SXSW Reviews: Casper Skulls, Sloppy Jane, High Waisted, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, … And you Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, March 17

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My Saturday afternoon on the last full day of SXSW was taken up by a fair bit of aimless wandering and discovery as I didn’t have too much of a set agenda. As it turned out, just going with the flow led to several pleasant discoveries. Here’s how it all played out:

Casper Skulls
Starting things off early with an 11:30 set, we did our patriotic duty and caught one more Toronto act at SXSW after taking in sets from Greys, The Weather Station, and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan earlier in the week. Signed to Buzz Records (their latest, Mercy Works, came out late last year), Casper Skulls put on an impressive show despite it being before noon on the last day, starting the day off right with some Sonic Youth-inspired sounds.

Sloppy Jane
Playing intense art-rock that brought to mind everything from musical theatre to grindcore, Sloppy Jane delivered one of the most memorable and entertaining sets of the whole week. Frontwoman Haley Dahl (who spent much of the set wearing nothing but shoes, socks, and her guitar) was a commanding presence as she lead her nine piece band though their noontime performance.

High Waisted
Fun, surfy, poppy rock n’ roll out of New York City. I enjoyed this band’s set at Beerland (aka the most dimly lit bar in Austin) so much I went back and saw them again later that same afternoon. In fact, the band were playing 3 or 4 sets that afternoon, all of them around the same stretch of Red River Street. That’s SouthBy for you.

Sturle Dagsland
Sturle Dagsland caught my attention pretty quickly during an afternoon set at the stage on the corner of 7th and Neches – primal, wordless vocals, avant-garde sounds, a singer jumping off the stage, doing a front roll and attacking a folding chair that happened to be in front of that stage – and that was all just over the course of one song. I think I only caught about one and a half songs by Sturle and his brother Sjur, but the Norwegians definitely made an impression in that time. They get high points as well for some humorous stage banter, including making up titles like “Yiyiyiyiyi” (or something to that effect) for their songs and Sturle telling a story about a man he had seen earlier who spit on his own crotch while staring at a wall. “If you know this man … tell him he’s on the guest list for our next show.”

Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band
A Beatles cover band fronted by Miles Kane and Muse’s Matt Bellamy and featuring members of Nine Inch Nails and Jet among others? Sure, why not? Playing the headlining slot at Stubb’s for Rachel Ray’s ever popular Feedback day party, the Jaded Hearts Club Band played a fun set packed with the familiar repertoire of the Fab Four. Decked out in all black garb and leather jackets, the band paid sartorial homage to The Beatles’ early days in Germany (because really, wearing stuff more reminiscent of their late ’60s period might have been a bit harder to pull off) as they inspired many mass singalongs. And then Rachel Ray came out to thank the crowd and it ended in a bunch of people chanting her name, which seemed a bit weird, but whatever.

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… And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
“We were going to play a new song, but we ran out of time,” announced Trail Of Dead’s Conrad Keely at the beginning of their afternoon slot at The Mohawk. Instead, the band ran through a bunch of classics from earlier in their career, including the very first song they ever played live, which apparently happened at a little coffee shop not too far from The Mohawk. I don’t think any of the die hard fans in attendance minded hearing the old stuff one bit, although a new track would have been cool to hear as well. It’s always good to see an Austin act at SXSW and with Trail Of Dead being an old favourite regardless, this was a no brainer. I’ve seen these guys live a few times now and they never disappoint.

SXSW Review: Field Division, March 17, Parish

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On the final night of SXSW, Des Moines folk duo Field Division gave a preview of the mellow, ’70s-inspired tunes off of their upcoming debut Dark Matter Dreams to the crowd at The Parish on Saturday night for a showcase put on by their label Bella Union that also featured Tiny Ruins, Xylouris White, and Ezra Furman.

Singer Evelyn Taylor described her musical partner Nicholas Frampton as a one man band at one point as he paused to deal with an issue with his guitar. “We have a band actually,” he added. “They live in Texas – Denton.” Someone in the crowd responded by shouting out that Denton was only 300 miles away. “Yeah, they’re all like, dads and stuff. I’m not a dad, I don’t know how that is.”

As it turns out, this band of dads he was speaking of happens to be members of Midlake, which immediately boosted my opinion of Field Division. The songs sounded good in the live duo incarnation, but I can only imagine that having Midlake sprinkle some of their sonic magic onto the recordings would make it sound even better. I guess we can find out for sure once the album comes out in a few months.

Dark Matter Dreams is out June 22 on Bella Union.

SXSW Review: Shame, March 15, Barracuda

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There’s a scene in the recently rebooted 21 Jump Street where Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are going back to school. They look around at all the cliches and quickly identify what they thought were the cool kids. Now back in their days the cool kids were these rude kids who don’t give a fuck and smoke and drink and skip classes but when they happen on these kids, they are all about saving the earth and stuff. Times have changed. It was a weird, funny and true scene.

Which brings me to Shame. They are young, they are brash, they are in your face. When you take a look at them on stage, it’s not entirely far fetched to say they look like they came out of a time warp from London in 1979. Some bands just have it. Shame has that presence. They are awesome.

Lead singer Charlie Steen paces on stage, he sneers menacingly at the crowd. When you see him on stage, you really come to terms with the fact that some people were born to be singers. He is one of them. The way he carries himself, the way he grabs the mic as he spits out his songs, and the way he switches hands manically on the mic. It’s all mesmerizing and it’s incredibly hard not to get into it when you are there. His presence is intense and that intensity spreads throughout the crowd.

This is great, because Shame plays a really aggressive brand of post punk rock music. By the time the second song hit, the mosh pit was flowing, moving faster and faster to match the pace of the drums with the crowd feeding off the energy of the band (or vice versa). It was getting chaotic.

Which brings me back to the top. These kids seem like good kids – during a mid song break, Charlie Steen reminded the crowd that this was just all entertainment, but everyone should be allowed to have a good time, and that we shouldn’t all be that aggressive to each other. It was an odd thing for a band that incites such an intense crowd to say, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Anyways, Shame is awesome live. They have big loud guitar songs, a hell of a presence on stage and just this vital energy about them that makes you wish you were young and fun again.

SXSW Review: Cut Copy, March 17, Lustre Pearl

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Cut Copy, March 17 2018

In my head, I have this dream that one day I’m asked to curate a festival. I know it’s implausible but maybe the multi-billion dollar corporation I work for decides to throw a festival for some reason and I’m asked to pick the bands. Anyways, it’s a fun exercise and I’m always like, what bands would I book? How would you make the ultimate showcase? In my mind, the audience would probably be a mixed bag of normal people and indie kids.

Anyways, Cut Copy would definitely be one of the bands on that imaginary festival, because they are amazing and super fun live.

It’s crazy to think that In Ghost Colours is ten years old now. I still remember discovering that record, putting it on at my friends place and just drunkenly dancing to it. It was so good and probably really pushed good clean electronic dance music to the forefront.

Of course Cut Copy has made a few records since, including last year’s Haiku From Zero, which is slowly growing on me.

Electronic acts are either really good or really bad live. Some acts you feel like, well I could just listen to this at home really really loud and it’s almost the same experience. The great acts leave you tired, exhausted and happy. This is Cut Copy. They play their tracks with energy and enthusiam and Dan Whitford does a good job getting the crowd involved with some well timed antics.

Even with a shitty sound system (Dan was visibly displeased), Cut Copy got a tired crowd dancing their asses off with a hit-filled 45 minute set. Much like their Toronto show, they started off with “Need You Now,” which is my favorite Cut Copy song. I would much prefer it to be the closer, as I think the epic buildup of that song is more suitable for closing, but I won’t complain about it as an opener.

The set consisted a lot of songs you would know but by far the two most popular tracks were the songs from In Ghost Colours. “Hearts on Fire” and “Lights & Music” are just magnificent pop songs, and frankly, when you have those two tracks in your arsenal, you can never go wrong with your show.

Cut Copy are great live. I now await the 10 year anniversary reissue of In Ghost Colours.