SXSW Review: Mong Tong, March 13, Mohawk

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

SXSW is a place where you can see music at its most interesting. Aside from up and comer indie bands, you get a host of creative individuals who have all kinds of thoughts and ideas about what music is and how it should be presented. This year, the band Mong Tong greatly exemplified this.

A Taiwanese duo formed by two brothers, the duo played a psychedelic dreamy multi-layered set to the backdrop of calming animal videos – while blindfolded. What? Yes, the group blindfolded themselves about halfway through their second song and proceeded to play the set under the cover, navigating perfectly between their effects pedals and the electronic drum pad. I was fascinated. Under the layer of ambient sound that they produced, I really wondered how they pulled it off. Is their sense of movement that great? How many times do they practice? Are they really blindfolded? Do they feel their way around the music like Luke Skywalker when he was training to be a Jedi?

It kept me engaged in the set while the music worked to smooth my mind, which was an interesting contrast. A very interesting show.

SXSW Review: Earth Tongue, Vera Ellen, March 13, The 13th Floor

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

One great way to take in new music during SXSW is to check out one of the day parties, where one can often find a wide variety of acts across all genres in one convenient location. Oh, and there’s often also free food and/or booze – gotta get people in the door somehow.

On Wednesday afternoon, we took in the New Zealand day party, where two acts in particular stood out – Earth Tongue and Vera Ellen, both of whom dropped out of their official SXSW sets in protest of the event’s ties to the U.S. Army and military contractors. So technically speaking, this is not a SXSW review, just a review of a random concert, the month and day of which coincides numerically with a big festival which was also happening at that time in Austin.

Recognizing the importance of name brand recognition, indie/alternative singer-songwriter Vera Ellen took a moment to introduce herself and her band. “We’re Vera Ellen,” she said, pausing before adding, “I’m Vera Ellen. Vera Ellen, Vera Ellen, Vera Ellen.”

“Say her name three times and she appears,” added her bandmate.

Extra points for the Beetlejuice reference. I will also note that Ellen was wearing striped pants during this show so extra extra points for the bonus visual reference to Beetlejuice that was almost certainly unintentional. Extra extra extra points on the off chance that it was intentional. 

Playing mostly songs off her upcoming release, Ellen and her band put on an impressive show, making the most of their brief time onstage while also taking the time to voice their opposition to the festival’s military connections, a trend which has been common amongst many of this year’s performers.

Ellen noted at the beginning of the band’s set that they had dropped put of all of their official SXSW shows in protest of the presence of war profiteers at the festival, but that they were playing this set because they did support the New Zealand Music Commission, the presenters of this showcase.

A little later that afternoon, Earth Tongue would take to the stage and play an absolutely brilliant set. The duo plays a brand of heavy psych that I can only imagine would make the optimal soundtrack for when you want to drop acid and chill out with your local witches coven. So good.

SXSW Review: Bubble Tea and Cigarettes, Lo Moon, March 13, St. David’s Sanctuary

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

Playing at a church is an unique experience, and one which bands would be smart to take advantage of. St. David Sanctuary in Austin is one of the most unique spaces for a show during SXSW – it’s got great acoustics and a real feeling of intimacy. Two bands that played there on Wednesday night both used that space to their advantage.

Bubble Tea and Cigarettes

A duo originally from New York and currently residing in Seattle, Bubble Tea and Cigarettes‘ mellow, dreamy lush pop worked almost perfectly within the church setting.

Their music (think similar to Slowdive’s self titled 2017 album) is made for intimate settings with the group’s subtle vocals dancing through all the crevices of the inner Sanctuary. The group brought their own floodlights resulting in the crowd just barely seeing the silhouette throughout the show. Their new record is due sometime this year and I’m excited for it.

Lo Moon

A group from Los Angeles about to release their third record in April, Lo Moon took advantage of the space to a much different effect.

About halfway through their second song, the band lost all power to their equipment. Some people can get flustered in this situation and the show could have gone downhill. Instead, lead singer Matt Lowell quickly adapted and the group transitioned to an acoustic set, playing a song from their new record.

Given the great acoustics that come with playing a church sanctuary, the transition played out really nicely and the crowd rallied around the band, making the inevitable transition back to digital sound that much more satisfying.

SXSW Review: The Lottery Winners, March 12, Seven Grand

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

“This is our fourth show today. I’m losing weight. I’ve burned so many calories – I was saving those!”

So said Lottery Winners singer/guitarist Thom Rylance at the outset of their 1:00 am show at Seven Grand on Tuesday night and while he was making light of the situation, he was also pointing out the reality of the situation – for a band trying to make a name for themselves during SXSW, this week can be a grind.

It’s definitely a very common thing for up and coming acts to play multiple shows over the course of the week, often cramming a few into a single day just like The Lottery Winners did. It’s also not uncommon for me to sometimes catch an act more than once during the week, especially if they make a good impression.

It is exceedingly rare, however, for me to see a band three times in just one day. But that’s just what I did on Tuesday, catching the Manchester indie pop band first during their early afternoon set at Side Bar (which Rylance repeatedly referred to as “Side Boob,” much to his own amusement), then again at the British Music Embassy. And when I happened to check the schedule to see who would be coming onstage at Seven Grand after King Nun’s set and saw that it was The Lottery Winners again, I figured why not? So no, none of this was on purpose – it just worked out that way. As it turns out though, it ended up being an interesting case study: a day in the life of a band at SouthBy.

And while Rylance may have joked with the sound man when asked about how things were on stage that he was very tired and on the brink of an existential crisis, he and his bandmates weren’t really showing it. In fact, by the time they played their fourth show of the day, The Lottery Winners were a well oiled machine.

As they started out their set, Rylance seemed determined to make this a good one, introducing their opener “Worry” with a confident, “Let’s fuckin’ have it, man!” Egging the audience on by telling them to “pretend it was a hit” and cheer after every song turned out to be a good strategy – this was a crowd that was up for a good time.

And for their part, Lottery Winners did indeed bring the good times despite likely being very drained after a day of shows, playing their brand of catchy, positive pop tunes with plenty of energy.

One interesting aspect of seeing a band multiple times over the course of a day is that you really get to see what works and what doesn’t. For instance, the crowd participation moment on “Letter To Myself” where he got the crowd to sing along with the line “She’s not the one for you, mate, just forget her” worked every time. The dad joke where he referred to his ADHD as AC/DC, however, never quite landed during any of the shows. But hey, sometimes you do things just for you.