Concerts

SxSW Review: Claire Rousay, Moor Mother, Circuit des Yeux , March 17, Central Presbyterian Church

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This must be one of the most unique showcases that I have ever attended at SxSW. It is little surprise that it took place in one of the Churches – where else should people sit silently through what at first might appear to be snippets of grating and unpleasant garble in the hopes of a holistic nirvana at the end?

Claire Rousay

20220317 Claire Rausay

San Antonio-based Claire Rousay uses humdrum found sounds such as voicemail, conversations and urban background as samples to weave together soundscapes that are ordinarily more suited to an installation in one of the MoMAs than to a SxSW performance. As I’m sure she was aware, in a church fitted with concert speakers, the live experience is more haptic than auditory. Fuzzy white noise invades like water flowing through your toes, and the voice recordings pierce with an urgency like a woodpecker knocking its head against the trunk. Of course, that’s just my euphemistic that her musique concrete mostly centers on insecurity and self-harm. Unless we’re not supposed to discern the meaning from words alone.

Moor Mother

20220317 Moor Mother

Even for a novice, it’s clear that Moor Mother‘s Black Encyclopedia of the Air was not meant to be played in a place of light. It took several tries for Philly’s rap poet to raise the attention of the stage-hands, who finally realized that the stained-glass panels on both sides of the chancel needed to be blotted out. And so we sat in near pitch darkness in the nave while Camae Ayewa told us terrible tales.

The recorded version has more life given it by the backing of synth music and beats, but she played this set as a string of lamentations and eulogies. Using the space as a gathering space for storytelling, she was only accompanied by a lone trumpet that served like a backup vocal. Out of order, separate tracks like “Made A Circle”, “Tarot”, “Shekere” and further afield were fused into a continuous timeline that despairs and inspires simultaneously. It is an ingenious take that synthesized the material and the locale into a new experience.

Circuit des Yeux

20220317 Circuit de Yeux

Chicago-based Haley Fohr, aka Circuit des Yeux, was committed to deliver an impression as far removed from that on her bandcamp profile as possible. Given the music videos, I had expected a dramatic if eccentric fashion but not the morbidly gothic garb and makeup. However, it does suit her powerfully baritone voice as she presides over the many mournful numbers like “Dogma” and “Sculpting the Exodus.”

The first half of the set was focused on the recent album -IO. And quite dramatically (again), she opened up a theremin-like voice and the songwriting veered 180 degrees into lighter passages that included… Manatees, if I recall correctly.

Either this was the most uniquely enjoyable showcase ever, or I’d gotten into some potent edibles from that Curb driver.

SxSW Review: Sunflower Bean, Houndmouth , March 17, Radio Day Stage

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As part of a showcase put on by 88.5FM from So-Cal, we report from the dreaded Ballroom A, where the Day Stage has been (IMHO mistakenly) placed at the back of Austin Convention Center, three blocks from where, as the years catch up with us, we would have liked it to be to minimize our Strava trails.

Sunflower Bean

20220317 Sunflower Bean
NYC 3-piece Sunflower Bean thrives on indie rock influences. But the lineage seemed all over the place as they broadened their scope of influences on their last album Twentytwo In Blue. As it repeats on their new album Headful of Sugar, which will be released May 2022, perhaps this broad range is decidedly a style and not a statistical sampling error. For example, the single “Who Put You Up To This?” seems like it came straight from the end credit of an ’80s movie, while “Baby Don’t Cry” could have issued from the garage of those grunge kids down the street in the ’00s. Regardless, their live performance, which I think included a few songs from the previous album, was solid and engaging.

Houndmouth

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Indiana’s Houndmouth first played SxSW in 2012 and never looked back. They are also decidedly un-vague in their musical leanings of indie blues. They played two thirds of their recent album Good For You and in person, they sounded warmer and fuller than their recordings.

Singer-guitarist Matt Myers’ effortless songwriting is simply a joy to listen to. “Miracle Mile” had me strung-along and I almost veered into “Leaving on A Jetplane”. It makes you want to drop everything at hand, grab a lawn chair, crack open a beer, and drift hazily into the firefly-filled night… at least until you wake up covered in bonfire soot and mosquito bites.

SXSW Review: Hamish Hawk, March 17, Swan Dive Patio

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20220319 Hamish Hawk
It’s somewhat fitting that one month after I ordered The Divine Comedy’s Greatest Hits record on vinyl, I would encounter Hamish Hawk at SXSW.

Strictly speaking, the Scottish singer’s deep voice and observational lyrics heavily reminded me of Neil Hannon’s group and considering I just bought a compilation record covering all of that group’s hits over the past 30 years, that’s not a band thing. In today’s world, where most of the relatively new bands from the UK all sound like they just discovered Idles, it’s fresh to see someone like Hamish Hawk stand out from the crowd with his rich, witty lyrics and storytelling against a more pop-based backdrop.

Hamish’s live shows are also entertaining, as he for whatever reason loves to accentuates his lyrics with very interesting facial reactions as well as entertaining banter between tracks.

Worth checking out.

SxSW Review: Sarah Kinsley, Fly Anakin, Kimbra , March 16, Central Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday night at the Central Presbyterian Church saw a string of showcases presented by the podcast Song Exploder and curated by host Hrishikesh Hirway. As a marker of my ignorance I will admit that, while Song Exploder has appeared on the radar many times, BBC World News always triumphs over most podcasts on my frequencies. So, its focal exploration of the singular motivation behind just one song remains a refreshing format to me.

Sarah Kinsley

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New Yorker Sarah Kinsley got the attention of Song Exploder with “The King”, which is indeed a sweetly catchy pop tune. Besides the hit song, “I’m Not A Mountain” is similarly interesting. Kinsley’s songs become less orchestral and complex when the layers are simplified to a 4-piece band, losing some of the original theatrical weight that made them appealing in the first place. For this reason, it might be the rare instance where live isn’t better.

Fly Anakin

20220316 Fly Anakin
Richmond, Virginia’s Fly Anakin stepped up with his brother playing DJ to his observational rapping. I don’t have much to comment on here … but not because I wouldn’t do my homework. I gather that much of the material was from his debut album Frank that just dropped a few days ago. But from where I was sitting in the church, I couldn’t make out much of what was said in the breathless attacks. I grant that his is a skill few are equipped with. But whenever the accompanying beats clash with the lyrics for clarity, comprehension becomes a battle that I (willingly) lose every time.

Kimbra

20220316 Kimbra

In contrast, there wasn’t much content to understand from Kimbra in the first place. Spawned from the same secluded avian paradise as other equally hollow pop stars, Kimbra’s Song Exploder hit was “Top of the World” from her last album, 2018’s Primal Heart. While I may have found the songs to be somewhat lacking, Kimbra did put on an impressive performance. Here, we are reminded of the tried-and-tested philosophy in which performance and manipulation of expectations, not substance, is the key to adulation. And no wonder she has since moved on to an acting and producing career. At the church, she made use of voice loops to back her eclectic singing and gesturing. I couldn’t tell you whether she played a Theremin or conducted a Buddhist exorcism – but it was certainly a mesmerizing distraction from the pedestrian lyrics.