SXSW 2015 Party, SXSW 2015, East India Youth, Jacco Gardner, Mew, Matthew E. White, of Montreal, Pompeii, SOAK
SXSW 2015 Thursday - Under the Radar Party - of Montreal, Mew, East India Youth, SOAK, and More,
Mar 30, 2015
Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Web Exclusive
"We played a show at 7'oclock this morning, which is entirely too early to be playing a rock 'n' roll concert," said Matthew E. White. The Richmond, VA-based singer/songwriter/guitarist was up on stage at the Flamingo Cantina, for a second-on-the-bill 12:45 PM set at Under the Radar's SXSW day party. White also played a 10 AM show and was playing his third of five shows that day, illustrating the craziness of SXSW and the amount of shows a notable artist can play if they want to. White later told me that his 7 AM show was a live session for a radio station and despite the early hour there were still a couple of hundred people in attendance, mostly older people who didn't stay up late partying the night before, joked White.
Despite his stacked schedule and crack-of-dawn wakeup call, White delivered, playing his good time retro-sounding, soul-tinged rock with conviction. The title of one of his best songs might be "Rock 'n' Roll is Cold," but White's music was warm and inviting. Showcasing songs from his recently released sophomore album, Fresh Blood, White and his backing band often played some of the record's horn parts on guitar. It would be great to see him play with a string and horn section to flesh out his albums' more ornate arrangements, but until then this will do just fine.
The 12 PM opener at Under the Radar's day party, Pompeii, did actually play with a string section. The Austin natives were supposed to have a string quartet, but that was scaled back to a trio when one player mistook the set time to be the more rock 'n' roll appropriate 12 midnight than 12 noon and by the time they were informed of their error it was too late to make it to the show from across town. Suffice it to say, they probably weren't up at 7 AM to catch White's radio set. It made no matter, as a string trio did the job nicely and were a good complement to Pompeii's soaring sound.
Third on the bill was an 18-year-old female singer/songwriter from Northern Ireland. "My name's SOAK, S-O-A-K, like the bathtub," said Bridie Monds-Watson, introducing herself by her moniker. SOAK simply captivated, playing solo with just an electric guitar and her voice, but oh what a voice (think Victoria Bergsman of Taken By Trees/formerly of The Concretes, but with more power and warmth). Never have I seen a SXSW day party audience be so quiet and attentive, something Monds-Watson thanked us all for several times. Her songs might be concerned with heartbreak and teenage angst, but Monds-Watson has a sense of humor too. "I prayed for you and you know I don't like Jesus," she sang, but then paused and added "no offence" for the Texas crowd. "I'm 18 and being in Texas isn't as fun as it would be if I was 21," she later laughed. "I go around with a bunch of Xs on my hands." The drinking age in Northern Ireland is only 18.
Jacco Gardner's expansive psych-rock from Holland was a nice switch up from SOAK's more minimalist set up. Then East India Youth took the stage. The British electronic musician and singer, birth name William Doyle, performed as a one man band-guitar strapped to him, keyboard and mic in front of him, electronics and laptop to the side of him. Despite the heat of the venue, he was clad in a full suit and tie. In fact Doyle was staying at my hotel and every time I ran into him he was immaculately dressed in a suit (I suggested he line up a suit sponsor). Regardless of any perceived limitations of either a one-man-band setup or electronic music, the Mercury Prize-nominated musician rocked out, switching between instruments and likely sweating up a storm in his jacket and tie. His set was continuous, with no gaps between songs. At one point a wall of noise and feedback crashed into a dance beat. Alas, as he began his last song, Doyle was undone by an error message on his laptop ("Man versus machine, machine wins," he joked) and he had to finish his set a little early. Not to worry, he'd already made a strong enough impression that people were talking about his performance hours later.
Beloved Danish band Mew are used to playing huge venues and festival stages in Europe, so they easily commanded the 350-capacity Flamingo Cantina. Many devoted fans were in attendance and they've waited awhile to see the Danes again-it's been six years since the release of their last album. The band opened with "Satellites," the first single off of their new album, +-, and right off the bat it's clear this is Mew, due in large part to frontman Jonas Bjerre's unmistakable voice. "Six years in the making it better be fuckin' worth it," joked bassist Johan Wohlert about the band's long-awaited new album. Wohlert left the band for 2009's No More Stories..., so it's good to have him back and he also seemed eager to be back on an American stage, pointing out to the audience that they first played SXSW in 1999 and that the festival has gotten even bigger and better since then. The band honored their history and long terms fans with the set list. "This is a song we wrote a few days ago, it's called 'Snow Brigade,'" joked guitarist Bo Madsen before the band launched into a song from their 2003 album Frengers. They also played two songs back to back from 2005's And the Glass Handed Kites, "Special" and "The Zookeeper's Boy," which also run back to back on the album. The latter prompted a mass audience sing-along. Mew ended with +-'s seven-and-a-half minute closing track, "Cross the River On Your Own," the title of which Wohlert got completely wrong when introducing the song, saying the working title instead until Bjerre humorously corrected him.
The set of headliners of Montreal was a non-stop audience dance party. Sure, they performed some of their new album Aureate Gloom, but they also played some fan-favorite classics such as "Suffer For Fashion" (from 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer) and "The Party's Crashing Us Now" (from 2005's The Sunlandic Twins). Of Montreal were only in Austin and at SXSW for one day, playing only three shows over all of SXSW, which was a far cry from Matthew E. White's SXSW schedule.
After already seeing seven great sets at our own SXSW day party, I took Thursday night fairly easy, setting up camp at Cheer Up Charlie's. In the smaller inside room I stumbled across Dinner, who I hadn't planned to see yet as he was going to be playing Under the Radar's official showcase Saturday night. The Danish musician (aka Anders Rhedin) performed his '80s New Wave-influenced electro-pop solo, with nothing but a backing track and his deep voice. Usually I'd roll my eyes at such a set up, but Rhedin owned the small audience due to his performance style-you couldn't take your eyes off his somewhat David Byrne-esque crazy dance moves.
I spent the rest of the night at Cheer Up Charlie's outdoor stage for some of Polyvinyl's showcase, catching another set by Jacco Gardner, who announced that he never wanted to return to Holland due to the nicer weather in Austin. Alvvays' self-titled album was one of 2014's best debut albums and so I definitely anticipated seeing them at SXSW. The Canadian band's set of jangly indie-pop was certainly fun, if not fully revelatory. Cheer Up Charlie's outdoor stage isn't my favorite SXSW venue, the sound isn't particularly great unless you're directly facing the stage and it's hardto see the bands unless you're near the front, even for a tall guy like me, due to the stage being at the top of a slope, something front-woman Molly Rankin commented on. "If there are any tiny people in front of tall people, canthey switch?" she asked of the audience, explaining she was a tiny person and had had trouble seeing at shows before. The Dodos once played one of the best SXSW sets I've ever seen, at Emo's Jr. in 2008, but this year I was already too worn down by SXSW to even give their set more than a background listen and realized it was thus high time to head off to bed, as two more days of SXSW still awaited. How Matthew E. White did it was beyond me.
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