Courtney Barnett at SXSW 2015

Tobias Jesso Jr., Twin Peaks, Courtney Barnett, Will Butler, The Twilight Sad, Only Real, Ibeyi

SXSW 2015 Friday - Courtney Barnett, Tobias Jesso Jr., Will Butler, Twin Peaks, and More,

Apr 02, 2015 Web Exclusive Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern and Laura Studarus Bookmark and Share


Even though she is only just over two years old, this was the third SXSW for my daughter Rose (she first attended as a two-and-a-half-month-old, spending most of the time in the hotel room with my wife Wendy's mother). Even though most of the nighttime shows were past her bedtime and in 21+ venues, I did hope Rosewould see a bit more music this year at Under the Radar's events than in the last two years, but it didn't really pan out that way, with her sleeping through a lot of the Under the Radar sets. One additional problem was that this year she refused to wear her special baby-sized noise cancelling headphones.

On the Friday of SXSW we took Rose to see Courtney Barnett for a 5 PM set at the Radio Day Stage in the Austin Convention Center. Two days earlier Rose had danced away to Laura Marling's folk-rock in the same venue and was fine without her headphones, but Barnett's loud guitar shredding was too much for Rose, who put her hands over her ears. Wendy took her to check out the Flatstock music poster show downstairs while I watched the rest of the Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist's set.

Barnett had just played a show in the rain and appropriately announced this just before playing "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party," which features the lyrics "I'd rather stay in bed with the rain over my head than pick my brain up off of the floor" followed by the chorus "I want to go out, but I want to stay home." Many SXSW attendees probably felt the same way on the stormy day, but Barnett still attracted a large crowd (after all, she was one of the most buzzed about new artists at SXSW this year).  

Barnett showcased her storyteller wit, but also truly rocked out. She joked with the audience ("We both put on the same shirt this morning," she said about her drummer before they launched in "Avant Gardener," "so I changed mine so it wouldn't be weird.") and threw a giant inflatable kangaroo out for the audience to bounce around.

Tobias Jesso Jr. was on the verge of having an off show that night at the atmospheric Central Presbyterian Church. The Vancouver-born singer/songwriter/pianist played solo, just him and the church's piano and his set started off well, including a Big Star cover. But things got derailed when he tried to perform "True Love," a song written too late for inclusion on Jesso Jr.'s debut album Goon, and couldn't remember the lyrics. He gave it a couple of tries before temporarily giving it up ("I promise I'll come back to it") and moving on to another song. But he couldn't shake it, and gave it another attempt, stumbling again. "Every line I get by, I go 'Oh no, you're not gonna get the next one," he explained and then added, "For all those 'True Love' fans out there, I'm sorry. This is disrespectful. If I was at this show I'd want my money back." He joked that perhaps "True Love" was somehow the devil's music, which is why God wouldn't allow him play it in a church and moved on again to play single "Hollywood."

Someone in the audience then pulled up the lyrics to "True Love" on their phone and handed it to Jesso Jr. He gave it another try, only to be distracted by some speaker feedback. "I'm just going to skip the intro part," he said before launching into his last attempt and he finally got through the song, to audience cheers. The whole thing came off as endearing. Jesso Jr.'s piano ballads can sound a bit one-note stacked against each other, so his troubles playing "True Love" likely livened up the show. Having said that, Jesso Jr.'s voice and piano were perfectly suited for the church setting. He ended his set with his most spirited song, broken hearted single "How Could You Babe."

French-Cuban twin sisters Ibeyi were up next at the church. And while their beautiful voices easily haunted the church when they started their set a cappella, I personally find their arrangements a bit frustrating and Wendy and I ducked out after two songs (although Under the Radar's Laura Studarus stayed for the full set and claimed it was magical).  

We headed over to Latitude 30 and the British Music Embassy for a few songs by London's Only Real. The band is the project of Niall Galvin. Galvin's very British-accented half-singing/half-rapping style is what sets him apart, but it can also be an annoying aspect of their music, depending how much you appreciate rapping mixed with more indie sounds. It's a bit hard to know what kind of band Only Real wants to be-they sound a bit dancey, a bit pop, a bit indie, with some rap vocals. But generally their set was enjoyable and it prompted some hilariously bad drunk dancing down the front. "This next song is about all the things I've seen in my life," said Galvin, but keep in mind he's still only in his early 20s.

Twin Peaks were stuck playing in a semi-outdoor/partly tented venue, Bar 96, in the rain. Bar 96 isn't my favorite SXSW venue to begin with and it was made worse by the muddy puddles akin to a British music festival. The Chicago-based band had a lot of energy, but were a bit of a mess. Chaotic fun. We waited in the pouring rain to essentially see one song of The Twilight Sad. The distinctive Scottish band had a lot of passion.

Wendy went back to the hotel to be with our daughter, who had just woken up, and so I met back up with Laura Studarus. We were on the list for a somewhat exclusive Hot Chip show, but it was way on the other side of town, in the rain, so we ended the night at the much closer Maggie Mae's Rooftop for set from Will Butler. The Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist was there to play songs from his debut solo album, Policy, a charmingly eclectic release that flirts from garage rock to '80s influenced synth-pop to piano ballads and beyond. The smell of maple syrup was in the air, perhaps purposefully as the show was put on by Pop Montreal. Butler and his backing band all had black T-shirts or sweatshirts with their first names written in white and his band included three female backing singers. Butler started with garage-y album opener "Take My Side" and at first the venue's sound was a bit rough, but it improved with the next song, "Anna," track two on the album and a very different vibe to song one, with its synths and piano stabs. "What I Want" was another highlight (I always laugh at the line: "If you comeand take my hand I will buy you a pony/We can cook it for supper, I know a great recipe for pony macaroni"). Will's older brother, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler (who was performing DJ sets at SXSW as DJ Windows 98) watched from the side of the stage, his fairly blank expression fairly to betray his thoughts on Will's set, but no doubt he approved. In my SXSW Pocket Guide I had not found a single 1 AM set worth circling, so I ventured through the rain soaked streets of Austin back to my hotel and the warmth of my wife and sleeping daughter, with only one more day of SXSW 2015 to go.    

Check out a gallery of SXSW 2015 photos here.




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