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You’ve got your at-capacity Sylvan Esso shows that bleed into an alley, and you’ve got your Dashboard Confessional sets full of fans screaming karaoke. One of the best things about South by Southwest, though, is catching up-and-comers in smaller club shows. Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie’s, at the end of the Red River music district, can make for a great one-two punch of discovery. On Friday night, we caught the madcap Latin punk singer Tall Juan inside Mohawk, immediately followed by Nashville indie rock outfit Soccer Mommy on Cheer Up’s outdoor stage.
I walked into Tall Juan’s set a couple songs late and was immediately bewildered and delighted. To start with, the Argentina-born, New York-based singer mimed smoking a joint, which he passed to a bandmate who immediately took an imaginary toke, who then passed the phantom pot to an audience member who gamely grabbed it.
Did I mention Tall Juan’s day-glo jumpsuit, or his two-toned hair? Or his charming theatricality, including punching himself in the head and pulling his face down in mock tears? Or that he asked us to sit down on the floor of the Mohawk? The singer’s good-natured chaos accompanied songs just as vibrantly pieced together as Tall Juan’s jumpsuit. There was cumbia in Spanish, there was old-school rock with a streak of surf-punk abandon, there was plenty of eclectic percussion.
Wholly unpredictable, wholly original.
Sophie Allison knows her references, but her point of view is all her own. The singer and her band, Soccer Mommy, made a connection despite sound issues at Container Bar earlier this week, and Allison said their Friday night show at Cheer Up Charlie’s was their second of the day at that venue. The tunes are dreamy, woozy and introspective, but they still bang in spurts of indie-kid rock catharsis.
“Your Dog” struck strong images of defiant wins (“I don’t wanna be your [expletive] dog/That you drag around/A collar on my neck tied to a pole/Leave me in the freezing cold”), but also losses in the same relationship game (“Forehead kisses break my knees and leave me crawling back to you”).
Allison spun tales of looking in from the margins that stand with the best of them: I want to be like your last girl, she sang. On “Cool,” she found inspiration in a classic alt-rock character with a heart of coal that will “break you down and eat you whole.” “I wanna be that cool,” Allison mused from the sideline. But from the SXSW stage, her everywoman voice filled the space with a dignified honesty that you couldn’t help wanting to claim for yourself.