SXSW Review: ATO Showcase, March 16, Cedar Street Courtyard

 
ATO Records put on a showcase at Cedar Street Courtyard and the Panic Manual was there to take in sets by three of the artists performing:

Nick Hakim

Nick Hakim
Whether it’s “I Don’t Know” from 2014, or this year’s “Bet She Looks Like You,” Hakim’s recordings always project an air of sophistication. The precious silence in between his vocals produces its own reflective and soulful imagery. But in real life, with the din of Cedar Street Courtyard at 10pm, and everyone jostling for a view of the stage, it projected a completely different feeling. Perhaps it is an inaccurate impression. I felt anxiety-ridden – wishing that they could be heard in that smooth, slow light. But of course, as Einstein might demur, “there is no such thing as slow light”. Oh well, back to the headphones.

Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman
I am very much a person of instrumental music, so incomprehensible lyrics usually do not dissuade me. I found it a little funny and odd then that Chicano Batman’s music did not work for me. They produced disjointed melodies that accompany as transitions, a segue to each batch of lyrics. It is an interesting structure. They would jump off the cliff to explore the sea floor, and then teleport back up as if through rewind. Repeated use of this, however, made one song sounds like the other to me. I am sometimes reminded, during obvious passages, of jazz improv. There is also a whiff, carried on a synth keyboard, of a chord or key eerily reminiscent of 80s Taiwanese pop music. So, it could be the work of some Freudian block in my head – an annoying trip down memory lane.

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff
I last saw Hurray for the Riff Raff in 2014, performing in Lance Armstrong’s local shop, with more mountain bikes than people. Then, they were a feisty and folksy band with a singular message about empowering the underdogs. Fast-forward 3 years, and with the advent of the Trump era, they have essentially turned activists, as we’re likely all of us underdogs now. The vocal and style has transformed into something that would fit right into any large metropolis in their new album, The Navigator. “A Life to Save” is a very good example.

Confident, almost strident, they have also become much more adept at holding the attention of a large crowd. Alynda Lee Segarra now burns with a permanent anger. She wears it like a revolutionary, and even has a beret to match. Given the current political and societal context, I think she is right to be. We should probably all be angry at many of the regressive ideas floating around. That strong emotion carried throughout the concert, in songs that touched on immigration, social injustice, and even a ballad about her Puerto Rican father. Ending with Pa’lante or “go forward”, it is a forceful and powerful performance. I recommend catching their entire set (a different one hosted by NPR) below.

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Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest

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