“It’s quite early for some punk songs, but y’know, what do you do?” announced the frontman for Food Court near the outset of their early afternoon show as part of Sounds Australia’s Aussie BBQ showcase at Brush Square Park and it’s a fair point. During SXSW, that’s frankly a bit early for almost anything, though it is a pretty good time to grab a sausage on a bun, which is what i happened to be doing for the first few minutes of their set. The appropriateness of waiting in line for food while watching a band called Food Court was not lost on me. One I’d grabbed a bite to eat, I made my way closer to the stage where the band’s fuzzed out garage punk sounds definitely grabbed my attention.
From there i made my way from Australia to Spain, or rather from Brush Square Park’s East tent to it’s West tent for Sounds From Spain’s Paella Party (food and bands go together at SXSW like, um … alcohol and bands I guess) to take in Joana Serrat’s short set and while it wasn’t too far of a trip, Serrat certainly brought travel to mind. “Let’s all go to the forest,” she said before one song and described another as being about being away from home on the road. If Serrat’s sound could be correlated to a physical journey though, it would definitely be a road trip through the countryside – light, breezy, and utterly enjoyable.
“The sun came out just for us. And for my pale skin. And I don’t have sunscreen so let’s do this.” Luckily for Karen Elson, her band wasn’t quite ready to go at that point and the false start gave someone in the audience a chance to offer some of her sunscreen, which was gladly accepted.
Elson offered to present us with her “sardonic English comedy show” while the band (which included a fantastic harpist) got things ready but that never materialised. What we got instead was a taste of the songs off of her upcoming sophomore album Double Roses, the title track of which was named for a Sam Shepard poem. “It’s all about the Texas landscape,” she explained, which made performing it in Texas quite appropriate.
Also quite appropriate for a sunny Texas afternoon was the sun-baked, hazy psychedelia of Temples, whose organ driven retro psych rock manages to somehow come across as both heavy and as light as air at the same time.
SXSW can sometimes be pretty unforgiving to the artists performing there. Whether it’s playing to a crowd that’s just there for free food and drink or one who’s just waiting for another act to come on stage later, it’s not always guaranteed that you’ll have the most energetic or attentive audience. Julie Byrne must have already had such an experience before her Thursday night show at Clive Bar as she seemed so genuinely appreciative of the audience. “Thanks so much for your attention. i can’t tell you what it means to us. We feel like big misfits sometimes. This next song utilises silence as an instrument. We’ll see how that goes.” As it turned out, it went quite well indeed.
This show was part of the Showtime network’s promotion for their upcoming revival of Twin Peaks and as such, the stage was decked out with the red curtain and zigzag black and white carpeting that was seen in that series’ bizarre, otherworldly Black Lodge. The otherworldly vibe seemed somewhat fitting as Byrne’s music had me feeling almost like I had entered another plane. At one point, I glanced at my watch and was surprised that only 14 minutes had passed since the beginning of her set. That’s not to say that her set was dragging in any way or that I was hoping for it to be over soon – it was more that I was so totally enveloped in the beautiful, haunting, mesmerising sounds that time itself seemed to slow down. It’s rare to find such a moment at the whirlwind that is SXSW.
Taking advantage of the fact that he was playing a day show at a record store, Robyn Hitchcock took a moment to muse upon records, CDs, and the state of the music industry in general during his Wednesday afternoon slot at Waterloo Records. He mentioned the “frightening accuracy” of the CD (“Like a drone missile”) and went so far as to refer to the start of the CD era as the beginning of the end of the music industry. That said, he seems to still have a soft spot for actual records and took a moment to hype up his latest release, a 7 inch single with Emma Swift which was produced by Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake. “He’s a real sweetheart and I miss his glockenspiel,” Hitchcock said of Blake.
Aside from the two songs off of that record, other highlights of his set were “Madonna Of The Wasps” and a great version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,” which Hitchcock introduced by saying, “If there’s any songwriter who’s better than Emma and me, it’s this guy. Except when he’s not.”
Following Hitchcock on that same stage were “80s new wave/post-punk band Modern English, promoting their latest release Take Me To The Trees, and of course playing songs from throughout their career, including the stone cold classic “I Melt With You.” They sounded fantastic and made it clear to any casual fans that there’s much more to them than just their big hit. Of course, the hit was still what everyone was most looking forward to and by the end of their set, everyone was singing along, much to the amusement of singer Robbie Grey when he caught the crowd imitating his accent. “You’re trying to sound English! That’s hilarious!”