A few songs in to their set at The Danforth Music Hall, right after performing “Slowing Down The World” (described as a “slow, sexy” song), Savages singer Jehnny Beth introduced “Shut Up” to the crowd as “an old, angry song.” Sure, to the uninitiated, most of Savages’ songs might sound like angry ones, but it was a rather telling sign of where the band is at these days. In a recent interview with NOW Magazine, guitarist Gemma Thompson described their latest album Adore Life as being a record about love, and while it’s a complex look at love that hardly sounds like your typical collection of love songs, there’s a certain positivity in the band’s outlook that comes through clearly in their live show.
Led by the incredibly charismatic and engaging Beth, Savages put on an impressive, even uplifting performance. And while the occasionally somewhat tame Toronto crowd couldn’t match Beth’s intensity and didn’t respond quite the way she might have wanted them to (“Do with your bodies what you just did with your voices,” and “Everybody take one step closer” were just a few of the words of encouragement she offered up), she didn’t let that diminish her energy one iota.
“Boredom is the evil of the world! Don’t ever be bored!” she shouted out at one point, though with the kind of performance put on by the band, I can’t conceive of anyone ever being truly bored at a Savages show.
I know it is literally superficial, but often an artist’s voice would complement, if not match, his/her outward style. A few of the Toronto acts that I saw at SXSW this year such as Weaves and Basia Bulat were perfect examples. I personally would feel spatiotemporally disjointed if Basia Bulat started playing the mathematical “scatter-rock” of Weaves, and vice versa. But after catching Lucy Dacus’ set at the Brooklyn Vegan party, I feel somewhat guilty for such type-casting.
Dacus was on my list of people to visit in SXSW this year because of her single, I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore. The lyrics spoke resoundingly and plainly, even as her contralto voice didn’t vary dramatically in decibels. Based solely on that, I had it in my mind that the band could be angry, heartless and rebellious characters who wouldn’t look out of place in an indie-rock dystopia. As they took to the stage, however, I found that they were pleasantly, almost politely, passionate. Or it was all in my head – and with good reasons. With the set starting just after 1230PM, the crowd wasn’t at their peak sharpness just yet, and perhaps nor was I. But as the set warmed, the band became a lot more comfortable and much more lively. In between her direct delivery of derisive lines like “I thought you’d hit rock bottom, but I’m starting to think that it doesn’t exist”, Dacus’ somewhat muted energy weirdly complemented the multi-spectral background lighting in Cheer Up Charlie’s. In a My-Little-4-Horsemen: Pestilence Edition way, her voice tamped down the prose-like lyrics effectively – it almost didn’t sound as mean-spirited as it is meant to be – and then it sneaks up on you. I strongly recommend her new single, Strange Torpedo, which was a high-point of this concert. It was a very pleasant chorus to have stuck in between my ears.
SXSW is a blur, but we did manage to see a lot of bands. Here are some quick reviews for some of the acts that we saw.
Day Wave - Synth poppy band played the Hype Machine Hotel on Saturday, I caught a bit of their set and they seemed like nice guys. They played an excellent cover of New Order’s Ceremony, which is one of my favorite songs ever. So that is mega bonus points for them. Go check them out, maybe they’ll play a cover of your favorite song, unless your favorite song is by Day Wave because it would be weird to play covers of their own song
Methyl Ethyl – Aussie 4 piece band played the Central Presbyterian Church in Austin. I had never been to this venue before but was sad to find out they don’t serve alcohol. The lady at the front also charged 3 dollars for filtered coffee. What kind of scam is this church running? Methyl Ethyl are a rock band from Perth who are pretty popular in Australia according to the Aussies sitting behind us. They were pondering if the rock band was going to rock out because they were playing in a church. Haven’t they listened to Creed before? The group had a sound not unlike the Brit-rock bands from the late 90’s after Britpop died. The lead singer had an alarmingly strong falsetto and they really sounded like the band Geneva. No one gets that reference but Imma slide it in there anyway.
King is a trio from probably New York. THey play smooth r&b that a lazy person would compare to early 90’s r&b. Sounding a bit like the likes of TLC or SWV, the trio played a set of sultry smooth r&b tracks that saw some nice vocal interplay between the two leads. The only problem with their set was that it was in a backyard at noon in sunny Texas and their music is suited for darker, more comfortable environment. While I enjoyed their set, a lot of the songs sounded samey, I believe they are still in the process of trying to find that hook, that one big song to take them to the next level. It’s a promising start though.
What happened to Estelle? One minute she was hanging with Kanye, singing American Boy and the next minute she disappeared. Now she shows up at McDonalds and starts singing. JK. Estelle headlined the McDonald loft on Thursday night and I don’t know what happened to her popularity, but her tracks sounded good. Like, I’m going to look them up when I get home and listen to them good. Engaging the crowd from the start, Estelle delivered what I guess you could call hit after hit, all her tracks seem to encourage dancing and some definitely had some anthemy elements to it. It’s good she got the crowd to work up a sweat, because we were at a venue that served unlimited free fries and burgers. Gotta work that off somehow, and Estelle is a great way to do that. American Boy was also awesome live as you expected.
I was going to start out this review by saying that in my geriatric old age there’s nothing I’d rather do less than go to a club, but I realized that’s a lie. Even as a young and energetic 21 year old I never wanted to put on my “unt-ah unt-ah” dress and hit up the klub scene.
Which is sort of tangentially relevant to the Operators show at Schubas on Monday night, I promise. Dan Boeckner (previously of Wolf Parade, and involved in side projects Handsome Furs and Divine Fits) took to the stage as Operators – an analogue post-punk group featuring Boeckner on vocals and guitar, Devojka on synth and Sam Brown (who looks like a cross between Animal from the Muppets and Bob Ross) on drums.
And the atmosphere became…there really is no other word for it – clubby. But in the best of ways! The synth was bumping in time, and you could almost feel everyone’s heartbeats syncing to it as the guitar blasted and hair flew and swooped (mostly from the drummer, but quite a bit from the crowd too.) The group has a weird mix of indie rock/punk/electronic that works really well for them.
Operators are releasing their debut album on April 1st, so nobody really knew the words, but the group did do “Cold Night” and played a couple of other tracks off their EP as well as songs from the upcoming album. For those just there out of nostalgia for Wolf Parade, they probably weren’t all that thrilled, but for anyone looking for a new amalgamation of sounds they hadn’t heard before, they were in the right spot.