As the world descends on SXSW, our intrepid reporter Elle Birch – accompanied by photographer Elize Rowan – undertakes to document all that’s happening in Austin, Texas.
Where to begin to describe the musical smorgasbord that is Day One of SXSW 2009? For starters, a trio of Americana would seem to fit the bill nicely as a gentle introduction to 4 days of mania.
Dananananaykroyd @ Latitude
To the surreal sight of delegates munching on complimentary sausage, mash and sticky toffee pudding at the British Launch Party, the Dananananaykroyd super-post-punk moppets take to the stage in a hyperactive frenzy, with twin vocalists spending more time in the mosh (or should that be mash?) than on the stage. Exhilarating. And everyone gets a hug.
Department of Eagles
In the sanctuary of the soaring space that is Central Presbyterian Church, the round the block queuing meant that the pews are packed for a pretty special show by Brooklynites Department of Eagles. The lushness of the pairing of Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus is not lost in the cavernous space, and the acoustics of the austere and formal interior work well for their contemplative strand of chamber pop. Thanks be given to the mighty 4AD.
J. Tillman @ Mohawk
First up, and far from the madding crowd of the 6th Street main drag, J.Tillman takes to the inside stage of Mohawk up on Red River for an early afternoon show. In the tiny, steamy, packed room, the reverential crowd lean in keenly to hear the prolific singer-songwriter, and sometime drummer of Fleet Foxes, deliver a hushed and beautiful set of the tenderest country folk. The whiff of Laurel Canyon in the air is tempered by a hint of rawness and grit in the voice (less sweet than Robin Pecknold) and he punctuates the set with knowing sarcasm. As the barefooted troubadour initially struggles to be heard above the hyperactive Birthday Party/Jesus Lizard-influenced racket of Louisville’s www.youngwidows.net Young Widows who are doing their stuff out on the patio, he wryly offers to crank up the volume to deliver a sound bath of his own. Although this solo set offers a darker, more melancholic proposition than the soaring hymnals of Fleet Foxes, there are moments of optimism to be divined in the lyrics. Admirers of Jason Molina and Will Oldham apply here.
FOUND @ Peckerheads
Chalking up a tip top SXSW debut show, the sonic beachcombers that are FOUND are a band on form. The wonderfully hand-knitted bleeps, loops, and samples of the electro-folk quintet weave together, with vocalist Ziggy Campbell’s raspy, cheeky, banter winning over the crowd. Witness the stream of converted delegates queuing up to blag samplers after the show.
Horse Feathers @ Club De Ville
Next door, under the awning of the Club De Ville patio, Tillman’s Pacific Northwest neighbours Horse Feathers lay out an impressive array of instrumentation. Oregon-based, Justin Ringle is the core of Horse Feathers, and is for this show joined by a trio on cello, violin, percussion, and yes, that is a musical saw – the real deal. Sparse, minimalist chamber folk soars, with the strings filling out Ringle’s sparsly plucked acoustic guitar. The crowd swoons.
Elvis Perkins in Dearland @ Mowhawk
Back over in Mohawk, Elvis Perkins has Dearland in tow for a well-judged set covering material from the new release. The melancholic, cathartic introspection of 2007’s debut album is lightened musically by an eclectic and joyful trawl through Americana. The band multi-task like crazy, with instrument changes offering switches between old-timey, country, gospel, and even a brassy New Orleans stomp. The horns, wheezing pump organ, banjo, and bass drum work their magic, but it’s clear from the lyrics and vocal delivery that Perkins still has a palpable sadness at his core.
The Proclaimers @ Peckerheads
Up on the melee of 6th Street, the strong Scottish contingent is in evidence. In the packed upstairs bar, the proclaiming twins deliver the second of two shows so far. It’s refreshing to hear the simplicity of the harmonies in the context of a set without full band – their first shows as a duo for over 20 years. Songs are lifted from all stages of their career, with a surprising and lively cover of the Kings of Leon song ’17’ [check it out at www.myspace.com/theproclaimers].
Nacional @ Wave
Underneath the incongruous backdrop of a plastic palm tree, the thousand yard stare of vocalist Robert Armstrong is reminiscent of the intensity of Twilight Sad’s James Graham, with the highlight of their set being the powerful Wedding Present-esque wig-out closer.
Glasvegas @ Vice
13 hours into Day One, Glasvegas take to the stage of Vice in the wee small hours, and deliver the stunning opening salvo of Geraldine. As the intensity builds, the weary crowd are enlivened, and energised, before stumbling out into the nascent Austin dawn.
Photos by Elize Rowan – see the set on Flickr