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Live Review: Communion band showcase featuring The Travelling Band, Paul Thomas Saunders, John J. Presley and The Trouble with Templeton at London Notting Hill Arts Club – 6th October 2013

 
By on Thursday, 17th October 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

TGTF last visited the Communion Club Night in March, and we were suitably impressed by the quality of the acts on offer that a return visit was always on the cards. After a summer break, they relaunched back in September with an admirable six-acts-per-night policy in the sweltering underground den of the Notting Hill Arts Club, a venue with a security policy so tight and beers so expensive the whole experience is like living in Philip K. Dick’s subconscious. Nevertheless, once inside the vibe is friendly and buzzing, a great place to check out next year’s superstars.

The Trouble With Templeton, who editor Mary caught last year in Sydney, are an Australian five-piece whose sound ranges from slight acoustic whimsy to a brand of yearning AOR which, whilst perhaps not the most original sound in the rock playbook (Starsailor were doing exactly this over a decade ago, with a singer that sounded exactly the same, too boot), nevertheless provide enough variety in the songwriting and delivery to hold the interest throughout. ‘Six Months In A Cast’ gets the full driving-rock treatment, with piano riffs, washes of chugging guitar, and Thomas Calder’s impeccable, keening vocals to go with his impeccable, gleaming hair. ‘I Wrote A Novel’ is pleasant enough with its vocal percussion and clever lyrics; better still is the set-climaxing ‘Lint’, which builds with an abstract intensity and a less formal structure than the previous songs – perhaps a hint of future direction.

Apparently having won all sorts of awards for his songwriting, there’s no doubt that Calder’s pen is easily capable of jotting a memorable ditty or two, although on an absolute scale his output may be a little on the safe side, perhaps lacking that killer blow to stand out amongst the crowd now Templeton are making a bid for the big time. After the gig, drummer Ritchie explains that his band’s recent European jaunt was funded by the largesse of the recently-ousted Labor government (whilst bemoaning the anticipated lack of subsidy available from the new Liberal administration) – so I am obliged to thank the Australian taxpayers who subsidised my experience of The Trouble With Templeton, and can only hope they had nothing better to do with their money, like feeding their children. But such grumpiness aside, Templeton do deserve a wider audience; with their fresh faces and well-crafted tunes they could easily become very big indeed.

John J. Presley is a man dominated by hair – it’s pretty difficult to see his face, what with long blond locks swinging around as he prowls the stage, and the obligatory beard filling in what’s left. There’s no such difficulty at hearing him, though – the man has a veritable bellow of a voice, from which vowels aren’t really sung, more grudgingly allowed to escape, writhing in gruff protest. His is a ramshackle blues, heavily-fuzzed guitar issuing forth caveman riffs, occasionally accompanied by the sumptuous tones of a vintage Rhodes piano, or a touch of droning aerophone. ‘Sweet Sister’ exemplifies his one-man genre – guitar alternating between shades of brown overdrive and Hendrix-style fuzz, a background chorus of female vocals for company, the whole dirty and threatening like a snake in a basement.

Paul Thomas Saunders is the very spit of Sean Lennon, and the comparisons don’t stop at aesthetics – their voices are surprisingly similar, too. But where the younger Lennon’s career has been characterised by a bare smattering of LPs over the last fifteen years, Saunders appears much more focused with his releases, and indeed the records themselves hang together admirably. 2012’s ‘Descartes Highlands’ is a beautiful collection of heartfelt, spaced-out acoustic-electronic rock, dreamy in its presentation and knowingly literate in its content. The song titles belie an obscurantist influence – references to ‘Santa Muerte’ (the cult saint of death) alongside something like ‘A Lunar Veteran’s Guide To Re-Entry’ indicate a lot of thought and perhaps even a dollop of pretension are contained within. Live, Saunders plays guitar and keyboards expertly, the band spin a delicate web around his fragile, effected tenor; the overall result is a quite lovely update to the sort of space-age rock that Spiritualized first enamoured the public with over 20 years ago.

Ending the night with The Travelling Band is like finishing a sumptuous five-course meal with a piece of dry, mouldy cheddar one finds at the back of the fridge. TTB won the 2008 Glastonbury New Talent award – yet further evidence of the adverse effects of a Glasto-centric music scene. Style-wise, it’s plastic-folk, Jim, and exactly as we know it from the countless bearded hopefuls to the Mumford-ian throne that pop up every week with their wide-eyed honesty, carefully-practised five-part harmonies and clean underwear. The band can’t decide who their frontman is, as Jo Dudderidge and Adam Gorman vie for both the centre mic and the audience’s affections, all faux sincerity and gaping gurns. The quiet-loud-quiet-loud-ad-nauseum arrangements are depressingly predictable, as is the constant thud of a bass drum – a dance music substitute for those who find dance music too scary.

This is music every bit as reductive as the mainstream chart dross that music snobs constantly rail against – it performs exactly the same function as the latest offering from some famous-for-five-minutes auto-tuned chart diva, except its audience is middle class and post-teenage; and instead of hotpants and cleavage, we have carefully-quoiffed quiffs, neatly-trimmed beards and checked shirts. The lack of offensive potential, the cynically manipulative ear-pleasing yet bland songs, the emphasis of delivery over content, and the whole suffocating smugness of the whole affair is utterly depressing. Listen to this, from ‘Sundial’: “If I had a home to call my own / then I wouldn’t need a sundial to stop me roaming around”. Give me strength, or better still, something scabrous and cynical – perhaps a PiL album, or a painting by Hieronymus Bosch – anything to clear away the fug of cloying sentimentality. Time will tell how long The Travelling Band can be bothered with the travelling part – 5 years since their breakthrough, little has been achieved by the way of mainstream success, and if the half-empty venue as they take the stage is anything to go by, their star is waning still.

The Communion Club night also plays in Brighton, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow, so for anyone wanting to make their own mind up about the bands discussed here, or discover the next big thing in new music, it’s a monthly event not to be missed.

 

SXSW 2013: Day 2 evening – Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room and Communion showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop – 12th March 2013

 
By on Tuesday, 26th March 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

I’m not sure if this was a problem that only massively plagued UK bands or if it bled into bands from other countries as well, but I must have done and redone my SXSW schedule 10 times in the lead-up to the week of SXSW 2013. And this was all owing to band cancellations: some bands had ‘a family emergency’, others simply didn’t respond to my questions of “are you still coming to SXSW?” With the first version of my schedule, I thought I would have to make some seriously tough choices between the Irish and the Scottish. It was playing out in my head in a terrible civil war, and I didn’t like to have to choose, and why should I have to? Equally great bands have come from both places, surely there was a way to figure this out between afternoon and evening showcases?

Early on, it was revealed that Camera Obscura would be playing a headline set as part of the Showcasing Scotland on the Wednesday night. Upon hearing this, and given how important an album their last, ‘My Maudlin Career’, meant to me (I’ve recorded a cappella versions of songs from there, because I think the album is so brilliant), the original plan was to drop everything for Traceyanne Campbell and the rest of the night would just have to be built around their set. However, once it was announced that a family thing precluded them from coming to SXSW, I had to rethink the whole evening. I had planned to catch Tango in the Attic earlier on the same bill, but with Camera Obscura pulling out, Tango…’s set moved to their time, and suddenly I had a conflict with another showcase. ARGH. But, just like the way I view love, I always say things happen for a reason, and at the times these things happen, they are for a reason too.

So this is how I found myself first at the upstairs bar at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room. I’d convinced myself that I would hang around at the start for So Cow, a band that from my research had ‘been around the block’ so to speak in North America, arguing that they must put on a good live performance if they’d been over here so many times, then wait for Gary Barlow favourites and BBC Sound of 2013 longlisters Kodaline to appear. I arrived a little after the band started, but after I caught a glimpse of the night’s schedule, which started with Kid Karate and not So Cow. I made the mistake of not putting my earplugs in before I went upstairs, and really the one word I can describe Kid Karate with is *loud*. Yikes.

Kid Karate SXSW Music from Ireland

I don’t know, but the sound was awfully muddled, and I could not tell if it was the band’s equipment, or the in-house equipment. (I sincerely hope it was not the latter…because if so, Gibson has a lot to answer for!) Loud, punky instrumentation with shouty lyrics. Not my thing. For some of their set, one of their countrymen in Squarehead sat down in front of the bass drum with his hands over his ears. What? Why? I guess that is a mystery that will remain unsolved. {Edit 27/03/13: Angela of Music from Ireland explains: “The reason Ruan from Squarehead sat in front of the Kid Karate drums is the drum kit was slipping off the mat on the stage and Ruan jumped to the rescue, I’m confident that he had his hands over his ears is cause Steven is a very loud drummer.” Mystery solved!]

The idea that there was a problem with the sound in the Gibson Room was only partially supported by Kodaline‘s set next. I know and have heard just about as much as all of you do about the band from Dublin, especially from their ‘High Hopes’ EP released earlier this month that Cheryl reviewed in February. I have been spreading the good word about Kodaline round to my work colleagues, using ‘High Hopes’ as proof that the boys from Dublin will be the next great stadium rock band to dethrone Chris Martin and Coldplay, and do it 1,000x better. Frontman Steve Garrigan already looks the part: I noted that he has the unkempt but adorable haircut favoured by Jon Bon Jovi back in their ’80s heyday.

Kodaline SXSW Music from Ireland

As a song, ‘High Hopes’ is a less complex number in the sense that Steve Garrigan’s voice, with minimal instrumentation (nice, easy piano and guitars), showcases their musicianship. As horrible as the lighting was in the Gibson Room, as they played their soon to be global hit, it felt all the more like a brilliant diamond was being revealed to me, as the song just shone in the near darkness. I feel incredibly blessed to have been there for what was probably their first industry show in America.

Well, after that Kodaline-fueled epiphany, there was no question where I’d end up at the end of the night. But first, I had a date with another band in 2 hours, and all I had to do was walk through a single door to get to Maggie Mae’s Rooftop where I was earlier watching the 1975 wrestle with a bum electrical connection. Easy peasy, eh? Well, in all fairness, it wasn’t actually that easy. You learn from your first SXSW that if you’re prone to catching cold, you have to bring a jacket or some kind of jumper, and it was after I’d’ passed through that storied door that I must have dropped my jumper in the Gibson Room. They wouldn’t let me back through the same door, so I had to all the way downstairs at Maggie Mae’s proper, go around the block and queue up to get back into the Gibson Room with its entrance on a different street. I thought I’d figured this out, that I could have gone through that special door again but this time they would not let me! So I was forced to go down and out again, only to queue back around the block at Maggie Mae’s again. It is only with god’s good grace that there wasn’t a huge badge queue there and I got in without missing the next band.

Mikhael Paskalev SXSW Communion

Switching gears from the Music from Ireland showcase and just steps away from where I was previously, I was now at the first of two Communion evening showcases of the week. And that next band was a Nordic band fronted by Norwegian / Bulgarian singer/songwriter Mikhael Paskalev. The first that strikes you about Paskalev is his large beautiful fluff of hair, and then the next is his bushy eyebrows. But don’t let the Pantene lumberjack look fool you. You know how Icelanders Of Monsters of Men just took off like a rocket? Well, if Paskalev plays his cards right, he and his accomplished band might headed for the same trajectory, with a hint more rock in the rockabilly vein in terms of songwriting. It’s just incredibly infectious, happy, get up on your feet and dance kind of music, so it’s no wonder they’ve already been announced for Latitude, among many other European festivals. So if this sounds like music you’d be keen on, best get on this band while the getting is still good.

Remember that date I was telling you about? It was with Kent’s Story Books. (Rather funnily, I had seen their frontman Kris Harris before and did not even known it: he had toured as a band member of Laura Marling‘s during her first major headline tour of America in 2010. Talk about a small world.) During my Christmas holiday when I spent too many hours working on the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013, I stumbled upon this band’s song ‘Peregrine’, which had a folky yet bombastic vibe that recalled one of my favourite quirky artists, Patrick Wolf.

Story Books SXSW Communion

I had a conversation a long time ago about SXSW with We Are Scientists one time when they visited Washington; at the time I’d never been to SXSW once, and they had warned me that it had become less about the discovery of new bands than to provide more mainstream, popular acts a platform for punters to see them on. In that respect, I think SXSW punters are doing themselves a grave disservice not venturing out to see bands beyond the most popular. Last year as well as this year, I made some great discoveries simply by accident or by virtue of arriving somewhere earlier and watching a band I not intended to catch.

This is where I think many people at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop found themselves, as they waited for Noel Gallagher protege and far too much buzzed about wunderkind Jake Bugg, they caught Story Books too. While there was at least one inebriated lady making strange Native American tribal calls throughout the night, Story Books took it in stride, proving that they’re not just folk, they’re also highly capable of rocking out with guitars flying. I was truly glad to have seen them gig before my interview with them the next day, which you can listen to here.

Jake Bugg SXSW Communion

Okay, okay. So after all this buzz that’s been following Jake Bugg around since early 2012, by this SXSW I still had not managed to see him. I hadn’t been bothered up to that point, really. But I thought, ok, it’s Wednesday, let’s not destroy myself on the second day, why not hang around for the Bugg’s set? I knew he was underage, but I didn’t realise just how small he was until he came out on the rooftop stage and started tuning his guitar, which looked almost too big for him. It was like watching a junior high kid at a talent show.

However, the difference is this kid has the technical chops. I can’t fault him Bugg at all for his guitar-playing; even at his young age, he’s brilliant. The more I watched and got sucked into the masterfully played guitar notes (I’ve never cared for his country/western twang), the more things became clearer. As he tried to look like he didn’t care and this was way too easy for him, halfway sneering at the crowd that had assembled to watch the prodigy at work, he looked like a young, petulant Noel Gallagher. They even have the same haircut! Is Noel moulding a little Mini-Me of his own? Quite possibly.

So if you have been paying attention, you will have already sussed who I’d been waiting for at the end of this night. If you guessed Kodaline, you would be right. I didn’t think there was a large enough crowd worthy of their performance in the Gibson Room and I wanted to see if the change in venue would translate to better sound and an even better performance. Steve Garrigan admitted in the middle of this second set that they had left New York City that morning at 5 AM (yikes) and were trying their best to soldier through the night.

Kodaline SXSW Communion 1

Judging though from a rousing hoedown atmosphere created by stomper ‘Love Like This’, with Garrigan on harmonica and mandolin and engaging harmonies offered by his bandmates, Kodaline took the SXSW opportunity they were given and grabbed it with both hands. They absolutely killed it. I learned later that they were only in town for 2 days before they had to return east as good Irish lads to make loads of appearances in Ireland and Britain during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and as of this writing, they are on tour in the UK. Cheryl will be covering their first DC appearance in May, supporting the Airborne Toxic Event at the 9:30 Club, as I will be in England then. But boy am I glad I got to see Kodaline at this point of their career. Just amazing.

Kodaline SXSW Communion 2

 

Live Review: Communion band showcase featuring Catfish and the Bottlemen, Die Mason Die, Siblings and Jamie Parisio at London Notting Hill Arts Club – 3rd March 2013

 
By on Tuesday, 12th March 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

If, like TGTF, one finds oneself at a loose end in London on the evening of the first Sunday of the month, then there’s only one place to be. Communion is a monthly new music showcase held at the subterranean sweatbox of the Notting Hill Arts Club, which has hosted many a band early in their meteoric rise to fame. All but one performer tonight were new to TGTF, which begs the question: which of them will continue to grace these pages, and which will vanish into the musical ether with nary a footnote in the history books?

By coincidence, fellow North-Easter and recent review sunject at Roundhouse Rising Amy Holford (@Holfyy) is playing tonight, although her set has been and gone before TGTF arrives. Despite suffering an unknown malaise, her first proper London set is apparently well-received, her down-to-Earth Geordie charm no doubt a refreshing change from the usual London aloofness. Jamie Parisio (@j_parisio) offers up a pastoral, country-tinged set of acoustic numbers which hovers dangerously close to the dreadful banality of the recent plastic-folk revival. ‘Tangles Never Tire’ from recent EP You Promised The Sea sets the tone – downtempo, layered harmony vocals, led by acoustic guitar, thumpy drums and Parisio’s gentle, breathy vocals. All very nice, but as these pages attest, your correspondent is increasingly bored by earnest singer-songwriters these days. There’s so many of them! Join the queue, Jamie.

Siblings (@siblingstweet) liven things up a bit. The four Derbyshire lads all line up in a democratic row, lead singer bashing a minimalist drumkit, four-part harmonies sweetly swelling over guitar and banjo. Their material consists of admirably upbeat, deceptively simple ditties such as recent single ‘Colours’ – a fluffy, uplifting meringue of a song, jolly banjo and falsetto harmonies skipping weightlessly from one triumphant refrain to the next. Soused in Simon and Garfunkel with a seasoning of Givers, such Carib-jangle optimism comes as a refreshing, feel-good blast: a coble of hope in a sea of faux, privileged despair.

Like dogs and their owners, can a similarity be discerned between the character of a band and that of their fans? If so, Die Mason Die (@DieMasonDie) are vain, drunken boors, obsessed with papping themselves in the piercing and unflattering light of a thousand cameraphones. Yes, TGTF finds itself trapped behind a group of who at first appear to be Die Mason Die’s biggest fans – they know the musicians’ names and whoop loudly at the end of every song, even stretching to an impromptu “Happy birthday to Stefan,” at one point. Yet when the music is playing they appear completely disinterested, ignorantly braying meaningless self-congratulatory platitudes at each other, to the detriment of anyone who has actually turned up – apparently somewhat unfashionably – to listen to some music.

Eventually TGTF is forced to push as far towards the front as is necessary for the PA to drown out the miscreants: surprisingly far forward, it turns out. Such distractions are a shame, because when the music is properly audible, it becomes apparent that Die Mason Die are a very competent band led by the startling voice of Samuel Mason, whose timbre falls somewhere between the growl of a female lioness whose cubs are being threatened by a pack of ravenous hyenas, and the roar of a nearby nuclear explosion. In other words, pretty powerful stuff. The songs themselves run the gamut between down tempo, reverb-heavy dirges and slightly more uptempo, reverb-heavy dirges, high on atmospherics and mystical musings. The band are good, but the star here is Mason himself: with that astonishing voice and world-weary temperament, one gets the impression that there are many good things to come from him.

After a nouvelle-cuisine undercard of mouthwatering but delicate morsels, to wrap up the night we have the counterpoint in Catfish and the Bottlemen (@TheBottlemen). There’s something of Spinal Tap about them – the superbly-named Van McCann shakes his mop-top as if to prove it’s not a toupée, all the guitars are white, the musicians dressed in black, and they rock out. Hard. The music is noisy, relentless and infused with a youthful jollity that makes their live show such a thrilling watch. There’s flashes of Libertines decadence and Alex Turner‘s provincial sneer, but Catfish and the Bottlemen’s true passion is clearly the rockier side of the road, so there’s a splash of early Strokes naïveté mixed in with a penchant for widescreen guitars which could be stolen from any number of stadium rock bands from the last decade or so.

They’ve got nearly everything covered – great frontman, distinctive look, exciting live show – the only thing that needs a bit of work is the songwriting. The songs can sound a little too similar, the arrangements a little too stop-start formulaic, to really make the most of the potential of the performers. The humdrum production and dated effects of The Beautiful Decay EP doesn’t do them any favours, either. But a track like ‘Tyrants’ prove that the band can deliver on their potential: it shifts through several gears, at each stage ticking the relevant box of emotion and instrumentation. Anyone pondering the future of British guitar music should add Catfish and the Bottlemen to the list.

 

Live Gig Video: Elena Tonra of Daughter performs ‘Tomorrow’ at Bushstock 2012

 
By on Friday, 27th July 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

Last month during Jubilee weekend, Communion Records put on Bushstock 2012, the folk label’s very own 1-day festival. This year we sent Braden to cover the event, and you can read his review of the day’s performances here. But for you on this Friday afternoon, we have a unique performance by Elena Tonra Daughter at TOMS Secret Garden Stage, performing ‘Tomorrow’. Watch it in all its sun-dappled beauty below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D70Ql3IpdrQ[/youtube]

 

Bushstock Festival 2012 Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 14th June 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

If you’re a music fan, there was a good chance you hit a festival on this past Jubilee weekend. There’s options ranging from Dot to Dot to Field Day and in one corner of west London, there’s Communion’s very own Bushstock. Shepherds Bush lays host to a diverse selection of acts in an even more varied selection of venues. Running is borderline mandatory.

Rae Morris opens the day’s music in an incredibly crowded Defector’s Weld pub. Coming out of an increasingly vibrant singer-songwriter scene in Blackpool (of all places!) her endearing and soulful piano music has seen her tour with Bombay Bicycle Club and even be featured on the most recent series of Skins and this afternoon she wins over any doubters. Her powerful voice over slow piano lines on tracks such as ‘Day One’ prove to be a stunning way to start the day.

Not too long after it’s over to the Shepherds Bar, where the lovely folk at Communion are handing out cupcakes to go with the day’s festivities. All this and Juan Zelada is about to take to the stage. A recent favourite of TGTF, Zelada’s friendly, sun-drenched sounds all the way from Spain make those present forget about the ominous looking clouds approaching London. Complete with live band, Juan brightens up everyone’s spirits with his energetic Nutini-esque tunes.

Following him on stage with a similar band set up, but a different way of using it is Ellen and the Escapades. It’s 21st century folk in its most summery form. Happier and fuller sounding than Marling but (thankfully) more reserved than Mumford, it dances delicately on the line of purist and folk-pop to the point that you’d enjoy it at Wimbledon. It’s not hugely exciting or day changing, but for early evening, it’s enough to keep everyone satisfied.

After a quick dash about Shepherds Bush, it’s underground into the converted public toilets of Ginglik. The room smells of incense and is lit by fairy lights. The stage is relatively bright though, as many would if they were covered in this amount of smoke and as Gabriel and the Hounds take to it, the mood changes greatly. The New Yorker’s sound is dark yet uplifting. Think the xx meeting We Are Augustines and you’ve probably not got anything like this band, but the similarities are there for the taking. Nevertheless, its’ dark down here so it’s off to church!

Tonight’s closing trio all come back to back at St. Stephen’s Church. Starting off are Newcastle’s finest in the form of Lanterns on the Lake. The setting is perfect and they do not disappoint. Playing from last year’s debut record ‘Gracious Tide, Take me Home’, they fill the room with a huge sound creating a thick atmosphere of beautiful music. It’s a standout performance of tracks with slow builds and epic climaxes that left many in the crowded church in a borderline state of comatose for the duration of the half hour set.

To follow this was difficult but the Irish spirit of Fionn Regan surely won him admiration from those present as the church descended further into a state of lucid dreams. Whilst Regan never lived up to Lanterns’ incredible sound, his three record back catalogue is enough to keep his strong and yet somehow intricate sounding tracks in check. It’s another performance that lacks the sucker punch, but given the setting, it more than fits the tone.

Closing the night are Communion and Bushstock favourites Daughter. Elena Tonra’s group is one of calm music performed in both a shy and masterful way as from the off there’s attention to detail in every chord. Whilst the equipment may decide to break at will, Daughter pull through with stories of rum nights and friendly conversation. Crowd favourites ‘Run’ and ‘Landfill’ feature early on and suit their placing as they draw a crowd who’ve opted against other choices around the festival in from the rain. The songs of heartbreak and lost days fill the old building as both crowd and band get into the flow of things and the hour long set seems to go far too quickly. As the last few powerful chords of ‘Home’ break through it’s all over and it’s been beautiful. Managing to catch a few minutes of Bastille en route to the train home; TGTF awakens from sleep and dances to ‘Flaws’ before reflecting on a day that seemed a bit like a strange dream. It wasn’t perfect, but it’ll more than do. Take that, Field Day.

 

SXSW 2012: Day 4 – Communion showcase at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary – 16th March 2012

 
By on Thursday, 5th April 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

While the catchphrase of most returning SXSWers to newbies is “pace yourself”, mine would be “be sure to factor in some downtime”. And “don’t apologise to yourself if your body says to go home”. Before I went to see the Burning Ear showcase on Wednesday afternoon, I stopped into B.D. Riley’s (not knowing I’d return for an interview on Friday, then later for the Music for Ireland showcase) for a lazy pint of Harp and a plate of fish and chips. Sometimes I regret not rushing over to see Lionel Richie at the Moody Theatre on Wednesday, or not extending my gig-going over to Creekside at the Hilton Garden Inn to catch a 1 AM show in the wee hours of Friday morning to see Ed Sheeran. I was just too wiped. So I looked forward to Friday night immensely: hours of Communion Records artists all under one roof, the main room at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary. I even stopped long enough to have a meal at the Roaring Fork on North Congress – some of the best corn bread I’ve ever had, to boot – before sauntering over to the church.

That was when I realized I probably should have arrived early so I could get the correct instructions on how and where to queue. After being directly incorrectly and having stood in the wrong queue for at least a half hour, someone kind finally sorted me out and sent me to the right door…and straight into the main room.

Matt Corby from Sydney, Australia had already begun his set, so I shuffled quietly into an empty spot next to a guy who was studying his iPhone. And then started taking photos with it. With flash. The nerve. I don’t have an DSLR, and unless I’m given specific approval to use flash, I avoid using my flash as much as possible. And here was this guy just snapping away! I guess our pew was too far back for security to notice. I knew nothing about him before seeing him and even know as I’ve been writing this, I had to look up for more information on this bloke: he was a runner-up in an Australian Idol competition, so I guess he’s reasonably well known back home. But boy, when he announced he was going to play ‘Brother’, the crowd let out a big whoop. Guess they know him here too! Below is a free mp3 of his song ‘Winter’ that you can listen to.

The Staves, three sisters from Watford, were second on the bill. They were really disarming, joking about things that had happened to them the last time they had played in Austin, opening for the Civil Wars the previous autumn. Judging from the cheers, many of those people were present, but we could all join in with a giggle as a sister explained that a burly looking man stood up after one song and said (done in an exaggerated Texan accent), “did anyone else cry?” Haha (evidence near the end of the video below). But early in their set, one of them claimed Matt Corby was the devil and warned us, “don’t look into his eyes”. The audience laughed, but I had a “err…” moment, figuring that had to be some inside joke between the sisters and him. ‘Mexico’ had many fans already; new song ‘Tongue Between My Teeth’ was so beautiful in its harmonies, it gave me chills. They ended with the sad yet so beautiful song ‘Winter Trees’. Good work, girls.

Next up is a man who longer needs an introduction in the UK: singer/songwriter Ben Howard. He came with his own cheering section. Seriously. Somehow I ended up in a pew with two Englishwomen and their guys, and the two women made it very clear they were there for Ben Howard, screaming every time he talked in between songs and squealing every time he played the first note of a song on his guitar. Watch ‘Black Flies’ below.

Before Ben Howard took the stage, there was a low yet noticeable murmur going through the crowd. I didn’t know what was going on until a teenage girl across the aisle pointed towards the far wall and shouted at her brother, “it’s Mumford and Sons!” And it was – Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Country Winston and Ted Dwane were just chilling out on the side, as if you cheer on their folky friends’ performances. I was so sure that there was going to be a Mumford collaboration at some point during the night but sadly, there was not. The closest we got was an impromptu John Martyn cover performed at the end of Howard’s set, when he invited the Staves and later performer Michael Kiwanuka. I apologise for the quality of the visuals on the video below; the couple in front of me could not decide if they were going to snog (argh), talk (argh) or break away from each other.

Willy Mason had the unique (dubious?) characteristic that of all the Communion artists performing I this showcase, he was the only American. I’d not heard of him until he had been associated with Communion, so I had mistaken him for an Englishman. He has a Johnny Cash aura about him (“man in black”) but a bit of rough and tumble like the Jim Jones Revue too. The coolest thing about his performance? His drummer’s kit was connected to a strange looking contraption that stood in the middle of the stage, so that whenever the drummer hit something on the kit, something else was set off on the contraption. Sorry to say, I wasn’t moved by his performance at all.

But I was adamant about staying put for the next act. The band I was most excited to see in this showcase was Daughter. As soon as I saw their name on the SXSW bands list, I was ecstatic. And I was not disappointed one bit. Unlike the teasing nature of the Staves earlier, Elena Tonra was so shy and soft-spoken but was adorable in her shyness. “Our name is Daughter. Nice to meet you. This one’s about death.” Laughter from the peanut gallery before they started into ‘Landfill’.

That’s when I just about lost it. I think had I not been in such close proximity to strangers, I would have been a bawling mess on the floor. Through her words, it’s obvious she’s been dumped, she’s been hurt, she’s gotten her heart broken. In the song ‘Love’, she asks the lover that jilted her for some easy skirt, “did she make your heart beat faster than I could? / did she give you what you hoped for? / oh, loveless nights / I hope it made you feel good”. It’s like what they say, a woman scorned… All I can say is…wow. In my top 3 performances at SXSW, for sure.

After that emotional reaction to Daughter, BBC Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka was a safe, if not super remarkable choice to watch after. Before he came out onstage, Ben Lovett, dressed to the nines in a debonair suit, gave a short and stirring speech on how appreciative he was of everyone coming to this showcase and their warm responses to all the performers. Kiwanuka was confident, broadly smiling through his short set. (Six songs. SIX SONGS? That’s it???) From the opener of ‘I’m Waiting’ to the song everyone knows him for, ‘I’m Getting Ready’; from ‘Tell Me a Tale’ to set closer ‘Home Again’.

I had a wonderful buzz from the magnificence I heard in that acoustically sound room, but my mind was in a state of relaxation that could not be matched anytime else during all of my time at SXSW. Thank you, Ben Lovett, for putting this showcase together and thank you, bands, for bringing me to an incredible moment of zen in Austin.

More high-res photos can be viewed on my Flickr.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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