South by Southwest can be tricky for an artist. Most perform only a handful of shows, so there’s a slight urgency to make an impression, which usually takes the form of playing the hits and other sticky songs or showing a bit of personality in the banter between songs.
The secret third option is to perform a set in a different manner as the recorded material. Wednesday provided more of that than usual, as a couple acts doubled down in this manner.
Electro artist Monogem (Jen Hirsh) sang accompanied with only an electric guitarist at the AWAL House for independent artists. It took a bit of getting used to hearing Hirsh’s songs without any synth, but it was pleasant, especially with her new singles “Get You High” and “Shade.”
English alternative-pop band Flyte took it a bit further once they properly set up in Central Presbyterian Church and observed their surroundings. At the last minute, the band decided to go almost completely analog, including the use of the church’s grand piano.
Bassist Nicolas Hill, guitarist Sam Berridge, and drummer Jon Supran all joined in with backing vocals (which they generally do anyway) with lead singer Will Taylor, but the excellent harmonizing was quite surprising for someone not familiar with them. Subsequent listening to the band’s debut album The Loved Ones indicates the quartet has had a bit of practice with bare bones stylizing (“Orphans of the Storm” and an Alvvays cover, “Archie, Marry Me”).
Wednesday was also the start of the Convention Center serving as a showcasing venue. Indie rock duo Wye Oak performed on the big Radio Day Stage, mainly playing songs from its upcoming LP, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. Norwegian indie soul pop band Hajk and Australian indie pop rock duo The Money War were featured on the companion International Day Stage.
In some ways, the IDS venue was SXSW’s best: great sound, intimate stage, and available seating. The harmony of Hajk leads Preben Sælid Andersen and Sigrid Aase felt calming in such an inviting room, particularly on songs like “Medicine” and “You.” The Money War had a similar effect with the space, as Dylan Ollivierre and Carmen Pepper navigated indie pop/beach rock stylings on “Hold On” and “Right Kind of Love.”
Not to be confused with the BBC television show with the same name, Our Girl loved to rock out to the beat with several lasting jams throughout the English trio’s set at the British Music Embassy in Latitude 30. Austrian experimental electronic pop duo Leyya also wasn’t shy about pushing its beats passed the boiling point. And no, this didn’t seem like an excuse to show everyone the band’s skill. Instead, the extended downtempo rhythms felt just right—listen to “Superego” or new single “Solitude (I’ve Never Been Fun)” and try not to hit repeat.
Minnesota native indie rock band Now, Now had its first Austin performance in six years at the Showtime House hosted by the Blackheart bar. It was the kind of lazy lunchtime show you wanted to see with breezy melodies (“Yours”) and retro ’90s vibes (“SGL”).
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Natalie Prass delivered stylings reminiscent of days gone by with her sassy soul-pop and accompanying era-appropriate stage moves (I’m too young to say for any certainty based on personal experiences). The highlight of her show at the Parish was “Short Court Style,” which would’ve proved hard for anyone in the audience to not dance along with some body part.
Central Presbyterian Church proved impossible to resist returning to see a few more shows. It was quite possibly my second favorite venue—see my criteria for a great venue.
Ireland’s electro-folk duo Saint Sister had a sound eerily perfect for a church. With a harp and keyboard, Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty took the audience to another existential plane with poignant lyrics and soaring harmonies on “Causing Trouble” and “Versions of Hate.”
While I generally resist seeing a single act multiple times during the busy week, I exempted British female singer-songwriter Jerry Williams because I thought her act would translate well on the church altar—and boy, did it. Williams had a bit more stage space to rock on, and the story behind the song “David at the Bar” felt a bit more heartbreaking in such a spiritual setting; the only true downside was the lack of a back-and-forth with the audience that Williams fed on aplomb during her earlier barroom show I attended.
And for the second SXSW in a row, Los Angeles-based electro-pop solo artist Billie Eilish drew a capacity crowd at Central Presbyterian, which again proved a somewhat strange fit for the unabashed teenage singer. She sang, cursed, apologized, sang again, and cursed a bit more during her almost hour-long set, which probably caused several audience members to blush.
But it didn’t matter, Eilish wore her imperfections like a badge, and those blemishes reflected in her music such as “Bellyache” and “Party Favor”—undoubtedly why so many people wanted to come see her perform.
- Billie Eilish – “Ocean Eyes”
- Flyte – “Cathy Come Home”
- Hajk – “Flowerdust”
- Jerry Williams – “What Do You Want for Breakfast”
- Leyya – “Heat”
- The Money War – “Recall”
- Monogem – “Take It Slow”
- Natalie Prass – “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”
- Now, Now – “SGL”
- Our Girl – “Being Around”
- Saint Sister – “Madrid”
- Wye Oak – “It Was Not Natural”