- Festival Reviews
This is our second visit to Howlin’ Fling (following 2014’s edition) and this time the event is advertised as a stripped down affair of two days, well Friday evening and all day Saturday.
Life of Eigg however, has to be experienced first hand and once onshore, Eigg time begins. We arrived Friday afternoon via the Shearwater ferry and left Monday morning. Howling’ fling is not just a music festival, this is an opportunity to share island life for four days with some of the most hospitable people you could find anywhere. Eat, drink and be merry. Enjoy the music and the company of 200 fellow festival goers, the artists themselves and the fine people of Eigg, that is the prevailing message of the weekend.
The Lost Map record label provides a fair share of the weekend’s bands understandably and the festival itself kicks off with the performance artists and band, Monoganon. Quite a start it is too with just a stripped down two piece version of the band, they certainly left an imprint on the mind.
A forty minute break between each band gives everyone time to eat, drink and chinwag. The ever wonderful Rozi Plain melts the audience with a sublime set and she is followed by Slow Club who mesmerise and seem a bit disengaged with each other at the same time. A pair of solo songs each, sees the other partner in the band seemingly pretty disinterested to what the other one is signing, Perhaps it’s just the night, the tunes are as great as ever, let’s hope this band can forge forward together.
Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail (Lost Map boss, festival organiser, compere and singer/songwriter), who sticks in a great full band set. Johnny seems to be following the John Grant route of acoustic singer/songwriter goes electronic, but it all makes for a bouncy set.
The evening goes on till around 4am on Saturday morning, but this correspondent heads tent bound, down the lane and across the stepping stones on the river for a night’s kip. Night’s are short on Eigg this time of the year, it is still light approaching 11pm so you could be up at 5am and find yourself chatting with the locals and late night revellers. Saturday morning passes with bacon and egg butties from the ever wonderful harbour-side kiosk and a walk around some of the island.
Ed Dowie, a composer who has been making music since the late 1990’s kicks off today’s music with a sweet atmospheric set. I think James Blake must have listened to this guy. Victoria Hume from Jo’berg is heavenly, songs and a voice that again melts the heart. Life Model a Glaswegian garage band really ramp up proceedings with the most rocking set of the festival so far, a band to most certainly keep a eye on.
The quality of bands and artists is first class and most importantly they seem genuinely delighted and humble to have been asked to play on Eigg. Gwenno (Saunders) has totally reinvented herself from her Pipette role as a champion of Welsh Music. Her album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ was Mercury nominated and her set comes from that excellent record. An enthralling performance.
There are moments in your experience of live music that are nearly impossible to re-tell. You've got to be in the moment and all that drivel. But what the hell, let's try to explain a dozen pop star cross-dressing nuns on this wee island of Eigg. Howlin' Fling 2016 gave us a new kind of supergroup. Forget Blind Faith. Forget The Band. Forget the Wilbury's or all that you ever saw or imagined.
Yet Blind Faith is an apt reference point - many of us couldn't find our way home. Billed as 'Look Who's Mappin' Too', you might get a flavour if, to the words of a familiar Sgt Pepper track, you sing along: 'Picture yourself in a hall on an island, with transgender nuns holding fender guitars ..... in short, TLC's 'Scrubs' was suitably irreverent and angelic, while Bowie's 'Let's Dance' probably had David Jones jigging in his grave. Neither song will ever be the same again.
Spirits were among us, and no doubt inside us. A brilliantly ramshackle ultra-group of musicians conspired to deliver - in full habit regalia - half a dozen 'tributes' in covers-band style. It was pure magic and drew possibly the biggest cheers of the weekend. They say pop will eat itself - this was pop peeing itself with joy and with a beaming smile on its celestial face.
Break for dinner with the ever superb ‘Where the Monkey Sleeps’ catering crew means next out on stage is ex Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones and his band. Certainly the set of the weekend, almost a Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe at times, the band is full of genuine musicians in superb form. A stunningly good set in the tiny Ceilidh Hall (where all the music is staged).
Jane Weaver another Liverpudlian plays a storming set of psych/folk around her successful ’Silver Globe’ album and is followed by the ever maturing and classy rockers, Tuff Love and the soulful danceable machine that is Glasgow’s Bossy Love.
Sunday is a day for exploring the island on bikes as the sun shines. Thanks to Libby for opening her tea shop for us! Then it’s an afternoon/evening around the campfire where those who have not caught the ferry back to the mainland just test the local craft ale and kickback. People chat, musicians pick up an instrument and perform or invoke a sing-a-long.
We are piped off the island on Monday morning with new and old friendships made and re-kindled plus, many happy memories. There truly is nothing like a Howling Fling on the island of Eigg!
Pete & Nige
- Festival Reviews
As always Glastonbury this year was superb for me. The music and atmosphere was the best, the lovingly created art intrigued and delighted the eye, the beer and food was fine fare indeed and yes the mud was especially challenging. Michael said it was the worst ever! But that shared experience only enhanced the special bond between the Glastonbury revellers.
The following ramblings are about my highlights of this year’s festival. I saw many other bands which I will not mention some good and some not so good for me!
I have been to every Glastonbury since 2004 but this year I really thought I wouldn’t get there after failing to get a ticket last October. However I managed to get a coach ticket leaving the O2 in London at 5 am Wednesday morning. We should have got to the festival at about 10am but the roads around Glastonbury were gridlocked and we didn’t get there untill 3pm! Cars were getting stuck in muddy car parks and there were horrendous tailbacks. But when it was pissing down with rain whilst I was in the coach, it seemed the best place to be!
There were a bunch of us camping together. The others were held up for hours so we didn’t get camped untill the evening. After that we wandered over to West Holts stage for food and ended up at my favourite bar on top of the hill behind the Park Stage. This was new last year. It has real ale in barrels and the views over the site are spectacular. That night there was a myriad of twinkly lights and every so often the night sky lit up with a fireball as they were testing the flares on Arcadia.
There is more music on a Thursday that they used to be. We started out at the Greenpeace Stage to see the New York Brass Band, they were playing covers and included a Prince tribute. All great for a sing-a-long.
I went to see This Is The Kit on my favourite small stage The Crows Nest at the top of the hill behind the Park. (That stage will feature a lot in this blog). Lovely indie numbers from Kate Stables band which included the superbly talented Rozi Plain on bass and vocals.
The other highlight of the day was Kate Tempest performing on The Hell Stage in Shangri-La at night. She was so good. I loved her machine gun delivery of poetic rap. The poetry of her words is brilliant and is intertwined with serious social comment, e.g. “just because you can’t see the bars doesn’t mean you aren’t imprisoned” I had the privilege of meeting Kate a couple of days later at The Crows Nest!
The day started with The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn on The Pyramid Stage, it was good to support them as it is noble project which is a mixture of classical orchestra and eastern music and included a session with Damon singing 'Out Of Time'. Next up was Rokia Traore on The Pyramid from Mali, she was superb as usual. She has a wonderful voice singing mainly in French with an African funky rhythm.
More French connections with French singer songwriter Christine And The Queens on The Other Stage. Synth pop with the best dance routines I have seen! She was dancing with 3 male professional dancers who are part of her normal band.
With all the mud you can’t loll about on the grass so I treated myself to some chill out time lounging on a settee in a café in the hippy atmosphere of the Tipi Village. It, of course, had a stage with a band playing, as does almost every café in Glastonbury.
To the Pyramid Stage to get near the front for The Foals.
They were so good. What Went Down was one of my top five albums of last year. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years and they just get better and better. Rock at its best especially when shared with hundreds of others rocking out around you in the evening sun. (yes sun!)
Muse were next on as headliners. They seem too often get a bad press, but I enjoyed their epic numbers and especially all the visual images and effects on the giant screens behind them, the visuals for Starlight was like flying through space.
My final highlight of the day was Jagwar Ma on at 1:30am at the Crows Nest. The small venue was packed with not much room to move to the electro dance sound of this three piece band which felt so good.
Started off at The Pyramid Stage for Baaba Maal. Squeeze sere on and were really good . You forget how many great songs they had. I loved the sound of Baaba Maal. African rhythms with passion and soul. He is from Senegal and was another singer who was singing in French!
The Band Of Skulls were great on The Other Stage. Nice riffs and rock sounds.The soulful ballads of Michael Kiwanuka were excellent at The Crows Nest. He was followed by Alexis Taylor. Gentle thoughtful songs which he accompanied on the keyboard.
I moved down the hill to the Park Stage. The penultimate highlight of the day was Mercury Rev. they were truly wonderful. I loved the ethereal sounds of the band. When they played The dark Is Rising it felt so good. it gave me goose bumps!
The final highlight of the day was the band The Very Best in the Crows Nest after a few pints at the neighbouring bar. They had been playing the West Holts Stage earlier that day and it was like being in a great party with a live band playing funky Afro pop and they didn’t finish till 2:30am!
After that I went to one of my favourite bar in Greenfields to chill on the comfort of their settees. It’s an amazing place like being in someone’s lounge for a party with a bar, table football machine and a DJ.
The cool man who is Gregory Porter was on the Pyramid Stage in the morning when I got there. He was followed by Laura Mvula looking wonderful in a flamboyant dress with large neck piece patterned like a union jack and sporting the most enormous earrings. I was wanting to hear her soulful voice and was not disappointed.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO played next on that stage. It was a smooth performance and a real guilty pleasure to hear those 70’s and 80’s sounds and hits like It’s Magic and Telephone Line. Band Of Horses were on the John Peel Stage which had moved up the hill on the Worthy farm side to where the cinema used to be. They were really good with their American sound of rocking Americana.
The big highlight of the day was to see Coldplay headline the Pyramid Stage again. The show was a visual and aural delight. They put so much into their performance and there were fireworks, confetti cannon, lasers, and we all wore wristbands which lit up and changed colour according to some central control!
During the performance they had a tribute to Mohamed Ali and also played a Viola Beach number in tribute to the that young band. Bee Gee Barry Gibb joined the band for a couple of classics. The whole show had a feelgood finish to another superb Glastonbury.
And you know when after hearing a band a particular number will continue in your head for a while well the lights on my wristband continued to change colour as a reminder until about 6 pm the following day!
I love Glastonbury even in horrendously muddy conditions. Let’s hope I can get tickets again next year and keep up my unbroken run of being there since 2004!
- Festival Reviews
Summer has arrived for the Sunday of Field Day 2016, following the monsoon on Saturday, Sunday brings mud and showers.
First band up are Arthur Beatrice and a fine early afternoon show this is, vocalist Ella Girardot is the focal point of the band and her vocal range is excellent. The band have an enthusiasm that really lights the spark for the bands to follow.
Parquet Courts are the first band on the main stage. Twenty minutes late, they waste no time in bringing their Talking Heads/Pavement style songs to our earlobes as they hurtle through a set of material mainly from their new album Human Performance’
Steve Mason is on solid form and is another one with a new album to promote. The Return of the Rual tent is packed for his set. The Thurston Moore Band follow next and are in sonic form. Just a 45 minute set was short particularly, as the band were scheduled for an hour. Some great guitar work!
Blossoms have a steady growing fanbase and a heavy shower meant a packed Shacklewell Arrms stage (as it is for most of the afternoon) for their set of pop tunes.
Set of the day goes to The Ben Watt Band featuring Bernard Butler who had a teatime slot in the tiny Moth Club tent. Quality songs, mind blowing guitar, a tight rhythm section and a fine beard courtesy of Laura Marling’s bass player. a brilliant set from a band of quality musicians plying their trade.
John Grant gets an hour in the sunshine on the main stage and really gets the crowd engaged and dancing. Beach House headline the Shacklewell Arms stage, which I suppose is the second stage at Field Day. As a second stage this really needs to be bigger or an open air stage, over the years it is constantly packed and overflows (12 people deep for Beach House and something similar for the Fat White Family) but this has been the same across the many years of the festival. Beach House played pretty much in the dark but, they sounded magnificent.
PJ Harvey is the headliner and it is a brilliant show to round off another excellent day in Victoria Park.
- Festival Reviews
Continuing from Part 4
SXSW Saturday 19th March
Well..today is it, The last day of our adventure here in Austin? We have had a good rest, and a lovely breakfast and we have decided to try to get into the Rachel Ray party at Stubbs. An American cook show host has a large party every year that usually consists of some very solid artists and this year it is no different with Jenny Lewis, George Clinton, and Andersan Paak.
This party is a popular one. Open to the public, it’s always quite busy, but we figure we will give it a go and that was a mistake. Even an hour early, at 9am, there are over 1000 people in line. Security tells us that the line was well over 500 people at 7:30 am. An open party, with a solid lineup that has free food and booze is always going to be popular, but this is ridiculous. As the doors open, our hope is that we make the cut as we have already waited for well over an hour. Stubbs holds a lot of people and we have already committed to this showcase so we just shuffle along. Luckily, there is no other showcase this early in the day so we are not missing anything.
As it happens, we get within 60 or so people to get in, and they shut the doors down. The venue has hit capacity. Sadly, it takes a quick look at the schedule of shows inside to see that with the free food and booze and the fact that most people are here to see the bands that come on in about 3 hours...we don't stand a chance.
What we can do is check our back up plans and make a decision.
We decide to wander around and then head to a party that starts at 1pm and we go and hang out in the wifi lounge at the Hilton. There we run into a friend from Toronto who has decided to head to the show we are going to as well so everything works out for a reason!
We are off to a party at the Barracuda. It’s another venue with an inside and outside stage, perfect to keep moving and maximizing the amount of bands we can see. Not sure what to expect here as the bands I am familiar with are coming up later so..here we go.
First up is the Danish band Yung. These guys are relentless, a mess of feedback and rhythms, a quality rock band who's opening set is spirited enough to wake everyone up. It’s noisy but it is rock n roll and that's fine with me. Have seen a lot of guitar rock bands this week and these guys definitely know what they are doing as well.
Inside it is the Sun Club. These guys are a wacky 5 piece band from Baltimore. Big percussion, crazy upbeat and frantic singing, solid guitar work, it's an odd mix that plays itself out on stage. They don't do mellow..there is nothing that slows these guys down. You can’t watch these guys, it’s a rather amusing band to watch and the songs are pretty good, but perhaps pushed to a different level because of their frantic live show.
Back outside and it’s the NYC band called the Drowners. Its kinda "friendly post punk" that is sung by Welsh singer who moved to NYC years ago. The songs come on like a softer Strokes, and the singing is quite good. The songs switch from short 3 minute punk pop tunes to longer more complicated Smiths like songs. It is a great overall set of some pretty accessible songs and the set finishes a bit too soon.
Inside is a band I have tried to see a few times over the years. They tour a lot but it just has not worked out. Inside is Public Access TV.
Public Access TV is another band from NYC. This 4 piece band have been buzzed about for the last year or so. It's a splendid pop punk band that will end up reminding me of the Clash fairly often. They play very well and I can see why NME considered them one of the best bands to have recently come out of NYC. It’s sort of a retro punk sound that pleasurable to listen to and for such a young band.
We could stick around here for the rest of the showcase, but I really want to see the band that s coming up at the Brit Embassy bar Latitude and that is Nai Harvest.
We walk over to the venue and walk straight into their set. I have been a fan of theirs for some time. Nai Harvest is a 2 piece band that draws influences from 90's emo and alt pop bands and morph the sounds into their own. As a two piece, they to do a lot within their songs, a lot of stop start moments, some distorted voice and guitar and some frantic drumming and screaming that create all sorts of different levels of music. It is hook laden and riff driven and often reminds me of a smaller version of a messy Teenage Fanclub so I am pleased.
We can stay for one more band here before a quick trip to a nearby bar so up on stage, its Autobahn. This band is loud, and dark. A mix of Sisters of Mercy & Joy Division but with some growling guttural singing and a mess of noise. They are spirited but it’s a quick set and we have to move to get to the next venue.
Up next at the Vulcan Gas Company bar is Fantastic Negrito. This band won the NPR "Tiny Desk Contest" in 2015 and have been an often mentioned band in many friends lists of bands we have to see. Described as Black Roots music for everyone, and Blues with a punk attitude, it’s a band that strives to bridge a gap from Leadbelly to modern sounds by using loops and samples and some wicked musicians. Lead singer Xavier Dphrepaulezz is dynamic and assured. He speaks to the crowd as if he is leading a sermon, and the crowd eats it up. It's funk with a message and its sounds fantastic in this new bar.
It is difficult not to notice the meaning of his words and the themes are all statements on social issues and the band tries to push a message using instruments. It’s a quality set of songs and I am glad we made the time to get over here.
Now late afternoon and decisions need to be made. Our last night in Austin and we want to make sure we make the most of it. We have to make time for dinner, but also want to catch a few bands in multiple different venues and locations. Once we map out our approach, we have dinner, a fine craft ale and then we are back at it.
We hit the Blackheart on Rainey Street to catch the band Pins. Pins have been mentioned on numerous occasions as a band I need to revisit this trip. Two friends have seen them already this week and they all found ways to see them again because they were so good. I have seen Pins in years past but it works out that we can see them over here.
Pins are an all girl band from Manchester. They have been around for awhile but they seem to have stepped it up a bit. Guitar work is catchy, the Rhythm section is as good as I have heard on this trip and the voices are spectacular. It’s a beautiful wave of guitars and pop vocals, it’s as catchy as it gets and its delightful to see and hear. They have improved tremendously since the last show I saw and they are fun to watch. They are a very good group mixing up the girl group pop with some punk elements and it works well.
We are off now to check out the Aussie band Harts again. Sometimes you have to fit bands like these back into your schedule because the first show we saw of theirs was simply not enough. We enjoyed it so much, we have to see them again. In the back of my mind is the fact that we run the risk of getting shut out of the last showcase we plan to hit but it’s worth it for Harts.
It’s a walk to Esther’s Follies and we get there in time for the band before Harts. Breanna Barbara is up on stage and her band is really quite good. Always love these surprises and she has fantastic voice and a great band. Her first album is coming out shortly and I am quite intrigued by it. She is a lo fi punk blues artist with an incredible voice and I can’t wait to hear more. Sadly we catch only a few songs.
Harts is up next and they do not disappoint. This kid is ridiculously talented, with a Hendrix guitar style, throw in some funk, a greater drummer. It takes no time for pedestrian traffic outside the front window of the venue, to stop and start accumulating to take photo's and to witness this guy.
6th street is a madhouse tonight, but we watch from our seats at this venue as people wander by and can’t help but to stop. It’s a fantastic set of songs and despite the risk, whatever happens for the rest of the night, it was clearly the right decision.
We now rush over to the British Embassy at the Latitude bar, again, to catch Barns Courtney. This would be the only chance I had all week to see him and we are able to get in so the worry is over and I am happy.
Barns hits the stage and I certainly understand what the talk is about. This kid is awfully confident for being such a new artist, he sings like an old pro and he stands along plucking his guitar singing his country style pop hits and every song sounds strong.
There is no dud among them and his country style often morphs into a blues rocker and it’s easy to see a Carl Barat influence who is someone that has taken a keen interest in this kids future. There is an edge to this kids music which will appeal to many and I certainly can see why he has earned himself the opening slot for Ed Sheeran and the Libertines. Kid has talent and its fun to watch.
Now it’s time for a complete change of pace. Seems the British Music Embassy is going to finish off their showcases in Austin by having a bit of a dance party. Formation hits the stage and again, everything kicks off. The bar is full of many of the bands that have played here over the week and they are here...to dance. Everywhere I look..they have moved forward and as soon as the band hits the stage and the lead vocalist, Will Ritson starts singing, its full on.
Quite the change from Barns Courtney, Formation are energetic and overwhelmingly boisterous and fun..full of funk and a dance beat frenzy that is quite welcome at this point. Will eventually comes into the crowd and dances along with the rest of us and its been rather entertaining. Not a bad way to make sure we end this festival in a way that we won’t forget..it was a blast.
Perhaps it was all the dancing, but all of a sudden I am feeling the effects of a full week of this. Though the next band has been promised to be the ultimate party band..aptly named PartyBaby, a guitar based funk dance band from Los Angeles, they can’t get this guy to move anymore. I was done in by Formation and PartyBaby, despite throwing out a lot of grooves and entirely danceable songs, I am done in. It’s here that I wave goodbye to my favourite venue of the city and walk to 2 blocks to our hotel because I do have to fly home sadly.
Overall, it was yet another successful SXSW and a quality visit to Austin. Was able to go from showcase to showcase without any hiccups, was able to get into the night showcases without a problem and despite the few technical issues at some shows and the ill fated attempt at heading to the Rachel Ray party, all has gone well. I hope to see a few more friends in Austin next year in March for SXSW2017
Jim & Sandra
- Festival Reviews
Continuing from Part 3
SXSW Friday 18th March
Friday arrives with a threat of rain, a minor/mid level of exhaustion and a considerable need for coffee. As those of you who have been to SXSW before, you know you have to have a plan for each day, with back up options, and back up options for the back up options. Today, with the threat of storms, we want to keep our options open so after breakfast we head to the Aussie BBQ.
The Aussie BBQ is quite close to our hotel and to a number of other potential showcase so it will be an easy shift if needed. Our intention was to see DMA's and Methyl Ethel here today but because earlier showcases featured the bands, our schedule is now flexible. The BBQ is still full of acts that interested us so we got comfortable and watched the shows.
Up first there was the shoegaze fuzz rock band called Pretty City. They are a strong little rock outfit that don't go light on the noise and frenetic pace. It’s a straight ahead set of catchy little songs and its solid.
Next up is the much buzzed about band fronted by Julia Jacklin. A wonderfully talented singer songwriter, Julia has clearly been buzzed about in Australia as it seems all of the Aussie's in Austin are here.
Having watched a video of hers recently, I knew what to expect and quick comparisons come fast..Angel Olsen, Fionna Apple..singing and song style are immediately familiar and quite good. Throw some quality guitar work and it’s a blissful set of indie rock. Julia Jacklin has as much potential as I have seen so far this trip and her set is over far too soon.
Still no rain so we stick around to see Big White. Another Aussie guitar band, this 5 piece is rather quirky, jangling and fun. Think Talking Heads with some layers of fuzzy guitar, it’s a good little show.
Now comes the big surprise of the day, the plan is to leave shortly to head to the British Music Embassy, but it’s only a block away so we have some time. The next act is Harts who are a two piece band, built around the exquisite guitar work and great voice of the lead singer, Darren Hart. Accompanied by his drummer, Darren sings, plays his guitar and plays keyboards and produces what could be the best, most enjoyable set of funk, soul, rock, r&b, that one could hear. He plays guitar like Hendrix and can manipulate the crowd at will. He is a party, a very very fun party. A little research finds that he has not gone un noticed and that Prince has taken an interest and invited him to his studio to record his album.
Darren is also playing one of Prince's guitars so that has to help. It’s a brilliant set and one that we hope to repeat later if we can pull it off at another showcase. Now, it is time to head to our next showcase at Latitude up first is Rozi Plain. I gather she has been around for a while playing some very solid alt folk pop songs and it’s my first time seeing her. Another solid voice and some very catchy songs, she clearly has been at this for sometime. Its a gentle voice with some intricate guitar work and it all comes together well.
Violet Skies is up next. She is described as a cinematic and sensuous singer songwriter and that seems pretty accurate. She lists Joni Mitchel and James Blake as inspiration and that seems about right. It’s a simple blend of a lovely voice, some delicate music to sing with and some well written lyrics. It’s smooth and will never over power you but easy enough to listen to and rather sweet. Her voice has a hint of being a bit more powerful, its hidden but on occasion, when it comes..it’s pretty powerful.
Up next, its Gwenno. This former Pipette is a little dynamo on her own. Singing in Welsh and English, she performs Electropop to perfection. It's a brilliant set of songs that suit her voice perfectly. She holds nothing back, singing some political songs with a passion that reflects some strongly held views. While I don’t always understand what she is singing, it has no effect on the enjoyment of the show with a stunning voice and a back drop of electro drum and bass and the songs pack a punch.
There seems to be a bit of a buzz about the next band, Fickle Friends. The crowd swells and now includes quite a few lined up to fill front of stage. It takes some time to get the band going, plenty of set up issues so they get a very short set. When the band does get going, it’s pretty polished indie pop. Lead singer Natassja Shiner is tough not to like she is a little ball of energy up front and has a very personable way about her and a tremendous voice.
Though they only have a short set, it has people bouncing about so I have to believe their hardcore fans who are here are happy. Recently signed to Polydor, this band does what they do very well, an almost retro pop sound that won’t be for all, but I can see them doing well when they do tour North America.
Up next is Stealing Sheep who are a rather lovely psychedelic pop band from Liverpool. These three young ladies have been around for a few years and in that time, have done well to perfect their country/electronic/indie rock sound. They sound very polished and their songs are solid and they do have a slightly folk flavour but it’s not a simple sound that they are going for..it is refreshing.
At this point in the day, SXSW starts sending out alerts on their mobile apps that indicate a storm is on its way. As you can understand, any storm that includes a considerable amount of lightning is not ideal for all of the venues and shows in Austin that are based on stages set up outside. Reports are now coming in that hail is on its way and it's at this point that we decide to go for dinner and hide from the weather. Still feeling the effects of a late night with the DMA's, it’s a welcome shift and we need some rest to continue.
As we sit at dinner, the reports start coming in from various friends as well as local news sources. The storm is hitting and many shows based outside are being postponed. Fader Fort, Willie Nelsons Ranch shows, and many venues with outside stages are reporting delays. We decide to get out and hit a showcase indoors that features at least one band I really wanted to check out and that is Eleanor Friedberger.
We head back to the Parish for a showcase that features a few bands I know little about.
Franky Flowers are the first band up on stage. This Los Angeles band is on the messy side of fuzzy indie rock. Being a huge fan of pure voices, I am not quite sure what the singing represents here, but the songs are fantastic overall. On occasion..the voice matches the brilliant musicianship and it’s interesting to see how these songs are played out because it’s really hard to guess where each one is going. Surf punk indie rock garage fuzz tunes that seem complicated to perform have drawn a crowd. This band does not make simple songs and they are drawn out, layered pieces of work and I can’t help but admire their work. I will follow up online to see if there are any more reviews as in the crowd are both Huw Stephens and Steve Lamacq of the BBC and hopefully they toss up their thoughts online and I am very interested in their thoughts.
The next band I do recall from various online playlists and they are the Bee Caves. These guys are an Austin/Americana band with a touch of shoegaze/electronica mixed in for good measure. With a lead singer on acoustic guitar, two more guitarists, bass, drums, and keys..it’s a fantastic layered set of songs that is difficult to make direct comparisons to. Just when you think a song is going in a roots Americana direction, all of a sudden the great voices are joined by some brilliant complicated shoegaze guitar work and off you go. Really is a band worth checking out as they offer up something for everyone.
Dylan Leblanc is next up and I have to say, he turns out to be the best of the night.
Dylan is a Louisiana native who now resides in Muscle Shoals. Having released his third album, he has plenty of work to chose from and all of his work is rich in texture with a voice which fluctuates from subtle to overwhelming hitting levels that are very very impressive. His voice fits well with the arrangements that vary from some brilliant violin and bass and drums to simple acoustic guitar work and keys. The set is evidence of a range and moods that are as unpredictable as they are wonderful to hear. As more reports come in of cancelled shows and mass groups of people huddled under tents outside, I am very glad to be standing here listening to one of the better performers of the week. And when Dylan ends his set with a cover of ELO's "Showdown" it is clear we made the better choice to stay inside!
Its now time for Eleanor Friedberger. This American singer songwriter, formerly of the Fiery Furnaces, has a wonderful voice. She is a very expressive singer and its clear her songs mean a lot to her. Its folk and funk and country and rock and it is sometimes quite complicated and sometimes quite simple. It’s a solid set of tempo changes that seem to all be based around her voice and its rather lovely. The only downfall here is that she followed Dylan Leblanc at this showcase and compared to his voice tonight, I’m afraid, nothing will compare.
There are still two solid bands at this showcase tonight but it’s after midnight and I am struggling. Its been a long week and I make the decision that if I am to have any kind of effective last day at SXSW, I need to shut it down early and we are off!
That's it for today.
Continues in Part 5
Jim & Sandra
- Festival Reviews
Continuing from Part 2
SXSW Thursday 17th March
Another sunny day and more showcases. Today there are plenty of showcases, but the intention today is to park it in one spot and see what surprises we come across.
I had my eyes on one showcase that featured a few bands I knew and one that we wanted to see again and many that I knew nothing of, so off we go to the Sidewinder Bar, which is a solid venue with two stages, inside and out.
First off on the stage outside is Harriet, a lovely 4 piece from Los Angeles whose lead singer and keyboardist (former member of Dawes) stands upfront and leads the band through a set of textured indie rock.
Powerful songs flow from the band and despite the fact I had not thought to have heard them before, it turns out I had as they start playing a single that was featured on a playlist of new songs that I was sent.
Some research later reveals an album produced by Sean Owen who has worked with the National and the Replacements and will now get regular play when I get home. Leaning a little to the pop side of indie rock without being too glossy, they are a solid little band.
Now, we shift inside for something completely different, and it’s the band Lex. This is a four piece all women band that create synth pop sounds and according to their bio, they use all analogue vintage synthesisers and everything is executed live. It is clever synth pop and they sound pretty good and with all dressed in black leather. It’s certainly a change from what we just heard outside.
Back outside, and one of the main reasons we picked this showcase, is it’s wonderful Whitney. Now with all members available and a full soundcheck done, they hit us with an 8 song set with an Everly Brothers cover thrown in for good measure.
Their country based indie rock is a great sound, and with all band members in tow, this set is even better and band members seem to be in much better spirits than their ill fated show the previous day.
They really do offer up something a little different from what we have been hearing and the reaction of the crowd is pleasing. Most likely many here were unaware of their work before, but they seem to be enjoying themselves and it’s a vibrant full set of songs that I hope will make it to an album soon.
Another repeat band is going on inside and its Day Wave who are a little easier to see inside, they are very good performers and a very solid band. Their pop/electronic indie pop is really well done and when they do a cover of Joy Division "Ceremony", everything kicks off inside.
Really great to see them in this small venue and I don't mind seeing these guys twice. Another change of pace outside and its Lucy Dacus, a solid guitarist and singer. She has written some great songs and performs them well and her voice, on occasion, reminds me of Neko Case. With a solid band that back her up with some great playing, she switches from playing on her own to using the band and it’s a good blend of indie rock/dream-pop.
It gets noisy pretty quick when we go inside to hear Diet Cig. Another buzz band, these two offer up a level of energy that we have not seen today. Diet Cig are fierce with a charismatic lead singer/guitarist Alex Luciano who bounces around the stage as if she was possessed and drummer Noah Bowman who tries to keep up!
It's loud, but clean, with some infectious pop songs hidden behind the onslaught. Hard not to get caught up in their spirit. Their set is a blur and while its entirely enjoyable and wonderful to watch, the escape to the outside stage is welcomed to get some rest and to see Bleached.
Bleached are led by two sisters, Jennifer and Jessie Clavin (formerly of Mika Miko) and bassist Micayla Grace. They are a guitar pop band that leans toward the Punk side of life. They have a drummer here with them and it’s clear the buzz around this band is well placed. They create a very sweet sound, of a sweet haunting set of songs that greet the crowd outside and while its aggressive it’s also warm. It is a full sound and a very tasty treat and very different from the sound of Diet Cig.
And now inside for yet another change of pace. Its the wonderfully talented band Cloves. One reviewer has called Cloves the female Bon Iver...that pretty much nails it. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful and it takes no time for her to settle onto the inside stage and to start charming the crowd. She is only 19 but her songs are mature, well written and perfectly suited to her voice. It’s fantastic to be standing so close as she sings...she is delicate and yet forceful and seems to use no energy as she sings and its a great set of songs. I will be anxiously awaiting her album which is due in 2016.
Back to the outside stage to see the band that many are here to see....Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks are a Garage Rock Band that I have seen before and it will be interesting to see how they have changed. They have packed the outside stage area and as soon as they started the first song the crowd responds.
This big band is a manic energy driven punk guitar band and they are relentless. They have grown as a band and while their songs are quick and fast, it’s not at the expense of solid musicianship or sloppy singing. The energy of the band is matched by the energy of the crowd and we stand amused, watching both groups.
We are also standing with many of the bands label people and it is interesting to hear their take on the events and the bands progress. It is clear the band is popular here and they would like them to be more aggressive in other countries especially in the UK, so don't be surprised to see them in England soon.
Back in side and it’s a new signing to 4AD, three piece Aussie Indie Pop band Methyl Ethel. This reverb driven band packs a mighty wallop in their short set. They are rather bouncy and energetic and while it’s definitely rock n roll...its rather smooth. They seem to tick a lot of boxes that will make sure they appeal to many great musicians, great songs, fantastic singing and obviously play because they love what they are doing. Can’t really help but enjoy their set only a few bands left to this afternoon session.
Back outside for Pure Bathing Culture. This band includes two former members of the band Vetiver and they produce some lovely pop/electro indie pop. Great guitar work and solid rhythm section matches up well with lead singer Sarah Vesprille's voice. Its light and fresh warm and a very fun sound. No doubt the songs have some deep meanings, but the groove and bounce of the band is the focus for me.
Inside it’s a quick set by a pair of very young DJ's Louis the Child. Kids are energetic and an odd choice for this afternoon slot, but I find them amusing. As they mouth the words to all the songs they play, they dance around and share the duties on stage. Clearly these two have fun doing what they do and I can see them packing a dance floor somewhere, but here, the crowd has arrived to see the band going on outside.
Honne are a British electronic soul duo who tour with 4 back up musicians. Their songs are mellow & trippy, upbeat and completely danceable. Having heard a few of their songs recently, it was interesting to see how it translated to the stage. It does have quite the groove and it’s rather catchy. It’s fun and smooth and offers up something rather different as this showcase's last band.
Need a little nourishment, a little rest, and its off. While the night offers a multitude of choices, it’s been decided to take our one opportunity to see an icon of the Country music scene...Loretta Lynn
Loretta plays the first slot at a major showcase at Stubbs, a lovely outside venue that holds a huge crowd for the first ever BBC Introducing night show here. It’s quite the showcase, but most are here to see Loretta. This 80+ yr old young lady can still belt out the tunes. With her son and full band in tow, it’s a set of classics that reminds me of family back home and how much time we spent as a group listening to this music. Takes little or no time to be singing along and enjoying each and every moment Loretta is singing. After a number of songs she sits down and continues to sing because she is getting a bit tired but that changes nothing.
Her voice is as good as it gets and she is a feisty one. Sitting close to the audience down front, she asks for any requests and while her band behind her are starting to get into playing a new track, Loretta has chosen a song requested from the crowd. Her band are not paying enough attention and start in on a new song and Loretta sits with a bemused look on her face. Eventually she turns back to her band to remind them they can be replaced and the crowd erupts in laughter. The band has now taken notice and the set continues.
It’s a brilliant reminder of just how a show should go..there is great songs, even greater banter and a crowd that has gotten exactly what they wanted and probably more..its great.
As mentioned before, it’s a showcase that features all sorts of bands and up next is a beauty as well, but one that is quite the change from Loretta
Sunflower Bean are up next and are one of my bands to breakout this year. They are a three piece from Brooklyn that simply can’t be predicted. There is nothing standard about their approach as an indie guitar punk band with influences from Zeppelin to the Velvet Underground their songs go in every direction, but it’s clear they are brilliantly constructed with layers of noise and a balance of voice vs instruments that indicate that this relatively young band are the real deal.
Some songs surely last over 7 minutes, but you barely notice. Even when it’s an instrumental portion of the song, it feels like the vocals are not missing, just not needed, and to me, that is rare. Distorted guitars, stunning psych rock and wonderful vocals..it’s a perfect package. At this point, I can’t see how this band will not succeed in taking over a few festival stages over the next year and become a much bigger band. The shift is on now and we head to The Parish
At the Parish we arrive to find a rather large crowd singing along to our fellow Canadians the Strumbellas. This six piece alt country indie rock band are clearly popular in these parts and their songs are rather infectious. As the set flows through these folk pop songs, almost every song includes a singalong with the crowd..it’s a wonderful set of songs that have pleased all within the club. Some great banter from the band and a very pleased crowd entertains even someone like myself who has seen the band often, and very happy to see them get their dues and be as popular as they seem to be.
Next up is the exquisite Polica. Featuring a number of songs off of their brilliant new album, the band is even better than the last time we watched them. A hauntingly beautiful set of synth pop and having toured together for sometime now, this band is perfect with their execution. It’s a very polished set of instant classics and it’s hard not to be impressed with where this band is right now. Its passionate and intense and a very wonderful example of not complicating a set too much...it’s the best I have seen of the band and these electro/r&b/pop songs end too soon, but I won't forget the voice or the playing anytime soon.
Another change of gears and next up is Cullen Omori. Cullen, alongside our earlier reported new favourite band Whitney, are former members of the US band the Smith Westerns. I was a fan of theirs, so after seeing Whitney and loving them as much as I did...I hope the other half of the band performs as well.
Cullen hits the stage to a small crowd. It seems many have left after Strumbella's and Polica. He does seem to be in a mood and rifles through a set of synth heavy guitar rock..some fantastic pop songs with the vocals way out front...he is a great singer. While the show is short and there is no pause between songs. I am happy to have tickets to go see him in Toronto when I return as I believe a normal club show will give me the opportunity to see Cullen again, when he is at his best.
To end the night...I needed a big burst of energy and that comes from the fantastic Aussie band the DMA's
Think Oasis, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays..these guys check off a lot of boxes for me, especially at 1:15am 6 members, 3 guitarists, bass, singer and drums, it's a full on rock show of Brit rock done Aussie style.
Attitude and wearing your influences on your sleeve doesn't always work but they are unapologetic. They push through a great evening set of classics, a number of songs I am familiar with and they do them well. If you are tired of Brit Rock, these guys are not for you, but for me it’s a remarkably satisfying way to end a great day and hope to see these guys again soon!
That's it for this day full of shows and it’s time for some rest!
Continues in Part 4
Jim & Sandra
- Festival Reviews
Continuing from Part 1
SXSW Wednesday 16th March
Another beautiful day in Austin!!
Today starts with a mandatory load up of breakfast for energy and then a trip over to Rainey St for a number of official shows.
The area has blossomed over the last few years. What once was a more residential area has exploded with bars and hotels and our favourite Craft beer bars. It is here where a number of showcases are today and it makes for some easy party hopping!
First off is the showtime "roadies house" party at the Clive Bar. It's a wonderful little bar with an outdoor stage where a number of bands are playing. First up is the Seratones. A lovely little 4 piece rock band from Louisiana. It's a big soul sound led by a dynamic front woman AJ Haynes..it's a wonderful upbeat rock/swing/blues soul mix that suits this sunny patio.
Next up is our first chance to see the band Whitney. Formed from two bands with a guitarist from the Smith Westerns and a drummer from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, these guys were a bit of a fluke find while listening to some SXSW playlists and after hearing their single " No Woman"..we had to check them out.
Due to their hectic SXSW schedule, they arrive late with only 4 of 6 members. No sound check, no problem...they roll in and do what they can in the time they have left. With the drummer up front singing in a lovely falsetto, it's a country soul sound that is immediately inviting and warm and with the 2 newly arrived missing members jumping into the set upon arrival, we now have the full band with horns, keys, drums, bass and two guitarists. It's a beautiful sound. A wonderful little treat that is over too quickly, but the harmonies will not be forgotten any time soon and plans are made to see them again.
Now its time for Big Thief. Tough to follow even a short set by Whitney, but this buzz band does well enough. It’s a mix of folk rock/guitar rock that changes in intensity as the set continues. The band has a very strong lead singer and for a number of songs. She leads the way, but with other songs, the guitar overwhelms and while the songs are still quite strong, I miss the vocals being upfront.
Now, it’s a short walk to the Stub Hub party directly across the street at Bangers German Beer Hall venue. Craft Beer, open outdoor stage, and Sausages...yep..good times!
First band up is Day Wave, an indie alt rocking band based in Oakland California. Jackson Phillips is Day Wave but tours with a band to fill out the sound of his melodic pop melodies. It's bright, light, and particularly suited to an outdoor stage at this venue and with a couple of singles doing well in the US, it has drawn somewhat of a crowd. Nothing too overwhelming, just some finely crafted pop songs that are very comfortable to listen to and considering these songs are all written by Phillips, it is impressive.
Gallant is an American singer songwriter who's R&B falsetto style is pretty impressive. Its not just R&B though..his voice may be the centrepiece but the songs are complicated and rather well crafted, and there are plenty of surprises. Gallant draws in even more of a crowd, many who were just here to eat and drink. His range is very impressive and the songs are quite catchy..a great little set.
Jamestown Revival are up next. Fronted by two best friends, these guys harmonise as good as I have heard. Their Americana style is well suited to their voices and it’s a beautiful set of country roots songs in which its difficult to tell who is singing what. They are wonderful little songs that are played with a lot of skill and these guys sound terrific....especially with a great beer!
With some time to spare before dinner...we try for one more afternoon band. It’s across the road to the Container Bar for Tanlines
I have been a fan of Tanlines for sometime and really enjoyed their first album and I was hoping to catch their set here ,but as it happens, as it does occasionally at SXSW...the switch over from one band to the next is troublesome. Tanlines are an electronic duo from New York ...their music is simple and clever..but does require some sampling and depend on a certain amount of electronics and sadly its failing here. They attempt a number of songs and clearly something is amiss with their system.
There is a lot of running around trying to sort out the technical issues, but after a couple of failed attempts the band get through a couple of songs but it seems all is still not right.
If I am going to see them, I prefer it to be when its Tanlines at their best and so during their last attempt, we decide to head back to the hotel for a break before a long night ahead.
Tonight is probably the most difficult of the entire festival. There are at least 4 showcases where we could settle down and stay for the entire evening. One...is a special event with the Avett Brothers and Ryan Adams. To do this show, you have to commit to be at the new venue for the entire evening.
Then you have the Dine Alone party with Dandy Warhols. Heavenly has a party with some fantastic bands as well ...and another showcase features Money, Ezra Furman as well as Mercury Rev. To make the evening even more complicated, this evening also features the only showcase for Isaac Gracie that we can attend so the decision is made to make sure we see Isaac, the other reason to see Isaac Gracie is to join the BBC and Steve Lamacq and their tribute to Viola Beach.
As many of you know, Viola Beach were a young and upcoming band who sadly, along with their manager, were all killed in an accident on their first tour, and they were to open the BBC introducing showcase. I had already marked their show here as one to see, so it’s only fitting we join the BBC party. Steve Lamacq starts the evening with a great dedication to the band and the main screen on the stage is filled with BBC live footage of the band. It’s sad as the video is further proof how much potential these kids had, but BBC does a great job at celebrating this band.
Isaac Gracie is up next. There is so little available online for Isaac, but the one or two video's are very very haunting. His voice is phenomenal, it's haunting and electric, he can let loose at any minute and it’s wonderful to hear and see. He is so seemingly soft spoken that you need to push forward in the crowd, but that's what everyone is doing.
Similar to seeing Soak here last year, anyone that didn't know who he was before he began singing certainly perked up quickly. With a range of influences, he has been described by NME as having listened to Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Willie Mason for the last two years and it’s an accurate description. Very glad to have committed to seeing him here as Latitude and the British Music Embassy is well known for have the best sound of any venue in the city and its definitely a wise decision to see this delicate singer here.
Billie Marten is up next. Did not know much about this youngster, but what I heard online was pleasant enough so we stuck around for her set. She is a talented lady who is already quite comfortable on stage and her songs are clever enough not to be too plain and sweet. She is a very confident young lady and it seems that there is a very good chance that with the support she is receiving from BBC and others, there is pretty much no limit to how popular she may get. Even at this early stage in her career, the songs seem to be well formulated and that combined with a very lovely voice and personable charming manner...she is on her way.
Now its time to shift it to the Bella Union party as this is a perfect chance to see three bands I really wanted to catch at SXSW2016 up first is Money.
Money are comprised of 4 members, formed in Manchester, and are no ordinary guitar rock band. With a lead singer who's voice can move from angelic to gruff in an instance, with very good musicians forming delicate and abrasive songs and seamlessly switching from one to the other, these guys are a complicated and engrossing band. Like the best of the shoegaze bands, the guitar work tends to wash over you and its competing with a haunting voice at times and it’s a great set of songs. Very very good band.
Ezra Furman is up next. This guy is a showman and the band is tight and fun. If you are a fan of his work, you pretty much know what you are going to get from them live, it's going to be upbeat and clever, will invite sing a longs and a lot of dancing.
Ezra is a delicate frontman who clearly has a message in his words and his songs, but won’t drag the party down by making it more important to take notice of the lyrics then to enjoy the groove that the band is creating.
Tonight there does seem to be something going on in the background between some of the band members and when the bass monitor fails, that turns the set around a bit. There is an attempt to carry on with the issues, but the bass player quickly gets frustrated and wanders off the stage, followed by the sax player as well as the drummer after they tell Ezra to do a couple of acoustic numbers on his own.
Hard to miss some of the tension here and Ezra fights through one acoustic number but quickly finishes up and says a sheepish goodbye and the dance party is over.
Mercury Rev is up next and that sound that I have grown to love washes over the crowd as quickly as they hit the stage. It is a rather great moment having this band hit the stage at 1am, very blissful and imaginative and it’s like having an old friend hitting the stage as I have not seen them for sometime.
Takes no time to hear some of my favorites from the band and the sound issues have been left with the Ezra crew as Mercury Rev sound fantastic. But in the back of my mind, I seem to have a lingering desire to step up the game and get a little messier so after hearing most of the Rev show I sneak over to the Heavenly Party with some friends to hear Night Beats again. Sadly, I am not so lucky. The technical issues continue here and it looks like that combined with a band who clearly have had a very busy night partying, their set is marred by stops and starts and their perfect guitar sound, that I heard previously, is lost in this club.
Not sure what really is going on, whether it’s a technical issue or a combo of that and problems with the band but something is missing. Nevertheless it's been a solid day of shows and its 2:15 am.
Continues in Part 3
Jim & Sandra
- Festival Reviews
SXSW Sunday 13th March
SXSW is upon us again and Sandra and I have changed things up a bit. The music festival really starts on Tuesday, March 15 and runs until Sunday, March 20, but we have decided to stay in Austin for the entire week...Sunday-Sunday
Sadly that meant we were arriving in the middle of the interactive portion of SXSW. The housing desk that books your hotel for you was unable to book us in one hotel for the duration. Upon arrival we would be staying well out of the city for the first two nights then into the core on the 15th.
There is music events on Sunday and Monday so it's a bit of a hike, but if you have a solid plan it can be done. The solid plan combined with the fact that for the first time in 10 years we could book a direct flight from Toronto to Austin meant getting to town and starting SXSW off well, but ...
Our direct flight left over 5 hours late due to two things, a flight attendant forgot to set her clocks ahead on Saturday (North America moves clocks ahead on the 13th) and then a computer malfunction before getting off the gate.
So....so much for a plan!
We landed quite late...took a taxi to our hotel and dropped our bags, took another taxi to Latitude (home of the British Embassy parties at SXSW).
Arrived in time to see a full set by Hooton Tennis Club. They were on my list so this has worked out well. This little band from Wirral packs a lovely indie rock punch and has succeeded in giving us a boost after today's flight and travel issues. A small crowd has gathered to enjoy the free music and the band play their set loud, and being influenced by everyone from Deerhunter to Guided by Voices, I can see these guys pulling off some solid festival stages all over England in the summer...check them out if you can.
Now that we have had that boost...and with Hooton Tennis Club being the only band we could fit in this late at night...it was time to end the night off with a few pints of Craft Ale at the "Craft" pub on Rainey street. They serve only local Texas Craft Ale and they serve it well. We enjoy a few and as the night ends it's time for the Taxi ride back out to our hotel and hopefully the plan we have for Tuesday will all work out!!
SXSW Monday 14th March
Monday in Austin ( or just outside Austin where our hotel is) brings a slight hangover from late night craft ale and some weary travellers trying to get motivated for a full day of rock n roll..so after a greasy breakfast we walk into Austin.
It's a good hour long walk but nothing is scheduled to kick off until after noon so we have time. We walk directly to the convention centre and pick up our music badges.
Then it's off to the parties put on by Strange Brew & Spotify.
First we walk into Spotify and get our free beer tickets and watch BADBADNOTGOOD. The band from Toronto is a mess of jazz fusion and hip hop beats mixed together to form some very solid instrumental songs. These guys are well known in hip hop circles and have worked will everyone from Ghostface to Danny Brown so they are a very tight band and they produce some very catchy and clever songs that go well with the blistering heat of the day.
Now it's time to head across the street to an ideal set up for music lovers...the Strange Brew party. Plenty of bands I knew of, plenty I did not...but there are 3 stages with a main stage outside and two smaller stages inside two separate adjoining bars. You can move from one to the other to find your spot.
We arrive just in time to watch Patch. These local guys are fantastic. Tight little Austin band whose songs are built around the accordion!! and acoustic guitar and drums. The guys play some perfectly crafted indie rocks songs with great voices and lovely harmonies. Great way to start and a fascinating band to watch. This is what SXSW should be about, discovery and enjoying live music.
The day is simple now...just shift between the three stages and see if anything clicks for us. Main stage is Volcano...a two piece electro pop band. Solid singers but on the outside stage, the sound drifts away and so does the crowd. Inside, you have Mirror Travel..a three piece garage rock band featuring three dynamic young ladies. Seems the crowd has shifted in here as well..they are solid, but I must check out the other stage.
There I find Blankus Larry..a solid two piece garage rock band from DC. Now a quick move to another stage and its Daddy Issues...another all girl group doing Breeders like songs. Another solid set outside on the main stage are the hard rocking..pop punk band White Reaper. They are garage punk and suited for the main stage. They are a great live band but inside.
Stonefield are going to be on soon...this is an another all girl group from Australia. They are sisters and they are very very good. Can see why they were invited to play at Glastonbury...lead singer is very confident, playing is quite good and they are one of the better sounding bands of the day.
Again...have to keep moving and we find a lovely surf psych pop band The Deer. This local band play indie pop with a passion that is rare. The lead singer smiles through every song and she can switch from pop to folk to country seamlessly and with a talented band playing with her...they are a treat.
Outside its an odd "chillipeppers" ish band called Purple, the lead singer of the 3 piece is a young lady who is also the drummer...and while I admire their energy, it's not enough to keep me outside because Tacocat are playing inside. Their feminist pop punk goes down rather well on the small stage inside and their set is full of songs I enjoyed from their album.
All of these bands were setting us up for the main reason to hit this showcase, and that is Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires..and they pack a punch. They are experts at southern rock and they kick ass. Their songs confront plenty of social injustices and they beat injustice with some pretty nasty riffs. Well worth sticking around for!
Following dinner..it's our usual trek to Latitude and a couple more Brit bands before we call it a day.
First off at latitude is the lovely Irish singer Ciaran Lavery. Great little songwriter who clearly is a fan of some Americana..not simply a folk singer, it's a mixture of Ryan Adams, and Bob Dylan...but it all mixes into a wonderful blend. He gets a sing a long going with the crowd in the bar, so I would say he was successful.
Up next, is the Crookes. This Sheffield band have been around for some time, but I have never seen them. They are a solid indie rock guitar band with some sweet melodies and some great songwriting. It is a great way to end the night, because we have to get a cab out of the city and get to our hotel, so that we can grab all our gear and shift to the downtown core Tuesday morning!
SXSW Tuesday 15th March
Finally...time to shift our gear and move into our hotel in the heart of the city. We head to our hotel, drop our bags and off we go. The plan for the day is a little loose...it's Tuesday and there are not a lot of big day shows so it's off to Spotify House.
It's a pretty easy music day at Spotify ...up first is Lukas Graham, a young Danish pop rock soul singer. He is a big deal back home playing to crowds of 40,000 + so this youngster is used to big shows and the kid has swagger. His voice is solid and the songs all seem to be possible big pop hits, so we believe this kid will be playing huge shows in North America soon.
Kacy Hill is up next...young American singer who was hand picked by Kanye to join his label. She pretty much has it made. Her band is tight and her trip hop/dream pop/ soul style goes over well with the crowd and it's a good showcase for her voice. It's very smooth and perfectly suited to this sunny day
Now it's time for a boost of energy. Jack Garratt hits the stage and the crowd swells. Considering a year ago we saw Jack and he performed to a much smaller crowd, clearly his popularity has increased. This singer songwriter/multi-instrumentalist forms some perfect little pop/electronic songs with quite the kick and it's a fun upbeat way to end the afternoon on a sunny day.
A quick check at the schedules reveal a new addition...NightBeats are playing close by....so...off we go! Playing at the outside stage at Hotel Vegas, we wander straight in and the band goes on. It's perfect Psychedelic garage soul played by 3 wonderfully talented young men. It takes no time with these guys to raise the volume and a wave of sound and heavy guitar hits you in a good way. These guys take no prisoners, it's a heads down full on assault of their instruments and what results is a smooth but loud set of blissful but challenging psychedelia!
Continues in Part 2
Jim & Sandra
- Festival Reviews
What a unique way to spend Valentine’s Day at our very first Australian festival! The Laneway Festival series kicked off in Singapore two weeks ago and has travelled around the major cities of Australia before its final stop of the year in Fremantle.
It's a scorching day in Freo. Four stages (the main stage doubles up with two stages) and everything is well within walking distance. Early arrivals get the benefit of a spacious site to wander around as well as seeing first band of the day, the very talented Fait. Post Rock in the sunshine with big electric soundscapes.
Next band on the next door main stage are High Tension, a metal band who came on to a Stars Wars soundtrack. A big thing to live up to and not quite up to that level yet but, a competent band nevertheless.
The crowd starts to grow and everyone heads to the shade of the trees from where you can still see the main stages. Next up some indie pop from End of the Road festival bound, Methyl Ethel. Then it's a short walk to the Mistletone stage for Toronto's mighty Metz. Just out of bed, into the heat, rocking at full pelt, sweet drenched shirts and body shaking songs. A great set.
East India Youth was on the 'Red Bull Future Classic stage' (both Metz and East India Youth would have been much higher up the bill back home) and again a great set. For a one man show, Will Doyle just gets better and better with each show. It should not take long for Australia to catch on.
DllV prove to be the perfect band for a hot afternoon. Bouncy and lively, bright songs tinged with a surf rock feel. Now the site is getting really packed and the heat remains. Getting close to the main stage starts to become difficult. Best to adjourn to the craft ale bar and watch from afar.
The DMA's, a bit like Oasis meets the Pouges, are a grower in the afternoon sun and a band needing more investigation. Fidlar from L.A. blast away in blazing sunshine with their Garage Rock blend of high octane Rock n' Roll. A very solid set indeed.
Big Scary are on the opposite stage next and are a very soulful 5 piece. One of the most mellow bands of the day. Royal Headache on the Mistletone stage get the AC/DC Bon Scott award of the day. Lead vocalist, Shogun is in inspired form, on the last gig of the tour. Shirtless and rocking, the crowd lap it up.
Late afternoon brings 'The Freemantle Doctor' in (the daily afternoon wind) and a lovely breeze drives across the site. The Smith St Band draw a massive crowd for their anthems, but the band that takes us from daylight into night, is New York's Battles. Still one of the most original bands around, the crowds latch onto the rock, jazz, electronic soundscapes and are bouncing from the off. All the bands seem in party mode, this being the last night of the tour.
We stay at the Mistletone stage into the night, which is more comfortable than the main stages. Our reward is the dreamy Beach House, who play an awesome set.
We catch the last half hour of Chvrches set, and the band seem to have had a triumphant Laneway. They certainly seem to be the most talked about band of the festival. Last band of the evening are Purity Ring, with 2 piece, synths and vocals, a great light show and big songs.
A great day festival which, I reckon, if we looked for a comparison closer to home, would be Field Day, with its mix of indie and electronic bands. Oh and the sunshine!
- Festival Reviews
Drill in Brighton was one of the best urban multi-venue festivals of last year – curated by Wire on a rolling basis, this year in Chicago. One Inch Badge, the promoters who organised it, were so inspired by its mix of forms and acts that they set up their own version this year – Mutations!
It was a great first attempt. Inevitably smaller than its illustrious predecessor, the 2 days fell out as Sat = Mostly Country in Hove (Actually) and Sun = Mostly Noise in Brighton, with a Trance Aftershow. Definitely something for everyone! Cleverly they minimised the venue clashes, though it still meant choosing Neko Case over Chelsea Wolfe and Om over Jane Weaver (wrong choice!).
Saturday morning started at 1pm in the Hope and Ruin, an excellent punky pub with good beers and audience face-to-face with bands on the minimal stage. Saintseneca from Columbus Ohio appealed as they were impossible to classify – intense folk rock psych, anyone? It was their first trip abroad! LP ‘How many Blankets in the World?’ should be worth checking out.
Widowspeak from Brooklyn drew a packed crowd but were not my cup of anything – shoegazy dream pop which sent me to sleep. Everyone else liked them. Whereas Willis Earl Beal was very much awake and amazing! Superb soul voice in the vein of Isaac Hayes or JB, and a powerful sense of theatre – tattered cloak, eyeless mask, imaginative use of barstool. Nothing like as bluesy as the recordings I’ve heard, and with a great sense of self-depreciating humour, as he espoused his Church of Nobody and asked us not to clap although falling asleep was fine – not to this gig, bud!
Next, off to church in deepest Hove...which took a while, even by bike, so a tiny audience for first act All Tvvins. Shame as these lively twins from Dublin reminded me of early U2. On tour now with Kodaline. The alcohol free bar didn’t help...I thought churches were OK with wine?
Still, a beautiful venue with great sound...and perfect for the iconic Neko Case. Surely today’s headline act, although third on the bill, many people had come just for her, and she didn’t disappoint. She joked that she had the rare achievement of getting a box set while still alive, the wonderfully named ‘Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule’. She played songs from all her country noir career, including Hold on Hold on and Margaret v Pauline from the classic Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and the beautiful Maybe Sparrow. She referenced John Peel as the man to introduce her to a UK audience before Twist the Knife, which topped the much-missed Festive 50 in 2000. She looked great, in a grey tracksuit, and seemed really happy, laughing with her band. I could have watched her all night.
However, she was followed by a related and also good looking artist whom I enjoyed if anything even more...Josh T Pearson. Gone are the long hair and matted beard, he’s now nattily dressed in a huge white Stetson, attributing his new health to yoga and clean(er) living. His set was a wonderful mix of the heartbreaking and the hilarious...his inter song banter referencing the church venue, the fact that he was single and that he was playing live for the first time for a while as he needed the money. He played Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell like resurrected Cash, and a supremely witty and sad new song StillBorn to Rock, about losing his girlfriend because kids would have ruined his career, which seemed very autobiographical. He ended the set as half of the Two Witnesses, a gospel duo covering extremely Christian numbers from the Louven Brothers and er, Sister Act 2, possibly with just a touch of tongue in that neatly shaven cheek.
It was brilliant, and a pleasure to meet him at the aftershow to find he was more or less the same as on stage, humour and deep emotion combined. Also great to see that he was really into his rock...he had made the trek earlier to see Chelsea Wolfe, whom he praised very highly. We vaguely arranged to meet the next day in Om’s set...I didn’t really expect this to happen, so missed him, but it seems that big Stetson was indeed seen amongst the head nodding crowd.
Maybe a good job we didn’t meet, we may have disagreed about Om. I do like their records, but here they seemed to play the same song 10 times, each version building from similar breathy vocals but never quite achieving a crescendo. Keyboard player Robert did a nice line in tambourine tossing, but I preferred his live work as Lichens.
Sunday was a harder and noisier line-up to ‘enjoy’, though there were many highlights. Anyone playing well in the wonderful Prince Albert is going to be a pleasure, and Lowly from Denmark were a breath of fresh air, sounding quite 80s and foreign, both in a good way.
The singer of Ought from Montreal had real stage presence, definitely one for fans of Pavement. Storm someone-or-other was blasting away outside, but here in the Green Door Store all was mighty hot. So much so that I arrived late for Blanck Mass at the Haunt. It was a measure of just how stunning this show was that even wedged in at the back I was blown away. This solo project from Fuck Buttons B J Power can be hard to listen to on record, but was much more funky live, with transfixing visuals, more like a wild rave than the experimental electronics of the album.
One more highlight awaited...Lightning Bolt! Highly influential, one of the original ‘two blokes with guitar drums and vocals’ bands from before the White Stripes, I first saw them in a riotous Portland Arms in Cambridge many years ago, when they played in the midst of the audience. Luckily this time they stayed on stage, so we could all still see, but the absolute frenzy of their playing is delightfully unchanged. Effects pedals give an amazing intricacy to what might otherwise be just deafening noise, and the highly skilled drummer shouts into a mike embedded in a huge voodoo mask he wears.
Amazingly amongst the sweaty rhythmic charge there’s a lot of humour too...two audience members are sent to the side of the stage for unspecified bad acts, with the punishment turning to a prize as they are given drumsticks and invited to help with the pounding. Sorry to Metz who came on next, but you just cannot follow a band like that!
- Festival Reviews
The ninth Derby Folk Festival has expanded to four venues across the city featuring some of the best traditional and contemporary folk from the UK and beyond.
After a short introduction from festival organisers Bob Rushton, Mick Peat and festival patron John Tams, we start Friday evening in the City marque.
The Liberty to Choose are a collaborative project interpreting traditional songs from the New Penguin Book of English Folks Songs with a modern twist or two. The line up tonight consists of Bran Peters, Jackie Oates, James Findlay and another festival patron Lucy Ward (her 3rd album 'I Dreamt I Was A Bird' was released today). Good versions of 'The Mole catcher,' 'The Spotted Cow' , James Findlay does a great 'Barbara Allen'. The highlight for me is an unaccompanied ' The Trees They Do Grow High' which features Lucy and Jackie two of the best female voices in British folk, spine-tingling stuff.
Next is Flats & Sharps , who are a young bluegrass five piece. Whilst they play the music from the Appalachian mountains, they originate from slightly to the East in ... Penzance. They're a great fun band with the traditional set up of banjos, acoustic guitar, fiddle and upright bass. We get to here about their “Gig Granny” as they call her who suppliers them with sound advice and illegal substances (take this with a large pinch of salt). Highlight 'You Can Have Her, I Don't Want Her' is a favourite at wedding party bookings apparently.
Headliners on Friday night are Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, who play a great set of songs from their four albums. It's only when you see them live you truly appreciate how well Kathryn's warm, precise vocals and Sean's elegantly strummed guitar compliment each other 'The Robber Bridegroom', 'Child Owlet' and 'The Banishing Book' being great examples. Kathryn goes solo with piano for the devastating ' The Ballad of Andy Jacobs' which describes the difficult choices people had to make during the miner's strike in order to survive. The most heart-breaking moment is on '52 Hertz' written about a whale who's singing his mating call at 52 Hertz which is lower than other whales can hear so he swims the oceans alone ' 52 hertz, I'm singing a love song that no-one can hear' . All together now, aaaah .
After a rugby-ball shaped disappointing Saturday night I return on Sunday, perhaps unwisely, to see a Welsh band Calan (who only mention the rugby result about half a dozen times but it's all good natured). Today's line up is a four piece of two fiddles, acoustic guitar and accordion missing the usual Welsh harp, who blast through high speed instrumentals to wake the early Sunday morning crowd up. Bethan Rhiannon Williams-Jones provides beautiful sweet vocals on the slower tracks along with some impressive percussive step dancing . Considering they left Wales in the middle of the night to arrive for today's openers slot they're very chatty as we learn about being deported from the States (nothing more sinister than a paperwork issue) and a broke folk musician's tradition of gifting songs as wedding presents such 'Cariad Caerlyr (Leicester Love)' from the new album 'Dinas'. The twin fiddle blast and shouty chorus of 'Tale of Two Dragons' is the highlight of their energetic set.
Next is an unexpected delight The Dovetail Trio in the Derby Guildhall. Another young (this seems to be a trend) trio of Jamie Roberts (acoustic guitar and bv) Rosie Hood (lead vocals) and Matt Quinn (concertina and bv) who present a beautiful set of trad songs split between unaccompanied and full band tracks. 'Poison In A Glass Of Wine' as Rosie said contains a plot spoiler in the title, and her enchantingly, sweet vocals on 'Frozen Girl' about a girl travelling in the freezing winter causes something hard and jagged in the throat and brings a tear to the eye. They have just released their first album 'Wing of Evening' which is well worth checking out .
Back to the City Marque for John Spiers , squeeze box player extraordinaire, member of soon to depart Bellowhead and a duo with Jon Boden for a set of beautifully played squeeze box instrumentals and up-tempo dance tunes which cause the first outbreak of enthusiastic dancing in the aisles including a mother and infant combination which rightly gets a shout out from John.
The good people of Furthest From The Sea , a local arts organisation have been hosting a Festival Fringe stage all day in The Bell Hotel. Isembard's Wheel, describe themselves as “Folk. And then some” play a lively set with a The Levellers, Frank Turner feel. Felix M-B is a local talent with a down to earth delivery in a Nu-Folk style similar to Nick Drake or Laura Marling.
Melrose Quartet consists of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith, the band are named after the street they all live on in Sheffield, the combination of their four voices is very effectively used on the unaccompanied tunes such as 'Santa Georgia' written about the multi-cultural part of Sheffield they live in and 'Bampton Fair'. Their virtuoso twin fiddle, squeeze box and guitar playing illuminate the full band parts of the set. We hear another two gifted songs on 'Wedding Bells' which Jess wrote for a friend's wedding and 'Margaret Fagan's 50th Birthday Polka' . We get a glimpse into the Kerr/Fagan household when after a lovely version 'John Ball' which celebrates the life of the English radical, Nancy reveals she often sings this to their children as a lullaby ,except when James (who is Australian, but doesn't mention the rugby result) is in charge of bedtime when it's more likely to be AC/DC.
This is only a small part of the great musical events which occur in the city during the Derby Folk Festival, and we're already looking forward to a celebration for DFF10 next year.
- Festival Reviews
My first visit to The Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia was an exhilarating and gritty experience. Based in the Baltic quarter of Liverpool and centred on the Camp/Furnace venues, a few roads had been closed to create the festival site which added a further two stages.
A good selection of fairly priced food, beer and coffee meant no one had to leave the site in search of sustenance, which was just as well as the music flowed non-stop across the various stages from 3pm on Friday and 1pm on Saturday though to 2am the next morning each day.
Not an acoustic guitar in sight all weekend (apart from Slug) Friday blasted off to the sounds of Vuelveteloca, wall of sound merchants from Chile and it was a psych Chilean afternoon as we also had impressive sets from The Ganjas and Chicos de Nazca. New discoveries straight away!
Dengue Fever were their usual fabulous selves but I think they expected a longer set than the 45 mins provided, as a band member was overheard afterwards saying they would have re-jigged the set song wise had they known. not that anyone noticed, it was great set anyway and marvellous to see this unique band again.
Jacco Gardner is a bit of a star these days; tight band, toe tapping great songs and nice voice. Just the perfect package.
Now, what band could make NIN sound like Simon & Garfunkel? That must be Destruction Unit who reduced the audience into wide-eyed submission under bright white lights after just one song. Perhaps the loudest band I have heard in over forty years of gigs!
Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe where far more subtle. A mesmeric set that was one of the true highlights of the festival.
Pinkshinyultrablast from Russia pretty much matched their name with, female vocals, shiny new songs and a lot of shoegazing power. A great set. After a couple of hours of stage hopping it was Carlton Melton who rounded off Friday with a brilliant widescreen sounding set.
One of the major hightlights of this festival was the light show on the two main stages, which on the Camp stage consisted of having the band on camera and then throwing a load of psychedelic colours around them which, was then projected behind the band and at the back of the venue. This meant that if you could not get anywhere near the front to see the band, you could just turn round and watch the projection behind.
Saturday kicks off for me with Radar Men from the Moon. Based in Eindhoven, it's more shoegazing/ psych being produced to a very high standard. The Flowers from Hell (well, Toronto and London) were something quite original as well as being the largest band of the weekend. Ethereal voices and a room filling sound was an early highlight of the day.
Meance Beach from Leeds hit all the garage rock buttons and were followed by the magnificent discovery of the quite beautiful sounds of Death and Vanilla, a band with ambient,Sigur ros leanings.
Hey Colossus played to a rammed one in one out District stage and nearly blew the roof off the place
Canada's No Joy had a 'hit you between the eyeballs', no chat, no fuss set followed by three bands that really again enhanced the feel that this weekend is all about new discoveries; Kandodo3, Cult of Dom Keller and Lumerians from San Francisco, The latter hooded space rock warriors.
Sunderland's Slug, part of the Field Music collective, had a main stage slot on Saturday evening but for some reason the psychedelic crowd were not ready for the bright pop and happy stage banter from this fine band. They gave it their all but it was pretty much a lost cause. A case of the wrong gene of band for the festival I guess.
Jane Weaver packed them in for her set. When she was announced for this festival earlier in the year she was not playing any other festivals. By the time she actually played in Liverpool it must have been around her 10th festival appearance of the summer.
A queuing system was put in place for Hookworms and Spiritualized, which meant I saw the last song of the former and the complete set of the latter which in turn meant missing The Heads for fear of not getting back in for the festival headliners. This was the first and only time I had this issue all weekend and wonder if there was a substantial uptake of day tickets on Saturday evening?
To say that the Spiritualized set was epic would be an understatement. As usual nothing other than a thank you from Jason Pierce but, a tighter band you could not wish for. Standing next to the guy doing the lighting, the amount of effort he was putting in over his board was nearly equally as compelling as watching the band themselves!
So a fine festival all round and one I will definitely return to.