South By Southwest

SXSW Review: Vandoliers, March 13, The Continental Club

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In all our years of doing SXSW, the Panic Manual crew has rarely made it out for shows on South Congress. No good reason for that really – we know it’s a cool area and have made the effort from time to time, but it is so much further away from that main drag on Sixth Street where a lot of the venues are. Yes, laziness wins out sometimes. Sad but true.

But this year I made the effort to head out to the Continental Club for Bloodshot Records’ annual showcase at the venue. A good choice, as this year’s lineup featured a solid collection of acts that included the Waco Brothers, Laura Jane Grace, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, and Dallas alt-country group (and recent Bloodshot signees) Vandoliers, playing songs off of their just released third album Forever.

At the outset of their show, Vandoliers frontman Joshua Fleming was all ‘aw shucks’ about being the new guys on the label, telling the crowd how last year they were guests on the Bloodshot day show and how he had to sneak into the Continental Club show later that night back then. But now they’re on the label and they’re fully legit. Fleming further proved his and the band’s cred by pointing out how he’s been doing this for 16 years before he got a record deal and then went on to play a song about being broke. Not that he really needed to say anything to prove that Vandoliers fit right in on the Bloodshot roster – the band’s rowdy, punk-infused songs did that all on their own.

SXSW Review: Gurr, Disq, March 12, Cheer Up Charlie’s

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“Thanks for coming out so early to see us and have a breakfast beer” said Gurr’s Laura Lee during their early afternoon set at Cheer Up Charlie’s for the first day of Stereogum’s Range Life day parties (complete with free packs of Stereogum-branded gum – clever!). It was a very SXSW way to greet a crowd for sure – it’s one of those ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ sort of things. According to Lee, that beer and a banana was all she’d had so far that day, although a poll of her bandmates revealed that they’d all had something at least slightly more substantial for breakfast – respectively, a bagel with avocado, a muffin, and another bagel, this one with cheese and turkey. A band playing SXSW has gotta stay well fed, after all.

Gurr put on a fun show full of scrappy, poppy, garage-y indie rock tunes like “Moby Dick” and “#1985,” but they also took some time during their set to comment on how things had changed in the short time since the Berlin-based band were last in town for SXSW. “We were in Austin two years ago and it’s very different now,” said Andreya Casablanca, explaining that back then “it was sunny all the time and there were no scooters.” It’s true, the weather up to that point had kind of sucked and those damn scooters were pretty unavoidable this year. The band even went on to have a bit of a mini-debate with the crowd about scooter pros and cons (apparently they’re banned in Germany). Regardless of your position on scooters, Gurr are worth a listen.

Preceding Gurr’s set and starting things off for the day on the adjacent indoor stage was Disq, a young band out of Madison, Wisconsin who I knew nothing about but who managed to impress.

With his shaggy hair and glasses, singer Isaac de-Broux-Slone looks a bit like a baby Thurston Moore and while there’s a bit of a Sonic Youth influence to be heard in their music, vocally he bears a slight resemblance to a younger, less bummed out David Bazan. The band just recently released it’s latest single “Communication” as a single via Saddle Creek. Check out the video for “Communication” below:

SXSW Review: Haelos, March 12, Cedar Street Courtyard

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Haelos released one of my favorite albums in 2016. The dark moody electronic music they presented on that album reminded me a bit of trip hop from the 90’s. Funny enough, they also played Cedar Street Courtyard as part of SXSW in that year, so it was nice to be able to see them again this year as they prepare for the release of their new record Any Random Kindness.

If the live show and their first two singles are any indication, Haelos is ready to party a bit more. “Buried in the Sand” and “Kyoto”, two of their most recent offerings, kicked off the set and put the crowd on notice – it might be 3:00 in the afternoon, but it’s time to dance.

Haelos does a great job of balancing strong vocal work and a tense aesthetic with a full electro sound and their live show amps everything up to 10. New tracks aside, the band still sounded best playing their debut material including “Dust”, a track that propelled them into the spotlight. But maybe that’s just my own familiarity and bias. Either way, they remain highly impressive and I’m curious to see what the new album brings.

Check them out.

SXSW Review: Mavis Staples, Jacob Latimore, DRAMA, March 12, Clive Bar

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On the Tuesday night of SXSW, a show was happening that promised to be pretty special and unique – NPR was presenting The Tiny Desk Family Hour, a concert inspired by the broadcaster’s famed Tiny Desk Concert video series and held at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. Of course once we arrived at the venue, there was a long line that stretched around the corner so it was on to option B – a show by the legendary Mavis Staples at Clive Bar which also promised to be a fairly special show in its own right. Staples was performing as the headliner for the Showtime network’s day of programming to promote the upcoming second season of its (descriptor) drama series The Chi on a bill alongside Chicago-based R&B/dance duo DRAMA and The Chi star Jacob Latimore.

After a fun opening set by DRAMA that got the crowd moving a bit, Latimore took to the stage for a mini-set before Staples’ headlining show. The man’s got a good voice for sure and put his all into his 3 song set, but he was definitely not playing to his crowd – I wonder if he knew going in that the crowd for this would be dominated by a bunch of greyhairs staking out a spot up front for the headliner. He made the most of it regardless. While his music isn’t entirely my cup of tea, I had to admire Latimore’s hustle – over the course of his brief set, he was continuously promoting, reminding the crowd where they can stream his music, where they can find him on social media, and when The Chi would be premiering its second season (that would be April 7 in case you were wondering).

Staples, on the other hand, did not have to do much self promotion on stage – her reputation pretty much speaks for itself. And besides, with a set of roughly just a half hour in length, she didn’t have time for much at all in the way of stage banter, and spent that time instead just running through a powerful set of songs that acted as a reminder of how good of a performer she is after decades in the game.