- by Howard Scott Rating: Release Date: Label:
The Austin Convention Center is the main hub from which all of SXSW branches out. The massive building contains four levels of ballrooms, exhibition halls and meeting places, and has been completely jammed full of people all week. On Friday, two separate concert halls opened on the fourth floor. In one, it was a gathering of musicians from around the globe for an international get-together. In the other, various radio stations had joined forces to create “RadioDay”, which went out as a live broadcast over NPR and the sponsoring stations. Of course, as seems to be the norm, the two concerts were scheduled to run at the same time, even sharing break down and set up intervals between performances.
So, being the intrepid reporter I am, and trying to give Soundblab readers their money’s worth, I spent my day running back and forth from one hall to the next trying, with varying degrees of success, to see every performance. Some I saw plenty of and some just a glimpse, but I’ll do my best to give you the official rundown.
I started at the international room, since it was closest to the escalator, and arrived just in time to see British duo Her’s finishing up their set. The room was full and highly energetic, so it must have been a good show. The song I did hear was unusual, as the band consists of two guitarists and a drum machine. There was a drum kit on stage, but a cardboard cut out of James Bond was placed behind it. James was not contributing.
Once they started breaking down the stage, I headed off to radio day and arrived just in time to see Broken Social Scene also abandoning the platform. That was disappointing, as it was the second time this week I missed them by a matter of minutes.
Things improved from here on out. I stuck around the radio room to catch Irish group Jealous of the Birds set up and perform. Naomi Hamilton was resplendent in a Creamsicle orange suit, while her supporting members each wore plaid trousers and a white shirt with suspenders. It was the first, and only, time all week I have seen a group make any effort at all toward sartorial splendor, and it was a pleasure for the eyes.
They sounded as good as they looked, opening with “Powder Junkie” and then blasting through “Blue Eyes”.
After two more cuts, I decided I had better run down the hall to the international room and see what was cooking there. What I found was what I consider the find of the week.
Fifteen minutes into a forty-minute set, the three girl trio from Bangkok, Thailand, Yellow Fang, was hypnotizing the crowd with their Asian brand of alternative psych- rock. The group consists of singer, keyboardist and guitar player Pimporn Metchanun, drummer Praewa Chirapravati Na Ayudhya and bassist Piyamas Muenprasartdee (my spell checker has now officially given up...) and has been playing together since 2007. The years of experience were quite evident as every cut they played had the room in an uproar. The pure musicality on display was incredible. What made the performance even more interesting was the fact that the bass player, who also does backing vocals, apparently has a crippling case of stage fright and performed the entire set from behind a curtain on stage left. It didn’t dampen the performance in the least. I have no idea what the female band scene is like in Thailand, but if these girls were an indicator, it would be worth the trip. They were my hidden gem of the week.
Back down the hall I went, to watch Black Pumas, a local group that has won lots of “best new” awards around town in the last couple of years. Playing as a seven-piece, the band was fronted by vocalist Eric Burton, who bounced all over the stage with an infectious energy that enhanced the music created. At one point, he ventured into the audience to personally tell patrons how much he appreciated them being there. “Black Moon Rising” and other slices from their debut album demonstrated a brand of psych soul that is rarely found in today’s musical landscape. That is largely due to Burton’s voice, which is smooth as silk and powerful as a jackhammer when needed.
Now beginning to wear a path in the hall carpet, it was back to the international room. Here I found soloist Emerson Snowe, also known as Jarrod M. Mahon in his home country of Australia. Snowe seemed to be putting out a bit of a Robert Smith vibe with his tousled black hair and enhanced red lips, but his tunes of personal and romanticized pop were certainly top shelf. It was a bit of a shame since the room was sparsely attended, but it didn’t seem to detract from the performance.
For what I decided was my last trek of the evening, I trudged (hey, its been a long week) back to radio central to catch Brooklyn, New York’s own Cautious Clay. Clay, who was born Joshua Karpeh, is a multi-talented musician and student of rhythm and blues and soul, who had the audience in the palm of his hand from the time he stepped on stage. At various points of the show, he played the saxophone, a flute, and a Fender six-string Hendrix-style. (Right-hand guitar being played upside down and backwards by a left-handed player) Previous hits such as “Crowned” from the “Resonance” album were intertwined with some new stuff from a release coming later this month entitled “Table of Contents”. No matter what he was playing, the audience was enraptured, with cries of “We love you” emanating from the darkness.
Obviously, this wasn’t the best way to cover various bands playing two different places, but hopefully, it gives you a glance at the variety offered at this festival. Now, if they could just alter the scheduled times just a bit…..