SXSW Day 3 Recap – Band of Horses, jj, The Drums, and more | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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jj at SXSW

SXSW Day 3 Recap – Band of Horses, jj, The Drums, and more

Plus The Antlers

Mar 22, 2010 jj Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

By the third day of SXSW the lack of sleep was really catching up to us. As with the day before, we had to wake up early again to conduct a photo-shoot (three of them in fact), which again left no time for day parties. By the time the evening rolled around we were already burnt out, but still game to check out more bands. Alas, Friday offered little other than underwhelming sets, including ones by a shy Swedish duo and a surprisingly dark hyped Brooklyn band.

The streets of Austin were extra packed Friday night, as local Austinites took advantage of Sixth Street being closed to car traffic and also ventured out to party at those rare bars not hosting SXSW events. We first headed to Central Presbyterian Church, one of the coolest venues at SXSW. A working church, Central Presbyterian doesn’t sell alcohol and its public restroom is a Porta-Potty around the corner, but the acoustics are amazing, as is the atmosphere. Usually there’s a long line for the venue, but we were able to walk right in to catch the last two songs of Band of Horses, whose soaring harmonies were perfect for the church’s acoustics. “Let me ask you a favor, if you wouldn’t mind standing up for this one, to get the spirit of the church,” requested singer/guitarist Ben Bridwell, prompting us all to stand up in the pews for their last song.

The young Swedish duo jj took the church stage next and delivered one of the more awkward sets we witnessed at SXSW this year. The show started out promisingly enough when singer Elin Kastlander performed the first couple of songs simply on acoustic guitar. She was bathed in stage light that resembled moonlight, befitting her delicate voice. After the first song Kastlander sighed out of frustration, seemingly unhappy with her performance (even though it was perfectly fine). Things took a turn for the worse when Kastlander put down her guitar and the backing track that dominated the rest of the show was turned on. Firstly, as they attempted to turn on the backing track and the video that was projected above Kastlander on the wooden church wall behind her, Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talking” came on instead (it had been playing as we waited for jj to take the stage). But the main problem was that the backing track was pretty extensive and it seemed as though no live instrumentation was used at all, beyond Kastlander’s voice. If jj’s other member, Joakim Benon, was on stage at all, he was hidden behind the pulpit and was not seen once during the show (but was spotted setting stuff up before the set). So it was unclear whether or not he was doing anything other than press play on an MP3 player and video file. For the entire rest of the set, Kastlander sat fairly motionless in a chair singing along to the backing track. During the moments where her vocals weren’t required, she just sat there listening to the backing track with the rest of us, looking somewhat bored. At the very least they should’ve incorporated more acoustic guitar into the set. Or Benon could’ve been up there with Kastlander, manipulating sounds on a laptop or a mixer or playing keyboards (which he’s capable of doing). If they had to go the full backing track route, then perhaps Kastlander could’ve at least stood for part of the set, danced around a little, or interacted with the audience.

The video projections helped, but most of the images were taken from other sources, such as nature documentaries and footage from a football/soccer match. One of the few videos that seemed to be actually created by the band featured Kastlander singing the same song that she was performing live. Her live vocals matched her video performance almost perfectly, in terms of the timing and the movement of her mouth, which only enforced how prerecorded everything was. But she actually looked like she was having a lot more fun singing the song in the video, rather than performing it for us. After awhile the backing track just became monotonous. After she finished singing her part to single “Let Go,” the last song performed, Kastlander just got up and walked off the stage as the backing track was still going. After the backing track ended a looped sample said again and again, “Get out of here,” the lone bit of humor to be found in the set. It should be noted that jj are very green when it comes to performing live, they had apparently performed less than ten shows in their entire career before venturing to SXSW. And the backing track made sense when you consider that the duo is huge fans of hip-hop. But if jj are to be taken seriously as performers then they need to step up their game and incorporate a lot more live instrumentation into their show. Just after it ended, I overheard one audience member remark about the set, “That was odd.” We left the church just as Holly Miranda was starting.

Our next destination was supposed to be to see Fanfarlo, but we accidently went to the venue of the other band we were considering seeing at that time, The Antlers. As the Brooklyn-based trio took the stage at the Galaxy Room Backyard we were still expecting Fanfarlo and were surprised that there were only three of them, no female members, and no horn section. We quickly realized our mistake and stuck around for The Antlers anyway, especially as they opened their set with arguably their best song, “Sylvia.” There was lots of passion in Peter Silberman’s vocals, but live the song didn’t quite have the same weight to it as the recorded version. Something was off, perhaps it was the sound mix (the guitars could’ve been louder) or that the band was competing with a lot of audience chatter. In the louder, more shoegazy moments, it worked, but in the quieter parts The Antlers failed to fully capture the audience.

Our final set of the night was by fellow Brooklynites The Drums, who were actually playing the British Embassy at Latitude 30, which had mainly hosted U.K. bands all week. But it was an NME party and the British music weekly magazine did put The Drums on the cover of their new artists for 2010 issue back in January, despite the fact that the band has yet to release their debut album yet. Such hype can put high expectations on a band’s SXSW performance, expectations that The Drums did not meet. I was a fan of last year’s Summertime! EP and Under the Radar ran a Pleased to Meet You feature on The Drums, but whereas the EP was generally as fun and poppy as its title would suggest, The Drums’ live show was all serious and moody. The band came on after Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” played on the PA, but these much-feted boys were tamer. Lead vocalist Jonathan Pierce flailed around the stage theatrically, as if trying to ape Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker, and Ian Curtis all at once. But his performance came off as forced. At one point Pierce held his microphone with both hands up to his mouth in a certain way that, with his bowl haircut, he reminded me of Jimmy Fallon’s character from his hilarious regular sketch “Let Us Play With Your Look.” I’m all for a bit of showmanship, but none of Pierce’s moves came off as genuine. And I guess I was expecting a lot of fun and upbeat songs in the vein of Summertime!‘s “Saddest Summer” and “Let’s Go Surfing,” rather than a bunch of post-punk songs that sounded like Interpol and Joy Division (which it seems could be the sound of their debut album). Pierce’s singing voice almost sounded British. Granted, I was watching an incredibly hyped band at 1 a.m. on the third day of SXSW, not exactly the best conditions, and in all fairness, the two other people I was with both loved The Drums’ set. As a plus, they did perform “Let’s Go Surfing,” which gave me a chance to finally ascertain that Pierce is not singing “Obama” (which I had suspected he wasn’t), but “Oh mama” instead.

As there are so many bands to potentially see at SXSW, your experience very much depends on the choices you make. My Friday night at SXSW 2010 was a night of disappointing sets. There were many other artists I had considered seeing instead, including, Fanfarlo, Smokey Robinson, Odawas, Mayer Hawthorne, Plants and Animals, The Veils, Tanlines, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Delorean, Twin Sister, Suckers, School of Seven Bells, Here We Go Magic, Surfer Blood, Thurston Moore, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Metric, Muse, and others. Perhaps if I’d seen any of those, my night would’ve gone better, especially as none of those artists (to my knowledge) rely wholly on a backing track. Get out of here.

Click here for a fully gallery of photos from day three of SXSW 2010.


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