SXSW Day 4 Recap – The Middle East, Casiokids, Tanlines, and more | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Tanlines at SXSW

SXSW Day 4 Recap – The Middle East, Casiokids, Tanlines, and more

Plus Wave Machines

Mar 22, 2010 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern
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In my experience, Saturday night, the last night of SXSW music, is usually the weakest night. Most bands and attendees are fully burnt out by the time the fourth night rolls around and some industry folk even leave Austin on Saturday morning or afternoon, so the Saturday night line-up simply isn't as strong. Whereas on previous nights there were as many as five bands playing at the same time that I wanted to see, on Saturday night there were rarely more than two truly appealing bands playing at once and during certain hours there was only one. The beauty of this is that you don't have to agonize over which artists to see. Despite our tiredness and severely sore feet after four days of standing and trekking around Austin, three of the four artists we did see Saturday night got us up and dancing.

We kicked things off with the Australian showcase at Maggie Mae's Gibson Room and a set by Aussies The Middle East. The band was one of the few notable new bands playing at 9 p.m., so despite the chilly weather (it had rained earlier in the day), The Middle East were a hot ticket, with a to-capacity venue. The set started with a slow build before a banjo and then a flute kicked in. Gibson Room's sound system wasn't spectacular and at times the vocals were barely discernable. One interesting song featured spoken-word vocals with backing music that continued to build to a rocking out state. But the second to last song was a dull and uninteresting stripped down number that couldn't compete with the audience chatter. The band ended with their best song, "Blood," which was also a highlight of their set. It featured real life whistling and built to a wonderful crescendo of trumpet and everyone singing. If The Middle East can write more songs like "Blood" then they could have a fruitful career in front of them.

We had already caught Norway's Casiokids on the first day of SXSW, at a day party, but they were the most appealing act at 10 p.m., playing the Polyvinyl showcase at the nice and warm Galaxy Room. Wednesday's set was in the bright sunlight in a back patio with a tree growing in the middle of it and Galaxy Room's sound and vibe was far superior. It really doesn't matter that the band sings in Norwegian, their songs are so fun and danceable that the music alone is enough. In fact, as on Wednesday, their closing song, "Fot i hose," was the highlight and it's an instrumental, one that easily got the whole crowd going. It felt good to get the blood flowing via dancing, before venturing back out into the cold night.

Many venues at SXSW aren't traditionally meant to host rock bands. Sometimes the acoustics aren't exactly right or the makeshift sound system doesn't really do the band justice. Case in point is the Victorian Room at The Driskill, which is a small room in one of Austin's nicer and more historic hotels (it was built in 1886). The room originally housed the American National Bank of Austin, was the location for Austin's first radio and television stations, and Austin's first ever telephone was also placed just outside its doors. These days it's generally rented out for meetings and fancy private dinners and receptions, but for SXSW it's transformed into an unlikely rock venue. Only a small area in the room offered a clear view of the stage and when standing in that area the bright stage lights bared down on your back, heating you up. Two speakers provided the sound and it wasn't quite enough when watching Liverpool, England's Wave Machines. The band started with "You Say the Stupidest Things," the opener to 2009's debut album, Wave If You're Really There. "There's not much time left, but there's time to have some fun. So let's make the most of this," said Wave Machines' singer Timothy Bruzon, acknowledging that SXSW was nearly over. And the four-piece did make the most of a strange venue, moving around the stage and being generally animated while knocking out such dance-y numbers as "I Go I Go I Go" and "Keep the Lights On." Album closer "Dead Houses" was a highlight and featured a clarinet, an instrument rarely heard at SXSW. "Thanks to Dave and Pam for letting us live in your house for a week," said Bruzon, before the band launched into set closer "Punk Spirit," which features the lamenting lyric, "Where's my punk spirit?" Wave Machines put on a fun and lively performance, although it paled a little to Casiokids.

We closed out SXSW 2010 with a set by Tanlines, who were playing a Pop Montréal showcase at Paradise, despite hailing from NYC. "We'd do anything for the Canadian government, including pay takes in exchange for services," said Tanlines' Jesse Cohen. The duo's set up consisted of Eric Emm on guitar and vocals and Cohen on drums (both real and electronic), laptop, and whatever else. The band played a "sound-check song" to test things out. "This is exclusive sound-check material...exclusively for SXSW," said Cohen, who did all of the talking during the set and alternated between playing the drums and twiddling knobs. The duo was pure energy and made for a spirited SXSW finale. "I hope everyone feels as good as we do," declared Cohen. Even though my brain told me I was too tired for dancing, my body couldn't help but succumb, especially when they ended with current single "Real Life." In between songs Cohen continuously reminded the audience that the band was named Tanlines, was from NYC, and always made sure to thank Pop Montréal, at one point jokingly dissing SXSW in favor of Pop Montréal, saying, "Thanks to Pop Montréal, the best multi-venue festival in North America." I've never attended Pop Montréal, but it's hard to top SXSW in terms of the sheer number of venues and exciting artists on offer. But 2010, for me, lacked enough amazing standout performances. When considering all four days, the best band I saw at this year's SXSW was London, England's The Invisible, who I saw twice (once at Under the Radar's SXSW party). They were the only ones who full on gave me chills, although Everything Everything, Local Natives, Casiokids, Tanlines, and Sharon Jones also impressed. What's most frustrating is that every year I seem to discover some great new artist who it turns out played the last SXSW, before I had heard of them. For example, Local Natives played last year, before they were on my radar. So who did I not see this year that I will later wish I had?

 



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