is also clearly someone who gives his songwriting an awful lot of thought. Sunday night’s rockier version of ‘William Henry Miller’ was inspired by a rockier cover by fellow Scots PAWS of the Meursault original, which was intended to be played on banjo. Got all that? Also, there’s this rumour that William Henry Miller, an actual Scottish politician, was a hermaphrodite and the legend has it that he wanted to be buried face down so he could watch the sinners down in hell. Or so sayeth Pennycook. Either way, it makes for an intriguing premise for a song, and I think we all agree that for a rock show, we’d rather hear the punked out version, yeah?

The set ended with the age old question in a song title ‘Was ist das?’, which is about as good as any song to dispel this horrible rumour having been spread round by someone reviewing this year’s SXSW that Meursault are an alt-folk band. Yes, so what if Pennycook knows how to play a banjo? Alt-folk bands don’t jump down from the stage and wail on their guitars, ok? Alt-folk bands also do not have a lead singer whose emotion you can feel in his visceral roars into the microphone and incites headbanging and hair flying. Listen to Meursault, and you will hear the difference. And maybe they’ll change your life.

 
 
 

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.

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