Also includes … Strokes free gig, tUnE-yArDs and things we missed while we played with the iPhone app
Odd Future play the best show of #SXSW. Songs on speakers. Stage dives. Songs on the roof. Broken noses. Calling out Pitchfork bloggers. I’ll stick it all in a piece for Monday’s Guardian G2 …
The trouble with seeing J Cole last night was that “see” was a difficult term to define. On entering Kiss And Fly we we’re faced with that ever-desirable vantage point known as “staring at the back of the drummer’s head”. Trying to glimpse anything else was going to be a challenge, as the North Carolina-raised rapper had the place packed.
It took a shortcut up some stairs, a journey around the balcony area, and then a leg up on some railings in order for me to be able to watch bits of the show through a gap near one of the pillars. Unlike even the best SXSW shows so far, nobody here was prepared to budge from their spot until they’d caught the whole set. For all we know they might have been waiting here since 9am this morning.
In contrast to the more reserved indie crowds that litter SXSW (let’s just say that the tUnE-yArDs audience at Central Presbyterian Church weren’t in quite such fine voice) it was hard not to walk away feeling re-energised. In fact, it was hard to walk away full stop – as people carried on partying after Cole had left the stage and we were left balancing on a railing, the real question raised by tonight was “How the hell are we going to get out?”
There comes a time during everyone’s SXSW trip when it all gets to be a bit too much. Your eyelids start to close, your belly rejects the 213th piece of fried chicken it’s been fed, and your brain threatens to go loco if it takes in another white 20-something in a plaid shirt discussing The King of Limbs. With this in mind, I probably wasn’t well placed when my own personal crash came – at the Pitchfork showcase surrounded by, well, you guessed it. It’s testament, then, to the music at Central Presbyterian Church that the two shows I caught became my highlights of the whole week.
Glasser - AKA LA’s Cameron Mesirow - didn’t so much stand at the altar as sway and pirouette there. On record, this music is hard to pin down, so much so that even party hosts Pitchfork struggled, settling for “tropical pop, tribal percussion, and a couple of different strains of electronic music.” Her influences span the globe, but watching her deliver the finished product with such crystal clarity is enough to shake any knackered music hack out of a chicken-induced slumber.
Another girl with a penchant for global pop is tUnE-yArDs but, again, this music - a combination of vocal loops, colliding polyrhythms, and traditional string strumming - feels like nothing but her own unique creation. Glance around the church and you can tell who hasn’t caught the Merrill Garbus live experience before; their faces are awestruck.
Garbus certainly has a charming presence on stage. “You deserve better than that,” she says at one point after the giddy combination of rhythms she’s constructed to open a song doesn’t quite sync. These tiny errors help make the show - proving that this is a human, not a machine, at work. Another mistake occurs during the intro to My Country, the opening track on forthcoming album w h o k i l l, but the song is such an exercise in dragging art out of cacophony - I especially admired the skronking TV on the Radio-style horns - that you’re left amazed she ever got it up and running at all.
Perhaps the highlight of the whole thing was when Garbus falsettoed into such outlandish Minnie Riperton-esque territory that the crowd whooped and broke out into delirious rounds of applause. The audience played its part in the rhythm section too, as each song ended with a well-timed thud. This thud was the sound of a churchload of jaws hitting the congregation floor. A truly religious experience.
Strokes gig causes fireworks! The view from Lady Bird Lake bridge as the band finish their set in background
You’d think that with around 200 live venues in Austin, SXSW festival might have enough places for bands to play without resorting to gigs in streets, parks and churches. But it’s good news for us that they don’t – because the likes of Herman Düne and Low couldn’t be better suited to the gorgeous surroundings of St David’s Episcopal Church.
Anti-folk duo Herman Düne played possibly my show of the festival so far. Certainly their lyrics continue to fascinate me – on paper so clumsy and contrived, but in the flesh able to paint moving pictures of love and loss. On I Wish I Could See You Soon, David-Ivar Herman Düne sings: “Now that I’m across the sea I wonder if/You’re gonna wait for me/Or if you’re gonna find a new boy to spoon/I wish that I could see you soon.” What the duo lose without the recorded version’s backing singers (or “angels”) they gain with a display of virtuoso solo guitar work.
I can’t find much trace of the song Tell Me Something I Don’t Know online (please respond below if you can track it down!) but on it Düne sings something along the lines of: “So we went to a record store/Every band there sounded like someone I’d heard before/She said ‘You should have been born a hundred year’s ago!’/And I was like ‘Well, tell me something I don’t know’”. It’s hardly poetry but in a few short lines it does detail how a couple can know each other like the back of their hands.
In keeping with the techy vibe of SXSW there are interactive elements to the show – a rather feeble crowd are instructed to sing “I hear strange music” backing vocals – and the humour far surpasses that of Brother: “We’re playing more shows, where the songs will be different. Who knows, the people playing them might be different as well.”
As Herman Düne depart a considerable queue grows for Low – which serves as another chance for them to dismiss the myth that they’re a “quiet” band. Huge, stomping bass guitar bashes against deft guitar parts, shaking us near out of our pews. The Mormon trio begin their set by dedicating Monkey to “all the people in Japan who might be missing someone right now” but tonight’s gig is more a celebration than anything else, perhaps of the fact that nobody else makes music with dynamics as finely weighted as this.
Shortly before the end I head to another beautiful religious building - the Central Presbyterian Church one block away – to catch the closing songs of Sea Of Bees. These church shows have been spell-binding but, as polite applause ripples through the crowd to signal the end of their country-tinged set, I realise that a) I’ve never been to church for this long before and b) I could probably do with a beer right now. It’s time to atone for all this good Puritan behaviour and catch Black Lips at Emos …
We’re nothing if not adventurous at the Guardian. That’s why we’re here at the British Music Embassy showcase watching British band Brother play a form of British music that was popular about 15 years ago. In Britain. If there are any pie’n’mash shops or morris dancing classes in Austin, do let us know.
So Brother, then – four lads from Slough who think their Oasis-inspired boasts, Oasis-inspired music and, er, Oasis-inspired swagger mark them out as the future of music. Austin’s Latitude 30 doesn’t entirely disagree with this – they’re not beating them away at the door but the venue is modestly full.
“You made the right decision,” singer Lee Newell tells us as his band – complete with Rowetta-style “soul” voice – crank up the volume and run through Still Here, Darling Buds Of May and New Years Day. Each track is interspersed with some mild laddy “banter” but it fails to catch fire. “I had a Newcastle Brown Ale the other day that was better than the ones I’ve had in Newcastle” is a quote that ensures Austin’s stand up comedy community can sleep easily tonight.
“We’re from a beautiful place. It’s called Slough,” says Newell at one point, before explaining: “That’s irony. How about that?” Whereas on paper the temptation is to hate Brother, in person the sneaking suspicion is that these lads might just be a little bit too nice for all this “tonight, I’m a rock’n’roll star” behaviour.
Musically speaking, Brother may aim to emulate the Gallaghers but the tunes sound - to these ears - more like Mansun (strictly melodically speaking of course - there are no 70 minute prog operas about Dr Who, gender identity and cancer here). But then nobody at SXSW is here expecting to catch the next developments in Witch House. They’re here to listen to loud’n’lumpen British Rock with some anthemic shoutalong bits thrown in. Within that rather limited context, it would be hard to argue that Brother had failed to deliver.