Choir of Young Believers, Dan Deacon, Zola Jesus, Prince Rama, Purity Ring, Kindness, SXSW 2012

SXSW Recap Day 1: Choir of Young Believers, Dan Deacon, Zola Jesus, Purity Ring and More,

Mar 19, 2012 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern
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SXSW starts with a hug. And—if you’re very lucky—a kiss. Sure it’s a music conference, a place where new bands head to earn their buzz, established bands visit to hock their wares, and everyone goes to practice the age-old art of FOMO. But before all that “work,” friends, co-workers, band members, and publicists start it all off with a squeeze. We may whine about the long hours, the endless schedules, and all forms of “work” (again with the quotation marks) but don’t let our kvetching fool you—this is summer camp for the music industry.

After a long day at Under the Radar’s first of three day parties, (which held its own share of joyful reunions) the team dispersed to seek their own SXSW bliss. Our evening kicked off at Club deVille where Danish seven-piece Choir of Young Believers were performing cuts from forthcoming sophomore album, Rhine Gold.  Even though extended cut “Paralyse”—which clocks in at ten minutes—was cut significantly short, it was a rousting set of bittersweet, retro-flavored pop tunes. Frontman Jannis Noya Makrigiannis’ Andrew Bird-like voice proved as strong as it is in recordings.

No one in the whole of SXSW can match the energy of Dan Deacon, whose rainbow-dipped-electro noise pop lit up the NPR showcase at Stubbs. But before he could put all his high-octane tunes to use, he struggled through a series of tech issues that caused him to go on significantly later than planned. Stranded on stage, he looked into the audience, comparing his situation to the scene where the Blues Brothers aren’t in the venue and Cab Calloway has to take the stage—performing a flawless rendition of “Minnie the Moocher.” Regardless of if Deacon saw himself as a Blues Brother or Calloway, his set was near-flawless, including perhaps the most intricately orchestrated dance party ever. (“Dance as though as though Avatar was good!” he informed the audience.)  

Shockingly, we were able to walk directly into Elysium, where Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) was taking the stage.  The theatrical songstress worked through powerhouse renditions of her dark-pop album Conactus, hands and arms flailing in time with her drummer’s beat. The performance was melodramatic—and a perfect complement to her oddly 1980s live aesthetic. After a few songs though, the winds carried us out of the venue and over to Chevrolet Sound Garage.

…which turned out to be a terrible mistake, as Prince Rama was on stage. I’m sure band members Taraka Larson and Nimai Larson were as confused as the audience—as their set contained quirks-layered on top of each other to the point the whole performance took on the air of an eight-grade talent show. Appropriate, as clearly we had stumbled onto amateur hour, as a trust fall, a sparkly blanket draped over the head, and coordinated dance moves all made an appearance. Was it so bad it was good? No, it was just bad.

Simply good was Kindness. No make that simply awesome. The British collective harnessed a freewheeling, R&B beat, crafting it into a super slick dance party. (Indie rock needs more dancing. Full stop.) Think of Kindness as a highly-enjoyable, Toro Y Moi for the active set.

At that point we were exhausted, but willing to wait it out for a chance to see Purity Ring, whose spooky electro tunes seemed like a perfect way to close out the night. That is, until we watched the band set up for what seemed like an eternity. While it was amusing to hear singer Megan James test the mike with little-girl-lost rendition of “You are My Sunshine,” overall, watching the pair set up drained much of the mystery out of the performance. When they did get started though it was a dramatic sea change, as James—in all her sister-wife garb—and instrumentalist Corin Roddick, created a eerie Knife-like ambience, all twisted beats and sinister beauty. Worn out, I called it a night, and headed home to rest up for the next day’s adventure. (www.sxsw.com)




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