SXSW Reviews: Celeste, Dylan LeBlanc, Low Cut Connie, More Or Les, Body Type, March 16

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

Celeste

For the purposes of breaking things down into neat (or not so neat) little categories, I’ll be dividing my coverage of the last full day of SXSW into two sections – Mojo Nixon and not Mojo Nixon. This is not to say that Mojo was necessarily better than anything else I saw on this day, but it did stand out as its own weird, crazy little thing separate from everything else. But other than the fact that they’re not Mojo, there’s nothing really linking the acts in these reviews together besides the fact that they all happened on the final Saturday. I guess that’s enough. Here goes:

Celeste
After scarfing down a few top notch breakfast tacos from Pueblo Viejo, I made my way to the convention center to take in a set from London-based soul singer Celeste, who started the day off nicely with some chill, jazzy R&B vibes on the Radio Day Stage. I’ve got to say though, going by just Celeste makes her slightly more difficult to Google, but I guess the one name thing worked for fellow Brits Estelle and Adele (and Sting), so then again, why not?

Dylan LeBlanc

Dylan LeBlanc
Making our way back out to South Congress later in the afternoon, we lucked out and arrived at Hotel San Jose when there was a bit of a lull in the lineup and only had to wait a few minutes before things started to move, getting inside in time to catch a few tunes from Nashville based singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc. LeBlanc and his band The Pollies impressed with a sound that brought to mind the likes of Jason Isbell and Neil Young at times.


Low Cut Connie
I’ll readily admit that we were mostly there for the fried chicken, but the fact that Philadelphia’s Low Cut Connie were playing a set to close things out for the night at Lucy’s Fried Chicken was just the icing on the cake … or the hot sauce on the chicken if I’m not mixing my metaphors. And much like the fried chicken, Low Cut Connie served up a greasy, satisfying experience to the packed house at Lucy’s outdoor stage, running through a set of down and dirty rock and roll. “You wanna see me get on top of this piano?” asked singer Adam Weiner at one point in their set and my only thought was, “Dude, I’m so far back I can’t even see the piano. But thanks for getting on top of something, I guess.”

More Or Les
After taking in an excellent set from Say Sue Me at Beerland (read Ricky’s review of their show from earlier in the week), I will admit that the week was starting to take it’s toll on me and I retreated back to Chez Panic Manual for a bit of a disco nap. I thought I might have been done right then and there, but I managed to rally and headed out to Flamingo Cantina to take in some nerdcore, catching a bit of MC Frontalot and Schaffer The Darklord before seeing the sole Torontonian act I would catch all week – More Or Les. Les performed a set of songs from his latest, Nerd Love, along with a few choice selections from throughout his career, including set highlight “Brunch Again” – as Les pointed out, you can be a nerd about anything, including his favourite meal of the day. Performing with a projector for the first time ever (“a delicate and dangerous situation,” according to Les), he went full multimedia, which meant he had to contend with the projector getting jostled about for a bit, but after taping the damn thing down, the show went off mostly without a hitch. It went by too quickly for sure, but without too much of a hitch anyways.

Body Type
The final act of the night for me also put on one of the most energetic sets of the entire week. These four Australian ladies almost seemed to be having more fun than the audience for their 1:00am slot at Swan Dive, although the dude who felt the need to try and fist bump the members of the band during their set probably felt like he was having more fun. Body Type have only got an EP to their name so far, with another on the way in May of this year. Here’s hoping for even more to come soon.

SXSW Review: Yola, March 13, Radio Day Stage

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

Yola

Yola (Carter) has a gift with her voice. It is not only the volume and clarity with which she holds your attention. No, your 8th grade English teacher can do that. It’s the deep connection she has with the audience, and the layered delivery that allows her to pack much emotion into melodies that I would in all likelihood completely disregard had they been sent across the radio.

Working from her debut album, tracks like the eponymous “Walk Through Fire” and “It Ain’t Easier”, for example, are both classic country numbers in my book. If this were to go down as the only country set I visited at SXSW after a decade, then so be it. (But if anyone asks I would still staunchly, in a principled manner, deny ever having been). Coming from a background of gun-for-hire for other bands, Yola’s natural strengths in soul and country really do shine through. Here, hitting notes and harmonies, while important, are secondary to the electric feeling that builds up in the air. It’s like she and Dan Auerbach guard a box (or a cowboy hat) with magic dust and sprinkle it sparingly.

There are some gems in the songwriting as well. There is nothing more “real” than the lyrics which with I nearly laughed my fellow passengers’ heads off on the L:

Nobody moves the way you do
walking ’round the grocery store
Only you know what you’re looking for

What kind of sick and twisted person would double-entendre with your expectations in a longingly expressive love song? The British kind, of course. Other highlights for me were “Shady Grove”, “Still Gone”, and “Faraway Look”.

Check out the video for “Faraway Look” below:

SXSW Film Review: Run This Town (Ricky Tollman, 2019)

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Reviews | Leave a comment

rob-ford-movie

Run This Town is a re-enactment (or re-imagining) of the “fall from grace” of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. From a journalists’ perspective, it is not quite the Spotlight scoop. Smoking crack is nowhere near as emotionally hard-hitting, socially explosive, nor satanically intricate as the Catholic Church’s cover up. Plus, everyone knows the ending now. So from a filmmaker’s point of view, why was this a good subject?

The film didn’t have a solid or novel reply. That lack of confidence hampered it from going beyond where typical news reporting had been years ago. While Run This Town is effective, it is not long-lastingly interesting. This was also reflected in subtle presentation choices. The split panel window graphics weren’t always used to the full advantage to create tension of a simultaneous event, nor a cubist way of looking at the same feature from multiple angles. It was just there sometimes to give a chicness the film needs to fit in a 2019 climate.

What made me feel a little sad for this effort is the Molson Canadian message hidden throughout the film. From the subject itself to the insecure millennial trope right at the end: to constantly remind ourselves of a “civic duty” to be second-class at every level, to always be late to the party and content with the consolation prize that signifies some deficiency. Rob Ford’s scandal does embarrass; “but for Gods sake, we can’t even hide a scandal properly, even against a second-rate journalist”. It isn’t just tiring – it’s self-defeatist – and not even remotely true of Canada or Toronto. The “fuck you police officer” scene with supposed resonance with #MeToo is such a misstep in terms of its actual impact, it left me double-taking to make sure this was not 1919. As a Chinese saying preaches: the first is genius, the second a copycat, and the third a moron. The fact that people elected Rob’s authoritarian brother to an even darker Premiership may be a side-effect of our ignorance of the preceding years, and our failure to contrast it in the proper light. Next time, please just frame the whole ordeal as the royal real-life buffoonery that it was: Torontonians were fooled into trusting a Jackass bit actor, and were equally clueless in how to cope.

SXSW Film Review: Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, 2019)

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

greener-grass-146690

Greener Grass is completely brilliant at what it does. There aren’t many other ways to get this across without spoiling the film. The brainchild (brainchildren?) of directors and actresses Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe has a loose story, but Greener Grass is really an experience brewed from the organic roasted snapshots of suburbia. An absurdist satire on hyper-politeness marinated with envy that so permeates our, and in bold emphasis, white American society.

To give you a scenario that stabs at reality as the film opens: the protagonist trades away her newborn baby based on a comment, and finds her other son transformed into a dog. But of course from there the situations become ever more perverse. Even though everything is clearly caving in around the protagonist, she and her cohort remain hopelessly entrenched in a fixed role, far beyond rescue. And perhaps in a sick, metaphysical way, they ARE the boundaries: it is physically impossible to step out of bounds no matter how poignant the reminder, or however hard they try.

Even in the Q&A after the film, I wasn’t sure if the directors were completely out of character yet. The over eagerness belies some type of dysfunction that you just know isn’t normal nor wholesome. As George Carlin used to point out about one American aphorism: how can anyone be “more than happy”? Perhaps more pressingly: what happens to your life if you must always be happy? It is the symptom of the Facebook and Instagram generation (regardless of age), cheapening our values into superficial facades that you can rent, buy, sell and promote. Greener Grass doesn’t pretend it has a reply, or a solution. But it does paint a 70 foot tall picture of that farce so one cannot fail to see the laughable and meaningless corners we drive ourselves into.