After a rough SXSW 2016 that included a band member in the hospital, two canceled shows and one delayed set, bizarro British art-rockers Everything Everything landed on their feet, closing out their first SXSW with a strong set at the Hype Hotel Saturday night.
By my math, Everything Everything should already be as big as Alt-J in the states coming into this SXSW. Their excellent full-length debut, Man Alive, was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2011. (Alt-J’s also-excellent debut, An Awesome Wave, was nominated, and won, the next year.) Everything Everything was set to play SXSW back in 2013 but had to drop out at the last minute. (That’s the same year as Alt-J played SXSW. Coincidence? Obviously — still, you get the idea.) But the most important parallel is the lack of parallels in sound. Both Everything Everything and Alt-J have a musical style that’s hard to compare and both make use of a… let’s say non-traditionally “talented” singer. I don’t mean that as a knock against either band’s frontman — I dig ’em — I’m just saying they won’t work for every set of ears.
Everything Everything takes a heart of R&B and Frankensteins it inside a body made of shouted harmonies, jagged guitar, and out-of-sync clockwork rhythms from a drumline of booming, banging drums and chirping insect heartbeats. It also felt wonderfully British: There were hints of Radiohead and other times where the band sounded like an Elbow record played at double-speed.
The band’s math-rock-meets-R&B sound may sounds insane — or at least unapproachable — but the band pulls it off live. Take “Cough Cough,” one of the highlights from their Saturday set: It’s up-tempo, bare beginning “Yeah… so… um… wait a second…” sounds plucked from a Destiny’s Child song then morphs in to a Battles track, rhythmically rocketing in all directions in a manic, danceable mess that somehow runs so fast as to not have its pieces fall apart.
I tried to catch the band earlier in the week at Barracuda, but sound check troubles burned through their entire set time.
Then Thursday night night there was this.
Then Friday night, as lightning delayed sets across town, the band was delayed and played an extra abbreviated set.
Then, finally, Saturday, everything went right for Everything Everything. The band, wearing matching gray robes and coats in a way that only cults and rock bands can get away with, took the stage after 11 p.m.
Singer/screamer/falsetto-enthusiast Jonathan Higgs’ voice was less polished live, but he made up for it with a rapper’s presence, cupping the mic and striding around the stage, and a snarling intensity — all while still hitting on those almost comically high highs that should click with fans of Muse.
The band closed with “Distant Past,” the closest thing to straight-forward dance music they’ve done yet and a finale that really cemented how fun the set was. Everything Everything makes experimental music for the masses, and the masses were moving — at least the ones not just there to get wasted on free booze. (Sigh. Crappy crowds are just a part of the deal at SXSW more often than not, but that’s another story.)
So, is Everything Everything finally ready to really make it in America à la Alt-J? Maybe. If nothing else, their SXSW 2016 finale was a big step in that direction.