SXSW 2017: A Friday night mix of British, American and Canadian acts – 17th March 2017

By on Wednesday, 19th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

It felt somewhat strange that I spent St. Patrick’s Day at SXSW 2017 on mostly non-Irish acts. Friday afternoon at SXSW has typically been reserved for the Full Irish Breakfast, but that had happened on Thursday this year. The only hint of Ireland I heard on this St. Patrick’s day was early on Friday, when I stopped briefly at Latitude 30 for the Output Belfast day show. My Friday evening was instead full to the brim with British and American acts, save one Canadian artist who made a strong impression near the end.

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I started the evening with an early show at Stubb’s BBQ. Reading quartet Sundara Karma were first on Friday night’s bill, (as we had discussed in my interview with them on Tuesday) and they played before just as the sun was beginning to set over Austin. The crowd at Stubb’s trickled in slowly, with punters lingering over dinner and beer. But once the band started playing, all attention was on the stage.

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Sundara Karma frontman Oscar Pollock didn’t spend a lot of time on pleasantries, instead allowing the band’s sharp lyrics and edgy guitar melodies to do most of the talking. But make no mistake, this band cultivates an almost psychedelic visual impression onstage as well, with long hair and flashy gestures to match their dynamic alt-rock sound. They certainly weren’t daunted by the large outdoor stage at Stubb’s, and their impact was successfully established. I overheard several punters enthusiastically sharing the name Sundara Karma as I made my way to the exit after their set. Stay tuned for more on Sundara Karma in my recap of Saturday night at SXSW, posting soon.

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My next stop was west of Congress, at another venue I’d never visited before, the Tap Room at the Market. The Market is a bustling, trendy Austin night spot, with the smaller Tap Room nestled below. On this night, the Tap Room was hosting the Grammy Museum Homegrown showcase, which featured a curation of artists from the Los Angeles area. I arrived on the scene just in time to hear one of the singers I’d featured in my preview of L.A. artists at SXSW.

BeLL

Alt-pop singer BeLL was already onstage, and I was immediately taken aback by the power in her vocal sound. I was excited to hear her quirky but catchy single ‘Bang Bang (Remember My Name)’, which had caught my attention in writing the aforementioned preview. It debuted back in November and has already been featured in a television trailer on ABC Family here in the States; you can catch a listen below before it blows up on radio waves everywhere.

Warbly Jets

Up next was a band who pride themselves on not fitting into the L.A. music scene, alt-rock quartet Warbly Jets. Their sound is certainly more in the supersonic jet-propelled vein than the sunny pop and laid-back folk you might typically expect to hear from Southern California. Onstage, they were both smoothly self-assured and and a tiny bit cocky, convincing their audience that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Their debut single ‘Alive’ was a highlight of the evening.

OPS

I was already peripherally aware of next band on the docket, Ocean Park Standoff, because my kids know their current single ‘Good News’. It’s an infectiously upbeat track, perfect for radio play or maybe even for a summer 2017 Spotify playlist. As it turns out, the song is also pretty representative of what Ocean Park Standoff does in live performance. The band were smiling and relaxed throughout their set, and their good vibes were expansive enough for a much larger room. Keep an eye out for this trio to make their mark during their upcoming American tour dates with Third Eye Blind.

Following my stop at the Grammy Museum showcase, I had intended to try to catch Ryan Adams at Austin City Limits, even nabbing a SXXPress pass for that show earlier in the day. But while I was at Stubb’s, I got the news that Adams had cancelled his performance due to illness. I was mildly disappointed, but I did have a backup plan to catch another American singer/songwriter, David Ramirez at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop.

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People in Austin were out in full force to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and 6th Street was jam-packed. Adding to the crush and confusion was the fact that many of the music venues had multiple queues outside to deal with the different priority entries: Platinum and Music Badges, Interactive and Film Badges, Music Wristbands, and paying customers. Obviously this was only an issue for the high-demand shows, but it’s something SXSW organisers will need to focus on for next year, as many of the venues simply didn’t have the space or staff available to cope with up to 4 different queues for each show. Maggie Mae’s was one of the most difficult venues to get into, not only because is it located in the heart of 6th Street, but because it has two stages and only one entrance.

David Ramirez band

Austin native Ramirez had a full band in attendance for his show at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. In my previous experience, this has been a nice addition to his sound. He’s a starkly effective performer alone, but the depth and vibrance of his country-rock sound really come out with the addition of backing vocals, keyboards and drums. Unfortunately for Ramirez, his Friday night set was plagued by technical problems. After a lengthy and apparently unsuccessful soundcheck, Ramirez and his band played a truncated set, leaving out several favourite songs that appeared on his written setlist. He did, however, play a couple of newer songs that got the local crowd’s attention, including the London-referencing track ‘Too Far Away’.

I finished the evening (and started the next morning) at St. David’s Episcopal Church, where the Communion Music showcase was being held. I’d been to the church’s Bethell Hall already on this trip to Austin, but I hadn’t yet visited the Sanctuary, and by midnight on Friday night, it was already becoming full in advance of a performance by Rag’n’Bone Man scheduled for 1 AM.

This was the one occasion during the SXSW week when the availability of SXXPress passes worked to my advantage. Earlier in the week, I had either failed to get passes in time, or I simply hadn’t needed the ones I did get. But I’d managed to get one for St. David’s on this night, and the staff at the church were remarkably adept at handling their queues, probably because the venue has been open to non-credential holders in past years. I intentionally arrived early to the Communion showcase, knowing by their reputation that the earlier performers on the bill would be worth seeing, even if I wasn’t already familiar.

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I wasn’t disappointed in that regard with French-Canadian pop singer Charlotte Cardin. Her silky, delicate vocals and soulful pop song arrangements were easy on the ears without being too saccharine, perhaps thanks to their ever-so-subtle jazz inflections. Her debut EP ‘Big Boy’ was released last July on Cult Nation Records and features songs in both English and French, including standout track ‘Like It Doesn’t Hurt’. She also won over a few fans with this cool, almost aloof-sounding version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’.

Very few punters left after Cardin’s performance, and despite the dreaded 1 AM time slot, there was a bit of hustle-and-bustle in St. David’s Sanctuary surrounding the arrival of Rag’n’Bone Man. Mary had reported to me the very long queue outside the British Music Embassy for his performance there earlier in the evening, and the audience here were fairly buzzing with anticipation.

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In a bit of a surprise, Rag’n’Bone Man (aka Rory Graham) started his setlist with the song most of us already knew, ‘Human’. This was an acoustic version, less immediately bombastic than the one we’ve heard on American radio, but it was singularly and tastefully appropriate for performance on the St. David’s stage. Graham was equally gentle and mild-tempered in his onstage banter, though he did pick up the dynamic in his songs as the set went on. We were treated to current American radio single ‘Skin’ as well as a stunningly beautiful song I hadn’t heard before called ‘Grace’, which you can take a listen to just below.

The authenticity of Rag’n’Bone Man’s performance, along with the high-quality of his songwriting and musicianship, exemplifies what I’ve come to expect from the Communion showcase over my years at SXSW. Though I wasn’t able to see the whole show on this Friday night, I was glad to at least catch the end of it, discovering a promising new artist and witnessing a rapidly-rising up-and-comer in the process.

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