SXSW Party 2014, Arc Iris, Gary Numan, Blondie, Pure Bathing Culture, White Sea, PINS, Alexander von Mehren, Belle and Sebastian, God Help the Girl
SXSW 2014 Recap: White Sea, Alexander von Mehren, God Help the Girl, and More,
We begin this recap of SXSW 2014 with a classic caveat: It’s not you, it’s me. Really. While I flew in for my fourth tour of SXSW duty in the highest of spirits, I was almost immediately hit with the stomach flu. Before leaving, I mocked a promoted tweet that stated you should “Know yourself before going to SXSW!” By the end of the fest, I had an opinion about Gatorade power rankings. (Red fruit punch is the king, BTW.) Enlightenment, eh?
In honor of my forcibly truncated show schedule, I’ll attempt to keep it short. Brevity is the soul of wit and concert reviews. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, does it? You’re just here for the MP3s. (I understand how this relationship works.)
If you’re at a loss for where to go at SXSW, pop into the Central Presbyterian Church. The sheer scope of the venue (multiple levels! Stained glass!) assures that even if the band isn’t your favorite, you’re going to have a memorable experience. (Or at least a chance to rest your feet.)
Thankfully on Tuesday evening the venue belonged to Bella Union—a label practically synonymous with quality. Arc Iris, lead by the gold jumpsuit-attired Jocie Adams proved worthy of the venue, songs from their forthcoming debut playing like Joanna Newsom taking a detour into big band jazz.
Stayed in. Made out with a box of Saltines. It was hot.
Woke up to hear the terrible news about the car accident that claimed three lives, and immediately joined in on the stream of people checking on their friends and loved ones to make sure that they were okay. By now you’ve probably read a dozen thought pieces of the accident, so I’ll keep this brief.
1. I’m incredibly thankful that all my friends stayed safe.
2. Other people weren’t so lucky. If you can spare a buck or two, please donate to help those affected.
Jealous of everyone’s musical adventures the night before; I carved out an evening dedicated to pursuit of pop both new and classic. (Meanwhile, in another part of town, Perfect Pussy played a billion 10 minute long shows, and Lady Gaga elevated vomit to an “art” form.)
At the Hype Hotel, I saw my personal buzz band of 2013, Pure Bathing Culture. The Portland, Organ duo was even better live than on record. (Which isn’t a slight to their delicious Cocteau Twins-leaning debut Moon Tides.) Frontwoman Sarah Versprille’s sweet vocals have a hidden power to them that with any luck will make an appearance on the band’s sophomore album.
Over the past few years I’ve dedicated a significant amount of web space to ranting about White Sea (the solo project of M83’s Morgan Kibby), that my editor didn’t believe me when I told him I’ve never seen her live. It was worth the wait. Between Mariah Carey-style high notes, polished synth-driven songs, and a theatrical flair, Kibby proved that she is a star. Stay tuned for her forthcoming album In Cold Blood.
Gary Numan was a dark counterpoint to Kibby’s shimmering stage presence. Although not overly familiar with his music (save for “Cars”) I immediately fell for his stomping, overtly glam stage presence. If you’re wondering where Trent Reznor gets it, look no further.
Rounding out my most successful night of SXSW was Blondie. Basically I want to be Debbie Harry. But it looks like she’s not done with the job yet. The front woman’s voice still contains the same husky bite that made “Rapture” such a revelation. The audience’s energy flagged slightly when the band played songs from Panic of Girls and Ghost of Download, but it was worth it to hear their hit parade—which sounded like everything that made the 80s an amazing time for music.
Relapsed while watching PINS. The more said about PINS’ energetic garage pop the better. The less said about being sick at SXSW the better. (General mood of the evening not improved by the addition of blue cherry Gatorade, a flavor so vile that it was immediately moved to the bottom of the sports drink rankings.) On the way home, I walked by the world's creepiest clown. He and I exchanged a knowing nod.
Magically woke up on Saturday feeling like a million bucks—the first time in the history of SXSW this has happened. While I managed to cram a week’s worth of SXSW into one day (including joining my partner-in-crime Austin Trunick for a slice of pizza so big I’m still digesting it), two things stuck out for me: God Help the Girl and Alexander von Mehren.
God Help the Girl, Belle & Sebastian bandleader Stuart Murdoch’s passion project, was screening at the Paramount Theater. I’ve never really felt driven to go to a film at SXSW but then again, this was no mere film. (Yes, I’m still excited enough about it to lapse into press release speak.) Starting with recording a soundtrack, Murdoch worked backwards, writing the script and casting the film over a course of several years. It isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s exactly the kind of project that you’d expect a member of Belle & Sebastian to turn in—thoughtful, funny, and genuinely sweet. I woke up thinking about the story the next morning, which is always a good sign. Of course, the fact that a children’s choir doing Belle & Sebastian/God Help the Girl covers opened the show probably didn’t hurt.
I’m a big fan of Alexander von Mehren, and the fact that I just saw him a few weeks ago wasn’t going to stop me from closing out my festival by seeing him perform again. The venue, a bar featuring wrestling on its big screens, wasn’t exactly suited to the Norwegian pianist’s brand of French-infused space pop—but that didn’t stop the musician from turning in technically outstanding and just downright charming performance. (I have never hated myself more for giving up my childhood piano lessons.) “My name is Alexander von Mehren,” he told the small audience with a smirk. “And if you want to know how to spell that, you can buy my album.” Here’s hoping they all complied.
As per tradition, my SXSW ended with a pedicab through the dark streets of Austin. Will I be daydreaming about SXSW 2014? Probably not. Will I come back next year? Of course. Like I said, it’s not you SXSW—it’s me. Let’s give it another shot next year. I’m willing to make it work if you are.
Check out photos of Arc Iris here
Check out photos of White Sea here
Check out photos of Gary Numan here
Check out photos of Pure Bathing Culture here
Check out photos of Alexander von Mehren here
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