SXSW Review: Datarock [Cedar Street Courtyard, Filter Culture Collide party, March 19, 2011]

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Baltimore – Here is a recepe I learned at SXSW this year:

Several Talking Heads
4 red tracksuits
4 Norwegians
1 bowl of electro-pop
200+ SXSW goers

Cube the Talking Heads and marinate in electro-pop. Mix in the Norwegians wrapped in individual tracksuits, sprinkle the SXSW goers, and bake under warm March sun for 45 minutes until well done. Voila. You have made a Filter Culture Collide party with Datarock.

I am usually not enticed by electro-pop/punk, even on the best of days. But the way a Datarock song is assembled makes it easy to like. Simple bass lines, scarce use of guitar for highlights or hooks, everything strung together loosely by weird lyrics set to a melody that ought to be played on a synth. The Talking Heads resemblance is plain from miles away. They have a song called True Stories that is full of Talking Heads song titles (not to mention its theme is basically an offshoot of Psycho Killer). Alos, why else would you shout out Fa-Fa-Fa? The interesting thing is that the formula actually works. They were one of the first acts for Filter’s party that afternoon, and it showed. Although it was far from empty, Cedar Street Courtyard was not as we saw it in yester-years during White Lies or Temper Trap. This time, I had the option of moving from the balcony to the stage without catching snake eyes from 50 people. Datarock opened energetically by stomping down the staircase. Initially I was skeptical. The vocal Fredrik Saroea fist-pumped like a cheerleader, Thomas Larssen on bass had a ridiculously wide stance that made 2/3 pi looks acute, saxophone Kjetil Møster was jumping behind the vocal like a boxer, and Adrian Meehan looked every part the timid vampire under that hoodie, picking at drums away from the sun.

I am glad that first impressions are often wrong. After my initial assessment,  Datarock opened with the Pretender (I believe). Over the next 45-50 minutes they would go through their albums, including Computer camp love, California, Catcher in the Rye (there may be a Bon Jovi tune here), and DANCE. For each song, Saroea would smartly (or smugly, depending on your vantage) introduce the audience to a background. California, for example, was supposed to be a play. Not that anyone cared whether Datarock makes the Writers’ guild, but compare this to the often muffled: “Mmmmmm… thank you. This next song is called X”. I would much rather have such stage act enliven the performance than not, especially because Datarock is built on such idiosyncrasies. The audience, too, gradually warmed up to their presence. I started the concert on the balcony beside two gentlemen who were scoffing. By the time everyone else in the courtyard was fist-pumping to Fa-Fa-Fa, they told me about their plans to high-five the band after. Let’s be clear, though: this was NOT a Matt and Kim style free-love-for-all. Perhaps the music was off-kilter. Everyone was just on the cusp. If Matt (or Kim) was to jump topless into the crowd at their concert, there would be a supernova on the spot. Møster did so, and was greeted by a parting audience like Moses with Red Sea. I think he was a little baffled. But honestly, it was 3PM. I would need much more alcohol before I stick my hand out to support a sweaty 200 lb Norwegian. Late in the show, Meehan also abandoned the drums so he could jump onto the speaker stack to sing. As I said, they were very energetic, but I can’t figure out why the crowd wasn’t as receptive as with other comparable concerts.

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Overall, Datarock was very enjoyable to watch and listen, and not just because of showmanship. I would hazard to guess that the formula worked because of the European influence… house music and continental suave. Or perhaps that’s just my head talking. 0.5 star bonus!

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest