South By Southwest

SXSW Reviews: Mallin Pettersen, Holly Macve, Abby Hamilton, James McMurtry

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While we try to check out as many different kinds of music as possible at SXSW, it’s always a treat to take in a set by a talented songwriter working within the folk/country end of the musical spectrum, and so I always find at least a bit of time to devote to checking out something from those genres. This year was no different and there were most certainly a few talented singer-songwriters who caught my attention this year. Here are some of the ones who stood out:

Mallin Pettersen, March 15, Lazarus Brewing Co.

She may be Norwegian, but Mallin Pettersen’s sound is pure Americana. Playing a mid afternoon set on the first day of Music For Listeners’ series of day parties at Lazarus Brewing, Pettersen and her band impressed with a warm, twangy sound

Holly Macve, March 18, Flatstock Stage

To introduce her song “Daddys Gone”, English singer Holly Macve told the story of the last time she was in SXSW when she got the call bringing her the sad news that her father, who she didn’t know very well, had passed away. The song itself was quite lovely, a beautuful Emmylou-esque performance of a very personal song. Another memorable moment in her set was her cover of “I Will Always Love You”, written of course by another of this year’s performers – Dolly Parton.

Abby Hamilton, March 19, Flatstock Stage

Also appearing on the Flatstock Stage and starting of the final day of the festival for me was Kentucky singer-songwriter Abby Hamilton, whose sound brought to mind the likes of Kathleen Edwards and Lucinda Williams at times. Her standout track was “Trailer Park Queen”, a song inspired by the real life tale of her cousin, who Hamilton noted is “tickled that she’s a song now.”

James McMurtry, March 19, Mohawk

“Rumour has it we put out a record back in August. I heard it’s not bad.” It’s true, James McMurtry did indeed put out an album last year and having given that album, The Horses and the Hounds, a listen, his humble statement on his own work is an accurate one. McMurtry is a stalwart of the Texas scene, with his first album Too Long in the Wasteland coming out way back in 1989. McMurtry’s songs are within the classic story song tradition and to see him play them on the Mohawk stage on the final official night of programming made for a satisfying end to my SouthBy experience for this year.

SXSW Review: Best Coast, March 19, The Sunset Room

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Covid anxiety can be a real bitch at SXSW when you’re a Canadian who’s still into masking up while practically everyone else is in “Covid’s over” party mode and throwing caution to the wind. But it certainly helps to ease the anxiety when you’re watching an old favourite play a solid set to a packed ( but not obnoxiously so) room. And I guess the free White Claws help too, though you’ve gotta take the mask off for that. Hey, we all have to make sacrifices sometimes.

The aforementioned old favourite was Best Coast and yes, they were playing a late afternoon set at The Sunset Room, rebranded for the last few days of the fest as the White Claw Surf House. Bethany Cosentino speculated that part of the reason they may have been booked to play there was the beach-like vibe of songs like “The Only Place.” That song was an obvious highlight of their set, as were tracks like “California Nights”, “Everything Has Changed” and “Goodbye”, which she dedicated to her cat Snacks, who recently passed away.

Cosentino mentioned how the band first played SXSW about twelve years ago and that it felt good to be back in Austin. She also noted how good it felt to be playing in front of a crowd in general again, seeing as how the band has had to put their tour behind 2020’s Always Tomorrow on pause several times over the last two years or so. And it felt good to see them too, even if I was pretty much the only one wearing a mask.

SXSW Review: Working Men’s Club, March 19, Elysium

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One of the things I missed the most during the pandemic was dancing. Just listening to music so moving that your body naturally starts moving however it may to the rhythm and the beat. Not only is it great for weight loss, it’s also great to just have those moments.

For those who are missing the feeling – all you have to do is attend a Working Men’s Club show to get it back. The West Yorkshire band played a great set that had everyone moving their feet and hips as if it was 2019 all over again.

Mixing in heavy elements from early New Order, later Depeche Mode, rave and even wall of sound guitars, the band played a pulsating set of music featuring influences from many bands that I like. Against the backdrop of those beats was Sydney Minsky-Sargeant’s dry delivery and snakey dance moves, all formulating together a feeling that you are watching something cool. There was a moment during the show where all the different beats were merging together, but then Sydney brought out the guitar and the next thing I knew, I was wondering how much MBV they listened to. It’s great to know that the foundation the band has already set is so strong that in future tracks they can continue to explore different areas of music to merge into their sound.

The band released a debut record during the pandemic, and from what I have seen and heard, it’s an incredibly promising start. I’m excited to see where they are headed next.

SXSW Review: Laura Lee & The Jettes, March 16, Hotel Indigo

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One of the fun things about SXSW is seeing bands in somewhat unusual settings, oftentimes also performing rather unique sets. Such was the case on the Wednesday of SXSW as German band Laura Lee & The Jettes played a stripped down 5:00pm set in a hotel lounge, which they then repeated later that evening, playing a presumably identical set in the same hotel lounge at 6:00.

With Lee and her band set up in the comfy confines of the Hotel Indigo lobby, I settled in for a set of what Lee described as “slightly less loud” versions of her songs. It was an enjoyable set, both for the audience and the band. As Lee described it, she had a lot of fun figuring out how to reconfigure their songs for these shows and even likened it to being sort of her version of Nirvana Unplugged. Bowie and Meat Puppets songs not included, however.

A highlight of their set was “Cheap Wine”, described by Lee as a song about being over 30 and still chasing the rock and roll dream. Seeing as how Lee has already been on the scene for awhile with her other band Gurr (who are also quite good, by the way – check them out), it’s not surprising that she’d write a song on the subject. But also she’s not old at all and I saw many acts of all ages around Austin this week who were also still chasing that rock and roll dream. She did mention that one song she played later in her set was already something of a hit back in Germany. Here’s hoping she can repeat that feat on North American shores.