SXSW Review: Communion night, March 20, St. David’s Historic Sanctuary

Communion’s showcase in St. David’s Historic Sanctuary has been one of the standards ever since we first came to Austin. This time around, both Derek and I were in the audience. So while I sat lazily back and sniped from the aisles, Derek went hunting for shots up-front.

Tove Styrke

I’m not a Swede, but I found myself categorizing her sound as default Swedish pop. Tove Styrke’s voice is raw and sharp, shrill if you will, like a 23 year old (Wait. She IS). That’s not really a bad thing, however, if you’re trying to earn your fame on Swedish Idol. “Borderline” illustrates this point well. But after a bit of listening, both her voice and songs have a little more range than one would initially assume. She was very busy with gestures as if trying to draw sounds out. Although I did enjoy the set, there was a little wow factor that was MIA. Also MIA and distracting to Tove was Communion’s projection – they could do better than leave a screensaver on the roof for hundreds to see.

Laura Marling

Between the show-to-show maelstrom that is SXSW, I relish the opportunity to sit back and decipher the meaning in lyrics every chance I get (given that I remembered to remove my ear-plugs…). Laura Marling gave the audience that chance. One of her older songs, “The Devil’s Spokes” sounded MUCH more consequential, live, especially when it’s sped up 1/2 times. It was hard to be mindful and go easy on the foot-tapping. Her guitar accompaniment was also very impressive. In between, she lightened the mood by talking about going to see the Breeders and climbing into a bar on 6th by the bathroom window. The two elements came together in a new song (I think) called “How Strange I love you”, a blistering western ballad that perfectly illustrated her speed and tempo control. She then slowed down to songs like the wandering “Walk Alone”, which doesn’t say much in words, but wins you over with hooks and melody. In a hilarious and spontaneous SXSW version of “David”, Marling sang “He looks wasted and lols at me”, to the cheers of the welcoming audience. Overall impressive, and I should revisit these lyrics.

Foreign fields

Nashville? When Foreign Fields mentioned their current base of operations, I did a double-take. The style was more in line with my image that they were discovered, fully formed between the pews of the Sanctuary. It is perfect for what Communion typically offers: the pensive Sunday afternoon meandering of little-red Charringhood along the stream that ran through a splintered meadows full of biohazard waste and industrial byproducts behind the mansion of a Middle-Eastern transplanted Californian. For all its calming, and soothing potentials, it can wear on the psyche. For example, the chorus in their last number felt like it lasted 5 minutes. My personal preference is that unless I’m meditating, the music had better evolve from any point 5 minutes prior, or it deserves to be extinct.

Leon Bridges

Anachronistic acts are always troublesome – I can never be sure if I got the period correct. So while I apologize in advance, I’d say that Leon Bridges and friends firmly planted themselves in the 50s, when Elvis ruled the air waves. Bridges himself has the full get-up, and each member was meticulously attired, gel-hair, Hairspray skirts, and polo. His voice came through clearly over the band. I wondered if that swimming gesture he did, drawing for a breath in breast-stroke, was actually working miracles. The band supported him for most of the show, making the set particularly energetic. As the swan song, Bridges did an acoustic version of “River”. The ending of the set was a little abrupt – but that’s probably because most of us were still immersed in the music. There was no encore despite the standing ovation.

James Bay

It sounds completely normal for a seminary school to send its pupils to churches for study. Unless that church is the Presbyterian and they were sent to Austin with SXSW badges. I expressed my sense of incredulity and injustice for the type of funding available in their chosen vocation versus mine with a single word. And so it was that I said “Nice!” to the two girls who sat at church waiting patiently despite the urge to leave during all previous acts, just to be enlightened by the English folk-rocker James Bay. Over the course of the night, I overheard that his traveling was supported by the UK government. Not sure if that’s true, but it does lend credibility to the full-house he was able to draw. There was one thing that stood out in my memory of this set: his set up for “The Scars”, a separation story, was almost 2 mins, as he makes it known that it still pains him deeply to this day. I welcome sincerity in an act, but it was overmuch. Bay’s singing and songwriting was exasperatingly powerful, which made it all the more annoying that it wasn’t sold separately from the extra dose of hubris. “Hold back the River” is of course his strongest song, and proved a welcome ending to the night.
Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest

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