Concerts

SXSW Review: Bayonne, March 18, Victorian Room at The Driskill

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Bayonne

I have heard less enthusiastic opening chants to an audience than “Do you guys still have any energy left?” But then again only from acts that I would walk out on half way through. So it didn’t look good on Bayonne when he sheepishly asked that question minutes into his electronica set at the Victoria Room at Driskill. The answer was plainly obvious: anyone who braved the craze on 6th street at 1159PM on Friday night in order to see a show was determined to be there. That the crowd consisted of a continuum between high school prom queens and mathematics professors probably reflects the other half of that question. It was likely just as clear from the stage: we should endeavour to be a more energetic bunch.

Bayonne, as I mentioned in my preview, is the stage name of Roger Sellers. His genre of music had its inception in the early 90s, when electronics became powerful enough to enable live-looping. Drawing from the sounds and melody created using sequencer, synthesizer, vocal and drums, Bayonne loops and samples in order to compose a fully formed song right in front of the audience. While the multi-instrumentalist does everything himself, it’s not gawdy like the imagery of a circus one-man band would suggest. This being an electronic form in a live setting, however, it forces one to ask an obvious question – how much of the pieces were pre-made? What is it that the audience gets out of the “performance” of a song compared to the rendering of a song live? Does it matter?

Bayonne

As we watched, the pieces fell into place and the composition took shape at an exponential rate. I could see that while the error margins might be more tolerant than for a traditional singer-songwriter, it nonetheless takes careful thought and effort to piece together the components. The recording nature led to a natural progression for every piece – background melody, drums, vocal, almost invariably in that order. It’s almost like cooking. Once all the ingredients are in hand, Bayonne the chef mixed them perfectly into a complex stew worthy of your attention. They were beaming, flowing pieces with catchy hooks and rhythms, and a clear progression. Bayonne does very little, as far as I could tell, with the vocals. While they remain distinct, I had a feeling that lyrics were secondary. At first glance, I found that there were too many voices for it to be cohesive. But pieces like “Spectrolite” and “Waves” really do stick with you. All of the tracks are now on the album, Primitives. If you have a superhuman brain that could track 4 separate melodic/percussion lines and remain completely cognizant of each, you’d be bored to death of the repeating nature. But if you’re most people and have the patience for Bayonne to finish moulding, the results will be far more rewarding than you think.

SXSW Review: Weaves, March 19, Wonderland

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

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Over the last couple of years, the City of Toronto has established a “music city” partnership with Austin, using Austin’s model as inspiration for how to build Toronto’s music scene up (although really, Toronto seems to have been doing alright for itself already) and for a few more years than that, there’s always been a strong contingent of Toronto-based acts making their way to SXSW to try to build up a bit more buzz. This year, without even really trying, I managed to see more Toronto artists than usual, including such homegrown talent as Basia Bulat, Jahkoy, Greys (twice – no regrets as they’re one of the best bands around in TO or anywhere else these days) and, um … Magic! Hey, we all make mistakes sometimes. Don’t you know I’m human too …

One of the most enjoyable acts I saw was Weaves playing the Buzz Records showcase. The band’s been around for a few years now, but I had somehow managed to miss out on their live show up until now – it took going to Austin to finally see them in concert. Sure, it might seem a bit much to fly all the way to Austin to catch a band I could see pretty easily back home, but Weaves made it worth my while. The band’s off kilter rhythms and slightly twisted pop anthems make for a compelling listen and vocalist Jasmyn Burke is eminently watchable, moving about the stage with an almost mischievous unpredictability. She made good use of the space, practically turning the whole venue into a stage – at one point she was looping the microphone cord through the roof of the tent and letting it hang down, singing into it as if she were Michael Buffer announcing a match. And after climbing onto a nearby table, she also spent a good deal of their set sitting cross legged as she sang.

“We were watching Phil Collins from, like, a 1980s video, and he was sitting,” she said, explaining some of her inspiration and I’ve got to say, I wholeheartedly approve. In my opinion, we can all use a little more Phil Collins-inspired behaviour in our lives.

SXSW Review: Robert Ellis, Sarah Jarosz, March 17, St. David’s Historic Sanctuary

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Robert Ellis
A night for Americana (the music, not plastic items in antique collector’s cabinet) is never a bad idea at SXSW. Because there are great venues all along 6th street that at any other time should be amply full of tamer crowds of appreciative adults. But times have changed, and SXSW has been slowly devolving into just a checkmark on the rave calendar of teenagers. And so the less flashy and more substantive acts have been forced to move to quieter settings. This is the main reason why I can be found at the Sanctuary almost every SXSW, unless I feel the need to battle teenage antics for the music.

Robert Ellis has been performing since 2005, but only found a wider audience after having been mentioned by industry magazines. This night he played from his recent, 2014 album, The Lights From the Chemical Plant. With such a title, you would rightly expect a tinge of sarcasm that runs through the lyrics. Ellis has a twangy but thin voice, making those lyrics especially clear and meditative. There wasn’t over-the-top, emotional bellowing, and it’s really not necessary. The memorable numbers, I found, were “Only Lies,” “Bottle of Wine,” and “Elephants,” a new song that hasn’t been collected in an album. While the first two were more traditional folk/country pieces full of earnest story-telling that celebrates the ugly and pragmatic side of life, “Elephants” sees the cynicism seep even deeper into the melody. I look forward to hearing more of its like on Ellis’ new effort. Sarah Jarosz

When I last saw the Grammy-nominated artist Sarah Jarosz, there was a pane of liquid-crystal display and a time dislocation of one year separating our realities. It was a recorded Austin City Limits (ACL) broadcast on PBS, when she performed with the Milk Carton Kids (also memorable). Since her last album, Build Me Up From Bones, she has moved to NYC to pursue a new sound, and in the soon to be released Undercurrent, I’d say she has certainly found more variety to express her music. Obvious by the home-crowd support, she’s very comfortable performing in Austin TX, and covered quite a few songs from the upcoming album. There is still her brand of ye’olde construct floating through songs like “House of Mercy,” but then there is another, softer expression that worked well in a number where she collaborated with Aoife O’Donovan.

I’d recommend seeing her concerts whenever you get the chance. Not only is her singing voice powerful and resounding, her guitar (and yes, banjo) playing is crisp and superb. Case in point – her take on Bob Dylan’s often covered “Ring Them Bells” – the apt song by which she ended this session (because it’s in a church space called “Sanctuary”). Even without the crooked, world-weariness required by the lyrics, she manages to take another perspective and drive those lyrics home in an almost hopeful manner. While that dulled the cynicism built-up from Ellis’ concert just a little, stepping out of the Sanctuary and seeing the gathering mob was all it took to send me straight back into meditation. Or perhaps ignorance?

SXSW Review: Cumstain, Big White, March 19, Hotel Vegas

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

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When you give your band a name like Cumstain, you’re bound to get a bit of notoriety, sure, but you’ve also got to figure that a name like that is likely to only take you so far. Neverthless, the members of the Oakland garage punk band seemed ready and willing to consider any and all cross promotional marketing possibilities, cheekily announcing that their show at Hotel Vegas would be sponsored by Guitar Center, Wendy’s and a few others. “What else can we push?” asked singer/guitarist Sean Starling to which one of his bandmates responded, “Cocaine!” Starling already had the slogan ready: “Cocaine: blow it up your nose, don’t get it on your clothes!” They followed up that bit of stage banter by launching into “Rock and Roll Don’t Pay My Bills.”

The band continued on with their satirical piss-take on corporate sponsorship a bit later in their set and while it’s a bit of an obvious target during SXSW, it was still quite amusing and entertaining, as was their set. With their fun, high energy “California Rock ‘n’ roll” (as their banner put it) driven by a crude sense of humour, Cumstain put on a memorable performance to one of the most hyped up crowds I’d seen all week inside the packed indoor room at Hotel Vegas. Perhaps not quite hyped up enough for Starling, who encouraged the crowd to “Start shoving each other, stop being so jaded.”

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Following them on the outdoor stage were Australia’s Big White, who offered up something a bit less intense, but no less enjoyable in it’s own way. Jangly at times, a bit shoegazey at others, their sound was reminiscent of a lot of British music from the 1980s – there was a heavy Cure influence on some of their stuff. The Sydney based band offered up lots of catchy melodies delivered by multiple vocalists, which added a nice bit of variety to their set. Their latest release, Teenage Dreams, is out now on Caroline Records in Australia and available on cassette via Burger Records, who were responsible for the top notch lineup at Hotel Vegas that on this day also included Hinds, Death Valley Girls, Dressy Bessy, and many more. Well done, Burger Records!