SXSW Review: Sofi Paez, Lisa Morgenstern, Grandbrothers, March 12, Central Presbyterian Church

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This night at the Presbyterian we have offerings from Sofi Paez, Lisa Morgenstern, and Grandbrothers.

20240313 Sofi Paez

Costa Rican pianist Sofi Paez showcased a string of hurried yet pensive numbers. If that seems contradictory, it’s because not only is her piano layered with other sounds, the music is also reminiscent of a classical acoustic guitar, polyphonic with fluent passages of a fairly simple melody.

This night she included pieces from her 2023 EP circles as well as previous works. It is world-building music, I would suggest, without end nor aim but still intense, pleasant yet tense to listen to.

20240313 Lisa Morgenstern

Berlin-based composer Lisa Morgenstern brought her powerful music, and it belonged nowhere else in SXSW except the church, or perhaps more appropriately, a sacred space.

Mixing classical elements and a folk-like expressiveness, her singing transformed into a chant in this space. That was unexpected based on the recorded music I had heard. Mixed in with a bit of baroque instrumental riffs in the background, her contralto voice became skinny with a slightly strange edge that contrasts well. I believe most of the setlist was drawn from her 2019 album Chameleon. This night there was a trumpet which added to the grandness. I would welcome it if she signs up for the next Disco Elysium soundtrack.

20240313 Grandbrothers

Grandbrothers do everything off of the grand piano. Whether you view it as a schtick or genuine exploration of an audio-landscape, they find different ways of hitting the strings, as well as utilizing the piano structures themselves, including the frame and other, to record any sound and weave the samples into electronic house music. To be very cheeky, by their definition, directing a trained elephant to smash a saxophone over a grand piano would also be playing the grand. It is fun that they thought about the sampling process, however.

Grandbrothers MADE the live sampling procedure into something in and of itself. Even though this isn’t necessarily just looping, they did not expose the listener to the building of the Lego blocks but arranged it to become additional passages … it could be segments out of order or more traditionally different parts recorded separately, but eventually you get enough to work with. To my ears, the music itself is not ground breaking and always proceeds with crescendo to end the same way. But the experience is enjoyable to watch.

SXSW Review: Backdrop Cinderella, March 11, Elysium

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20240312 Backdrop Cinderella

I was just-in-time to grab my credentials and catch this Monday 3/11 graveyard shift set.

Backdrop Cinderella is a 4 piece punk-rock band from Japan. Their music is breakneck-pace and lyrical comprehension was nowhere in sight, for good reason. While the recordings are no doubt exciting, what you get live is on another level. The energy, particularly from the frontman, is undeniable. Sporting his trademark red-white tights with an over-shirt, Dendeke Ayumi hurled himself into the crowd at a moment’s notice, directed them to mosh/zorba, and did 10X jump splits every other song as if it was the most natural and human thing to do when singing 10 syllables every second.

I am glad that the crowd in front either a) knew what they were getting into, or b) were glad/drunk enough to be spontaneous. Otherwise this might have been a disasterous set with a broken down Ayumi on the concrete floor and injury lawsuits flying instead. I would hazard to guess that they were a bit disappointed with the size of the audience – but betrayed none of it. So of course the music, especially with regards to clarity and tone/notes, suffers a little from the intended marks in the videos. But they are definitely worth your time to see, particularly if you are into punk with a bit of 2-tone ska.

SXSW Reviews: BALTHVS, Population II, O.

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20240317 BALTHVS

BALTHVS, March 11, The 13th Floor

Colombian trio BALTHVS spoke a few times during their Monday night set at The 13th Floor about how much they loved Austin and it became clear at this show that Austin (along with the many non-Austinites like myself who invade the city every March) also loves BALTHVS.

Throughout their set, the Bogota-based band (pictured above at their Saturday night show at Mohawk) put on one of the most impressive displays of musicianship we saw all week with their psychedelic funk meets surf rock sound.

Population II, March 12, Swan Dive

Random discoveries are always a treat at SXSW and Population II were certainly one of those discoveries. Walking into Swan Dive on Tuesday night for the Mothland/Fair Enough/M For Montreal showcase, I had a vague idea of what to expect from the Montreal psych rock trio, but hadn’t given them a listen ahead of time. With the band already playing as I walked in, I was suitably impressed by their blend of psych sounds with a bit of jazz and funk.

For Toronto folks, Population II play The Garrison on April 23 alongside Meatbodies.

O., March 14, The 13th Floor

London sax and drums duo O. put on a fun, high energy show during their Thursday afternoon set as part of the Creem Magazine/Third Man Records party. Also, there were free copies of Creem and free pickles being given away at this party and in my book, any show where you can snack on a delicious pickle while enjoying an effects-laden saxophone freakout is a pretty good one.

SXSW Review: Wishy, Noah and the Loners, March 16, Lazarus Brewing Co.

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The Music For Listeners day shows are a longstanding tradition at SXSW. The unofficial day parties have been running for fourteen years now as an offshoot of the San Antonio radio program of the same name and they were back again this year for a week-long series of shows at Lazarus Brewing Company.

Music for Listeners programs a wide range of music for their SXSW shows with a big focus on American indie rock and Britpop-ish stuff. And on Saturday afternoon, we made our way further west on 6th Street to check out what they had to offer, taking in sets from Wishy and Noah and the Loners

Admittedly, we only caught the tail end of Wishy’s set so they didn’t have time to make much of an impression on me either way, but I did detect a fair bit of ’90s influences in their sound so I made a note to follow up and give them another listen. And the songs on their Paradise EP, which Pitchfork described as “nostalgic misrememberings of the dreamier side of ’90s indie rock” do indeed have a strong ’90s flavour. Check out the video for “Spinning” below.

Up next were Noah and the Loners, a young punk band who I first caught during SXSW 2023, where they impressed with “God Save The King,” a revamped version of the Sex Pistols classic with the lyrics updated to “God save the king/Same fascist thing.” The Brighton-based band were playing a whole bunch of shows throughout the week and brought a fair bit of energy to their afternoon set … though they were likely conserving some of that energy for the two shows they’d be playing later that night.

Singer Noah Lonergan introduced one song by saying it was about wanting to be young forever, adding, “I don’t know why I wrote that, I’m only 19.” This, of course, had us immediately doing the math in our heads to figure out exactly how young Lonergan was when we started going to SXSW. The answer? Quite young.

Yes, we are old, but not too old to appreciate a good punk show – provided that there’s good craft beer and some nice picnic tables for us to sit on.