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TGTF Guide to SXSW 2018: best bets among American artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Wednesday, 28th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats by Brantley Gutierrez

As you might expect with an American music festival, SXSW is typically heavy on American showcasing artists, and SXSW 2018 won’t be any different. This year’s music festival lineup features a load of big names that you’ve probably heard before, along with a few new ones that, if they’re not familiar already, likely will become so very soon.

Our ongoing preview coverage of SXSW 2018 has already highlighted a few up-and-coming artists on the showcase schedule, including grunge rock band Bully and alt-country singer Courtney Marie Andrews. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is elusive Los Angeles alt-rock trio Lo Moon, who made mild waves with their SXSW appearance last year. I expect them to make a bigger splash this time around, on the strength of their just released self-titled LP, which includes new track ‘Wonderful Life’.

Among the major players heading to SXSW 2018 are a handful of TGTF alums who have broken through to mainstream success. We first covered songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff way back in 2011, but the course of his career dramatically changed in 2015, when he convened a new band called the Night Sweats and released their hit self-titled album. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently announced a brand new LP called ‘Tearing at the Seams’, which is due for release just before SXSW on the 9th of March and features lead track ‘You Worry Me’.

North Carolina alt-pop duo Sylvan Esso previewed songs from their 2017 album ‘What Now’ at a surprise SXSW 2016 show; their appearance this year could once again herald new music on the horizon. Austin native David Ramirez wasn’t in top form when I saw him at SXSW 2017, but he may be in better shape this year, playing songs from his beautiful recent album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, which he has toured extensively since its release. SXSW 2015 showcasing artist Natalie Prass has just announced a brand new album ‘The Future and The Past’ due out on the 1st of June; she will presumably highlight its soul-tinged single ‘Short Court Style’ on her showcases in Austin next month.

Among other past TGTF mentions on the SXSW 2018 list are Nashville singer/songwriter Liza Anne, who will release her new album ‘Fine But Dying’ on the 9th of March and Milwaukee quartet Field Report, whose new album ‘Summertime Songs’ is previewed in the stream of ‘Never Look Back’ just below. Fellow Nashville singer Tristen and Philadelphia duo Vita and the Woolf, both acts we’ve coincidentally covered in conjunction with Irish alt-rockers Bell X1, also made the showcase list for this year’s festival in Austin, along with New York’s Sunflower Bean, who showcased at SXSW 2016, and L.A. rock band Warbly Jets, who made an appearance at SXSW last year.

American artists new to TGTF include Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes fame, and Buck Meek of alt-rock band Big Thief, neither of whom we’ve seen in a solo capacity before. Satellite radio listeners here in the U.S. might already be familiar with Mt. Joy and NoMBe, who have both been featured on SiriusXM Alt-Nation, while public radio devotees will no doubt have heard Portland singer/songwriter Haley Heynderickx and New Orleans funk/soul group Tank and the Bangas on NPR.

For dedicated indie fans, a pair of duo acts, Denver’s Tennis and Baltimore’s Wye Oak have made the SXSW shout list, along with the always eccentric Okkervil River. In the heavily represented Americana category, sure winners include a trio of Nashville acts: singer/songwriter Nikki Lane, country rock trio Liz Cooper and the Stampede and veteran country/bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show.

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2018 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook or official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

 

Live Review: Bell X1 with Vita and the Woolf at Lincoln Hall, Chicago – 25th February 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 1st March 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Last weekend, I left sunny Tucson behind for a quick trip to Chicago, and I almost regretted my choice as soon as I stepped off the airplane. After a long stretch of unseasonably warm weather, the Windy City had reverted to its usual for February: cold and, well, windy. Luckily, the gig I was in town for turned out to be well worth both the travel and the winter chill. On Saturday night, downtown Chicago’s Lincoln Hall played host to Irish rock trio Bell X1, who have added a very distinct measure of warmth to their live sound on their current American tour, in support of last October’s LP release ‘Arms’.

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The opening act for the evening, Vita and the Woolf, take their moniker from the romantic affair between early 20th century authors Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. The band Vita and the Woolf are officially a duo consisting of singer and Jennifer Pague and drummer Adam Shumski, but on this particular occasion, they brought along guitarist Dane Galloway as well. With Pague doubling on keyboards, the three of them created a surprisingly full and forceful live sound. Pague’s singing has been compared to that of Florence (+ the Machine) Welch, and while Vita and the Woolf didn’t quite match that heady level of power and mysticism, the potential is certainly there. If that sound is up your street, keep an eye out for Vita and the Woolf’s debut album ‘Tunnels’ later this year.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/2Wy9NCOifjQ[/youtube]

From the moment Bell X1 first took the stage, it was clear that something different was afoot for them. Bass player Dominic Phillips was situated at the front of the stage, an unusual position for him in my experience, but an effective one as the band opened with a soft-spoken trio version of ‘Bad Skin Day’. The recorded version of this song is quite complex, but the band pared it back to its bare minimum here, and the lyrics and vocal harmonies were notably more exposed.

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The reason for Phillips’ stage positioning became more apparent as the band continued through their naturally ‘Arms’ heavy set list, joined by touring members Rory Doyle on drums and Glenn Keating on keys. The new songs have a deliberately soulful simplicity about them, and a heavy emphasis on the rhythmic groove. Phillips’ bass lines were more in the forefront of the sound, most notably in recent singles ‘The Upswing’ and ‘Out of Love’, which took on more personality in live performance than in their respective recordings. Older favourites ‘Eve, the Apple of My Eye’ and ‘Flame’ were similarly streamlined, and these refined arrangements were both interesting and surprisingly engaging.

My gig mate for the evening described her impression of the show as “like Bell X1 smoking pot”, while I dubbed the sound “r&b twice-removed”. Either way, the predominant mood for the evening was very mellow, a bit slower and more relaxed than I might have expected. This new vibe was perhaps slightly uncomfortable due to its relative novelty, but overall, it’s a good look for Bell X1, and it worked brilliantly in the favourable acoustics of Lincoln Hall. It’s also worth noting here that the overall sound in the venue was fantastic. The volume, for once, wasn’t overwhelmingly loud at the front of the stage, which greatly benefitted the sound clarity of the individual instruments and vocal lines. (Bravo to sound engineer Phil Hayes and the sound crew at Lincoln Hall.)

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They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and this show seemed to fly by quickly for everyone involved. After playing their American hit ‘The Great Defector’, frontman Paul Noonan apparently forgot that it was to be the final song in the set proper. “Oh, yeah, we’re going to play this game,” he said, acknowledging the awkwardness of leaving stage ahead of the perfunctory encore. The band didn’t keep us waiting long before they returned for a gentle version of ‘Careful What You Wish For’. This was followed by an expanded rendition of ‘The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella”, which gave Rory Doyle (who has also toured with Hozier) a perfect opportunity to show off his impressive skill and rhythmic precision on the kit. Bell X1 have found themselves a regular and dependable show closer in ‘The End is Nigh’, whose lyrical question “or will the wrong guy get the codes?” feels somehow more compelling in the present day than it did when the song was released back in 2013.

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Bell X1 will be wrapping up their American tour as this review goes to press, but if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic, keep your eyes open for possible live dates this summer. The band are currently scheduled to play the Summer Series at Trinity College in Dublin on the 8th of July, with Scottish alt-rock band Frightened Rabbit. You can look back at TGTF’s extensive past coverage of Bell X1 through here.

After the cut: Bell X1’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Continue reading Live Review: Bell X1 with Vita and the Woolf at Lincoln Hall, Chicago – 25th February 2017

 
 
 

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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 was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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