Savages at SXSW 2013
SXSW 2013, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Savages, Telekinesis, TOY, Youth Lagoon, Charles Bradley, The Sugarman 3, Cy Dune, Caitlin Rose
SXSW 2013 Thursday and Friday Recap – Sharon Jones, TOY, Savages, Youth Lagoon, Telekinesis, etc.,
Mar 25, 2013
Photography by Iman Mannie Saqr Web Exclusive
Having survived the first two nights of SXSW and Under the Radar's first two days parties, despite a crying newborn back in our hotel room, I ventured out into the Austin night yet again, already worn out before SXSW had even begun. My wife Wendy was generally relegated to baby duty back at the hotel, despite her mother in tow as babysitter. Here is a recap of what I saw Thursday and Friday night.
Daytime Thursday was consumed by the second of Under the Radar's three day parties and strong sets by Young Galaxy, Gold & Youth, Poolside, The Darcys, Foxygen, Caveman, and DIIV. My Thursday night SXSW adventure was mainly focused on soaking in The Daptone Soul Revue at ACL Live, which showcased various artists from the beloved Brooklyn soul label. Sharon Jones and Co. aren't exactly fresh faces anymore and it could be argued that my time would've been better served checking out more of this year's buzz bands, but the Daptone showcase was sure to be a real party not to be missed.
For good measure my show-buddies and I first caught several songs by buzz band TOY (who were acclaimed and hyped in their native England last year and were interviewed in Under the Radar's pages then too). TOY are self-admittedly influenced by their friends The Horrors and are fronted by Rose Elinor Dougall's younger brother, Tom Dougall. The band's dark Kraut-rock vibe was somewhat at odds with the Cedar Street Courtyard, an outdoor venue sandwiched between two buildings that has all the ambience of a wine bar. Not very rock 'n' roll then for a band who very much trade in the stuff and verge on too cool for school, all dressed in dark clothing with cool haircuts and standoffish postures. But once you got lost in their hypnotic grooves the setting didn't really matter.
The Daptone Soul Revue wasn't quite the unforgettable jam session I was hoping for, but came close enough. I missed the start, but arrived just in time to see Charles Bradley. In an alternate universe he's as big as James Brown. How he got overlooked here on Earth One is a matter of circumstance. The 65-year-old didn't even fully embark on a music career until the mid-'90s and even then it was as a James Brown impersonator. He was finally discovered by Daptone Records in 2002 and after putting out various singles on the label he eventually released his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, in 2011, with the follow-up, Victim of Love, due out April 2. Bradley was clad in a bedazzled black suit and possessed more energy than most performers a third his age. He did "the robot" dance while singing the line "no future" and even did the splits à la his idol Brown. Clearly worn out, Bradley took a bit of a breather for a slower song. "Why is it so hard to make it in America?" sang Bradley during "Why Is It so Hard?" It's a valid point and one that Bradley is apt to make, considering he was once a homeless runaway as a teen and took so long to find success in the music industry. Bradley picked up the mic stand and slung it over his shoulder like he was struggling to walk with it, eventually getting down on one knee. At the end of his set he went out into the audience, disappearing into the crowd in an attempt to meet as many of his fans as possible.
Following almost seamlessly from Bradley was The Sugarman 3, an instrumental soul band consisting partly of some members of Sharon Jones' backing band The Dap-Kings. The band is led by saxophonist and Dap-Kings co-founder Neal Sugarman and he pointed out that The Sugarman 3 doesn't get to play too many shows due to the members' commitments to The Dap-Kings and other bands. Thus, The Sugarman 3 maybe overstayed their welcome a little bit. Their instrumental tracks certainly didn't lack the funk, but started to all sound the same after awhile. A guest vocalist here and there would have added some nice variety.
A quick partial lineup shuffle and then The Dap-Kings took the stage to warm up for Ms. Sharon Jones. First Jones' two backing singers, The Dap-Ettes, were introduced and each given a chance in the spotlight on lead vocals on a song. This was a nice touch, especially as Jones was once a backing singer herself. Then the main attraction, as Jones took the stage to rapturous applause. This was likely the fourth or fifth time I'd seen her and she never disappoints. Jones is a whirlwind of energy and stage presence, and, like Bradley, she puts younger performers to shame. And also like Bradley, it really is too bad that Jones spent so much of her life undiscovered. She could've been a superstar at the height of soul in the late '60s and early '70s, if she'd been given the chance. But Jones has made the most of her middle-aged stardom and shows no signs of slowing down in her mid-50s. Early in the set she even changed her shoes midway through "She Ain't a Child No More," all the better to dance in.
We rounded out Thursday night with Telekinesis at the Merge showcase at the Parish. Incredibly likeable and endearing singer/drummer Michael Lerner and his backing band rarely fail to incite smiles with his infectious indie-pop. My wife still gives me a hard time for once thinking that the chorus to "Coasts of Carolina," the signature song from the band's debut Telekinesis!, was "tally ho, tally ho" instead of the actual lyrics "turn it up, turn it up." This came to mind during the band's spirited run-through of the should've-been-a-hit. Songs from Telekinesis' third album Dormarion (due out April 2) were previewed, including album highlight "Ghosts and Creatures," for which Lerner stood up due to a drum machine negating the need for his real drums. Matthew Caws from Nada Surf joined the band onstage to help sing the Dormarion track "Ever True," a song he co-wrote with Lerner. Telekinesis then faithfully covered INXS' 1982 single "Don't Change." Please let 2013 be the year that Lerner truly gets his due, he deserves it.
As always at SXSW, there were a multitude of other artists I could have seen on Thursday night. Some were artists I'd already seen that SXSW or would see later in the week (Savages, Surfer Blood, Alt-J, Foxygen, DIANA, Shout Out Louds, Small Black, Dusted, Big Black Delta) and others I'd alas never end up seeing this year (The Flaming Lips, Local Natives, Frightened Rabbit, The Besnard Lakes, Wampire, Fear of Men, MS MR, Toro Y Moi, !!!, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Highasakite, Tegan and Sara).
Under the Radar's third and final day party culminated our 2013 events with impressive sets from Dan Croll, NZCA/LINES, Mister Lies, IO Echo, Dusted, Girls Names, and Small Black. Relieved to have Under the Radar's parties behind us, Wendy and I wandered into the night. It was Wendy's first attempt to see some night shows. Wendy's mom, Pat, had been taking care of our daughter Rose during our day parties, but Wendy had opted to take over Tuesday through Thursday night, as the evening is when Rose is currently at her fussiest.
Our first stop was at the Team Clermont showcase at Palm Door, as we'd been tipped off that Cy Dune (aka Akron/Family's Seth Olinsky) was doing a solo set backed by no less than 30 drummers. We entered the small venue to find it to be very much the case. Olinsky was in the middle of the stage on electric guitar and vocals. All the drummers fanned out either side of him, lining the sides of the venue, with the audience having 15 drummers to either side of them and Olinsky ahead. The drummers included members of Akron/Family, Megafaun, Man Man, Ramona Falls, Mount Moriah, Delicate Steve, and others. One of the drummers was a tween boy who played with as much conviction as the grownups (and whose friends, several skater kids, were snuck into the 21+ venue). Sometimes the drummers played in unison, with Olinsky conducting from the front, other times they played more independently, each adding flourishes here and there.
Either way, it was incredibly loud and the crazy drum half-circle continued to get more intense. The floor was shaking and audience members were frantically searching for their earplugs or, in my case, stuffing tissues in their ears. Olinsky's guitar got louder and the drums matched it, until the whole thing sounded like a warzone, with gunfire on all sides, and me the embedded reporter ducking for cover. It was an overwhelming, but memorable performance. A few more like that, though, and my ears might be permanently damaged (let's hope the boy and his young friends had earplugs... they probably didn't). Cy Dune's publicist gleefully showed me her smart phone app that measured decibels; it had registered the loudest part of the show at 101 decibels.
Next up was Club de Ville for Savages. We got there early and while talking to some friends Caitlin Rose was performing in the background. She appeared to be a sub-Neko Case, although in all fairness I didn't pay her much attention. Then Wendy got the call—Rose had been crying for 45 minutes straight back at the hotel and with that her first SXSW night out was cut short (at least she got to see the 30 drummers highlight).
Club de Ville isn't my favorite of SXSW venues, it's kind of a glorified parking lot with a bar. Savages have been at the center of hurricane of hype for the best part of a year now, but have valiantly tried to maintain control of the buzz by doing few interviews and focusing instead of recording their debut album, Silence Yourself, which Matador is releasing May 7. It's a strange title for such an unquiet band. The fierce fearless female foursome from the U.K. was unrelenting and noisy. At least Savages is an apt band name. The post-punk band stormed through a no-nonsense set, with little break between songs. "The next song's called 'Shut Up,'" singer Jehnny Beth said, almost like it was a threat to those chatty ones in the audience. The band ended with "Husbands," which was one of the first Savages songs that many listeners heard. Previous press comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd, and Joy Division seem valid and this was likely one of the more talked about sets of SXSW 2013.
Youth Lagoon was due next on the Club de Ville stage, but took awhile to sound check and actually start playing. Bandleader Trevor Powers had green and red highlights in his hair (the former perhaps in honor of St. Patrick's Day?) and seemed a little uncomfortable onstage. Powers' new backing band was fuller and more rockin' than his mainly electronic-based live set up at 2012's SXSW. They sounded on fine form, but I left early due to exhaustion. I later got word that Powers walked offstage after around four songs due to technical problems (and apparently some audience members had heckled him earlier due to the delayed start and that didn't seem to sit right with him either).
Other artists I could have also seen Friday night again included some I'd see other times at this year's SXSW (Shout Out Louds, HAIM, Mac Demarco, Doldrums, Divine Fits, Marnie Stern, IO Echo, Small Black, DIIV) and unfortunately artists I'd never end up seeing in Austin this year (Jim James, Palma Violets, The Flaming Lips, Phosphorescent, Wavves, Wampire, Man Without Country, Solange, The Dears' guitarist Patrick Kief, Merchandise, Dent May, Chelsea Light Moving, Kisses, Toro Y Moi, and Depeche Mode—whose small venue show would've been impossible to get into anyway). So I may have wimped out at around 12:30 PM, instead of checking out one of a multitude of 1 AM bands worth seeing, but I had to save up enough energy for Saturday night, the fifth and final night of SXSW 2013.