SXSW 2013, Caitlin Rose, Savages, Youth Lagoon
SXSW Day Four: Caitlin Rose, Savages, and Youth Lagoon, March 15th, 2013
Friday night at SXSW felt uncharacteristically quiet. Where did all the smaller enticing showcases go? Why weren’t we forced to agonize over our schedule? Was everyone really at Green Day and Depeche Mode? (The first which I haven’t appreciated since I was seventeen, the second which I didn’t win tickets to.) Content to keep it to a single showcase, I spent the evening watching Caitlin Rose, Savages, and Youth Lagoon.
Caitlin Rose kicked off the wildly disparate lineup at Club De Ville. The Nashville resident treads a familiar territory; her simplistic tunes bringing nothing new to the country genre. “This is a song about getting married on accident,” she said, introducing one song. “That’s the only way it will ever happen to me.” Given her charming self-deprecation, it would have been nice to see a bit more of that wit bleed into her bland music.
Confession: I’m the kind of girl who lists Belle and Sebastian and Acid House Kings among my favorite bands. I don’t wear cute shoes to shows, but I wish I could. (The one time I tried it I got a stiletto in the foot.) When the Under the Radar offices were in Los Angeles, it was my job to regularly supply us with cookies. I am—in short—the walking embodiment of twee. And I’m okay with it. Which is why I’m as shocked as anyone to admit that Savages where not only one of the most exciting acts of the evening, but of the festival as a whole. The British female four-piece exuded a manic energy somewhere between giddy and menacing. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth was all flying limbs and punk posturing, introducing songs such as “Shut Up” with a snarl, and dancing like devil-may-care Karen O. The whole set was chaotic without ever once flying off the rails. Not bad for an act that has yet to put out a full-length. (Matador Records will have the honors on May 7.)
Youth Lagoon was next on the odd bill. With the dystopian carnival-like songs of his sophomore album Wondrous Bughouse in heavy rotation over the past few months, it was the act I was most excited to see. After a significant wait due to technical difficulties, frontman Trevor Powers and his band took the stage and delivered heartily. The new album played exceptionally well, but it was slow-building The Year of Hibernation cut “17” that truly enchanted, Powers’ fragile falsetto sounding more and more powerful against the building layers of billowing synth. Utterly otherworldly. (Then again, given the pungent smoke around me, the music might not have been the only reason I was feeling euphoric.)
It was an incredibly brief moment of near-perfection, as shortly after Powers announced that due to technical and voice difficulties he would have to cut the set short. I have no doubt that Powers felt like he was struggling (even if he didn’t sound like it). By this point I could barely speak—and I wasn’t trying to pound out a ridiculous number of showcases. But isn’t SXSW a time when you play though your technical difficulties? Echo-filled vocals, cheap synths, lyrics about struggling to find peace and hope in a harsh world—Youth Lagoon has always been a project built on the beauty of imperfection. It would have been nice if Powers had possessed the courage to air that side of his music in a live setting. Goodness knows at that point I felt a bit fragile myself.