SxSW Review: SYML, Low, March 13, St. David’s Sanctuary

SYML, March 13 2018

SYML
After overcoming some sound interference troubles, Brian Fennell (formerly of the indie rock band Barcelona) quickly began in the church pulpit as SYML, which means simple in Welsh. Just as the name implied, it would turn out to be a straightforward singer-songwriter concert that has come to be St. David’s Sanctuary’s signature.

Over the years, it has also become clear that if you can’t sing, St. David’s is not a place to showcase your talents. SYML is, fortunately, not in that latter category. While I find it a bit distracting to have the cello and violin backing to his one man show, there was little hestitation in his delivery for passages. That said, the songwriting itself isn’t always clearly original. It isn’t hard to see that the opening of “Ghosts” neatly paraphrased Coldplay’s “In My Place.” While refreshing, his “Mr. Sandman” cover was not just a little creepy, and self-admittedly so. The lyrics were twisted into a lament about loneliness that might make Tim Burton jump. Even with all its idiosyncracies, this is still a first-rate set, ending with the promotional piece “Where’s My Love.” I would recommend the above tracks as well as “Wildfire.”

Low
If the previous set was “simple”, Low’s performance is its quantum entangled pair. How can we put more symbolism into a show? “I know! Let’s have two stern-faced, practicing Mormons sing nearly monotonic verses against a backdrop of ascending drum beats for 40 minutes in a dimly lit church, and conspicuously display their drinking of red soda and chomping of apples. That way, no one will think we were being serious!”

To be fair, Low has had a long career of minimalist excellence. It’s really not surprising that they managed to make the seemingly simple and monotonic music beautiful. And to be honest, it was a completely different experience if you were willing to stay the course. Problem was, it did not engender that will in most of the audience on this night. If St. David’s Sanctuary monitored their doors, they would have registered the exodus in between every track played. It was rare to see a concert hemorrhage audience throughout. I think a masochist mindset definitely came to the fore – and many just wanted to derive some type of reward having stayed with the performance. And as if they understood implicitly, Low did eventually open up the format for a number of more flowing pieces.

As for me, I felt like I had been party to some ritual to which I did not submit, but perhaps I did sign up for it. After all, SxSW is about getting a dose of the weird.

Low, March 13, 2018

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

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