SXSW Reviews: Rebecca Perl, Springtime Carnivore, Emmy the Great

Rebecca Perl

As others on the Panic crew left for the W, I was left ambling along the “cool” side of Congress, and started the night by listening to someone I haven’t heard of until that point.

It is funny how after 7 years, I realized that the nominal retreats from sanity such as the Presbyterian Church or the Sanctuary were no longer guarantees. Given their increasing popularity, attendance has been transformed into a type of social ritual. And the need to be included, be seen, be known and be cleansed by the trials of fire that is a SXSW “party” now permeates some venues. I don’t blame the performers or venues, after all, saturating the space with audience and anticipation IS the goal of any showcase. But simultaneously it sours the experience. Or perhaps I am being jaded (or that artificial knee is showing). In contrast, tucked away on the other side of Congress and situated next to the gigantic W, Lambert’s BBQ seems like one of the little moons of Jupiter, reeling from its gravity. But it does have one benefit: everyone here is mild and considerate, therefore the epitome of enjoyable live music – enjoyable company. I last came to Lambert’s to see Secret Cities a few years back, and Rebecca Perl’s set was similarly cozy, warm, and immensely solid. I didn’t have to fight for a shot – in fact I was invited to get into other people’s line-of-sight so I could take pictures. Rebecca and the band’s enthusiasm filled the upstairs of Lambert’s, and in turn they were well-received by the crowd. Playing a mixture of folk, country and jazz, I particularly like how the saxophone was incorporated. The set ended with the ever catchy “So Good To Me“, and a solo for all members of the band. Short but worthwhile, it was the quintessential SXSW showcase.

Springtime carnivore

I’ve always naively assumed that the biography attached to the band photos in a SXSW page/booklet were written either by the manager or the band themselves. On the way home, a night after Springtime Carnivore played, I shared a taxi to Austin airport with a Denver/NY-based writer. One surprising fact that emerged from that conversation was: professional writers are paid to write the biography/introduction blurbs. That could explain why they weren’t “psychedelic” as advertised. There were certainly some flowing electronic interludes, but otherwise Springtime Carnivore reflected a part of normal indie pop repertoire. In a care-free fashion, the lead singer Greta Morgan wasn’t always on key, but that hardly mattered: SXSW isn’t the spring-time recital at Peabody Conservatory. Buoyed by the same attitude, they encouraged the crowd to dance in the church, I would say to most others’ chagrin. But that’s because most people are squares. Even with camera in hand, it was pretty hard resisting the urge to dance along to that whistling in “Name On A Matchbook“.

Emmy the Great

This was one of those acts that completely contradicted my expectations. Maybe I should have watched their music videos beforehand. Performing under the same roof where the Japanese rock-star Yoshiki sang last year, Emmy the Great brought a different kind of weird to Bethell Hall. Whereas Yoshiki floated in a dramatic bubble of his own personality separate from us mortals, Emmy the Great carried a porcelain mask over a pink-lit, deadpan expression, walking amongst us mortals. Be it British arrogance or a carefully choreographed “EMO” act, it certainly set her band apart. Prior to the set, I’d only heard “Swimming Pool” and while some components of the recording were missing, the live performance didn’t suffer at all – I felt that the enjoyable songs weren’t the ones with synthesized backdrop. Also, her gestures during those numbers looked positively robotic. I don’t know why she felt she had to do something when not on a guitar.

Like Laura Marling’s, Emmy’s lyrics have a bite to them. But while the former is poetic and veiled, the latter is unapologetically brutal in the way Asian horror films creep up on you, take up residence underneath your skin, and smile innocently while putrefying your flesh from inside-out. The following interaction perfectly illustrates my point: normally if a singer-songwriter asked that an Austinite takes her home along with all her belongings and the grand piano, there would be laughs, cheers and whistles. When Emmy asked, there was an amusingly awkward silence, and seconds later she met that reply with a smile of tacit satisfaction. Another good one is “City Song”, where an abortion was dropped like a bomb right at the end of the song. Emmy’s set closed this SXSW – Ricky thought it dotted all the sentences on a high note. While I couldn’t agree more, I don’t know what surprises lurk in those sentences.

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest