SXSW Review: Datarock [Cedar Street Courtyard, Filter Culture Collide party, March 19, 2011]

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

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Baltimore – Here is a recepe I learned at SXSW this year:

Several Talking Heads
4 red tracksuits
4 Norwegians
1 bowl of electro-pop
200+ SXSW goers

Cube the Talking Heads and marinate in electro-pop. Mix in the Norwegians wrapped in individual tracksuits, sprinkle the SXSW goers, and bake under warm March sun for 45 minutes until well done. Voila. You have made a Filter Culture Collide party with Datarock.

I am usually not enticed by electro-pop/punk, even on the best of days. But the way a Datarock song is assembled makes it easy to like. Simple bass lines, scarce use of guitar for highlights or hooks, everything strung together loosely by weird lyrics set to a melody that ought to be played on a synth. The Talking Heads resemblance is plain from miles away. They have a song called True Stories that is full of Talking Heads song titles (not to mention its theme is basically an offshoot of Psycho Killer). Alos, why else would you shout out Fa-Fa-Fa? The interesting thing is that the formula actually works. They were one of the first acts for Filter’s party that afternoon, and it showed. Although it was far from empty, Cedar Street Courtyard was not as we saw it in yester-years during White Lies or Temper Trap. This time, I had the option of moving from the balcony to the stage without catching snake eyes from 50 people. Datarock opened energetically by stomping down the staircase. Initially I was skeptical. The vocal Fredrik Saroea fist-pumped like a cheerleader, Thomas Larssen on bass had a ridiculously wide stance that made 2/3 pi looks acute, saxophone Kjetil Møster was jumping behind the vocal like a boxer, and Adrian Meehan looked every part the timid vampire under that hoodie, picking at drums away from the sun.

I am glad that first impressions are often wrong. After my initial assessment,  Datarock opened with the Pretender (I believe). Over the next 45-50 minutes they would go through their albums, including Computer camp love, California, Catcher in the Rye (there may be a Bon Jovi tune here), and DANCE. For each song, Saroea would smartly (or smugly, depending on your vantage) introduce the audience to a background. California, for example, was supposed to be a play. Not that anyone cared whether Datarock makes the Writers’ guild, but compare this to the often muffled: “Mmmmmm… thank you. This next song is called X”. I would much rather have such stage act enliven the performance than not, especially because Datarock is built on such idiosyncrasies. The audience, too, gradually warmed up to their presence. I started the concert on the balcony beside two gentlemen who were scoffing. By the time everyone else in the courtyard was fist-pumping to Fa-Fa-Fa, they told me about their plans to high-five the band after. Let’s be clear, though: this was NOT a Matt and Kim style free-love-for-all. Perhaps the music was off-kilter. Everyone was just on the cusp. If Matt (or Kim) was to jump topless into the crowd at their concert, there would be a supernova on the spot. Møster did so, and was greeted by a parting audience like Moses with Red Sea. I think he was a little baffled. But honestly, it was 3PM. I would need much more alcohol before I stick my hand out to support a sweaty 200 lb Norwegian. Late in the show, Meehan also abandoned the drums so he could jump onto the speaker stack to sing. As I said, they were very energetic, but I can’t figure out why the crowd wasn’t as receptive as with other comparable concerts.

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Overall, Datarock was very enjoyable to watch and listen, and not just because of showmanship. I would hazard to guess that the formula worked because of the European influence… house music and continental suave. Or perhaps that’s just my head talking. 0.5 star bonus!

SXSW Reviews: Colin Stetson; Caitlin Rose, Amy LaVere [Parish; Swan Dive, March 18, 2011]

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Baltimore – Why do I lump reviews together? Well, it’s certainly not due to a lack of thoughts on each topic/section. Heck, if you let me, I could probably ramble on and relate chocolate chip cookies directly to a contrabass saxophone. Somehow. Just like why I decided to write about all 3 in one review – because they relate together for me.

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I had never heard of Colin Stetson and Amy LaVere before the concerts. But I have heard of NPR (in fact I am probably a rabid NPR fanboy by now, waiting for the zombie signal over FM radio). Seeing NPR’s day party on the SXSW calendar was equivalent to hearing the call to arms if I was a Spartan. Just as I was pulled toward the Parish on this cloudy day, so too, were 70 others, forming a snaking line outside of the Parish. You know you are in a NPR line if 1) people are gambling, with real money, 2) everyone looks like Josh (Anger), 3) it seems that no one cares about the prospect of actually getting into the show. The last note could have something to do with the advertisement for swags-bags. But it was the most lazy line that I have ever been in – if we were nitrogen and the NPR line was a vacuum, we would be sucked in at no particular order, with no particular grudge. Contrast this to the Friendly Fires line later in the night, where one person tricked all of the wristband holders (yes… me included) into joining the general line on the other side… Laid back.

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Colin Stetson, I learned, is more often associated with other acts than his solo efforts. 2-3 minutes into Colin’s set (a short one that you can watch in its entirety from NPR), one name ran across my mind – Xavier Rudd. In Stetson’s hands, the bass/contrabass sax sounds oddly like a didgeridoo. Apparently, both artists use circular breathing (see wiki). While Rudd has several didges at his disposal, Stetson had one saxophone. Due to a complete lack of musical talents I will refrain from commenting on techniques, suffice it to say that it’s not only impressive, but also hauntingly beautiful to listen. Be patient, though. His music takes a little time to develop, and has a lo-fi tinge. Because of the breathing technique, though, this tends to involve a revolving set of notes that escalates, which sound similar to Philip Glass on the closing parts of Koyaanisqatsi. You know… where the cars keep going ’round, faster and faster, like the notes. The people of NPR might be, but this music is definitely not laid back.

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Last year I went to see Audra Mae on the strength of one song (and it was totally justified). And not just any song – a depressing ballade about a girl in the deep south committing suicide. This year Caitlin Rose played the role of that songstress who draws me in with one horribly depressing song. When she introduced it, a man standing in front of me asked: “What? A song about someone who was pushed into a wall?” “No,”, I said, “WELL”. That is more like it – no one gets hurt being pushed into a wall! Folk music is apparently full of the dark sides of life, because if all we ever pondered is high-minded ideas such as “are we human or are we dancer”, then no one will be left doing the dancing and the “human’in”.

And human her performance was. Perhaps less calculated like many at SXSW but very genuine. I have never been to Swan Dive before. When I arrived there was a guy trying to weasel his way in. Meanwhile, I had missed 1-2 songs. Inside, Swan Dive contrasted orange, incandescent chandeliers with a blue-hue floor lighting. Combined together on the bare white walls, it became a very intimate yet somewhat desolate setting. Perfect, I guess, for singing about pushing people into wells. A piano less and two best-friends more than on the new album, Own Side Now, Caitlin certainly displayed a great range both in volume and scale. Some of the numbers feel more country than folk, but to be honest I would never know (nor care). I do wish that the subject of her songs would change a little. I like the Sinful Wishing Well (alluded to before), Own Side, and the last song (didn’t catch the name), a sing-along. The man (above) suggested that I stay for Amy LaVere.

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I did stay. But not for the entire set (had to run to another show to line up). I did hear Washing Machine – which totally confused me… here were two instrumentalists on stage, one bass, one violin, and I heard guitar rift coming from the birthday boy (60 yrs old?) above everything else. Amy also repeatedly toasted the audience, which I thought was a little weird. Maybe a few more would give me a better grounding in her music. So I won’t be rude and give PMs this round.

That was a impromptu break for the finish. Like Colin Stetson’s saxophone.

Colin Stetson: (only because I regret that it was so short!)

Caitlin Rose:

SXSW Review: Summer Camp, Red Eye Fly, March 16

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

Austin – Consisting of Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey, Summer Camp is one of the most literal bands I’ve ever seen. The London duo recently got a lot of Internet buzz with a string of singles. The songs heavily rely on synthesizers and Elizabeth’s voice to create carefree innocent summer sounds, in turn bringing up pleasant nostalgic memories that you may have had from your childhood.

Unfortunately for Summer Camp, it wasn’t summer, and it wasn’t camp. South By Southwest people are a finicky bunch, a group that will show disinterest quickly if things don’t go right. Taking the stage a bit after nine, Summer Camp started playing their set to a slideshow backdrop. The slideshow consisted of a bunch of 70s pictures of people having summer fun, to further hammer down the bands mission statement. Elizabeth has an exceptional voice and it easily fills a room but it became clear that the band still has to work on their stage arrangements, as both band members elected to go with the classic stand still and sing/play instrument move. Maybe that was the plan. I think this might have all worked – Summer Camp has good songs and Elizabeth has a great voice, however, problems with their equipment started popping up during the set, causing some stop/starts that immediately had the crowd wondering if it was in their best interest to bail and move to the next showcase. Crowd chatter soon louden and I don’t think the band ever got back on track, creating a rather disjointed show.

It’s a shame that electronic problems plagued Summer Camp’s showcase on Wednesday night, but there was definitely enough shown to warrant a revisiting this band should they tour stateside. Make sure you check out their single “I Want You”, it’s quite good.

I Want You by Summer Camp

SXSW Review: Joan Of Arc, March 19, The Parish

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

Austin – You know, Austin has an unofficial slogan – “Keep Austin Weird.”  If by extension, South By Southwest is all about the weird, then Tim Kinsella of Joan Of Arc could be it’s poster boy.  Joan Of Arc’s set was just the beginning of an evening of weird acts to close out my SXSW experience, inluding some stand up comedians (including Tig Notaro, Hampton Yount, and Ben Kronberg – all weird) and the legendary Yoko Ono.  The band put on a solid set of post rock-ish tunes punctuated with Kinsella’s odd comments and compelling yet off kilter demeanor as a frontman.  He made note of the “supermoon” that was on display that night, adding “All our songs are implicitly about the moon, but tonight I’d like to make it explicit.”

Kinsella commented on how they had a song that was kind of based on Queen’s “We Will Rock You.  “You can’t really call it a cover … well you can if you want.”  He then went on a tangent about potential or something.  Kinsella also touched a few audience members on the head while singing as if he was healing them or something.  Maybe he was. 

“We’re just trying to make it in the music business.” said Kinsella, explaining why they were playing SXSW.  Making it in the music business probably means something different for a band that’s been going since 1995, put out an album of instrumental guitar duets, and has a song called “A Telltale Penis.”   Yeah, they’ll probably never really “make it big” at this point, but the show was certainly effective as a promotional tool (I didn’t know they had a new album coming out before I saw they were playing SXSW) and hopefully gained them a few new fans.  On album, Joan Of Arc can be a bit hit and miss, but live, they’re an impressive force.