Monday, March 23, 2015

Favourites from Wednesday to Sunday at SXSW

I wrote about my Monday and Tuesday experiences at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas and have posted photos of acts I've seen throughout the week, but here's a rundown of my SXSW highlights from Wednesday to Sunday.


The Wet Secrets
The Wet Secrets
I believe this Edmonton band's Free Candy album deserved more Polaris Music Prize consideration, and it always puts on an entertaining show.

Carl Barat and The Jackals
The former Libertines member played a couple of songs from that band as well as more recent solo material. This performance was much better than when I saw Barat in Austin a number of years ago.

Frank Turner
It's no secret that I'm a major fan and this solo acoustic performance was good enough to get me to see him do it again (though with a somewhat different set list) on Thursday night even though I'd just seen him play with his band The Sleeping Souls in Toronto earlier in the month.

If you like King Tuff, Weezer, power pop and '80s new wave, you should enjoy this hook-happy quintet.


Mac McCaughan
Mac McCaughan
The Superchunk, Portastatic and Merge Records founder reached into the catalogue for several favourites as well as songs from his forthcoming Non-Believers solo debut. He was alone on stage with an electric guitar, but he didn't need any other backing for his songs to shine.

The Apache Relay
This makes the cut if just for "Katie Queen of Tennessee," a great, classic-sounding pop song.

The Cribs
I still think of this British group as being very young, but it said the last time it played SXSW was 2007, which shows how much time flies sometimes. The group offers a great mix of power pop, punk and indie rock.

Big Harp
This guitar, bass and drums trio plays sharp power pop that can also rock pretty hard and sometimes sounds like it has keyboards infusing through it, even though there are none to be found.

Hippo Campus
This young Minnesota band incorporates African high life elements into its indie pop and had the crowd dancing to its infectiously upbeat sounds. This is an act that could go places and ranks among my best discoveries of SXSW.

The most buzzed about Canadian band at SXSW played to packed houses everywhere it went while playing almost 10 shows over the week. Its dreamy, jangly pop won over another crowd at Cheer Up Charlies' outdoor patio and the only disappointing part of the 20-minute set was its brevity.

Surfer Blood
Snappy, indie pop songs with chiming guitars are this band's forte, and the numbers it played from its forthcoming album stand up to anything from the catalogue. This is music that makes you happy, which made this band a great way to close my Thursday as it put a bounce in my step despite my aching feet on my walk back to my apartment.


July Talk
The male-female vocal dynamic and mix of grit and sheen makes this Toronto band interesting to listen to and even better to see, as there's great stage chemistry between Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay. I'd say that this could have been the second biggest Canadian buzz band of SXSW.

Best Coast
Best Coast
This California group has a distinctly Californian sound, if that makes sense, and its forthcoming album is titled California Nights. The new songs were just as enjoyable as those played from previous albums, and there's a lot to like in this group's gauzy, dreamy indie pop.

The Waco Brothers
It's a SXSW tradition to have margaritas with members of The Waco Brothers at Guero's on Friday afternoon and then head across the street to the outdoor space behind the Yard Dog Gallery to watch them close off the Bloodshot Records day party. It was another wild and woolly time, as drummer Joe Camarillo fell off his drum stool, two women in the front row with me fell down and Jon Langford name-checked me from the stage regarding a falling incident of mine a few years back. Familiar originals and time-honoured classic covers were played so well that I had to go back and see the band at the Carousel Lounge on Sunday night, where Langford invited me on stage to sing "Folsom Prison Blues" with him.

Joe "King" Carrasco
I loved Carrasco and his band The Crowns in the early '80s and seeing him perform some of the songs from those days was one of my SXSW highlights a few years ago. This set didn't include any of that material and didn't have the organ from those records, but featured a more traditional Tex-Mex, blues and rock-and-roll approach. He's still the "King" and a consummate showman.

I found out that I share a birthday with one of the members of this young, all-female garage rock quartet, who I also saw tearing up the dancefloor while fellow Spaniards The Parrots played a garage-surf set on Saturday night. Hinds includes elements of jangle pop, garage rock, indie rock and '60s pop and, while the music still needs a bit of polish, it's on the right track. Ending a set with a cover of Thee Headcoats' "Davy Crockett" was a nice touch.

Twin Peaks
This young Chicago band is apparently a favourite of the sons of Jeff Tweedy and Jon Langford, and I'm on board with them. The quartet is full of energy and punk spirit but can also write very solid songs.

Palma Violets
This British quartet pleased a large and enthusiastic crowd with a raucously entertaining and spirited set of psychedelic-tinged rock-and-roll. It played a handful of songs from the forthcoming Danger In The Club album that are worth looking forward to.


Low Cut Connie
Singer/pianist Adam Weiner was one of the most engaging frontmen I saw all week and at one point he grabbed my pen and drew a happy face on my notepad. The Philadelphia band's vintage rock-and-roll sound was a great way to start the day, and including a cover of The Gories' "I Think I've Had It" was even better.

Elliott Brood
I've seen this band numerous times in Toronto and once before in Austin and it always delivers a roots-rocking good time.

Black Linen
Black Linen
This Atlanta group plays melodic, hook-laden, '60s-influenced power pop very well and has a cleaner sound than most of its contemporaries.

Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express
Prophet and his band provided one of my live music highlights of 2014 and even though this set was shorter, it was again right on target. Among the favourites played were "Countrified Inner-City Technological Man," "Wish Me Luck," "Ford Econoline," "Temple Beautiful," "Willie Mays Is Up At Bat" and a cover of The Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action."

This quintet couldn't stay on the 720 Club's small stage, or even in the club, during a very interactive party rock set that was a ton of fun for the 50 people in attendance.

The Blind Owls
This well-dressed band look very young but play like it's 1966 with mod, freakbeat, garage rock and pure pop elements. A cover of Them's "Gloria" fit right in with the original material.

Danny B. Harvey and Anne Marie Lewis
Harvey plays guitar in HeadCat with Lemmy and Slim Jim Phantom and has played with numerous other people including, on this night, his bride-to-be Anne Marie Lewis (the niece of Jerry Lee). Harvey is the best guitarist I saw all week, while Lewis can definitely sing, and their mix of rockabilly, '50s rock-and-roll, country and blues was a marriage made in heaven with covers of "Hit The Road Jack," "House of the Rising Sun," "Suzie Q," "You Win Again," "Who Do You Love?" and more.

The 69 Cats
Harvey stayed on stage along with his drummer and were joined by Jyrki69, the singer of Finnish goth’n’roll band The 69 Eyes, and former Cramps bassist Chopper Franklin. Let's call the sound gothabilly, as the band put a unique spin on such familiar songs as "People Are Strange," "She's Not You," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Smokestack Lightning" and "Bela Lugosi's Dead." This was pure entertainment.

The Uglybeats
I've seen this group at three previous SXSW festivals, so I ended this one with a level of familiarity as the Austin quintet provided a healthy dose of good times with its retro-garage original songs and a cover of The Ramones' "I'm Against It."


Jon Langford and The Far Forlorn

Jon Langford and The Far Forlorn
SXSW essentially ends on Saturday, but there are usually a few shows spread out over Sunday for folks like me who need another fix. It was provided along with some tasty fowl at Lucy's Fried Chicken, where Langford and seven other musicians performed some of his solo material as well as a couple of cuts from his band The Mekons.


Number of performances seen from Monday to Sunday: 84
Number of selfies taken: zero
Amount of money spent on food from Tuesday to Saturday: zero

Free Food
Thanks to Nettwerk and Canadian Blast for filling me up on Wednesday. The SOCAN/ASCAP boat cruise and the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 provided me with nutritional fuel on Thursday afternoon and the M for Montreal poutine party got me through the evening. Friday's food was provided by the British Music Embassy and the Australian BBQ, where I also got a free rain poncho to help make me a little drier on a very rainy day. The British Embassy came through again big time on the food front on Saturday. There were also free drinks at all of these parties, and others as well. Thank you to you all for keeping me well-nourished and lubricated.

SXSW highlights from Saturday and Sunday

As mentioned previously, I'll provide an overview of my top moments of this year's South by Southwest Music Festival in a later post, but here's a brief overview of my Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday I saw:

Low Cut Connie, Saukrates, The People The Poet, Whitehorse, Screaming Females, Pop Group, Elliott Brood, Black Linen, Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express, The Parrots, Spells, The Blind Owls, Danny B. Harvey with Annie Marie Lewis (Jerry Lee's niece), 69 Cats, a Trinidadian steel band that played while we were waiting for Mighty Sparrow (who never showed up in his allotted hour-long time slot), Pujol, Sweet Talk and The Uglybeats.

On Sunday I saw:

Ice Cold Singles, Jon Langford and the Far Forlorn, Banditos, Churchwood and The Waco Brothers (who invited me on stage to sing "Folsom Prison Blues.")

I didn't take my camera out on Sunday night because the battery was dead, but here are a few photos from the past few days:

Jon Langford and The Far Forlorn

The Uglybeats


Low Cut Connie

Elliott Brood

Danny B. Harvey and Annie Marie Lewis

Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express

Black Linen

69 Cats

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Photo highlights from Friday at SXSW

Here are the acts I saw on Friday at the South by Southwest Music Festival:

Go Wolf, July Talk, Rachel Sage, Best Coast, San Cisco, Broncho, The Waco Brothers, Grounders, Joe "King" Carrasco, Hinds, Twin Peaks, Palma Violets and Cloud Nothings.

Since the music festival officially started on Tuesday, I have yet to spend any money on food.

Here's a sampling of photos from Friday:

Cloud Nothings

Palma Violets

Twin Peaks


Joe "King" Carrasco


The Waco Brothers

San Cisco

Best Coast

July Talk

SXSW Thursday in words and pictures ... okay, mostly pictures

I've decided that time and other commitment constraints won't allow me to write comprehensive reports on my goings-on from the South by Southwest Music Festival every day, so I'm just going to provide a list of the acts I saw on Thursday and some of their photos for now, and then I'll follow up with highlights later.

Here are the artists: Look Vibrant, Rah Rah, Mac McCaughan, The Lost Brothers, Del Barber, The Apache Relay, The Cribs, Gang of Four, Loud Larry Ajust, Big Harp, Jeff Stuart and The Hearts, Slothrust, JP Hoe, Hippo Campus, Alvvays, The Saturday Tea, Frank Turner, Quiet Company and Surfer Blood.

Hippo Campus is my best discovery of a band previously unknown to me, aside from hearing a couple of songs online.

Here are some photos:

Surfer Blood

Quiet Company

Frank Turner

The Saturday Tea

Hippo Campus

Big Harp

Gang of Four

The Cribs

The Apache Relay

Mac McCaughan

Del Barber


Rah Rah

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 South by Southwest Music Festival day three report

I'm covering the South by Southwest Music Festival for SOCAN's Words and Music and you can read about the Canadian Blast BBQ and other Canuck happenings here at some point.

I may try to write more later, but rest assured that I still haven't paid for any food since the music fest started on Tuesday and lots of free libations made their way down my throat during yesterday's day parties.

Here's what I saw on Wednesday along with photos of some of the artists:

Chadwick Stokes, The Wet Secrets, The Bros. Landreth, Single Mothers, Franklin Electric, Carl Barat & The Jackals, Frank Turner, The Everymen, Natural Child, Water Liars, The Mystery Lights, Chastity Belt and Broncho.

The Wet Secrets

The Franklin Electric

The Bros. Landreth

Single Mothers

Chastity Belt

The Mystery Lights

Water Liars

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 South by Southwest Music Festival day two report

Ronald McDonald drove past me in a golf cart as I was walking up Red River Street early on Tuesday afternoon.

These are the types of things that happen at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But luckily, seeing a hamburger-promoting clown was far from the highlight of my day.

One of them followed shortly thereafter, however, when I saw Catl at Cheer Up Charlie's. I've seen this group perform as much as anyone in Toronto over the last handful of years, but I wanted to pay my respects in Austin. I preferred it when there was a drummer and Sarah Kirkpatrick played keyboards instead of wailing away at a stand-up drum as she does now, but Catl remains a dynamic duo that plays raw, bluesy and elemental rock-and-roll. A Hasil Adkins cover was thrown in among the originals, which well-suited the band's unhinged approach to music.

A band called Calliope Musicals was playing outside, so I had a look and was caught off guard by seeing small kids dressed as tigers and unicorns dancing with balloons. It was cute but I wasn't into it and made my way to the convention centre to walk around the trade show for the remainder of the afternoon.

It was pretty tech-driven and there wasn't a lot that interested me, but I was invited to the Canadian Blast stand where the Ontario Media Development Corporation was having a small reception. I caught up with some Canadians I hadn't seen for a long time and chatted with people from Germany and England while having free beer, wine and sandwiches. I also got free beers from the New Zealand, Austin and Denton, Texas stands.

The Barberettes
The Next Stage in a corner of the trade show featured a South Korean female trio called The Barberettes that was making their first American appearance after playing two shows in Toronto just prior to arriving in Austin. They wore traditional Korean clothing at first but soon removed that to reveal something a little sexier. One of the women played acoustic guitar and sang, while the two others briefly picked up a ukulele and kazoo but primarily stuck to vocals. They delivered songs in Korean and English and had excellent harmonies as they sang originals (one about the popular Korean side dish kimchi was a standout) and great covers of "Barbara Ann" (with "Barberettes" subbed in during the chorus) and "Be My Baby" while doing some choreographed dance steps.

After the performance I was interviewed by a reporter from Dong-A Ilbo, whose business card said it was South Korea's leading newspaper, about The Barberettes. I'd appreciate it if all of you dedicated Dong-A Ilbo readers would save me a copy of any article you might see my name in.

I paid a visit to the washroom on the way out and Blondie drummer Clem Burke urinated beside me. He's playing with BP Fallon for SXSW and I hope to see him on Sunday.

The Breakout West party featuring bands from Western Canada was held at The Majestic and I arrived in time to see Mise en Scene, a Manitoba act with a female lead singer/guitarist and drummer and a male bassist that played a rootsy and sometimes slightly bluesy version of alternative rock that hit a lot of the right spots.

Free mini bratwursts and nachos were served and I was given four free drink tickets which I converted into a Shiner Bock and a triple rum and Coke, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

Yukon Blonde
Yukon Blonde took the stage at 6:30 p.m. and I noticed more emphasis on keyboards than I had the last time I saw the Vancouver group a few years ago. It's still a guitar-driven indie rock band, however, and a good one at that. The follow-up album to 2012's Tiger Talk will be out this summer, and that previous record's "Radio" was my favourite song of the set.

I walked across town to Stephen Easley's condominium, where he was hosting his traditional SXSW kick-off party poolside. The prominent attorney works in the technology and music fields and represents the estate of Buddy Holly as well as current artists, some of whom played this year's party. He's an excellent host and also manages the Mixed Media Mongrels, the softball team I play for in the annual SXSW tournament.

Edison Chair is a young pop-rock quintet from Austin that I can see growing into something more than it is now, which is still pretty good. You wouldn't know that lead singer Rachel Thompson only recently joined the band.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith is a fellow Mongrel and a salt of the earth guy who also happens to be a kick-ass roots-country singer/songwriter. He has a big following locally and hopefully that fan base will widen. He deserves it. Smith dedicated "'59 Stratocaster" to Buddy Holly, and that song may have been the standout number of his short set.

The Statesboro Revue is another young and very rootsy band that adds touches of country and blues to its rock. Their original material was solid, but their cover of Holly's "Think It Over" left me with the biggest smile.

Monte Warden
That smile was rivaled by the one that took over my face when Monte Warden said he knew who I was since no-one else in Canada writes about him. I'm a fan of his band The Wagoneers and his solo work, and he's had his songs recorded by the likes of Kelly Willis, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Travis Tritt, Carrie Underwood, Merle Haggard and George Strait. Warden performed a cross-section of his material, including some written as an ambassador for Songwriting for Soldiers, a charity dedicated to helping returning veterans adjust to life at home. Warden is an alternative country music pioneer who can do little wrong in my eyes. It would be great if he could get up to Toronto since Austin is the only place I've ever seen him.

I left the party to meet my friend Tom from Seattle, who I hadn't seen in a year-and-a-half, and we walked east to Hotel Vegas where I had hoped to see Protex, The Oh Sees, Paul Collins Beat and The Sloths, but there was a pretty long line and since it was an unofficial SXSW event, our badges wouldn't have got us in any quicker so instead we planted ourselves at a bar across the street where we could see and hear some of what was happening while enjoying some better quality beers than we could have got had we actually made it in to the multi-staged venue.

I didn't see as many acts as I normally would on Tuesday, but I was okay with that since hanging out with friends is another reason why I come to Austin.

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!