Singer Evan Stephens Hall of Pinegrove on Friday, March Eighteen, at the venue called CHeer Up Charlie as part of SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Michael Mayer)
Evan Stephens Hall is the essence of this Fresh Jersey quartet. He writes clever, evocative lyrics, produces them in a distinctive and appealing voice — and rips up on lead guitar as well. The indie-rock songs are as cohesive and well thought through as the lyrics. The themes have seen the band labeled emo, but the fresh album “Cardinal” shows a more mature Hall, broadening his concentrate. Hall is not re-inventing the wheel; he uses a familiar and effective rock palette (even reminding at times of the Canadian band the Weakerthans). But it’s well-executed and utter of heart-filling chord switches and vocal harmonies. The band goes after its numerous Austin shows with a tour opening for another band called Into It, Over It that also struck at SXSW.
SXSW 2016: What you missed (All Dogs)
Maryn Jones of the band All Dogs on Wed., March 16, plays at a venue called Cheer Up Charlie`s during SXSW in Austin, Texas.
By Michael Mayer
Photos by Meri Simon
All Dogs comes from the same burgeoning Columbus scene that produced another breakout starlet, Lydia Loveless, a few years ago. All Dogs leader and songwriter Maryn Jones shares a bounty for honesty, no matter how brutal, with Loveless. Hidden under a reverby gloss of summery girl-band rock tunes are some pretty bleak sentiments. “I am a black slot, everything I touch leisurely turns to dust. And you are unspoiled,” she sings in a reflection of self-doubt and inadequacy. But she exudes strength and resiliency as well, so the music never drowns into depression. Jones is also a member of another Columbus band that’s had success recently, the alt-folk clothing Saintseneca, which turned some goes at SXSW last year. All Dogs gives Jones a entire different way to express herself and she makes the most of it.
SXSW 2016: What you missed (Escondido)
Jessica Maros and Tyler James of the band Escondido play at a venue called The Parish on Wed., March 16, as part of SXSW in Austin, Texas (Photo by Meri Simon)
By Michael Mayer
Photos by Meri Simon
The alt-country genre may have seen better days, but Jessica Maros and Tyler James, who lead Nashville`s Escondido, have found a way to make it relevant again. The band, which just released its 2nd album (“Walking With a Stranger”) adds echoes of the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and the recordings of the band Calexico to create what might be thought of as Southwestern noir. Purring trumpets, soaring guitar and Maros’s sensitive voice mixed elegantly in the band’s main showcase at the Parish, one of Austin’s top venues. It was one of several successful shows here for the band, including one in the festival’s smallest venue, a Zipcar, where they serenaded contest winners. The band won’t rest long after its amazing week — it sets out almost instantaneously on its very first nationwide headlining tour.
Bedazzled garments and acoustic guitars were part of the look of the band Escondido at the Parish in Austin for SXSW. (Photo by Meri Simon)
SXSW 2016: What you missed (Diet Cig)
Alex Luciano of the band Diet Cig plays on Wed. March sixteen at a venue called Hype Hotel during SXSW two thousand sixteen in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Meri Simon)
Diet Cig is truly a novice effort for singer-songwriter Alex Luciano. She very first played electrified guitar only two months before recording a two thousand fifteen EP that won her attention from critics and a spot at this year’s SXSW. The lyrics insightfully if innocently reflect the same kind of youthful inexperience. In “Breathless” Luciano talks about getting her very first apartment (“I don’t have any kitchenware, but I can walk around in my underwear.”) and in “Harvard” she rips an ex-boyfriend who leaves her for an Ivy League chick. The music is effervescent and irresistible, and in concert, Luciano acts it out, kicking, twirling and dancing across the stage, anchored only by the rigorous drumming of Noah Bowman.
SXSW 2016: What you missed (in photos)
Photos by Meri Simon and Michael Mayer
There`s always something to see at South by Southwest. Whether it`s on stage or on Sixth Street, somebody is watching, and increasingly, somebody is capturing it for posterity. Some of the moments from SXSW 2016.
Claire England and Peter Richards of Seattle`s Dude York play at Cheer Up Charlie`s in Austin for SXSW. (Photo by Meri Simon)
Fans of the Aussie band Big White sing along at the Aussie BBQ, one of the most popular events at SXSW every year. (Photo by Meri Simon)
John Moreland, an Oklahoma singer who was one of the most anticipated acts at SXSW, played during a daytime party at the club Bungalow in Austin. (Photo by Meri Simon)
The Oklahoma singer John Moreland paid tribute to his home state, as well as other subjects, in ink. (Photo by Meri Simon)
SXSW 2016: What you missed
The band Hinds from Madrid, Spain, plays on Wed. March sixteen at a venue called Hype Hotel as part of SXSW two thousand sixteen in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Meri Simon)
The Year of the Woman? No, Geraldine Ferraro did not bring a band to Austin for South by Southwest. But it was hard not to notice that so many of South by Southwest’s buzziest names were women. From pop bands like Hinds, Sunflower Bean, Mitski and Diet Cig to standout solo performers like Aurora, Frances and Lapsley (all of whom coincidentally are compared to another woman who goes by a single name — Adele), it seemed like the ladies had taken the Live Music Capital of the World by storm.
These performers all had been touted by tastemakers such as Brooklyn Vegan, Pitchfork and NPR and all played to thick, nosey crowds.
In its 30th year, the South by Southwest festival has switched a lot, tho’ those switches were pretty predictable. The tech segment of the fest now dwarfs film and music. And the music segment, which formerly featured big parties and headquarters for record labels and radio stations, is now predominated by those who want to stream you music: Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, and TuneIn, among others.
But what has stayed the same is the spirit of discovery most attendees brought with them. There were more than Two,100 bands in Austin this year, and it’s not just industry types who were looking for the next starlet; music fans with no reason to be there except to find fresh bands to love seemed to make up the bulk of the crowds.
Over the next duo of days, I’ll list as many of the bands that stood out as I can.
Mitski Miyawaki, who goes the band known as Mitski, plays at the club Barracuda in Austin for SXSW. (Photo by Meri Simon)
The Heavenly States comeback to the Bay Area
Genevieve Gagon, Ted Nesseth and Benjamin Howard of the Heavenly States in Austin during SXSW.
9:30 p.m. Friday, June 12
Where: Bottom of the Hill, one thousand two hundred thirty three 17th St., San Francisco
Tickets: $12 advance, $15 door; www.bottomofthehill.com, 415-626-4455
Online: Listen to “Oui Camera Oui” on iTunes, and “Delayer” on Spotify or other online outlets. “HISS” is available at www.theheavenlystates.com.
The Heavenly States were on the edge.
The Oakland indie rock band had released its third full-length album, “Delayer,” and it was receiving raves from critics and fellow musicians. Six years of building its brand in Oakland was embarking to pay off. They’d been adventurous in their touring as well, becoming the only American rock band to play in Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.
But existence as rockers just knocking on the door of success was getting raunchy in the pricey Bay Area. And the Superb Recession wasn’t helping matters.
So they packed up the remnants of their East Bay lives and moved to Austin, Texas, in 2012.
“We left ‘Brokeland’ for cheap living and cheaper lovin,” band co-founder Ted Nesseth said in an email interview. “(San Francisco and Oakland) were good to us, and we have strong ties there, so it was hard to leave. But we determined to commence up incognito here and attempt to earn our way into it, and it’s gone well.”
And now they’re making their very first tour back, with shows set for Thursday and Friday at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and they’re bringing with them a work they think is a game-changer. It’s their very first full-length album since “Delayer,” and it’s an artistic and technical triumph.
The album is called “HISS,” and even tho’ Nesseth and co-founder Genevieve Gagon want you to hear it, you won’t find it on iTunes, Soundcloud or anywhere else that trades in just musical ones and zeros. Its twenty five songs are on vinyl, and vinyl only. Three big, luxuriously weighty slabs of vinyl. It was recorded to 2-inch analog gauze, assuring the “warm” tones sought by vinyl aficionados. The band employed three different production houses for the snakeskin-embossed cover and full-color interior and internal sleeves. It’s not inexpensive at $50, but considering that some of the major labels are charging close to $30 for single albums, it’s a fair price.
“And limited releases like these, they not only hold their value, they can dual or triple in price,” said Vinny Esparza, a buyer for Amoeba Records in San Francisco.
The band’s decision to skip the digital market was not taken lightly.
“We don’t want to reach everyone. We only want to reach people who want to reach it,” said Nesseth, noting the prevalence of “blasé” listeners who dip in and out of music on the Internet, never indeed committing themselves to the time needed to absorb a major work like “HISS.”
“We dreamed to get a very specific thing made the way we desired it made as our sort of life achievement for ourselves and a few people. If we can’t do it again, then we can’t do it again.”
Musically, it’s an extension of the sound that had propelled the Heavenly States into the taste-making Noise Pop festival, and onto prestigious concert bills with bands such as Spoon and the Fresh Pornographers. Spoon’s Britt Daniel had placed “Delayer” on a private Top ten list he compiled for the Pitchfork website, and he sought out the band to open when Spoon landed a three-night engagement at the Fillmore in 2008.
Their sound leading up to “HISS” had been guitar-riff superior, borrowing from folk rock and power pop, layered with orchestral elements featuring Gagon’s rich keyboards and distinctive fiddle. It was packed with ear-worm hooks but with more sophisticated arrangements than plain pop usually permits. Lyrics were wise, poetic and dense, and Nesseth and Gagon didn’t timid away from provocative political statements. They ripped oil companies and the war in Iraq, and one song on a two thousand four EP was simply a recitation of the names of Iraqi civilians killed in the invasion.
“HISS” moves the band’s sound more toward the orchestral, featuring string arrangements by Gagon and a much more prominent use of her piano. Nesseth’s irresistible guitar riffs are still there, but “HISS” feels like the work of a band that has matured, and the twenty five songs run the gamut of emotion and force. And Gagon, who had mostly served as a backing singer on earlier releases, takes fairly a few lead vocals, and the diversity in voice contributes to the album’s richness.
When the very first songs on “HISS” were born, the band had been on a path to release a set of coherent shorter EPs, serving almost as chapters in a serial novel, according to Nesseth. The very first, “Oui Camera Oui,” featured some of the band’s strongest songs, including “Berlin Wall,” which showcased Spoon’s Daniel on backing vocals. And the band’s sly sense of humor came to play in the final track, “Careful With That Review, Eugene,” in which comedian Eugene Mirman simply reads withering criticisms of the band from typically toxic Internet comments.
But the stir to Austin compelled a switch in plans, and “HISS” eventually came together as one giant chunk.
And if you can set aside the time to listen to it all at once, Nesseth thinks you’ll get the thickest payoff.
“It’s interesting that during this time (of writing and recording the album), binge-watching was born for TV series. We’re just bringing binge to aural consumption,” he said. “Deciding to kick it all to the curb to sit down and read a long book or listen to a big record qualifies as a bold stir.”
Best of SXSW: Our band could switch your life ' John Wesley Coleman III
John Wesley Coleman III played Saturday night at Hotel Vegas in Austin for SXSW. (Photo by Michael Mayer)
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Finding Coleman was one of those capricious SXSW things. A band isn`t as good as expected, you wander to find something else to hear. And you stumble into something wonderful and unexpected.
I walked into a chaotic, jubilant, drunken, rockin, boogieing, dancing, teeny, lil’ room with about thirty five people in it, with all of them dancing their arses off to this exceptionally soulful rock, and most of them seeming to know the singer and bringing him beer and shots and him pulling people up on stage and dancing with them, all without missing singing his lines, and the women bass player and drummer smiling ear to ear watching him hugging everybody in the place. He was on his knees, on his back, sitting on the monitor, standing on the amps. It was what live music is all about.
He is John Wesley Coleman III, an actual Austin artist, those are much rarer than in the past. Going to his website, I see he calls himself “Trash Poet Songwriter,” and rambles there as he did in concert. I had to wonder, “How does he capture that live sound on a record?” And gladfully, the reaction is “well.” Very recommended is his two thousand twelve album, “Last Donkey Display.”
Best of SXSW 2015: Our band could switch your life ' The Lees of Memory
The Lees of Memory played at the Soho Lounge in Austin during SXSW. (Photo by Michael Mayer)
Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
After almost twenty years at the helm of indie-pop-grunge powerhouse Superdrag, John Davis brought his brand fresh band, The Lees of Memory, to Austin to test-drive material from its “Sisyphus Says” debut album. And this was a true test: the band played only its 2nd display ever when it hit Soho Lounge early in the SXSW week. The Lees maintain Davis` capability to write an anthemic hook, but this time it`s all heard through a wall-of-guitars shoegaze filter. And it all worked, with three guitars and three voices often joining to cut through the Austin night.
Best of SXSW: Our band could switch your life ' Chuck Prophet
San Francisco`s Chuck Prophet played at the Violated Spoke during the Twangfest party at SXSW. (Photo by Michael Mayer)
Hometown: San Francisco
Chuck took the Steve Wynn Trophy for most crazy performing schedule this year, playing eleven shows, twice with less than two hours to play, break down their gear and get to the next gig across town. It`s a particularly good time to see Chuck, on the high-heeled shoes of two fine albums, “Temple Beautiful” and “Night Surfer,” both packed with joy, sing-alongable songs played by the crack Mission Express. He was also in fine form comedically, noting about the old, atmosphere- and grime-laden Violated Spoke club, “What history in this place. If these walls could talk, they`d say … ‘clean me!!` ” Don`t pass up a chance to see Chuck.