Wednesday, March 23, 2016

South by Southwest Music Festival 2016, Day 3, Part 1

Event: South by Southwest Music Festival, Day 3: Day Parties
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 17 March 2016

Introduction: Much like last year, the third day of the festival was the longest day for me, and so I'm going to split it into two parts. This post will cover the various day parties I attended, and the next one will cover the Levitation showcase at Hotel Vegas.

I took the day off work and made it down early enough to catch the first band playing on the inside stage at Cheer Up Charlie's for Brooklyn Vegan's day party: Your Friend from Lawrence, Kansas. Their set was marred by the really loud rock music of White Reaper blasting in from the outside stage, but they persevered and brought up their intensity to rise to the occasion. Nominally a dream pop band, they showed a slightly heavier and more psychedelic sound as a result. They certainly weren't aggressive, but they were rather powerful when they were trying to be. They had great keyboard tones, and I liked the spacey vibes even when they were interrupted by the outdoor interference.

Next up on the same stage was Julia Jacklin, a singer-songwriter with an electric three-piece band. Jacklin herself was definitely the main focus, as the lead guitar was barely present, and the strongest element of the set was her ethereal, mellow, longing, reverb-laden vocals. The occasional harmony helped, too. The music was fairly simple, rootsy, Americana-type rock, which wasn't outstanding but worked for the songs. They never got heavy in terms of instrumental sound, but it was easy to get lost in the vaguely heavy emotional content.

[Julia Jacklin.]

I got some tacos and tots at the always-wonderful Arlo's outside and went back inside for a few minutes to catch some of Daniel Romano's set. I only saw enough to know that it was some sort of alt/country/rock thing that seemed to work.

From there, I decided to hop on my bike and try my luck at the new Urban Outfitters backyard venue, Space 24 Twenty. I was skeptical because the trendiness quotient seemed out of control and it was a few miles out of the way of most of the fray of downtown. However, it is right across from the University of Texas and just a block down from the Hole in the Wall. The main draw for me was Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, whom I've been interested in seeing for a couple years. They offered solid indie rock with a free-spirited, exploratory vibe. Their roots may lie in folk, but I actually found it to be more soulful, experimental, and rock-oriented. I liked the unusual rhythms, the variety of synth and synth-like sounds, and the off-kilter energy of it all. Thao mostly played guitar, but switched to electrified mandolin for a few songs. She dedicated the last song to survivors of sexual abuse and rapped a powerful lyric.

[Thao & the Get Down Stay Down.]

I stuck around for Frankie Cosmos, who came out with just an electric guitar and a friend to provide additional vocals. Her standard band was absent for unspecified reasons. Her songs were rather minimal, and her guitarwork was not what I would consider proficient. She wasn't without charm, but the songs just weren't held together well enough.

[Frankie Cosmos.]

I went back downtown and wandered Sixth Street for a bit. I saw a few songs by SIR, formerly known as Sarah and the Meanies, on the rooftop of The 512, but their sound was a fairly generic pop/rock affair, and I moved along. My real destination was the Omni Hotel, where my friend Ian Fisher was preparing to play a solo acoustic set in the middle of their massive lobby. I've reviewed him before, but I think my conflict of interest is too high to provide a score. I'll still share the setlist and a few thoughts.

[Ian Fisher.]

1. Nero
2. Invisible Cities
3. Constant Vacation
4. All Ya Need
5. Ich hab nur einen Koffer in Berlin
6. If You Wanna Stay
7. Almost Darlin'
8. Comin' Down

Ian normally plays with a band these days, but did this show on his own with just his acoustic guitar. His set relied heavily on his new album, Nero, but offered a couple unreleased songs, including "Ich hab nur einen Koffer in Berlin", a rare example of his German language skills, seemingly connected with his disenfranchisement with Berlin and his recent move to Vienna. A special novelty came in the form of the incredible reverb of the venue. It seemed somewhat frequency-dependent, so certain notes would echo through the building unbelievably long while others moved along quickly. It was a cool effect, and Ian chose songs that were well suited to the environment. The most bizarre and hilarious part of the show was that Mannie Fresh of the Cash Money Millionaires was in the audience, and at the end of the set, one of his companions taught Ian how to dab.

The next band to play the hotel lobby stage was the Great American Canyon Band, a quartet from the Baltimore area. The rhythm guitarist had apparently recently broken his thumb, but it was mended well enough that he could still play, although he didn't try anything fancy. Their bassist opted to just focus on vocals, and the drummer relied solely on a snare and a suitcase. The stripped-down sound worked well with the almost overwhelmingly reverberant venue, where the haunting vocals and lead guitar shined in the spotlight of endless echo. When the drummer would occasionally hit hard, it was terrifically powerful. The music was folky, serene, and very pleasant.

[Great American Canyon Band.]

Your Friend: B+
Julia Jacklin: B
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down: B+
Frankie Cosmos: C-
Great American Canyon Band: B

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