South By Southwest

SXSW Review: The Big Pink, Best Coast, Santigold, March 16, Stubbs

Posted on by Ricky in South By Southwest | 2 Comments

For part 1 of my Spin Party SXSW review, go here.

We take off right when Brooklyn synth pop group Chairlift left the stage. For me, the next act was the primary reason why I went to the Spin Party.

England’s The Big Pink recently released a new album – Future This that has thus far captured my heart and imagination. It’s ambitious, brave and full of big anthems. Tracks like Stay Gold, Rubbernecking and Hit the Ground all are classic songs that sound timeless and something that Alan Mcgee circa 1990 would have salivated over. It’s big, and it’s bold, so it was probably a surprise to some that the Big Pink sound was accomplished using only Robbie Furze on guitar and vocals, Victoria Smith (a bit crazy it seems) on the drums and two people on the laptops. The short set by this band consisted of tracks off the new record and their previous hit – Dominos. Despite the somewhat minimal setup, the band’s electro inspired wall of sound was just great. Tracks like Stay Gold and Rubbernecking already sound like massive hits and I definitely look forward to seeing them play a proper show in the future.

Immediately after The Big Pink was California’s Best Coast. The Jim Beam swigging Bethany Costentino has become a bit of a super star since Best Coast’s excellent debut album Crazy For You came out two years ago and her magnetism was a huge draw for the crowd. Best Coast’s new record, The Only Place comes out in May and let’s just say, expectations are high. The duo took the Spin stage at Stubbs with a few more musicians for a more balanced sound as they played a set mixed with new material and old, among the favorites played include classic tracks like Boyfriend and When I’m With You. Both new track and old sounded good, as they both display the classic surf rock meets low fi sound that made the group so popular when they first emerged. Underneath the blistering guitar licks lies Bethany’s sweet melody and sugar rich voice. It’s a good combination and based on what I heard, their new record should be equally as good as their last one.

The headliner on the bill was Santigold. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full four years since this genre blending artist set the world on fire with her self titled debut. Since then she’s had to change her stage name (renaming the i with an a) and watch other similar artists received more accolades. However, this year she is back with new album Master of My Make-Believe and if SXSW was her announcement that she was back, she did it in a big way.

Using costumes (for the entire bands), choreographed dancers and other stunning visuals, Santigold stunned the crowd at Stubbs with set that assaulted both the audio and visual. I wasn’t really expecting much, but all the costumes, dances and enthusiasm finally got to me. The nice thing for me was that the visuals on stage seemed to go naturally with the music and didn’t seemed forced at all (a nice change of pace from some other artists who employ visuals to get their point accross *cough* nicky minaj) Santigold mixed in new songs with old and both sounded quite good. She’s got a unique voice and a creative mind, and it shows as her music skips across genres and melds together a variety of influences. A great way to end off another great day at Stubbs.

SXSW Review: !!!, March 17, Doritos Stage

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That’s right, for SXSW, Dorito’s erected a three four story stage that looked like a vending machine to promote whatever flavor their mad scientists have concocted (“SUPER ZESTY JALAPENO BBQ!”).

Closing off that stage on Saturday night was New York’s very own !!! (pronounced check check check). It seems ages ago since this band created massive buzz with their breakout track Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard , but here they are, on the last night at SXSW letting their fans know that they will soon have new material to be released.

!!!’s music is all about the dancing and their live show is a perfect representation of that. If you look up the definition of “play that funky music white boy” in the dictionary, you might find !!! singer Nic Offer beside it. The man is the engine that drives !!!, from the opening beat to the last track, Nic danced up the storm. I think he probably burnt 3000 calories in the show, which consisted of him dancing in the stage, dancing in the photo pit and dancing in the crowd. The crowd ate it up and Nic Offer’s dancing (which reminded me a lot of Ed McFarlane of Friendly Fires fame) was a huge part of what made this show successful. It also helped masked the fact that behind all the rapid fire drum beats, horns and punk guitar licks, !!!’s music hasn’t really progressed much in the past ten years. Maybe it’s just their live show music, but !!! today seems like !!! circa early 2000s, which involves Offer delivering/speaking rapid fire lyrics over punk/dance sounds. While it’s all energetic, I felt like it all sounded the same after awhile, save for the track Must be the Moon, which still sounds as amazing today as it did in 2007.

Sameness aside, you can’t go wrong with a one hour dance party, and !!! definitely delivered that at SXSW.

SXSW Review: Spoek Mathambo, Dionvox, Escort, Chairlift, Spin Party

Posted on by Ricky in South By Southwest | 1 Comment

Spin always seems to throw one of the better parties at SXSW so it should be no surprise that I parked myself in the Stubb back lot for the entire Friday afternoon. With an eclectic lineup, free alcohol and free bbq, you can say that I was sufficiently sophonsified that afternoon. Let’s take a look at the acts on the bill.

The opening slot of any afternoon party is always the toughest – half the people are still sleeping, the other are hungover and mostly lack the energy to do anything more than stand around. These factors were of no deterrent to Spoek Mathambo, a South African hip hop artist that seems to incorporate many elements from other music genres into his upbeat tracks. Some parts of his set involved him rapping over heavy guitars and sounded straight out of the late 90s while others involved the heavy use of horns and percussion and was reminiscent of what I think Carribean dance halls sound like. Throughout it all, the man was dancing and trying to get the crowd going. A pretty good start to the day, Father Creeper, the new album from Spoek Mathambo, is out this month.

Up next was Dion*Vox. Formerly known as Ramona the Band, Dionvox certainly captured the eye of all the male music photographers at their indoor stage with set, which involved both the lead singer and a go-go dancer progressively stripping throughout the set. Their outfits indicated to me that they were some sort of post-industrial, gothic electro s&m band. Their music consisted of the lead singer sultrily singing over industrial-type electronic music. There was also a guy who was with the dj, who just stood there the whole time for no real reason. I can’t quite place what they sound like because I was wondering if the go go dancer was going to take off all her clothes.

Up next was Escort, a Brooklyn collective that absolutely brought their A game to the outside stage. I counted seventeen members on stage including an all out horns and string section, backup singers, multiple drummers and guitarist. I wonder what their rider looks like. I also found it funny that the two Asians in the band were on keyboard and violin…surprise surprise. Escort’s set was awesome. They brought the funk, the beat and the whole kitchen sink and got the crowd moving. Lead singer Adeline Michèle has the makings of a star – her charisma is off the charts as she danced, engaged the crowd and sang throughout the set. I predict big things for her and the band, now that their debut album is finally out.

Immediately following the funkapalooza known as the Escort show was Chairlift, a Brooklyn synthpop duo that seemed to have expanded to a four piece for the Spin party. The band played a set full of tracks from their new album Something. Lead singer Caroline Polachek has some interesting dance moves, which I think was directly inspired by Natalie Portman’s character in the movie Garden State. I struggled to find catchy hooks or melody with their new material but the crowd seemed to eat it up, as did Paul. Maybe their synth driven tracks require a more careful listen, I’m not sure but nothing they did really caught my ear.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this review!

SXSW Review: Built To Spill, March 17, Cedar Street Courtyard

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The Panic Manual is a model of inefficiency. Case in point: the last day of our annual trek to Austin found the entire four man Panic Manual crew (2 writers and 2 photographers) stationed at Cedar Street Courtyard to check out Built To Spill’s final set of the week. A bit redundant of us perhaps, especially considering that only two of us had any real familiarity with the band, but it’s a cool little venue and they’re a great band, so why not?

And so, after the bartender mixed us perhaps the best mojito I’ve ever tasted, we were primed and ready to take in some Built To Spill. There was a fair number of fans in attendance (I overheard one guy standing next to me saying he had seen every set they’d played at SXSW this year) who knew exactly what they were in for: Doug Martsch and co. working their way through some intricate, extended guitar jams.  Songs like “Strange” and “You Were Right” (with it’s classic rock quoting lyrics) sounded great and not at all like the band were worn out from playing shows all week.

Then again, maybe they were a bit weary.  It’s kind of hard to tell.  I mean, Martch’s voice has always been a bit weary sounding and it’s not as if the band’s ever been known to do that much jumping around onstage or anything.  Still, even if they weren’t necesssarily super energetic, it was still a solid set by the band and a nice reintroduction to them.  Apparently, the band is currently working on a new album.  No word on when it’s likely to arrive, but I’m certainly looking forward to it.