SXSW 2017: Theater and rock collide in all the best ways for A Giant Dog

Austin band A Giant Dog. From Left: Sabrina Ellis, Andy Bauer, Danny Blanchard, Andrew Cashen and Graham Low. PHOTO BY SEAN DAIGLE

You couldn’t pick a more welcoming or well-suited situation for promising Austin punks A Giant Dog to have a big SXSW 2017 bow than their Tuesday night appearance at the former downtown Emo’s location.

A late-ish spot on a bill curated by Austin indie rock heroes Spoon – the first of three nights that band is leading at the beloved dump – put the quintet in front of a packed house for lead singer Sabrina Ellis and guitarist Andrew Cashen to show off their confrontational, theatrical interplay.

It was a semi-distilled or concentrated display of what Austin audiences have held dear for just short of a decade: Ellis’ accusatory and come-hither vocals punctuated by Cashen and Andy Bauer’s guitar interplay on tracks old (“The Grand”), from last year’s Merge Records release “Pile” (“Creep,” “Sex And Drugs”), and a pair of brand new songs from the band’s already recorded next album.

It wasn’t all needle-in-the-red fury: The soaring pop of “Jizzney” let Ellis show off the further edges of her vocal limits, and their well-worn cover of Sparks’ “Angst In My Pants” was a study in restraint leading to a slow-build explosion.

And there were plenty of one-liners and laughter-inducing moments from Ellis, including her reading of a fictional letter from Spoon’s management asking her band “not to urinate on the stage again” and that despite the New Pornographers’ provocative name (the Canadian band played following A Giant Dog) “they’re not into that kind of thing.”

Time stamps make it hard to get the chronology right, but it’s fun to imagine that that moment was what moved New Pornographers leader Carl Newman to tweet: “Watching ‘A Giant Dog.’ Band with that name. They are amazing.”

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