- by Howard Scott Rating: Release Date: Label:
In the never-ending quest to find all things SXSW 2019 for Soundblab readers, your trusty reporter took to the high seas on Saturday (Well, OK, it was the Colorado River) to spotlight one of the more unusual performances of an unusual week. When you find yourself on the list of correspondents for SXSW, your email inbox goes into hyperdrive with invitations to performances, showcases and just hole-in-the-wall get-togethers from bands, PR firms, and record companies from around the globe. It is easy to get overwhelmed and somewhat frustrated at the sheer size of the assignment.
One of the more unusual invitations I received, however, was from We Were Never Being Boring records and Italia Music Export. In order to showcase six Italian groups, a leisurely boat trip down the river was scheduled, with the always attractive addition of food and drink readily available (and free!). Playing live on a large two leveled deck had to be unusual for the bands gathered, but with only a minor amount of glitches, everything went off as planned.
Chances are if you were planning a trip on the water, the foreboding and ominous tones of “Knocturne” by Be Forest might not be your first choice, but that was indeed how the trip started, and all was well. This trio gets an amazing amount of sound from very rudimentary drums, a bass guitar, and a Telecaster. Their dark landscapes seemed to fit the cool and cloudy morning air. The four-song performance caught the ears of pedestrians crossing the bridges over the river, as they gazed and clapped from above us.
YOY, which usually consists of three players, was reduced to two for this performance, but Massimo Borghi and Lorenzo Borgatti managed quite well. Subdued drums over a Fender Jazzmaster and strong and plaintive vocals made up the set, which again was limited by time.
The next offering was Her Skin, which is the name singer-songwriter Sara Ammendolia performs as. Armed with only a slightly amplified acoustic guitar, she sang tunes of personal and emotional experience with a touch of angst in a powerful delivery. “Cut Out the Flowers” was a definite highlight, from her album “Find a Place to Sleep”.
Another female singer/songwriter, Birthh, (Alice Bisi) was next on the bill. Playing with keyboard and drums backing her guitar, Birthh seemed to be a definite favorite of the gathered crowd. Some initial sound set up issues quickly faded as she belted out her repertoire. She even was taking requests, somewhat reluctantly, before her set came to a close.
Keeping with the pattern, Giungla was next on the bill. Known in non-performing life as Ema Drei, this rather petite young woman, armed with her Gibson Classic and a slew of foot pedals, proceeded to rip the air around us with a fury of guitar playing seldom heard. I’m pretty sure the skyscrapers we were cruising by in downtown Austin were vibrating with the sounds being blasted in their direction. This girl can shred the fretboard with the best of them. The amplifiers being played through seemed to be having a hard time keeping up with her, as some electronic snaps and crackles had to be dealt with, but it really only added to the display of pure talent. When asked after the show how long she had been playing guitar, she answered “fifteen years” which is amazing. Her vocals were every bit as strong.
As we slowly glided back toward home port, Baseball Gregg took the stage. Usually a duo project of Samuel Regan and Luca Lovisetto, the band performed as a six-piece on this day, which was rather incredible considering the size of the area they were performing on. Reagan’s boisterous and joyful singing enhanced the music, and he somehow managed to bounce and dance around the mic without launching one of his fellow musicians overboard. It was a great way to end the cruise.
It also was a great way to end what has been an incredible week. According to my trusty iPhone, I have walked about 70,000 steps, covered over twenty-eight miles (many uphill!) and done about 50 flights of stairs. I quit counting how many performances I have seen, some from afar and some up close and personal. The venues have varied from huge outdoor amphitheaters to small and cramped clubs and taverns. Aside from the music, I heard discussions from plenty of successful and inspiring people. The displays put on by tech giants are another whole facet of the festival. The robotic hosts of Sony’s building would alter your outlook for the future no matter how advanced you might imagine it. Another whole portion of the week involves the world of online gaming, with every major manufacturer fully represented.
If you have an interest in any of these things, you owe it to yourself to get to a future SXSW. If it has any peers in the festival world, I’m at a loss as to where they might be. I fully expect that I will be back.
Great and exhaustive (exhausting?) coverage Howard! Sounds like the boat ride was a nice break. Also your coverage really gives a good sense of what it's like to be there. Have always wanted to go.
Geez, do I wish that was what caused it. Today is the first day i’ve felt at least 10 percent alive since I got back.