Concert Review: Esoteric, May 12, The Garrison

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When a band comes through your town on a tour that they’ve labelled “The Incessant Drone of Misery Tour,” it’s a fairly safe bet that they’re not going to be singing tunes about sunshine and lollipops. And sure enough, when UK funeral doom five-piece Esoteric took to the stage at The Garrison on Sunday night, there was a distinct lack of good-time party rock anthems. Rather, true to their name, the Birmingham band was instead offering up something a tad more, well, esoteric. 

Doomy, trippy, and most definitely heavy as hell, Esoteric offer up an interesting blend of crushingly heavy riffage and somewhat proggy psych elements in their sound, all of it delivered at a funereal pace. The band is currently touring behind their latest album A Pyrrhic Existence, their seventh, which came out back in 2019 via Season of Mist. It’s the kind of album that opens with a 27 minute track and just keeps going from there for 90 plus minutes of epic doom. After 30 years as a band, Esoteric have definitely mastered the art of the slow burn.

While Esoteric may not make the kind of music you’d throw on to get the dance floor moving, it definitely sets a mood and I will admit that there were more than a few times during their set that I found myself smiling and slowly nodding my head in approval to the music. So, I guess this is proof that (the incessant drone of) misery really does love company.

SXSW 2024 Recap: So Long and Thanks for All the Brisket

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

20240313 HotWax

Another year, another SouthBy. Team Panic Manual has been coming to Austin in some shape or form since 2009 and while some things have remained constant, much has changed over the years.

This year, it was hard to ignore the controversy caused by the presence of the U.S. Army as a sponsor, which led to many bands cancelling their official showcases. Oh, also, every other panel seemed to be about AI, so maybe next year will be brought to you by Skynet and HAL 9000 will be playing his hit single “Daisy Bell” at Stubb’s. Who knows? Anyways, here’s a rundown of how our week in Austin went.

Best Act

Ricky: Most entertaining acts were Faux Real and Wolves of Glendale, both of those groups made me smile. Faux Real’s endless energy and their incredibly fun dance shows really kicked off SXSW in a a great way. Wolves of Glendale blended humor and ’80s inspired music in a perfect way and were just super fun. My favorite musical act was probably Bubble Tea and Cigarettes, whose music was perfectly suited to a dark church backdrop.

Gary: Emily Barker. I knew some songs but was not expecting the quality of songwriting that shone throughout. 

Paul: Simply for putting on one of the more unique shows, I’ll give it to Tommy Stinson for jumping onstage mere minutes before his set time and seemingly just winging it – I don’t think he was even scheduled as an official act until that very day. A special shout out to Hinds as well for giving me a much needed boost of energy on Wednesday night after an unplanned (but much needed) nap that almost took me out of commission for the rest of the night. They’re always a fun watch.

20240312 Lottery Winners

Best New Discovery

Paul: The Lottery WInners.

Ricky: My favorite discovery was Poo-pourri, this random product that takes the stink out of #2. Every SXSW, the 4 of us hole up in a hotel room for 8 days, with 1 bathroom. Previously this led to some problems, but with Poo-pouri, the bathroom problem was instantly resolved, much to my amusement. Musically,  I haven’t really digested it yet, but I had written down to check out Vital Powers, a rapper from England, Chinese American Bear – a pop duo from Minnesota or something, and Automatic, a buzzy band that had lots of kids really energized.

Gary: Earth Tongue. I am still not computing how robotic, heavy psych chants of “Bodies Dissolve Tonight!” became so good. 

Derek: The Lottery Winners were such a pleasant surprise. I didn’t expect to be blown away by any music since I was leaving town just as music was getting started, but The Lottery Winners at BME (and later that same night at Seven Grand) scratched that itch and left me feeling like I got to experience some of what makes SXSW so great.

Biggest Disappointment

Ricky: Bar Italia had a lot of hype and I was not into their performance. One of their members had major microphone issues so maybe that played a big part but considering their hype, they didn’t really do anything to stand out. The biggest disappointment was actually just me, letting work greatly disrupt my focus and mood during the entirety of the week (again).

From a festival perspective, the quietness of the festival was extremely loud. The lack of big bands to anchor a night really stood out. 

Gary: Bar Italia? It was mostly due to hype from others … I wasn’t even going to see them. So in all honesty I had not been “disappointed” this year.

Derek: I’m old and can’t drink like I used to. Maybe that isn’t disappointing, but there it is.

20240312 Mogwai

Favourite SXSW Moment

Gary: Mogwai playing a cadenza on “Rano Pano”… or was it “Dry Fantasy”? Regardless, it’s still one of the best sets this year. 

Derek: Being called “Simon Cowell” by Lottery Winners frontman Thomas Rylance.

Paul: Watching The Appleseed Cast close out their set with a motorik noise jam before calling it quits, apparently due to an amp that was on fire. It made for a big cathartic end to their set and also a memorable way for me to close out my SXSW 2024 experience.

Ricky: I can see Ash over and over again, so probably that. Or the giant tuna collar we ate at Kemuri Tatsu Ya.

20240316 The Ayoub Sisters

Final Thoughts

Gary: If I am not going back next year, it would be an anticlimactic note on which to end a decade-plus of riotous music, film, poster, and food discoveries in Austin. This year felt particularly sparse and disconnected, more so than even 2022, which is hard to fathom. So many venues are going their own way and old, reliable sources are evolving past each other and the festival itself, and the model of music discovery is still shifting, even beyond the pish of Spotify. If I am going back, I would be setting myself up for an expectation of impossible proportions. We are all addicts now, grappling with the decision whether to take that one last hit… all I know is that going cold turkey will not be something my system would take lightly to.

Derek: After attending every year since 2010, I finally feel like 2024 is probably my last (despite having said that since 2018). During this trip I found myself looking at photos of years past and remembering the many amazing shows we’ve seen, surprise acts discovered before they blew up, great food we’ve eaten and the unlimited free drinks we consumed. Over the years, we got to know which parties or venues offered the best free booze and free food (shoutout Péché for that one time but never again).

My age showed as I reflected on how much the city has changed since we started attending the festival, engaging in plenty  of “I remember when..” conversations – I guess it’s that thing dudes do as they turn into old dudes. For me, SXSW has always been equal parts professional development (during interactive), indulging in Tex-Mex or BBQ and hanging out with the PM crew while catching some amazing bands up close. And even if this is my last year, it’s been a pretty great run.

Paul: Fifteen years. That’s how long Panic Manual has been going to SXSW. I don’t think any of us expected to be doing it for this long, but as Derek said, it has been a pretty good run. And while we’ve talked about whether to come back for the following year or not for at least a few years now, it seems this might be the last year that the four of us will all be in Austin at the same time with two of our party likely calling it quits after this year’s edition of SouthBy. So to quote The Rolling Stones, this could be the last time, I don’t know …

Though in all honesty, the other two of us might still be good for at least one more time. The AI that is T-800 said he’ll be back. So … see y’all next year? Possibly.

SXSW Review: Emily Barker, March 16, Swan Dive

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On the last night of possibly our last SXSW, a clearly Australian Emily Barker got ready on the small indoor stage at Swan Dive in a hurry, while stragglers from the patio were still trickling in. As if a confidence booster, not to herself but to the tens of us present who stood six feet from each other, she announced, “As you can see, it’s just me, and I’m quiet. In fact, I’m fucking quiet, so won’t everyone please gather in towards the stage?”

And after we did so, she proceeded to bore Ricky out of his mind with a poetry reading. The atmosphere was as stiff as the undissolved bodies left over from Earth Tongue’s set days earlier.

Had I not listened to her albums beforehand, I would have swam back to the patio stage at that point just to salvage my second last show of the year from descending into open-mic-night. But this is when someone who would traditionally have suited the Church or Sanctuary opted to play folk songs across the street from shawarma and taco vendors. It was a test from Austin.

Barker would go on to pull and hold the crowd from this seemingly dismal start, drawing from her new album Fragile as Humans and the highly praised A Dark Murmuration of Words. The songwriting is superb – literary, thought-provoking and set to memorable melodies. The singing was clean and articulated, with a voice much fuller and relatable in person than that in studio, as if they had recorded with an iPhone behind a bass-filter. And indeed it was just her, a guitar, and a harmonica. It was bare-bones to the point that she might have scored more attention busking on Red River Street under the sodium instead of stage lights. At one point it took 3 tries to start a song (I think it was “Feathered Thing”), and then she embarked on an a cappella number … because why not? There is nothing to lose and every chance to shine (which she did).

It was in the audience vocal exercise during “Wild to be Sharing This Moment” when I rediscovered just how fun SXSW had always been. During SouthBy, it could be a metalhead, a choir boy, a policeman or a blues man in the audience … we are not there expecting our favorite songs. We are there on a chance that the set could be surprisingly good, and we will score some new favorites. I’m glad to say that SXSW has not lost its magic.

SXSW Review: Moritz Simon Geist, JFDR, Hinako Omori, March 15, Central Presbyterian Church

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment
20240316 Moritz Simon Geist

Moritz Simon Geist’s approach to “sound ideation” is earnest if not eccentric and philosophical. This night, he was using a machine that senses tension/stress to make music. Technically, so does every string instrument, but I’m sure he has a very good reason to distinguish his creation. It is connected to what seemed like a small 16 pipe organ. However, I was not clear whether the music was LIVE, pre-recorded, or were the stress pre-recorded and then played-back and sampled to enable “live music.”

Regardless, the concert built a baseline drone like a bagpipe (baseline stress?) and then other phrases on top. While the music, if it can be called that truthfully, wasn’t exciting, the attending thoughts were interesting. Are we to hear the humanity buried in the algorithms only because a humanly intelligible tone or voice emerged? The accompanying visualizations are even more baffling in terms of how they were generated. Had I understood the process, I think there would be more appreciation of how/whether it is remarkable that the sounds/graphic parameters changed. As it was, the experience was meta-in-the-extreme: my mind tried to place reasoning into a void that I was never allowed to see. I guess that fits a church.

20240316 JFDR

Up next after Geist was JFDR, a duo playing ethereal, floaty folk with pop and electronic elements thrown in.

Their melody was not noticeable to me nor was it centered on creating hooks, but the singing is very strong. At one point the vocalist even swayed a bit too much and knocked the mic … we can never fault enthusiasm.

20240316 Hinako Omori

In comparison to the others this night, Hinako Omori’s performance was more stereotypical. It did not help the ambience that the set was delayed for 15 minutes, but seemingly not because of technical difficulties.

One could categorize her music as stream-of-consciousness and I think that really depends on your state-of-mind. She did not stop in between numbers, either, as light singing and spoken word numbers flowed into the next connected only by previous notes. To me, the point of live music was always to revisit it afterwards – especially for an album that one publishes. I find it hard to revisit states-of-minds IN ORDER to listen to music. And I don’t know which is the robot anymore – Geist’s algorithms, or the forced display of constrained, “creative” music from Omori.