Friday started out strong. I headed over to yet another Brooklyn Vegan day show, glad for the chance to see BOBBY for a second time. (Too bad time only permitted them to perform three songs.) I stuck around Swan Dive/Barbarella the BV-claimed sites of the week for another few acts – Paleo and Holy Sons – before wandering into Side Bar where I saw The Bird and the Batteries.
the crowd at the French Legation Museum (photo Jon Bernhardt)*
I continued on my way, out to the French Legation Museum for the third day in a row. There, I saw an impressive line-up: Lower Dens, Grass Widow, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Cults, Sam Amidon, and tUnE-yArDs. (I decided against running back up the hill to attempt to see James Blake through the thick crowd. Prior to his Friday show, Blake headlined both an NPR showcase and the Pitchfork showcase.
Technical problems with Cults aside, I was fairly delighted with what I saw. Their music is upbeat and catchy. Any small flaws in their performance just made me like them more.
Cults RIYL Eternal Summers, No Joy (photo Bryan Bruchman)
With three familiar acts and 3 never-before-seen it was a nice mix: familiar but also fresh. tUnE-yArDs put on an especially powerful show, successfully baiting the lingering James Blake crowd over to check her out after he had finished his set on the opposing stage.
the fierce Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs (photo Jon Bernhardt)*
One of the biggest surprises of the day came as I was coming back from the French Legation Museum. As I passed an auto repair shop, I heard Grimes introduce herself and begin to play. For a minute, I watched from the fence but soon decided to go in. Grimes is the solo project of Montreal-based artist Claire Boucher. She mixes together samples and loops together her voice and keyboard riffs to create danceable music – kind of like a female Baths, minus most of the awkwardness.
Grimes RIYL Baths (photo David J. Romero)
Next up, I saw a series of new acts: aptly named folk/rock outfit The Head and the Heart, cute husband/wife duo Reading Rainbow, and looping expert Yellow Ostrich at Antone’s, before heading out to the Ghost Room to see Social Studies and Agent Ribbons.
Reading Rainbow RIYL La Sera (photo Charlotte Zoller)
Reading Rainbow clip:
Though The Head and the Heart was the best attended set of the group, I think my favorite acts were Reading Rainbow and Yellow Ostrich. The Head and the Heart seem like an earnest, enthusiastic bunch, but other than a song or two, their songs don’t really strike me. They seemed well-suited for the Austin setting though.
The final few shows turned out to be a wash. I should have known when I got in the horrendous line outside the Pure Volume venue that it was a bad idea. I should have known to turn back when I heard the guy in front of me admit he was only waiting in line for the free booze and didn’t know who was playing.
But like a fool, I stuck it out. Baths would be a good way to conclude the evening, I thought. A burst of energy to help inspire/liven up the bicycle ride home. Except they were running some 45 minutes behind schedule, and after witnessing the horrors of the videographers and the dancing drunks, I decided to head out after seeing just Clock Opera and Jonquil. I regretted not taking Sam Amidon’s advice and seeing David Thomas Broughton.
Lesson learned. Free booze is nice, but not when it means large, obnoxious, and largely indifferent crowds. Just can’t handle it.
band count of the day: 19
*For more great SXSW pictures, be sure to check out Jon Bernhardt’s Flickr page.
I’m starting with this list because it is perhaps the easiest to compile. More to come.
There are 19 here. Deal with it. They’re also in descending order, for dramatic effect.
(The asterisks link to the appropriate show review.)
19. Warpaint – Music Hall of Williamsburg, December 2nd*
This was another surprise. Though I had heard the name Warpaint thrown around for a few months, I knew little about them going into the show, but they had me bewitched with their alternating vocals and mesmerizing minimalism.
18. Seabear – Mercury Lounge, March 25th*
I really can’t get enough of these quaint Icelandic bands, homespun sweaters and all. The harmonies and the impressive range of instruments in this large band leave me with an extra spring in my step. I want to get inducted into their family. You don’t think they’d notice if I joined in, do you? Maybe I could play the tambourine… or just pretend to sing.
Seabear (Photo Thomas Helbig)
17. Land of Talk – Bowery Ballroom, November 6th * I really loved this album – the lyrics especially, so seeing Land of Talk this past November was a real treat.
16. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Cairo Gang, The Babblers – Town Hall, December 8th*
Surprisingly, this was my first time seeing B’P’B. It was a long time coming. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, however, was The Babblers – yet another of Will Oldham’s special projects, featuring the irresistible Angel Olsen on vox.
15. tUnE-yArDs – The Bell House, February 5th * With her wild gaze and tribal-influenced songs, Merril Garbus is a force to behold. From what I heard, she stole the show from the Dirty Projectors when she opened for them. Somehow, that doesn’t at all surprise me.
tUnE-yArDs (Photo Jessica Amaya)
14. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Mercury Lounge, October 14th* (an interview with Owen)
I’ve seen Owen more times than nearly everyone else (3 or 4 times this year alone), and every time is a treat. This show was an extra treat because it was one of his last performances as CFTPA… ever! (I also attended his last NY show the next night, but the Brooklyn Masonic Temple was not the right environment, and too many people were there to see the other bands on the bill – ahem, Dan Deacon and Lightning Bolt). What a sweet man. I look forward to hearing his next musical project.
13. Scout Niblett and Holy Sons – The Mercury Lounge, October 6th*
After the disastrous Cat Power-esque performance in 2007, I’m certainly glad I gave you another chance, Scout (aka Emma). I love how raw her voice is and how she effortlessly shifts in tone from the sweet, innocent girl to the big bad wolf. Though I had never heard of them prior to the show, Holy Sons wowed me so much that I left with two albums.
Scout Niblett (Ian Crowther)
12. Lost in the Trees – The Mercury Lounge, August 23rd *
These guys from North Carolina are every bit as mesmerizing now as when I first saw them in 2008. Their moody orchestral arrangements and haunting lyrics make me shiver every time.
11. The Blow – Glasslands Gallery, May 13th*
Oh, Khaela. Your banter about the lost album with the unnamed starlet (Lindsey Lohan) may not be true, but it makes for quite an entertaining schtick. I love her beautiful, awkward stage presence and the candidness of her songs.
The Blow (Photo Devyn Manibo)
10. Beirut – Music Hall of Williamsburg, July 5th*
The man has French horn tattoos. Enough said.
9. Belle & Sebastian – The Williamsburg Waterfront, September 20th*
This was perhaps my most anticipated show of the year. I’ve spent countless hours listening to Belle & Sebastian. They were just one of those formative bands for me. Too bad it took me like 6 years to actually see them. The show was good, and the band was charming. Sadly, it just never could have lived up to my expectations.
Belle & Sebastian (Photo Amanda Hatfield)
8. CocoRosie – Music Hall of Williamsburg, September 15th*
This was kind of the wild card of the year. I wasn’t sure if I’d want to storm out of the room or take the sisters home with me. The latter was more accurate. I was pretty much speechless by the end of the night.
7. Andrew Bird – The Guggenheim, August 5th*
Andrew Bird… at the Guggenheim. The set-up alone is drool-worthy. Then there was the ‘forest floor of horns’ and the multi-level rotunda, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Andrew Bird (Photo Macey Foronda)
6. The National – Radio City Music Hall – June 16th*
I’d say I preferred their show at the Bell House or BAM earlier in the year (whoa, I saw them 4 times)… except for the fact that this was the show when Matt Berninger left the stage, climbed over the seats in my aisle, and landed in mine. The feeling of his hand on my shoulder as he steadied himself and the knowledge that I could have easily reached across the three-inch divide and caressed his cheek, are almost too much to handle.
5. DM Stith + Silje Nes + Inlets – Littlefield, June 13th*
Again, a fantastic line-up and a small, intimate show (with seats!). This was my first encounter with the Norwegian beauty Silje Nes, and I hope to see her many more times. And David Michael, might we go on a picnic sometime?
4. Laura Marling – Le Poisson Rouge, February 12th*
I love this girl… even if her songs strongly suggest that she doesn’t believe in the emotion. She is miles in front of her British contemporaries (Noah and the Whale, Fanfarlo, Mumford and Sons). Laura, I foolishly invite you to ditch Marcus and trample on my heart instead.
Laura Marling (Photo kDamo)
3. Efterklang + Sam Amidon + Daniel Bjarnason – Le Poisson Rouge, March 3rd*
I loved each of these acts individually. Together, they made for one of the most memorable shows of the year. What a talented array of musicians. Even though shows at LPR can be a bummer due to the pesky 2-item minimum at tables, I’d gladly hulk in the corner for you any day, Sam.
2. Atlas Sound – The Bell House, February 3rd*
Remember when the Bell House consistently hosted great musicians? I really hope these winter shows become an annual tradition as Bradford hinted a couple of weeks ago. I love Deerhunter, but I feel like Bradford would be dead without Atlas Sound to channel his surfeit of creative energy. Wonderful, heartfelt show – a nice contrast to the cold, dark February night.
1. Sufjan Stevens + DM Stith – Beacon Theatre, November 14th *
How could this not be the best show of the year? One minute I was dancing and laughing with glee and a few songs later, I was silently sobbing. Simply amazing.
Sufjan and his ladies (Photo Tammy Lo)
"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."
- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being