Jonathan Garrett, Writer
Friday was action-packed and fortunately, featured a better-than-average hit rate. Declan McKenna, traveling without his backing band, impressed a packed house at the Empire. Rather than strip everything down, Mckenna chose the far more difficult task of constructing the songs out of guitar and keyboard loops. He managed it spot on without even breaking a sweat. Not bad for a teenager.
Mainland, meanwhile, have come a considerable ways since their first SXSW bow a couple of years ago. Freshly signed to the 300 label (home to world-beating hip hop star of the moment Fetty Wap), the NYC band delivered a concise set of radio-ready tracks to a room with ten times as many people as they played to on their first SXSW go-round. PartyBaby were also one of the day’s highlights. Very much living up to the name, I’m guessing they could easily drink fellow LA locals FIDLAR under the table (and they’ll surely get to find out on the inevitable link-up tour). The songs themselves are perfectly well suited to the task, though they’re also almost completely beside the point.
But as far as I’m concerned, the real gem of the day was Australia’s Gold Class. They were the ones I was most looking forward to seeing and they did not disappoint. Even in far less than ideal conditions for the band’s music – a bright, sunny day under a makeshift tent with a barely functioning PA – their sinewy, white-knuckled post-punk came through loud and clear. The rhythm section hit their marks with piston-like precision. The feedback blasted through the speakers with the violence of shattered glass against asphalt. And Adam Curley, stalking the stage sans anything other than a microphone, acted the conductor, his brusque baritone casting songs like ‘Furlong’ and ‘My Life As A Gun’ in even sharper relief. The band is due in the UK for the first time next month — definitely not to be missed.
Matt Wilkinson, New Music Editor
Having seen amazing singer-songwriters all week here in Austin, I thought I’d kick off today’s round up with yet another. Except, Margaret Glaspy is so much more than what you’re thinking. Yeah, the tracks above imply a folky, Elliott Smith vibe, but live she’s pure American muscle. Guitars snarl and spit, stares are deep and wise, and vocally she’s closer to Katie Monks from Dilly Dally than Joni Mitchell.
Her band – two guys on bass and drums – look like extra Alabama Shakes members, and like their backlink trio, they know the art of subtlety well, allowing Glaspy to travel from wailing intensity to a feeling that’s pensive and quiet. Throughout it all, the steadiest of backbeats underpins her fantastic melodies. Here’s a taster of what it’s like live:
Sunflower Bean’s 1am set at The Parish showed the band to be in that brilliant three-days-into-SXSW-and-tired-as-hell mindset (singer/guitarist Nick Kivlen was apparently fast asleep an hour before). This time last year the band were a much smaller proposition – I remember randomly seeing them play Spiderhouse to about 10 people in the rain, and loving the rawness of their performance, wth Kivlen clearly a fine guitarist and singer/bassist Julia Cumming’s overall stage persona (she likes to stare a lot) compelling. Fast forward 12 months and they’ve released one of the best indie albums in years and are a genuine hype band here in Austin.
The stage show has improved greatly too, with Kivlen fucking about with vocal delay and reverb to great effect. Cumming goad’s him throughout the set, running back and forth towards him like a bull to a matador. She also takes more of a lead role on the mic, and when the band throw in a new track, sung by her, it’s instantly memorable. It makes me want to revisit everything The Sundays ever did, and leaves me hoping the band get it recorded and released as quickly as possible.
Rhian Daly, Writer
What do you do when you’re meant to be playing outside, but a storm hits complete with some of the craziest sheet lightning going? Set up in the middle of the floor in a random room inside the venue, apparently. Athens, Georgia’s Muuy Bien do just that, lit up by a chain of fairy lights on their amps, the audience circling them as frontman Josh Evans spits and hisses over his bandmates ferocious, jabbing punk. Theirs is a set that stutters and shakes, with Evans juddering around the makeshift stage like a trapped nerve. It’s enthralling:
Over at Clive Bar, Lucy Dacus and her band offer something a little gentler. Dacus released her debut album ‘No Burden’ a couple of weeks ago and it’s full of beautiful, wry and clever songs. Vocally, she sounds a little like Laura Marling, which is no bad thing. Live, with the help of a full band, the songs take on a new energy – stronger and with the throttle set to full, but without forsaking the beauty that you find on the record. ‘Strange Torpedo’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore’ are the highlights of her set, the former an earworm anthem about sticking by a wayward friend, the latter an observational note on social roles. There’s something great about seeing Dacus leading her group while singing the lines “Is there room in the band?/I don’t need to be the frontman”.
Californian punks Plague Vendor are usually full of fire and fury, so it’s a little weird to walk into the North Door and see Brandon Blaine hardly moving to the music. Later it transpires it isn’t some new approach to his stagecraft, he’s just really, really ill. “This is ‘The Fever Song’,” he jokes before one track. “After today, maybe it is”. But despite a lack of their usual aggression, PV still manage to hit hard, the likes of ‘Jezabel’ writhing on a groove and huge slabs of punk noise.