South By Southwest

SxSW Review: Pillow Queens, March 15, Cedar Street Courtyard

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

20220316 Pillow Queens

It’s an undertatement that Cedar Street Courtyard is the lifeblood that has anchored PM at SxSW for many years. With the unfortunate shuttering of Latitude 30 early in the pandemic, the long-running British Music Embassy had to find a new home and it’s no surprise that they picked Cedar. I think it’s simple musical, if not cosmic, alignment. For me, it is also among the few spaces from which I dare to venture into an (almost) endemic world.

Following a high-energy set from London’s Los Bitchos is no easy task. However, in this red-eye showcase, Dublin’s Pillow Queens successfully infiltrated the ranks of Redcoats and frankly, stole the show.

They pulled few strings or tricks, and gave a resonant performance through their compelling songwriting and well-tempered play. The setlist consisted of memorable numbers like “Holy Show”, “HowDoILook”, and “Liffey” from 2020’s In Waiting, and “Be By Your Side” and “No Good Woman” from their new album.

In person, their style closely resembles that of the studio. Belting out direct lyrics about their turbulent upbringing and their clashes with contemporary social change, the singing duty was shared by co-vocalists Corcoran and Connolly. With a sparse yet enthusiastic crowd, Pillow Queens were the perfect re-initiation I needed, and the brilliant discovery that only SxSW can muster.

Pillow Queens’ new album Leave the Light On will be released on April 1st 2022.

SxSW Review: Calva Louise, March 16, Cedar Street Courtyard

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20220316 Calva Louise
Calva Louise specializes in what should be termed pop-guitarism. The band name may have been inspired by a bald lady after people watching in Manchester. Or a beloved childhood cartoon character. Or a game of charades one random night. Or Google Translate as read by a drunk reviewer fumbling for context at 12 in the morning at Cedar Street Courtyard.

As with previous singles and EPs, Calva Louise’s music centers on passages of meaty guitar riffs dressed up with with pinches of vocal utterance. Songs such as “Hunting” and “Belicoso” have little internal progression, and make for a square wave set that goes from quiet banter to 120% volume for the next 3 minutes, then repeats. However, they did sound much better live when the music is less wrapped up in electronic embellishments.

There are lots of bands that strive to bring together far-flung musical influences from the “corners” of the world – a mix of British, American and Latin music doesn’t sound like a particularly ingenious potpourri, if you will pardon the pun on their EP by the self-conscious name POP(urri). What sets Calva Louise apart is an additional emphasis on the animation projected behind the drummer. Designed by the lead guitar Jess, they don’t so much create a new mood as present a more interesting photo-op as opposed to the brand/sponsor logos. Despite what may sound like misgivings, the energy from their live set is undeniably attractive.

Calva Louise are currently on an American tour behind their new album Euphoric.

SxSW Review: Strawberry Guy, March 16, Cedar Street Courtyard

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20220316 Strawberry Guy

Dream Pop has always sounded more like a violent catastrophe than the label for softly enveloping music. Fortunately, Liverpool-based Alex Stephens (aka Strawberry Guy) subscribes to the latter definition. In an early afternoon set at Cedar Street Courtyard, Strawberry Guy sat serenading from his keyboard, in what I gather was BME‘s attempt to pacify the crowd after Walt Disco’s boisterous play.

If we were still mired in the drugged-up, intoxicated ways of the ’60s, Strawberry Guy would be a fair and perhaps obligatory performer. In the current climate, it is more difficult to gauge whether we should put our cynicism or naivete first. With a singing voice bordering on anemic and a habit of capping each number with “~cooool~”, the live set felt decidedly less serene than the recording. It’s the difference and subjective taste between a warm breeze and a cozy blanket – neither is a salve if you came in frozen from a Walrus Club meet.

Amongst the set of 5-6 songs, “Take My Time To Be” off the eponymous EP as well as “Sun Outside My Window” from the new album, released back in October 2021, stood out. But each shared the same DNA of unhurried calm, where much of the lyrics center on everyday observation and introspection. It is probably by design that little of a profound or otherworldly nature was said. But then again, perhaps Strawberry Guy, a self-proclaimed One-Man-Impressionist (as if Manet and Monet painted in tag-team), believes we are all Universes onto ourselves.

SXSW Review: Self Esteem, March 18, Cheer Up Charlie’s

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Self Esteem, aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor, presented a tour de force show on Friday at Cheer Up Charlies. Sometimes you just need good pop fun and that’s exactly what Self Esteem brought. Accompanied by a live band and two dancers, Self Esteem quickly declared herself as an act to pay attention to from the get-go, as she and her dancers took to the stage in a surprisingly dramatic fashion.

The next fifty minutes saw Self Esteem play tracks off her 2021 critically acclaimed record Prioritise Pleasure, an album filled with uplifting pop bangers while engaging in fun choreographed dancing with her dancers and all in front of a fan that made everything more intense. I had never heard Self Esteem before this, but I was instantly transformed into a fan.

I, for one, cannot get enough of her track “I Do This All The Time.” Highly recommended.