Hot Hot Heat

Back home in Boston (wishing it was as warm here as it is in Austin right now) and ready for some serious relaxation and recovery time, but first I wanted to do a quick wrap-up of my third and final day at SXSW. I’ll do a big wrap-up of my whole SXSW experience with photos, observations and recommendations, but for now here’s my SXSW Friday recap. It was another packed day, to say the least. I was in heaven. Here are the highlights.

Cetan Clawson – When I ordered a bloody mary at Radio Room, the bartender insisted I’d thank him for sending me to the bar Lovejoy’s just around the corner instead. He was right, not just for the drink recommendation but for the chance to catch some of Cetan Clawson’s show, a rock trio from Detroit who got a standing ovation from the crowd for the thrashing, psychedelic jam that closed their set.

Cut Off Your Hands – I’d heard great things about this band so I was excited to see they were playing right before Ra Ra Riot at the Onion party at Radio Room. I now know what all the fuss is about, there’s so much passion in their live set it’d be impossible to ignore. I’ll definitely see these guys again next time they’re in Boston.

Ra Ra Riot – This band was at the top of my list of shows I wanted to catch in Austin and ended up delivering one of the strongest sets I saw all week. The live strings were a nice bonus too. If you don’t already have their album, The Rhumb Line, get on top of that.

Department of Eagles – I was determined to see these guys, which meant standing in a pretty long line outside of Emo’s in the blazing hot sun and then waiting about an hour before they came on, but it was worth the effort. Some cool sampling of live vocals on a few songs too.

Beach House – I was really impressed how well this band’s sound translated live, actually outshining their album work for me. The vocals reminded me a little of Patti Smith. They played to a huge crowd at the Blackberry party, so it was nice to see them getting the well-deserved attention.

The Low Anthem – Wow, I’m still surprised I hadn’t heard about this band before considering they’re from Rhode Island and worthy of some serious attention. The Central Presbyterian Church was a perfect venue for their folk-leaning, revival-style rock. The three band members each rotated through several instruments, alternating between softer folk songs and howling blues songs.

Lisa Hannigan – I’ve been meaning to check out Lisa Hannigan’s debut solo album for a while now. I remember taking note of her name when I saw her perform with Damien Rice a few years ago (she’s the female voice on his albums O and 9). None of her own more ethereal songs necessarily stuck with me, but her vocals sounded as amazing ever, especially on a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” I’ll definitely try to track down a recording of it.

Laura Marling – I stayed for her midnight performance following Lisa Hassigan’s despite having seen her the day before. I couldn’t resist the chance to hear her sing with the acoustics inside that church. Marcus Mumford accompanied her again (on top of playing his own show with Mumford & Sons an hour earlier across town) and made a joke about how the sound was so clear in there that he was afraid we’d hear every mistake. I certainly didn’t hear any. It was a longer set than I heard at Entertainment Weekly’s party so it was definitely worth staying to hear a few different songs than the day before. OK, enough out of me for now. I’ll be back later with some updates about the final day of SXSW.


Coming Back for More

Alright, gonna try to keep this brief for now as I’m functioning on little sleep and about to head back downtown for more music today, but yesterday was quite a day – pretty much everything I imagined SXSW would be. I’ll have much more to say about everything below later on.

Annuals – I caught these guys at the Entertainment Weekly party, which I just happened to stumble upon yesterday as I walking around downtown. Their sound reminded me a little bit of early Rilo Kiley, though the lead singer mentioned the acoustic arrangements they were playing were different than their usual sound.

Laura Marling – I’m a huge fan of Laura Marling’s debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, so I was thrilled when I saw she was playing the same party I just mentioned. She was backed by Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons, another band to check out) on background vocals, percussion and accordion, sometimes simultaneously. Really stunning performances.

Tori Amos – I’m a huge, long-time Tori fan so it was a surreal experience to be hearing three new, never-before-played or heard songs from her upcoming album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Perez Hilton came out on stage to introduce her, appropriately met by much booing from the crowd. She kicked things off with two of the new songs,  the haunting “Lady in Blue” and the gorgeous ballad, “Curtain Call,” which definitely seemed to refer to people who’ve written her off at various stages in her career. Live favorite “Take to the Sky” was incredible. The crowd was going wild on that one, literally people jumping up and down. Speaking of which I could definitely tell there were a lot of more casual fans in the crowd so they were eating up the classic songs in the set, all of which sounded great. I was happy to hear “Beauty of Speed” solo live too and “Barons of Suburbia” was a perfect ending with Tori belting out its closing lyric: “She is Risen.” Here’s the full setlist: Lady in Blue/Curtain Call/Crucify/Cloud on My Tongue/Beauty of Speed/Take to the Sky/Mary Jane/Silent All These Years/Barons of Suburbia

Asteroids Galaxy Tour – Amazing live set, tons of energy and swagger and an awesome horns section. I definitely will be investigating this band further.

Little Boots – I’d been seeing this band’s name all around town since they seem to be doing quite a few performances during SXSW. They put on a good show, but there’s part of me that felt it was a bit Goldfrapp-lite. I want to check their stuff out though before I make a final verdict.

Datarock – This was my first time seeing these guys play live. They did not disappoint. Amazing energy, especially from their drummer who reminded me of Animal from the Muppet Show, and I mean that as a huge compliment. Oh and as an added bonus, I met Margaret Cho yesterday at lunch at the Carrerra Sunglasses lounge. I knew she’d mentioned being a fan of Tori Amos in the past so I asked her if she’d be going to the show last night. She said she was bummed to miss it but she was performing around the same time with Amanda Palmer so couldn’t be in two places at once. I’m off. I’ll report back tomorrow!


First Taste

Having some coffee while I scribble down a quick list of the shows I’m hoping to see today during SXSW in Austin, including Tori Amos tonight at the Universal showcase. I’ll just say right now the amount of live music happening everywhere you turn in this city right now is incredible and overwhelming, but mostly incredible. Before I head back downtown, let me provide a few very quick highlights of my first day here, including some photos I took along the way. I’ll definitely post more photos and further thoughts later on, I promise. Our first stop in Austin yesterday (after picking up our credentials at the Austin Convention Center and stuffing our faces with some much needed mexican food) was the  Levi’s/Fader Magazine Fort Party, where we saw Datarock (who you might remember I wrote about recently) in their red jumpsuits wandering around the crowd, and checked out a few of the performances on the main stage, including Post War Years. Abe Vigoda’s set was also pretty impressive. Check out some of their stuff on their official MySpace page. :

Also saw some amazing performances at the KCRW showcase at Buffalo Billiard’s last night, including: Port O’Brien – I was pretty blown away by this band’s performance, which brought to mind Neil Young or Wilco with its folky yet rough-edged sound. Right before they went on I noticed that David Fricke of Rolling Stone (by far my favorite music writer ever) was standing right next to me checking out their set. I’ll be curious to see if he writes anything about them but I definitely plan to investigate this band further. You can start with their official MySpace page.

Angus & Julia Stone: I’ve mentioned this brother/sister duo a few times before, and their live performance was even more charming and mesmerizing than the stuff on their debut, A Book Like This.   Alright, based on the schedule in front of me right now I’ll have much, much more to report later. Until then.


Beautiful Stranger

One of the most often overlooked and underrated artists in my personal list of favorites would be Esthero. I found myself listening to a few of her songs earlier today, which led me to her MySpace page where she recently mentioned she’s in the studio working on a new album, her first as an independent artist now free of her contract with Warner Bros. She’s posted some samples of her new material on her page – check them out. You can also download several of her tracks from her Snocap store.

Esthero’s seemed destined for a long and successful career ever since her 90’s debut, Breath from Another. Her voice drew comparisons to Billie Holiday and Bjork and the record was a daring and seemingly effortless blend of electronic drum and bass, jazz, hip-hop and R&B. Unfortunately, despite great reviews the album didn’t make waves commercially. Its full-length follow-up Wikked Lil Grrrls, released in 2005, suffered a similar fate despite several obvious radio hits and collaborations with Outkast’s (post-“Hey Ya”) Andre 3000 and Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo. In hindsight, the songs probably seemed so likely to skyrocket Esthero to fame since several other singers, most notably Nelly Furtado (Esthero collaborated with Furtado on a song that became a bonus track on Whoa Nelly), scored huge hits with an extremely similar style to much of her work. Esthero aggressively acknowledged this slight, releasing the feisty single  “O.G. Bitch” with the chorus “you’re just waiting for me to drown so no one knows that you stole my whole sound” though she’s denied it’s directed at Furtado in particular. One of my favorite tracks was “If Tha Mood,” which could have easily been a hit on radio with proper promotion.

Below is a video of Esthero’s gorgeous performance “Gone” from the same album with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2005:

More recently, Esthero wrote tracks and sang background vocals on Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak including the lead single “Love Lockdown,” and the title track of Brandy’s Human. I’ll definitely be following Esthero’s MySpace blog for more updates about the album’s progress. Here’s hoping Esthero plays a Boston date at some point in the future too – I’ve still never been lucky enough to see her live.


Thank You Note

As I’m gearing up for my trip to Austin next week, I was lucky enough to catch a great show by a local band right here in Boston on Saturday night. The WANDAS played an explosive set to a packed room at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square, featuring several songs from their latest album, New Wave Blues. The band’s sound is refreshingly upbeat and reminiscent of the new wave power pop of Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick. The energy and eagerness in their live set is contagious, and if you’re not in the Boston area, the good news is that as of the beginning of April, the WANDAS will be on the road touring the east coast, all the way down to Florida and back to Boston. Check out their official site for tour dates. The band’s entire catalog is also available for download on their official site, with a pay-what-you-want pricing policy. Here’s the video for the band’s “Thank You Note,” rightfully a fan favorite based on the reaction from the crowd, most of whom were singing along to every word: