SXSW Recap Days 1 and 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Memoryhouse, Atlas Sound, Twin Shadow | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Memoryhouse at SXSW

SXSW Recap Days 1 and 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Memoryhouse, Atlas Sound, Twin Shadow

Mar 18, 2011 Photography by Mike Hilleary
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Delivering sore feet, a disproportionate amount of time being awake and actually getting to sleep, and a list of bands that requires an army of journalists to successfully navigate, Austin’s SXSW festival has hit its 25th anniversary this year. With the event’s Film and Interactive portions giving way to several days of genre-stretching performances, the Texas capital had once again become the nation’s Mecca for independent music, introducing more Converse sneakers per block than any other place in the world (note: not an actual statistic).

For this particular writer things started off with a number of incomplete performances, catching only the latter half of sets by throughout the day by the likes of Esben and the WitchFoster the People, and Smith Westerns, whose performance of “Weekend” wound up being one of the few consolatory bright spots.

Things went much smoother the day’s evening showcases. As dozens of hopefuls waited in line at a hot dog place called Frank’s to catch a performance of comedian Aziz Ansari, I quickly shuffled in to the venue next door, The Phoenix to check out Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Lined with crimson red walls with beautifully framed copies of old painting masterpieces (The Raft of the Medusa particularly stood out), the line-up was opened with a set by Tristen, who played a number of tunes off their debut record Charlatans at the Garden Gate. Maintaining a jangling, summer vibe, the set didn’t keep me fully interested, but did have a few moments of Jenny Lewis level of inspiration. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. soon followed, with members Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott wearing trucker hats and race car jumpsuits (their supporting drummer was outfitted in a auto mechanic overalls). With an American flag draping Epstein's keyboard like a patriotic bed curtain and a checkered flag wrapped around a drum tom, the duo easily delivered one of, if not the best set I’ll probably see this entire festival. Playing songs such as “Nothing But Our Love,” “Simple Girl,” and “Vocal Chords,” songs that are featured on the band’s Horse Power EP and will see inclusion on their forthcoming full-length It’s a Corporate World in June, Esptein and Zott really converted their breezy electro pop aesthetic very well to the stage. Other standout moments included a beautiful rendition of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Know” (also on the Horse Power EP) and “Corporate World” which featured Epstein donning an executive jacket peppered with glowing lights (as it was further illumination was provided by a pair of giant Js and Rs, two recreational woodshop pieces hollowed out with light bulbs). Walking around earlier that day I was advised that the only time you should ever see a band twice at SXSW is if they completely surpass your expectations. Needless to say I was already looking for additional gigs by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. by the end of the night.

While it would have been tough for any act to earn my uncompromised approval after Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s set, I made my way over to The Parish to listen to a band called 1,2,3. A recent addition to the Frenchkiss, it will be interesting to see if the band will be able to standout alongside labelmates like The Dodos and The Antlers (who were playing later that night). Unfortunately my first impression wasn’t in their favor. Returning to The Phoenix, I was introduced to an interesting UK band called Chapel Club, whose debut album “Palace” hit shelves back in January. There’s certainly potential within this quintet of Londoners, and they did a fair job making me inclined to give their record a proper listen.

The first full day of SXSW inevitably achieved a high closing point with a performance by Toronto’s Memoryhouse, an ambient pop duo that recently landed itself on the roster of Sub-Pop. Playing in St. David’s Church, the pair has a serious handle on balancing haze and melodic clarity, something that from a personal standpoint has given them a welcoming edge over recent genre throne holders Beach House.

The next day hit a much different level of franticness much in thanks to Under the Radar’s first of two SXSW parties at the Flamingo Cantina. After setting up a bevy of banners, posters, and equipment, it would have been nice to rest to catch our opening acts, but due to unforeseen circumstances I was instead picked out to embark on a rather unique wild goose chase around Austin that more or less ended up being a futile effort for nothing at all. At the very least I wound up getting a free backpack out of the misadventure. Sorely missing Violens, The Dodos, and Yuck, I was at least able to make in back in time to watch sets by Sondre Lerche, Lord HuronThe Dears, and Atlas Sound. As much as enjoyed Sondre Lerche’s performance, I had seen him play live once before, and despite debuting a number of new tunes off his upcoming full-length, was much more excited about the unknown dynamics of the event’s three closers. Lord Huron, one of the magazine’s more recent Pleased to Meet You artists was particularly endearing live with his mix of eclectic tropical pop, folk, and poly-rhythms. Before The Dears began their set, Under the Radar surprised lead singer Murray Lightburn with an impromptu birthday celebration (he hit the big 4-0) providing attendees with with party hats and mini cupcakes. Turning 40 clearly had little effect on Lightburn, who led his band through a boisterous set of rock tunes, at one point hopping off the stage to single out and serenade individual members of the crowd. Of course, finishing out the day's line-up was Bradford Cox performing one of the more captivating sets I will probably see. Playing solo, Cox moved through his set with a constant sense of transition. Anyone who was not already familiar with his individual compositions would have been completely lost as to where one ended and another began. One of the more amazing aspects of the performance was Cox's sense of improvisation, often abandoning his acoustic guitar and effects pedals to examine and wander around the stage, banging out live percussion beats by on the stage's empty drum kit using either his hands or two vocal mics for sticks. He the whole thing a feeling as though he were some small child just figuring out what instruments did what as he went along. On a interesting side note, sometime during the set it was pointed out amongst the crowd that Aziz Ansari had snuck in to get a bit of listening in, though he eventually left before the final song. The last artist on the bill for the day, Cox played like he was attempting some kind of musical filibuster. It was only when the venue's stage manager got his attention that the songwriter even thought about what time it was and when people needed to start clearing out. 

While I had a small inclination to check out The Strokes for the evening's showcases, it was eventually brought to my attention that the venue they were playing, the Auditorium Shores Stage, was nothing more than a huge field fit to fill several thousand people. Believing that one of the great beauties about SXSW is the enjoyment of small venue shows, I decided to join my fellow Under the Radar colleagues at the Central Presbyterian Church. Suffering through a short set by Cults, Cameron Mesirow, aka Glasser came onstage to delivering a interesting performance. I say interesting because while the music was actually quite beautiful, her behavior on stage just off as silly and unnecessary. Like some combination of marionette puppet and wind-up doll, Mesirow flitted and spasmed throughout her songs like she was attempting to exorcise a demon (making the location of the show all the more ironic).

Opting out of a performance by tUnE-yArDs, I left my group to check an artist by the name of Rey Pila. Making my way back to the Flamingo Catina, the Mexican singer/songwriter, actually named Diego Solorzano, was clearly getting some love from his homeland, as several members of the audience came dressed in Lucha Libre masks. Combining elements of dance rock in the vein of Scissor Sisters, Rey Pila's standout track "No Longer Fun," was definitely worth the admission.

Getting the timing just right for the line I wound up closing the night by returning to the Central Presbyterian Church to see Twin Shadow. Wearing a mesh tank shirt under a leather jacket, and adorning a Ushanka style hat on top of his head, frontman George Lewis Jr. proceeding to play a tunes off his debut album Forget, regularly inviting members of the seated crowd to break a few rules and dance (Lewis himself admitted to bad church behavior in his youth recalling an anecdote he actually stole money from his congregation, only to have his mother catch him and make him formally apologize in front of everyone). Closing his set Lewis invited his producer, Terrible Records owner and Grizzly Bear member Chris Bear to help him sing his record's title-track. 

The night eventually ended with me seceding my seat to someone a little more interested to see James Blake. It was closing on 1 a.m., and I still needed to get a bit of work done before passing out in my hotel room. 

 



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