South By Southwest

SXSW Review: Tommy Stinson, March 14, Valhalla

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

At a festival like SXSW, with so many shows happening and a lot of moving parts, it can often seem as if things are flying by the seat of their pants at all times. And they probably are. But Tommy Stinson‘s Thursday night show at Valhalla was the first time I’ve seen a show materialize from almost nothing within a matter of minutes.

It all happened very quickly. Just minutes before the scheduled set time, there was no sign of Tommy and I was beginning to wonder whether it was time to bail and head out to try another showcase. But then the man himself appeared at the door near the stage, full band in tow, and proceeded to start setting up. Still, it seemed unlikely that this was going to be anything more than a very truncated set.

Then, all of a sudden, Stinson hopped onstage, plugged his guitar into a small amp and started playing a song before the mic was even on, all while the crew at Valhalla scrambled to set things up as best as they could.

“We’re improvising, it’s rock and roll!” he said, a mischievous grin on his face. Clearly Stinson was enjoying the idea of just winging it. Not too surprising considering the rag-tag reputation that his old band The Replacements had back in the day. And truly, it did make for a rather unique and memorable show, which ultimately is what you want at SouthBy. Playing most of the set solo on the guitar while everything else was still being built up around him, Stinson played seemingly whatever came to his mind at the moment, giving off a bit of a Bob Dylan vibe at times.

Finally, he brought up his band right at the very end – The Freedom Rockets, a group of very young-looking dudes clad in plaid vests, ties and white shirts with the sleeves cut off. I’m not sure how Stinson came to work with these guys, but they certainly made a strong visual impression and all involved seemed to be having a ball up there as they ran through the one solitary song that they had time to play – “Anything Could Happen” from Stinson’s days in Bash & Pop.

Actually, come to think of it, the phrase “anything could happen” is the perfect way to describe the overall vibe of this show. Coincidence? Maybe not.

SXSW Review: Su Lee, March 14, Empire Control Room

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

Seeing Su Lee play SXSW was quite surreal to me. I (and a fair portion of the world) was introduced to Su Lee via her self-created music video for “I’ll Just Dance”

I believe I found it in the early stages of the Pandemic and it was one of the first things during that dark period that showed how resilient and creative people can behave in any conditions. Su Lee’s lyrics, full of anxiety and self doubt, very much reflected the state of the world and the feelings of a lot of people at the time and that connection between her and everyone who was isolated led to quite a following.

Two albums and four years later, she is at SXSW playing a live set of those same songs she had constructed in her bedroom. It was a bit surreal. Considering how she got her start, I was not too surprised to see a minimal setup, consisting of just her, some keyboards and a laptop. Immediately, Su launched into the the song “I’ll Just Dance” – including her signature dance moves – and created a fun vibe with the crowd.

Anyone who has seen her YouTube videos would know that Su has a certain sense of humor and honesty to her songs and stage banter that really created a fun and imitate set. Despite the more serious topics of her tracks (dealing with depression, anxiety, etc.), all the songs were catchy and demonstrated a wide range of styles with some involving R&B elements that showed off the playfulness of it all. A particular highlight was an almost heartbreaking take on A-Ha’s “Take on Me” which put things into a different light.

Highly enjoyable set, I’m excited to see what’s next.

SXSW Reviews: Tengger, v10101a

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

Thursday saw the start of the Jaded | FRIENDS:FOREVER showcase at Empire Garage and Control Room, a two day Asian-centric showcase featuring over 40 acts. Let’s take a look at two of those acts.

Tengger, March 14, Empire Control Room

Pegged as a traveling music family, Tengger consists of Itta (from South Korea), Marquido (from Japan) and their son Raai, who may be about10 years old. The trio played what I guess can be called as new age-y minimalistic synth-based tunes. I don’t really know how to describe it except that it was very calming, playful, and peaceful. There was a lot of performative art in their set too, as during one track, the band members went into the crowd, shaking rattlers over each audience member, as if to relieve them of their trouble.

It was overall a very calming set but I can’t get over the fact that during the pandemic, the couple were separated by countries and their son, who must have only been 7 or 8 at the time, was so upset he wrote a song and then a few years later he’s performing it at SXSW. Talk about being a go getter.

v10101a, March 15, Empire Control Room

Whereas Tengger embraced harmonious nature-based concepts, v10101a comes from the future. Shanghai born, NYC based, v10101a took to the stage on Friday night and took the crowd on a whirlwind dizzying electro journey that seemed very much in line with the themes of SXSW. Sharing her laptop monitor on the stage backdrop, v10101a proceeded to seemingly live-code her show. Each song was an open code file, with different components of the song tied to functions within that file that she could execute in whatever order she wants, with real time modifications to pitch, sound, etc. all available at her disposal.

The music itself was a mix of synths, samples, drum loops, chippy sounds and just about whatever else you can download. It was all geared to make you dance and the crowd definitely got into it at the Empire Control Room, although all eyes were on the backdrop to see what she was doing.

It was a fascinating glimpse into the tools now available to creators, who realistically don’t even need to learn guitar or piano anymore, just how to call the chords/keys, etc on a time loop.

Whereas a traditionalist might stick up their nose at this concept, it really does open the world of music creator to a new group of people, especially the ones that didn’t have the benefit of music lessons growing up. Is it a short cut? Yes, but look at your phone – everything technology does is a shortcut. I left her energetic set wondering how these worlds will inevitably collide.

I wasn’t able to take a video because it was way too dark but here’s an example of livecoding, which I guess is what you call v10101a does.

SXSW Review: Mong Tong, March 13, Mohawk

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

SXSW is a place where you can see music at its most interesting. Aside from up and comer indie bands, you get a host of creative individuals who have all kinds of thoughts and ideas about what music is and how it should be presented. This year, the band Mong Tong greatly exemplified this.

A Taiwanese duo formed by two brothers, the duo played a psychedelic dreamy multi-layered set to the backdrop of calming animal videos – while blindfolded. What? Yes, the group blindfolded themselves about halfway through their second song and proceeded to play the set under the cover, navigating perfectly between their effects pedals and the electronic drum pad. I was fascinated. Under the layer of ambient sound that they produced, I really wondered how they pulled it off. Is their sense of movement that great? How many times do they practice? Are they really blindfolded? Do they feel their way around the music like Luke Skywalker when he was training to be a Jedi?

It kept me engaged in the set while the music worked to smooth my mind, which was an interesting contrast. A very interesting show.