Day 2 of SXSW Music had been a bit of an oddity for me in that I had been roaming the venues alone. While I’m nothing if not a bit of a lone wolf, every previous SXSW I’ve attended I’ve been accompanied by several good friends as we coordinated our schedules and bounced between each others’ performers of choice. This year our group has been significantly thinned as Andrew recently moved to California for work and Hans is in the middle of packing for a move to Maryland. Since my friend Chris was down with a sickness Wednesday he and his fiancé Ann were absent, leaving me to roam alone. As luck would have it, Chris was feeling much better last night however and I met up with both he and Ann at BD Riley’s to begin Day 3 of SXSW Music.
With no prior “must see” artists on my schedule for 8pm I had perused the SXSW schedule earlier in the day and settled on Brothers in Law, a three-piece rock outfit from Italy. While probably a little bit more up someone else’s alley than mine, Brothers in Law were nonetheless entertaining with their fast, jangly, almost surf rock sounding guitar sound and minimal drum kit. Despite BD Riley’s penchant for over amplifying their performers in order to project the sound out onto the street, I found myself tapping my toes and bobbing my head more than a few times even if the songs did sound a bit “same-y”.
Our next stop was Valhalla on Red River for another group that I had only heard of earlier that day whilst looking for an act to fit a vacant time slot. Fear of Men are a charming group of youngsters hailing from jolly old England. It never fails to amaze me how much better the Brits are at pop music than we are (or at least “pop” rock) and this group was no exception. Like a jangle pop version of Best Coast, Fear of Men played an incredibly tight set with beautifully balanced sound (bonus credit going to Valhalla’s sound guy) and a stage presence that belied the group’s youthful stature.
After Valhalla, we were on to Esther’s Follies for my “must see” act of the evening. LITE is an instrumental/math rock group all the way from Japan that I only just recently heard about, but have really flipped over. Math rock (like free jazz) can vary wildly from group to group, with some being more approachable while others are suited more for academic consideration. LITE fall into the former category and play an incredibly approachable, almost danceable brand of math rock that reminds me a lot of New York’s feel-good post rockers Fang Island. Featuring complicated and non-traditional time signatures and compositions, LITE manage to be incredibly listenable, while technically fascinating. Seeing them bang out such precision music live and without missing a single beat is impressive to say the least.
We stepped out of Esther’s just as LITE were beginning their last song of the evening in order to make our way over to the east side for one of Chris’ picks, a pop artist Pitchfork darling by the name of Sky Ferreira. Sky Ferreira pretty much sums up my previous comment about British versus American approaches to pop music perfectly. Where Fear of Men were charmingly professional and almost reserved with a clean, tight performance, Sky Ferreira was a bit of a mess. I have to give her a bit of a pass for performing whilst losing her voice to a cold, though while she managed to remain (mostly) on key her youth was definitely evident in her performance. Having not heard her recorded work, it’s hard to judge her as an artist and I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but her performance at the Pitchfork sponsored 1100 Warehouse was nothing to write home about.
Our last stop of the evening was the Victorian Room at the Driskill Hotel for rapper Lushlife. This was another one of Chris’ picks and one that I wish I had heard about beforehand. Good non-mainstream hip hop and punk rock somehow occupy the same head-space for me. Both are types of music that eschew (and even rail against) the established norms of the larger, more in-your-face elements of the music industry and do so in a way that relies on and fosters a kind of grass roots fan base. Lushlife brought both the beats and the rhymes and was equal parts danceable, soulful, and raw. Given the somewhat daunting task of working within a lineup that otherwise featured a lot of acoustic and mellower artists, Lushlife took it all in stride and won over the crowd in a big way. Out of all the groups I saw last night that I had not previously heard of, Lushlife was easily the best.
And with that we ended Day 3 of SXSW Music, but Friday was already upon us and Frank Turner loomed large in my future. Stay tuned for my Day 4 report coming tomorrow!