SXSW Reviews: Colin Stetson; Caitlin Rose, Amy LaVere [Parish; Swan Dive, March 18, 2011]

Baltimore – Why do I lump reviews together? Well, it’s certainly not due to a lack of thoughts on each topic/section. Heck, if you let me, I could probably ramble on and relate chocolate chip cookies directly to a contrabass saxophone. Somehow. Just like why I decided to write about all 3 in one review – because they relate together for me.


I had never heard of Colin Stetson and Amy LaVere before the concerts. But I have heard of NPR (in fact I am probably a rabid NPR fanboy by now, waiting for the zombie signal over FM radio). Seeing NPR’s day party on the SXSW calendar was equivalent to hearing the call to arms if I was a Spartan. Just as I was pulled toward the Parish on this cloudy day, so too, were 70 others, forming a snaking line outside of the Parish. You know you are in a NPR line if 1) people are gambling, with real money, 2) everyone looks like Josh (Anger), 3) it seems that no one cares about the prospect of actually getting into the show. The last note could have something to do with the advertisement for swags-bags. But it was the most lazy line that I have ever been in – if we were nitrogen and the NPR line was a vacuum, we would be sucked in at no particular order, with no particular grudge. Contrast this to the Friendly Fires line later in the night, where one person tricked all of the wristband holders (yes… me included) into joining the general line on the other side… Laid back.


Colin Stetson, I learned, is more often associated with other acts than his solo efforts. 2-3 minutes into Colin’s set (a short one that you can watch in its entirety from NPR), one name ran across my mind – Xavier Rudd. In Stetson’s hands, the bass/contrabass sax sounds oddly like a didgeridoo. Apparently, both artists use circular breathing (see wiki). While Rudd has several didges at his disposal, Stetson had one saxophone. Due to a complete lack of musical talents I will refrain from commenting on techniques, suffice it to say that it’s not only impressive, but also hauntingly beautiful to listen. Be patient, though. His music takes a little time to develop, and has a lo-fi tinge. Because of the breathing technique, though, this tends to involve a revolving set of notes that escalates, which sound similar to Philip Glass on the closing parts of Koyaanisqatsi. You know… where the cars keep going ’round, faster and faster, like the notes. The people of NPR might be, but this music is definitely not laid back.


Last year I went to see Audra Mae on the strength of one song (and it was totally justified). And not just any song – a depressing ballade about a girl in the deep south committing suicide. This year Caitlin Rose played the role of that songstress who draws me in with one horribly depressing song. When she introduced it, a man standing in front of me asked: “What? A song about someone who was pushed into a wall?” “No,”, I said, “WELL”. That is more like it – no one gets hurt being pushed into a wall! Folk music is apparently full of the dark sides of life, because if all we ever pondered is high-minded ideas such as “are we human or are we dancer”, then no one will be left doing the dancing and the “human’in”.

And human her performance was. Perhaps less calculated like many at SXSW but very genuine. I have never been to Swan Dive before. When I arrived there was a guy trying to weasel his way in. Meanwhile, I had missed 1-2 songs. Inside, Swan Dive contrasted orange, incandescent chandeliers with a blue-hue floor lighting. Combined together on the bare white walls, it became a very intimate yet somewhat desolate setting. Perfect, I guess, for singing about pushing people into wells. A piano less and two best-friends more than on the new album, Own Side Now, Caitlin certainly displayed a great range both in volume and scale. Some of the numbers feel more country than folk, but to be honest I would never know (nor care). I do wish that the subject of her songs would change a little. I like the Sinful Wishing Well (alluded to before), Own Side, and the last song (didn’t catch the name), a sing-along. The man (above) suggested that I stay for Amy LaVere.


I did stay. But not for the entire set (had to run to another show to line up). I did hear Washing Machine – which totally confused me… here were two instrumentalists on stage, one bass, one violin, and I heard guitar rift coming from the birthday boy (60 yrs old?) above everything else. Amy also repeatedly toasted the audience, which I thought was a little weird. Maybe a few more would give me a better grounding in her music. So I won’t be rude and give PMs this round.

That was a impromptu break for the finish. Like Colin Stetson’s saxophone.

Colin Stetson: (only because I regret that it was so short!)

Caitlin Rose:

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