There are a lot of factors that can negatively contribute to your appreciation of a live act at SXSW. The risk factors include: fatigue, exhaustion, intoxication level, extreme climate conditions, improper venue and obstructed visualization of the stage. The risk factors can make your experience and interpretation of a performance completely different than a fellow comrade. That being said, here are my personal picks of shows that turned out to be the most pleasing. Below, are the best web videos I could find for each artist. Seryn, Lost In the Trees and Typhoon’s live shows I attended had much more big-band sounds than the stripped-down video versions. All of the artists listed you should definitely consider seeing live if you have the opportunity. Albums have confined their music into only audible sounds, but seeing them live is a complete and whole body experience.
5. Owen Pallett at Swan Dive (Brooklyn Vegan Showcase)
A lot has changed for Owen Pallett, who formerly went by the stage name, Final Fantasy, since the last time I saw him live in Houston opening for Arcade Fire in 2005 at Fat Cat’s. At the time he had only released one album: Has a Good Home. Since then Pallett has released two more full-length albums and he wrote the string arrangements for numerous artists’ albums (Arcade Fire, Beirut). Although he still plays into a loop pedal, his arrangements have evolved and are much more complex.
4. Seryn at The Stage on Sixth (Paste Showcase)
Seryn is a five-piece band from Denton, TX that recently released their debut album, This Is Where We Are, in January 2011. They perform a serenade of delicate verses with powerhouse choruses. The cohesion of organic harmonizations overlapped by a folk-y flare of strings and banjo truly bring about a sense of serenity. With the maturity of Seryn’s sound, it is perplexing to know of their recent existence. Definitely a band that has an exciting future.
3. Lost In The Trees at The Stage on Sixth (Paste Showcase) & St. David’s Church
Lost In the Trees are a band from Chapel Hill, NC. Singer, Ari Picker’s songwriting is influenced by his precarious upbringing and his time at Berklee where he studied film scoring. Some of the tracks are simple love songs, and others, full blown classical arrangements. Picker doesn’t snivel excessively about his tumultuous childhood – and in this case, he would be well within his rights to do so — but instead he describes the healing that has come over him: “The lyrics of the title track ‘All Alone In An Empty House’ are taken from powerful arguments my parents had while living in the house where I was born. The songs locations and happenings, my father’s stone wall, the tower off the side of the house that he eventually moved into, my twin sisters who died at birth, my mother’s extreme depression, the emotional and sexual abuses, they are all real. But my intention in sharing them is to turn this hard reality into art, something that the listener may find comfort and hope in.”
2. Colin Stetson at Stephen F’s
On March 16, Colin Stetson played in a bar lounge at Stephen F’s Hotel. With only about 30 people in the audience, every seat was intimate. Stetson uses a technique known as circular breathing, the same kind of breathing that put Kenny G in the Guiness Book of World Records for the longest note (45 minutes and 47 seconds). His most recent album, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Feb. 22), was recorded live in single takes — with no overdubs or looping — using 24 different mic positions. His songs have earthy and gritty sounds unlike typical woodwind playing. When he plays his raw, flashing saxophone it becomes an extension of his body. He takes an ordinary saxophone that has been played by millions and turns it into a new instrument. The passion he has while playing is overwhelming and captivating. The music pierces your soul thus causing my first tear shed of SXSW 2011.
1. Typhoon at Central Presbyterian Church (Red Ryder Showcase)
The shocker of the festival would have to go to the Portland, OR band, Typhoon. The last half of the fourth day of sun, booze, music and standing; an air conditioned church with a pretty spiffy line-up sounded like a great ending to an exhausting week. The venue was the Central Presbyterian church that holds 450 people at max capacity. The line-up for Saturday night, March 19, was as follows: Haley Bonar, Sharon Van Etten, Typhoon and Rural Alberta Advantage. While waiting in line, the 75-ish year old church member mentioned he You-Tube-d all the artists playing that night. His favorite was a band I was unfamiliar with, Typhoon.
Typhoon began as a recording project between lead singer, Kyle Morton, and Devin Gallagher. Morton had been writing songs for the album during his fist year of college and recorded the album one track at a time with Gallagher. The band now has 7 core members, which includes friends of Morton and Gallagher that were drawn to the project. Typhoon has had a total of 17 contributors sing, play upright bass, toy piano, full sized piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, cello, violin, trumpet, French horn and drums. Their Central Presbyterian Church performance had 12 band members on stage. The majority of the band mates live together or within walking distance. Most of the songs were from the band’s newest EP, A New Kind of House (March 8, 2011). The band imploded their first gospel-choir sounding song, “Mouth of the Cave,” in the fitting Central Pres. Church. It was an attack of the senses. It didn’t take long for the band to almost put me in meltdown mode like a whimpering little schoolgirl. Although I kept it together with watery eyes, the chills radiated through my body almost the entire set. Morton’s lyrics are honest much like Bright Eyes except without the whiney disposition. Morton was sincere and vulnerable, a trait that draws the beholder in and makes the lyrics relatable. There were soft components that led into extravagant, full-on productions. The name Typhoon is very fitting to explain the experience of watching this band live. An exciting finale of SXSW and find that I feel privileged to have witnessed.