Monday night I saw Lorde, the 17-year-old overnight sensation from New Zealand. I want to preface this review by saying that I absolutely love her debut album, Pure Heroine. She has an old soul, and I can appreciate her lyrical composition. Every time I listen to Pure Heroine from start to finish, I connect with the sound and lyrics. I was hoping to get the same feeling from her live performance, but instead it left me a little bit empty. She is so talented, but it was until she did the first cover by The Replacements that her talents really showed. Her vocal abilities are raw and very lush, no auto-tune or pre-programming needed. My major issues with her live show are that her vocals are overwhelmingly pre-programmed and you can’t differentiate sometimes from live to not so live. I understand the need for prerecorded vocals because you can’t do it all, especially with her genre. Sadly, Lorde pre-programs a lot of unnecessary vocals, which is unfortunate because by doing so she limits her audience from experiencing her singing abilities at full capacity and she hinders her talents.
But even then, Lorde is the real deal and she delivered a strong, full set from her EP and LP with a lot of personality. She will only progress on how she arranges her live performances too. Those shortcomings and uncertainties will only dissipate and her musical composition will only grow. It takes a lot for a teenager to get on stage and perform in front of hundreds of screaming teenage and early 20s fans. She has amazing stage presence, and her mannerisms and jerky dance moves are almost hypnotic that you get sucked into her performance. I just wish the vocal programming were held to a minimum and her authenticity not so hidden. Speaking of hidden, her band Jimmy Mac and Ben Barter are hidden off to the side and they do little work and really are just semi-faceless figures, but that’s how it goes when you have Lorde at the helm.
Note: Austin Music Hall, you are terrible to oversell a show the way you did for Lorde. It’s disgusting to put lives in danger for an extra buck. Shame on you.
I first saw Painted Palms when they opened for Starfuckers at Mohawk Austin. At the time, they only had an EP, Canopy, but I was hooked. They have a flamboyant and whimsical sound that makes me feel, well, happy. Sometimes a person just needs music that shimmers and expresses an eccentric fondness for life, love, and even a little confusion and heartbreak. Their melodies are unique and radiate warmth that makes their songs cunningly crafty and full of quite a bit of swanky-sounding reverb. Listening to their debut, Forever, instantly made my feet and shoulders feel springy in their atmospheric sound. At times their vocals are very reminiscent of The Kinks and it lingers in the electro-space they blend together seamlessly. “Soft Hammer” is the highlight of their debut; it’s uncomplicated like most of their tracks and it is filled with no auto tune and manipulation. It’s nice to have a purely cheerful album that shoots your ears off to a cosmic bliss. I love psychedelic - pop. SXSW needs a reliable and delightful band among the 2,000+ musicians flooding Austin in mid-March.
Mid-last year Magic Man released their EP, You Are Here. I have a weakness for synths, especially ones that spread and compliment the other instruments including vocals. It is definitely a solid release. I can tell Magic Man is still trying to find themselves as the 5 track EP experiments with different melodies. The band shifts from explosive moments to very subdued sounds, but both good shifts. They show promise for their full length LP. Magic Man are able to transform their sound, through improvising and bubbly at times into material that is uplifting and worth a listen and not just because the title track is called Texas.
Last night I saw the Pixies live at the Austin Music Hall. The show officially ranks as the third best performance I have ever seen in my life. Every band from the ‘90s that I have seen live has disappointed me. As you grow older, rock musicians in particular tend to lose their edge (e.g. Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Motley Crue, etc.) Even with Kim Deal (no one can ever replace what she brought to the group), the Pixies undeniably transported me back to the late ‘80s when they first surfaced.
Lead singer and guitarist, Black Francis sounds the same live as he does on the original records. His vocals are poignant and every time he screeched and the band jammed out their signature noise rock, they filled the spaces of my heart down to my gut with what will always be the definition of true rock ‘n roll. There was no audience banter or encore, just 2 hours of music, 30+ songs, most of which were old and some new, with true grit and howling harmony. And that’s how it should be with a band like the Pixies, no bullshit in between, just the purity of the music. And if it was wasn’t Francis who had my full attention, it was guitarist Joey Santiago, whose solos and guitar riffs were so sharp and crisp layered alongside Black’s wailing and juddering vocals, and clean drumming by David Lovering. All made my auditory nerves pulse and nearly pop with delight.
There is nothing I would change in their music selection or presentation. Maybe it’s because they played 99% of their old music that I say that. I know they are writing music, and the new music is good but it’s not the Pixies I have grown to love for so long. And “New Kim” bassist Paz Lenchantin is good but not great; she’s no Kim Deal and Lenchantin will never fill those boots. It leaves a dark hole in the echoing vocals and tonal shift Deal’s bass gave to the Pixies. It’s why the Pixies will always have just a “touring bassist” and not a full-fledged member and why I will regret not seeing them live in 2004 and 2010. However, the Pixies live on, semi-changed, but I ask that they don’t change too much with their new music. The Pixies are glorious, “what a hunk of love” they all are.
Friday night I went to Kingdom Night Club in downtown to catch the DJ set of Digitalism. The first time I saw them was in 2011 at The Parish. In 2012 they put out their DJ Kicks album. Essentially they are a DJ + band with some vocals. I was interested to see if they could keep that same dynamic without the fancy light show and zero vocals. These guys know how to use their drum machines and synthesizers to get you dancing and jumping like a spastic person with or without rhythm. I’ll be honest, when I initially bought these tickets, I was hoping for some of their songs off their debut and sophomore albums, I Love You Dude and Idealism. They did deliver a few tracks from those albums and the audience thoroughly enjoyed it when they did, but after an hour you could tell that the audience was losing steam with the unfamiliar tracks.
It would be wrong for me to say that DJ-ing is not their strong suit because they are a DJ band, however, this particular set lacked proper transitions. It often felt choppy and there were too many moments where the sound died down and the audience was left in the dark, waiting for them to pick up the beat again. There were just too many rest breaks, and in a setting like Kingdom Night Club, which has an incredible sound system for DJs, you shouldn’t pause or bring down the music more than a handful of times. It’s an electro-house mixed with techno punk music, it needs to be a non-stop rhythm of connecting beats; no pauses!! I hope Digitalism’s next tour involves a new album and some vocals, because it’s that component that makes them stand-out from all those euro-dance duos making their way to the US dance clubs. But hey, they are still 10 times better than about 90 percent of Austin’s DJs. Good show.
Don’t miss my top 30 SXSW 2014 band picks. I’ve posted 9 so far and will keep posting until SXSW music arrives. After that, make sure to follow me on twitter, instagram, facebook, or here.
I have only listed 9, so check back this weekend or next week.
How many SXSW have I been to?
Three times. This will be my third time. Last year it was short-lived because I had pink eye, so I don’t count it.
What is my method to SXSW preview?
If a band has more than two albums I listen to both, including YouTube videos and soundcloud. I think it is better to listen to their last two albums to see who a band really is deep down.
Why 30 bands?
The number seemed reasonable. There are over 2,000 coming to Austin; that is a lot of music and let’s be honest, not all of it is going to be good. Once I like a band, I give it an extended play. Sometimes I throw in some familiar names on my SXSW picks because though familiar, they are flying under the radar and I feel these bands need a live listen.
Who has been your favorite SXSW performance?
Bright Eyes at Auditorium Shores in 2011. I am a diehard fan and had seen them at least 4 times before then but the set list and banter was absolutely amazing. The other is Spoek Mathambo in 2012. That guy and his band can jam.
Who are you looking forward to this year?
Seoul and Phantogram but I do have a ticket to see Phantogram April 22. Some bands just need to be seen at their own intimate concert.
Yellow Ostrich holds a place special in my heart. I first saw them during ACL. They played a 40-minute set with about 60 onlookers. It was the hottest time of the day but they undeniably had a lot of energy. They pump out LPs and EPs almost on a yearly basis, which is so often that it’s shocking their music has remained so consistent. Their music has a lot of sad undertones because of their honest lyrics. Lyrically, Yellow Ostrich is almost like poetry; they offer heartbreaking reality that sounds like it has been buried for a while. Despite such heavy-hearted music, their live performances have a lot of enthusiasm. They have a few jam band-like tracks that add a lot of oomph to their quirky music side. I have only seen them twice and both times were during a different album tour, but each time they had great stage presence for being a low-fi, sometimes indie-pop band. Yellow Ostrich’s palate has grown and they are maturing and polished between misty guitar riffs and a nice 70s synth backdrop. They are scheduled to play March 12th at Maggie Mae’s. My guess is they will play an extra show or two. Check out Yellow Ostrich, they have grown up in the last three years and deserve to be removed from the back burner.
Warpaint is a light psychedelic indie-rock band from Los Angeles. They recently released their sophomore album, Warpaint. They took a lot of criticism because structurally their music was not as chic as their debut, The Fool. But I measure a band’s success by their ability to evolve in their ideas. Warpaint has a lot more musical vision; they ditched an almost predictable sound and added a beautiful messy feel to their sound. Their melody has a lot of shifts that they work into their compositions, track-by-track. Warpaint’s new tracks actually build to something in this mellow sound as they’re supposed to. You don’t have to literally dance to actually dance. Warpaint invites themselves into your subconscious and, in a ghostly approach, let their melodies and your thoughts tango. Don’t go see them during SXSW if you want their debut album. I mean, it’s very good but you have to see them for what they have become, a hypnotic cluster fuck without so much fuss.
MY PERSONAL SXSW MAP: Be sure to follow me on Twitter @rooftopplaylist, Instagram: Rooftopplaylist, and Facebook: facebook.com/rooftopplaylist. I’ll be tweeting and sharing pics and reviews on all the shows that I attend…or at least try to.
Click to enlarge the map!
CLICK THE EVENT NAMES BELOW FOR RSVP and EVENT INFORMATION. These events are in no particular order.
#1. Lagunitas CouchTrippin’ to Austin Party
#2. SXSWi Tech Cocktail Startup Celebration
#3. DynMMT at SXSW
#4. Connected Home Developers HH @ SiLabs
#5. Nordic Invasion
#7. Turntables on Town Lake
#8. Austin On Deck party
#9. Red Bull Sound Select
#10. South/South Wreckless
#11. Fashion Brain Bar at the W Hotel
#12. Jumpstart TX
#13. British Music Embassy
#14. Pandora Discovery Den
#15. FILTER - Haggar Party on Rainey
#16. Outdoor Stage @ Butler Park
#17. Dopest Dope Showcase
#18. Scope By Southwest
#19. Motek & Electric Ave ATX present CAMEA
#20. Warp X LuckyMe X
#21. 3Thirteen Entertainment Group party
#22. BrainBlast Party w/ Snoop Dog and St. Lucia
#23. North of 41 Lounge SxSW Interactive
#24. Sol Collective Party
#25. AudioCommon Launch Party
#26. State of NOW Cocktail Party (pay)
#27. Austin Chronicle presents: Hair of the 3-Legged Dog SXSW Day Party
#28. Ground Control Touring Showcase
#29. Big Picture Media x Glamour Kills Party
#30. LND RNRS VIBES party
#31. Waterloo Records SXSW 2014 Day Parties
#32. Midcoast Takeover
#33. Strange Brew III
#34. Burger Records SX 2014
#35. Guitartown/Conqueroo Unofficial SX 2014
#36.The Windish Agency: SXSW DAY PARTY @MOHAWK
#38. Burger Records SX 2014
#39. Guitartown/Conqueroo Unofficial SX 2014
# 40. Hype Hotel
#41 Communion Presents: SXSW 2014 Showcase
#42. Empire & Control Room & Garage
#43. Indiegogo’s SXSW Music Happiness Hour w/Brooklyn Vegan
#44. FILTER – Dr. Martens @ SXSW 2014
#45. FILTER – SXSW Interactive: DirecTV Socials @ Clive Bar
#46. MTVU Woodie Awards Festival
#47. Devise Magazine Pre-launch Party
#48. Countryfication @ The Grackle
#49. Sonic Bids Official SXSW Party
#50. DC Against The World
#51. Buygore Records Showcase SX 2014
#52. Battle 4 Greatness w/Pusha T
#53. Willow Wood Music Showcase SX 2014
#54. POP Montreal 2014
Jef Barbara’s debut album, Soft Touch is all about sexual innuendos and fabulous wordplay that is almost comedic at times but still remains an album of musical substance weaved together with clever lines. The album is very unpredictable, between the harmonies that connect then disconnect, impressive bass lines, and shimmering guitar riffs. It’s hard not to like this modern day glam rock. He lives up to the core of glam rock with his outrageous persona, which has nothing to do with his androgynous appearance and of course his strongly influenced glam rock musical aesthetics. He’s not quite Dave Bowie or Iggy Pop but Jef Barbara has undeniable talent with a layered instrumentation to back up a powerful guise. He’s mellow but so much fun, you just have to listen closely to appreciate all the curves he throws. Jef Barbara has 3 SXSW shows and all are FREE and unofficial; how fortunate for us.