SXSW Review: Paloma Faith, March 16, Peckerheads

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

One of my favourite things about SXSW is the ability to see relatively popular UK female pop stars come to North America and play in complete obscurity. I like this because

a) they are pretty seasoned in terms of performing live
b) they are usually playing some divey bar, which is totally not something they are used to
c) well, they are generally very attractive.

It seems in the past few years the UK has been producing female pop sensations at an absurd pace. Just take a look at this list: La Roux, Marina and the Diamonds, Florence and the Machines, Little Boots, Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware, Jessie J. While it is unfair to lump all these artists into the same group (their music are all different), you can make a case that the marketing firms, record labels and other suits in the industry know what they are doing in terms of exporting their talents.

This SXSW sees another female act take the next step. Paloma Faith is a singer from England and has already two solid albums in England. Paloma’s music is more soul/40’s era lounge singer inspired unlike the straight up pop sounds of previous SXSW alumuni’s Ellie Goulding and Marina. I only briefly glanced at her bio before deciding to check her out at Peckerheads on Saturday.

A packed room of mostly English/ex-pats people was on hand when I arrived. Say what you want to about the English, but they are sure supportive of their own music. Not knowing what she sounded like, I got excited when her backing singers took the stage. The backing singers were black, had massive afros and dressed in sparking dresses. I was like ‘damn, this show gonna be good’. Is that racist? I don’t know. I just assumed that they were fantastic soul singers. Maybe it’s reverse racism? but I guess any sort of presumption about any ethnic group is racism to some degree. Either way, they got me excited. Maybe it’s more of backing singers excited me. Yeah, that’s it.

Paloma Faith soon joined her on stage and of course the UK people in the crowd were pumped. With her ginger hair done up in a extremely complicated way and a sharp red dress with matching red lipstick, it was pretty clear that Paloma was the star attraction of this show. Having not heard a single track of hers before the show, I was delighted by the soul-smokey lounge vibe of her set. Her voice, her dance moves and her flirty audience participation all seem to play homage to a time that existed before our lifetime. Her upbeat numbers, including the hit Picking Up The Pieces had the crowd moving and clapping her hands. I think I was one of the few there who did not know her songs. With her hair done up, it was hard not to think of Amy Winehouse whenever Paloma did her slower numbers, although Paloma has a higher, less “smoked ten packs of cigarettes a day” voice. The backup singers were awesome expected, adding to the soul vibe of the songs.

Having spent some time as an actress, Paloma Faith was confident and effortless on stage in terms of presenting herself and providing fun banter. As the set ended, she asked the crowd to tell their friends about her, so she can make it big in America. At the same time, she spoke of how refreshing it was to not be recognized anywhere. I wonder if that is some sort of #superfirstworld problem to encounter.

I never can tell which of these UK female acts will be huge here, but if the word does spread and Paloma Faith hits it big, there is no doubt she is ready.

SXSW Review: John Fogerty, March 16, ACL Live at the Moody Theater

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

Ideally, SXSW would be all about scouring the schedule, discovering unknown acts, and finding new favourites. And I did do my fair share of that. But more than ever this year, I gravitated towards the older, more established acts with a good percentage of the performers I saw falling into the 50 and over crowd. There’s something to be said for seeing a veteran performer with years of experience plying their trade and on the last night of the festival, we took in a set from former CCR frontman John Fogerty.

I knew going in that this would be a show full of hits. I assumed that Fogerty would put on a high energy, crowd pleasing show and he did not disappoint. That’s not to say Fogerty didn’t have the ability to surprise me – I was slightly surprised to find that he was actually kind of shredding on the guitar. One would not expect finger tapping solos from him but there it was. And it was fantastic. Another surpise (though not totally unexpected) was the appearance of special guests. No, Usher didn’t make an appearance, though that certainly would have been something unique. Instead, we were treated to an appearance by Dawes, who also appear on Fogerty’s new album, joining him for “Someday Never Comes.”

Throughout the course of his hour and a half long set, Fogerty and his band (which also included his son, who looks uncannily like him) ran through a set chock full of hits, including pretty much every CCR hit you could think of (the two dudes next to me seemed pretty stoked to hear “Lodi”) as well as some solo hits like “The Old Man Down The Road” and “Centerfield,” for which he brought out a custom made guitar meant to look like a baseball bat. It seems a bit unnecessary to have a guitar built to be played for only one song but then again, Fogerty changed guitars between almost every song, so why not? And maybe he can rent it out to The Baseball Project when he’s not using it.

It’s not every day you get to see a bona fide rock legend onstage.  And Fogerty lived up to expectations as he ran through a set of his greatest hits, bringing a level of energy and showmanship that sadly wasn’t quite there in some of the younger bands seen around Austin during the week.

SXSW Review: Yelawolf, March 14, Club DeVille

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

Austin is all about “keeping it weird” and if SXSW can be seen as that spirit amplified, I can think of no better example than Alabama rapper Yelawolf’s show at Club DeVille. In many ways, it was what I expected, but also had an element of weirdness about it.  And I think “show” is the correct term for what I saw that night. While it may not have been a proper performance in the strictest sense, there was certainly an element of spectacle in the night’s festivities.

Yes, festivities.  This show was touted as a release party for Yelawolf’s latest mixtape, “Trunk Musik Returns” and the crowd definitely was ready and willing to party.  As was the man himself.  Onstage, Yelawolf told the crowd that while people were asking him if he was going  to perform tonight, he instead just wanted to listen to his music and party with his fans.  Which is where part of the weirdness comes in.  If I’m going to see a show, I expect a little more than the performer to sometimes just rap along with his record and sometimes just let it play while he and his entourage party onstage.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still an enjoyable enough show and the crowd was definitely digging it, but why not try a little harder?

The other weird spectacle of the show was when Yelawolf produced a mason jar of some mysterious yellow liquid, which was apparently confiscated from someone in the crowd.  He then proceeded to open it up, send out a toast to his mom, and then take a swig from the jar.  He’s a braver man than I.  I’d be wary about drinking something confiscated from a stranger.  But then again, this guy checked it, so I’m sure it was alright:

SXSW Review: Joe Banfi, The Staves, March 15, St. David’s Historic Sanctuary

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

Austin – The foghorn warning for folky music was sounded again last night when The Staves were set to play. Given that I’m not especially religious, the attraction to an episocopal church over the years is slightly embarrassing. Despite having a relatively low ceiling surfaces furnished with a sickly green industrial aluminum plates, St. David’s Historical Sanctuary retains the grand but intimate feeling of a place for quite reflections. You have to hand it to the religious bunch – they’ve known how to be pensive before it was hip. And it’s in that mindset that the 200 or so gathered started listening to Joe Banfi.

Joe Banfi

As the announcer from Communion Records shrank away the microphone, a tall/skinny (and not from Starbucks) Banfi ambled on and introduced himself. Hailing from Manchester, the songwriter started out in a band. Yet once you hear him sing there’s no doubt that such a voice would be oppressed in anything other than a solo. Starting from the sampler track called Nomads, Banfi unleashes his guttural roar every few bars, and the amplifiers made it reverberate semi-violently in every corner of the sanctuary that one wondered if it should temporarily change its name to St. David’s dungeon. But his voice is pleasant. One might think it’s an oxymoron, but I’d liken it to the DC metro – moments of furious, single-minded speed interspersed with streaming feet out of the subway. Within these bouts of caged-rage, the songs are poetic/interesting melodies set to some moody laments that generally expresses the more sour emotions. Separation, shame, severed head, etc. His voice being a little thin, it became a very apt amplifier of the emotions in his songs. At one point I think the audience was taken aback by the lyrics and decided to applause politely. There was definitely no shortage of stage presence – Banfi occupied the sanctuary like he belonged there. You can get a feel of it yourself from the sample below – his set was a very unique experience that is sure to win over a crowd as it did here.

The Staves

The Staves are as much the epitome of folk as Joe Banfi is unique – comfortably charming in their 60s mannerisms and dress code, all while sporting the background story of learning guitar from their father growing up in Watford, England. Apparently one of the sisters missed a lesson with the lower two strings – so they actually have a song that suits that purpose. Last year, I missed their set just ahead of Ben Howard’s; but a sing-along at the very end with Howard, Kiwanuka and Co. got my attention and I made sure to see them this year. Before the concert, Communion dude politely asked that we the audience look over our shoulders to the right for a video documentary about the sisters’ travel this past year, which inspired the new album. I’d like to make a suggestion: next time, put the projection on the roof, because not everyone can twist their heads 135 degrees while being sandwiched by big Texan dudes and gals. But I digress. The Staves sails easily through different pace, melodies and refrains, but they shine in the harmonies. A problem with songwriting some times is that people tend to be overly ambitious about their ability when they are wasted from travel/drinking/sleeping-in-bed-bug-infested-motels. The sisters definitely left a wide margin for contingency – their singing was so sweet and effortless you’d be forgiven to think that they’ve skipped the eardrums and telepathically projected the voices into your head. Each would take the center stage in turn and we’d discover that each does indeed carry the tune differently. And no wonder they kept inventing names for their bandmates in the back (their “brothers”) – I hardly noticed their presence, but someone had to be playing that drum/cymbal. The bad news is that they will be in Europe/UK for most of this spring/summer. The good news? They already have a sizable following in UK and have gone on tour with Bon Iver and The Civil Wars in North America – so a headline tour won’t be a long wait away. Check on the pictures for more images from the concerts.