Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 South by Southwest Music Festival day one report

The South by Southwest Music Festival doesn't officially begin until today,  but there was still lots of music to be heard around Austin, Texas as the multi-faceted SXSW event's interactive portion concluded on Monday.
Michael Rault

My first SXSW music experience of 2015 was provided by Michael Rault and his band from my hometown of Toronto. I loved his 2010 Ma-Me-O debut album and 2012 Whirlpool EP, but I didn't find last year's seven-song Living Daylight as much fun as its predecessors. The sound is a little more straight-forward rock than the '50s and '60s-influenced material that attracted me to him and most of Rault's eight-song set was comprised of that newer material. Again, in a live setting, I found that it lacked the retro quirkiness and some of the hooks that first drew me. But the performance in front of about 40 people ended on a high note with Living Daylight's "Suckcess."

The Vaccines
It was then on to The Spotify House, where I had to wait in a press line for about 20 minutes to get in to see The Vaccines. The London, England quintet's tight and melodic indie rock-and-roll had chops and hooks, but more sheen than I was expecting. Several new songs were showcased, including one that lead singer/guitarist Justin Young claimed that it had never played before. The group has a BRIT Award nomination for best live act under its belt and, while I enjoyed the performance, I can't say that I was blown away by it -- even with the generous portion of sweet tea vodka I was given for free. English Graffiti, the first full-length since 2012's Come of Age, will be out on May 26.

The venue was still packed to capacity for Canadian producer/remixer/DJ Ryan Hemsworth, who's created a solid buzz for himself in the electronic dance music world over the past few years. That's really not my scene, however, so I didn't stick around long and went on to do more mundane, non-SXSW things like going to the liquor store for supplies, checking into the apartment I'm renting for the week (it looked better online, oddly enough) and grabbing a large wrap from a vendor at one of Austin's numerous food truck parks for dinner.

Two Cow Garage
I soon regretted that decision. It tasted fine. But I found out there was free barbecue at the party on the roof of Cheers Shot Bar, where I checked out Columbus, Ohio rockers Two Cow Garage. The hard-working band has a fervent, cult-like following among some of my American friends that I can't grasp, but Two Cow plays impassioned rock-and-roll with narrative lyrics that are a cut above many other groups of their ilk. The friend who I was with and is more casual about his fandom, but has seen the group more than me, thought it was the best show he'd seen from the quartet. I was satisfied, too.
East Cameron Folkcore

Austin's East Cameron Folkcore came on at 9 p.m. at Empire Control Room and seemed to have a solid following. Its eight-member co-ed roster plays an array of instruments, including keyboards, mandolin, guitars, bass, drums, trombone and cello. While guitarist and primary songwriter Jesse Moore largely sings lead, others take turns in delivering his socially conscious lyrics that often pack a political and socio-economic punch that you can sometimes join along with. This is an expansive and powerful approach to folk that also incorporates punk, Celtic, rock, country and gospel elements. I haven't yet had a chance to listen to the advance copy of the group's Kingdom of Fear album (which comes out on April 7) I received, but this stirring performance gives me added incentive.

I had to go to Wikipedia to find out that Rocket Fuel was founded in 2008 and is a "provider of a programmatic media-buying platform that utilizes artificial intelligence, big data and predictive modeling bid in real time on digital media ad impressions across web, video, mobile, and social media." I just knew that it had spent big money to throw a party at Vulcan Gas Company.

I was ushered in after a 20-minute wait in line and found an open bar and free sandwiches, sliders, tacos and donuts. I was still full but forced down a couple of sliders to help form a base in my stomach for Lagunitas IPA and Austin Eastciders dry ciders while I found a comfy leather chair and waited for Real Estate to come on.

The New Jersey-formed group played a relatively short set of mid-tempo indie rock that was a bit laconic at first but picked up as things went along and a couple of songs kicked things up a notch or two. It was pleasant enough, but not particularly inspiring.

The New Pornographers
The party was capped off by The New Pornographers, the Canadian "supergroup" whose members and crew were flown in from around North America for this one gig. It doesn't seem like the band has been around for 15 years, but it has, and I was pleased that it dipped into its catalogue significantly during an hour-long performance that didn't include occasional live members Neko Case and Dan Bejar. The older nuggets included "Moves," "Use It," "Dancehall Dominee," "Your Hands," "The Laws Have Changed," "Testament to Youth in Verse," "Sing Me Spanish Techno," "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" and a set-closing "Mass Romantic," which inspired mass dancing.

I wasn't thrilled with last year's Brill Bruisers album that I thought lacked much of the power pop brilliance of yesteryear, but hearing some of its songs live -- particularly "You Tell Me Where," Backstairs" and "Champions of Red Wine" -- gave me a better appreciation of their merits. The night ended with a single encore number, "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," and with all the free booze flowing around the club that was probably appropriate.

Oh, and by the way, happy St. Patrick's Day!

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