Ishi: Out-of-Towners In Town

Austinites like to complain about the influx of people from Dallas. Condos, traffic, and upscale tapas bars are all blamed on our neighbors from the north as we parade around in our “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirts. Generally, Dallas imports are not welcome unless they hail from the Denton scene. That is, until now.

One of the standouts of January’s Free Week hails from the city of big hair. I caught Ishi, a dance-folk electronic outfit, at Beauty Bar during the excellent Lucy the Poodle party. In a packed line-up of excellent bands (Ringo Deathstarr, Sundress, the Clouds are Ghosts, My Education, Black Books, and Bali Yaaah), Ishi managed to stir the normally apathetic Austin crowd into a dancing frenzy. One sweaty fan gushed after the performance, “I saw them at SXSW last year, and I’ve been looking forward to another show ever since.” I could see why.

Ishi - 'Our Time'

The two lead singers were dynamic, playing with the crowd and dancing up a storm on their own. John T. Mudd, one of the founders of Ishi, was obviously the star of the show. He sang the majority of the vocals while engaging and orchestrating the efforts from the rest of the band. Becky Middleton, the second vocalist, slowly warmed up in the performance. She went from being a lovely, if stiff, accessory on the side of the stage to a more central player in the set. Guitarist Rocky Ottely and drummer J.J. Mudd (brother of John T.) round out the stellar line-up.

Ishi’s success comes despite major upheaval in the line-up. Two members of the band, singer Taylor Rea and guitarist Rob Bastien, left the group in May of last year. Before that departure, they were voted “Best New Act” & “Best Electronic/Dance Act” by the Dallas Observer. The music of the Ishi seems to have shifted accordingly – after listening to earlier recordings, I felt like the Beauty Bar performance offered more groove, less folk. Gaining momentum after such a set-back is a feat; it’s a testament to the talent of John T. Mudd that the group is still finding accolades. A 2012 release of new music is in the works.

Ishi continued tearing up the town opening for the Bright Light Social Hour last night at La Zona Rosa. It was an amazing showcase of Texas talent that turned more than a few heads in the crowd. I guess I’ll keep my complaints about I-35 to a minimum.

– Jennifer