SXSW Review: Noire, Oh Pep!, Electric Billy Club, March 14

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“It’s hard to sing sad songs when you’re having a good time.”

So said Oh Pep! singer Olivia Hally at the beginning of their early morning show as part of the Aussie BBQ party (10:30 am during SXSW is practically 6:30am) and it’s hard to disagree with her. With the sun shining on one of the first really nice days of the week and plenty of food, coffee and alcoholic beverages already going around, it’s nigh impossible to stay bummed out. Besides, sometimes you just want to hear a sad song.

Luckily, Oh Pep! didn’t end their set right then and there, running through a short set of melancholy yet sweet tunes that got the day off to a good start.

Following Oh Pep!, Sydney based duo Jessica Mincher and Billy James, otherwise known as Noire (pictured above) kept things going on the front yard stage at Lucille with a similarly mellow vibe that worked just as well on an outdoor stage in broad daylight as it would in a moody, dimly lit night club.

I moved then from the sounds of Australia to the sounds of Tulsa, Oklahoma, heading over to the Tulsa party at Augustine to check out the interestingly named rock trio Electric Billy Club. And I’ve got to say at first, they didn’t really grab me. It started out as standard meat and potatoes riff rock – nothing special right off the bat, but it seemed good enough to occupy my time while I polished off a light beer. But then they broke out the synths and all of a sudden, it was veering hard on a detour into Tangerine Dream territory and I’m very OK with that. All in all, a solid set of heavy psych.

SXSW Review: Vandoliers, March 13, The Continental Club

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In all our years of doing SXSW, the Panic Manual crew has rarely made it out for shows on South Congress. No good reason for that really – we know it’s a cool area and have made the effort from time to time, but it is so much further away from that main drag on Sixth Street where a lot of the venues are. Yes, laziness wins out sometimes. Sad but true.

But this year I made the effort to head out to the Continental Club for Bloodshot Records’ annual showcase at the venue. A good choice, as this year’s lineup featured a solid collection of acts that included the Waco Brothers, Laura Jane Grace, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, and Dallas alt-country group (and recent Bloodshot signees) Vandoliers, playing songs off of their just released third album Forever.

At the outset of their show, Vandoliers frontman Joshua Fleming was all ‘aw shucks’ about being the new guys on the label, telling the crowd how last year they were guests on the Bloodshot day show and how he had to sneak into the Continental Club show later that night back then. But now they’re on the label and they’re fully legit. Fleming further proved his and the band’s cred by pointing out how he’s been doing this for 16 years before he got a record deal and then went on to play a song about being broke. Not that he really needed to say anything to prove that Vandoliers fit right in on the Bloodshot roster – the band’s rowdy, punk-infused songs did that all on their own.

SXSW Review: Gurr, Disq, March 12, Cheer Up Charlie’s

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“Thanks for coming out so early to see us and have a breakfast beer” said Gurr’s Laura Lee during their early afternoon set at Cheer Up Charlie’s for the first day of Stereogum’s Range Life day parties (complete with free packs of Stereogum-branded gum – clever!). It was a very SXSW way to greet a crowd for sure – it’s one of those ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ sort of things. According to Lee, that beer and a banana was all she’d had so far that day, although a poll of her bandmates revealed that they’d all had something at least slightly more substantial for breakfast – respectively, a bagel with avocado, a muffin, and another bagel, this one with cheese and turkey. A band playing SXSW has gotta stay well fed, after all.

Gurr put on a fun show full of scrappy, poppy, garage-y indie rock tunes like “Moby Dick” and “#1985,” but they also took some time during their set to comment on how things had changed in the short time since the Berlin-based band were last in town for SXSW. “We were in Austin two years ago and it’s very different now,” said Andreya Casablanca, explaining that back then “it was sunny all the time and there were no scooters.” It’s true, the weather up to that point had kind of sucked and those damn scooters were pretty unavoidable this year. The band even went on to have a bit of a mini-debate with the crowd about scooter pros and cons (apparently they’re banned in Germany). Regardless of your position on scooters, Gurr are worth a listen.

Preceding Gurr’s set and starting things off for the day on the adjacent indoor stage was Disq, a young band out of Madison, Wisconsin who I knew nothing about but who managed to impress.

With his shaggy hair and glasses, singer Isaac de-Broux-Slone looks a bit like a baby Thurston Moore and while there’s a bit of a Sonic Youth influence to be heard in their music, vocally he bears a slight resemblance to a younger, less bummed out David Bazan. The band just recently released it’s latest single “Communication” as a single via Saddle Creek. Check out the video for “Communication” below:

SXSW Review: Haelos, March 12, Cedar Street Courtyard

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Haelos released one of my favorite albums in 2016. The dark moody electronic music they presented on that album reminded me a bit of trip hop from the 90’s. Funny enough, they also played Cedar Street Courtyard as part of SXSW in that year, so it was nice to be able to see them again this year as they prepare for the release of their new record Any Random Kindness.

If the live show and their first two singles are any indication, Haelos is ready to party a bit more. “Buried in the Sand” and “Kyoto”, two of their most recent offerings, kicked off the set and put the crowd on notice – it might be 3:00 in the afternoon, but it’s time to dance.

Haelos does a great job of balancing strong vocal work and a tense aesthetic with a full electro sound and their live show amps everything up to 10. New tracks aside, the band still sounded best playing their debut material including “Dust”, a track that propelled them into the spotlight. But maybe that’s just my own familiarity and bias. Either way, they remain highly impressive and I’m curious to see what the new album brings.

Check them out.