Live Music + Gig Reviews

SXSW @ Various Venues, Austin, TX 2009: Day 1

18 March 2009

SXSW 2009:
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

Day one of SXSW ’09 and one’s thing for sure – it’s hot in Austin.

But there’s no time for sunning ourselves in the Texan sun. At SXSW the bands start as early as 11am, with various labels, promoters and local venues putting on free daytime showcases giving a chance for those without badges and wristbands to soak up some of the atmosphere, as well as offering a chance to catch certain acts who may clash with the bigger bands later in the evening.
One such act is the much hyped Wavves, who storm the patio of the Red 7 venue barely past midday. It’s the perfect wake up call as the duo thrash through three-minute DIY gems in a similar vein to No Age, easily wiping the hangover cobwebs away.

In the room next door, Shout Out Out Out Out‘s short set is a hypnotic breath of fresh air, like Holy Fuck‘s downbeat siblings. The closing In the End It’s Your Friends That Will Fuck You Over is an understated gem and stays firmly in the head for the rest of the festival.

Stretching my neck back outside, Yoni Wolf of Why? plays a short solo set to a massive crowd comprising of new songs from the forthcoming new record (due in September, he confirms to much adulation) and highlights of last year’s superb Alopecia.

At only 15 minutes in length it feels too soon when he departs, but his appearance has whet appetites for more goodness to come from the Anticon favourites – also the recording home for Themselves, who deliver powerful, intelligent hip-hop to a sparse auditorium. It’s a grand shame but those in attendance are safe in the knowledge of seeing a rare delight.

They’re back in their droves for Baltimore’s Beach House though who, having displayed feelings of disinterest and awkwardness in pervious live appearances, have found some confidence and deliver one of the day’s best performances. Victoria Legrand appears relaxed and chatty with the audience and even the blaring Vivian Girls from next door being clearly audible fails to spoil a delicate, thought-out and stirring performance. Full marks.

As the sun begins to set over Austin, we retreat to a spacious Elysium, a venue that seems to host more sinister shindigs outside of SXSW, to witness Germany’s Ulrich Schnauss. Armed with a host of pedals, keyboards and other electronic attire he makes stirring soundcapes similar to Boards of Canada. These fill the room rather beautifully.

Longview‘s Rob McVey joins him onstage to provide vocals for one track, the glorious Shine. It’s sad that this route wasn’t taken more – watching someone on laptop can only hold one’s attention for so long. That said, the puzzled stragglers from the street that wander in only to leave again immediately should really have given it a try.

Over at the Beauty Bar, the excellent Tomlab showcase plays host to No Kids, a three-piece from Canada who lay on very minimal textures with two keyboards and a drum kit which soon leaves the mind wandering. The fact vocalist Nick Krgovich doesn’t appear to be particularly pleased to be here finds us heading to the exit and to the mighty Rafter, the Californian who doesn’t look unlike Weezer‘s Rivers Cuomo. Alongside his other half he plays sweet folk tinged party songs; tremendous fun and a much needed lift after some relatively downbeat music output over the day.

Back with the Tomlab collective, Parenthetical Girls are on tremendous form. Frontman Zac Pennington is a natural performer and the rest of his diverse (not to mention incredibly good looking) bandmates’ moody onstage persona perfectly suits the dramatic, theatre-like aspect of the band’s music. An incredible cover of OMD‘s Joan Of Arc ends proceedings in dramatic fashion, with each band member gradually leaving their instruments to smash the drum kit to pieces. Without doubt one of the day’s highlights.

With the legs flagging, the evening is ended at the half-treehouse half-nightclub Fire Eyed Fly venue for the ferocious These Arms Are Snakes, but the noise and crowdsurfing lunacy proves too much for these tired ears, and bed calls at the end of Day 1. God, only Day 1?

SXSW 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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