SXSW Review; Matt Maeson, Agnes Obel, March 17, St. David’s Sanctuary

I saw two acts as part of the “traditional” (for me) Communion Night at St. David’s Sanctuary this year.

Matt Maeson

Matt Maeson
As with each new generation of pop music, Matt Maeson’s songs are full of emphasis. They are overt and attention seeking. It’s something worth putting on Instagram but may not stay with you by happy hour Saturday evening.

Even though they were delivered in a church with just a guitar, the dramatic pauses, the obvious epic-tempo, the produced and formulaic melody and structure asks one to listen, but can’t produce the substance and soul.

I’m probably doing it wrong – I don’t have the acronym and meme vocabulary of an 18 year old to correctly comment on this. Nonetheless, I don’t have any sentiments against Maeson – he certainly has the vocal range and talent, and no one doubts his authenticity. Yet a music video where a pastor synchronized his punches to music really made me (and everyone) cringe, just a little.
Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel
I have heard cello concertos in an orchestral setting, and always felt that they were simply alternative, deeper voiced violins. But that’s mainly because they can be buried by both the composition and the sheer number of instruments. I haven’t appreciated their power (albeit amplified) and versatility until now. Perhaps Agnes Obel is right in her more pared-down and focused approach to composition. Whether it’s completing sentences of opposites or driving a marching bass line, the cello proved incredibly apt at supplanting the air conditioners in supplying the atmosphere. That was a surprise that the recordings never did convey.

When the red lights came on before she took the stage, I thought that it would pass. But Obel constructs everything intentionally, and of course lighting is the other half of the ambience. And the lighting is best bloody dark. She was visibly annoyed when this illusion was broken and shafts of light peaked in with the swelling audience mid-song. She sang the main registers here and left the flourishes to the percussionist. It was no surprise that she would play “The Curse”, the 2013 hit that first drew our attention to Obel’s song writing. And of course “Familiar”, the single from her new album Citizen of Glass continues in that austere tradition. Beautifully flowing, intense yet personal, it’s a successful way to integrate classical elements for modern sensibilities. You are led to follow each melodic development instead of a fully-assembled harmonized sound.

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

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