Floating Points entrance Mohawk crowd on Saturday

They Entered in darkness and quietly warbled their sound in, the first few minutes. Then, the crowd Oooo and Ahhh’d when the visuals came on screen — a projection of laser-like lights drawing geometric shapes. (A digital “spirograph” if you recall your 1990s toys.) Easily one the most satisfying light shows put off in a small club show.

Floating Points headlined Saturday night at the Mohawk, part of a string of the bar’s 10th Anniversary shows.

Floating Points is the project of Sam Shepherd, a DJ from manchester, UK, who, like Canada’s Caribou, also happens to study neuroscience. He’s worked with Four Tet, among other electronic acts. Shepherd’s music is propulsive, head nodding and rhythmic. It’s oddly ideal music to play while working; quirky but not boring. Typically it’s all-instrumental, no vocals. Droning, but unafraid of silence.

On stage in a full five piece band, with drums, bass and guitar, the band at this juncture feels like some unlikely descendant of “Kid A” era Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Medeski, Martin & Wood.

The sheer array of bleeps, blurps, churnings, sputterings and whirrings is impressive. Synching up brilliantly with the laser light show.

There were stretches of desert somewhere in the middle of the set — dry patches of dullness that were neither here nor there. But a show about waves of energy must have lows to hit the highs; there must be contrast.

The band felt clean and almost restrained in their discipline. There were no strings, but fragile rifts from guitar and bass flowed gorgeously next to Shepherd’s Rhodes synthesizer (among unknowable other processors and setups). Drumming was especially tidy and tight.

Despite the light show’s effects growing a little tiring as the show progressed, Floating Points maintained an impressive energy, a very different energy from the one on records. Far from simply reproducing their delicate sound, the live ensemble juiced things up. It was more of everything.

Floating Points are remarkably dedicated to a groove, and resistant to melody. Still, their show Saturday might have benefited from a shift in gears, maybe a little hint of the band’s gentler, jazzy side, or the variety of older material.

The band hit the city’s midnight curfew hard. The projection froze in place. “We’re..we’re not allowed to carry on,” said the bespectacled Shepherd. “This is probably the weirdest ending we’ve ever had.”

The crowd could definitely have floated onwards.

SXSW 2016: What won’t Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek say on stage?

Facing a long rain delay at Clive Bar, the patrons were flushed out of their spots in line and told to seek cover. It took an hour and a half to actually get things started again, with a badge line wrapping around the block.

And lest we are tempted to forget the powerful hold SXSW has, I met a handful of young men braving the rain after traveling from Glasgow, Scotland. They were here not as performers but as badge purchasing tourists. And they were here to see Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon.

“I don’t need these monitors. Help me unplug this monitor.”

This was just one of a myriad of oddities that flowed from Mark Kozelek’s mouth during his one and only Austin set during SXSW 2016. The first few moments he took the stage were studies in frontman awkwardness. He had a new drummer (“We just met five minutes ago,” Kozelek said) from the band who’d finished before him. Then the keyboard wasn’t plugged in, so a weird flurry of housekeeping began. Then Kozelek mimed the drum part into the mic to teach his new drummer how to play each song.

Recipe for disaster? As it turns out: no, not really.

People tend to zoom in on one version of Kozelek’s movement and stay there. His macchiato vocals spun sensitive yarns in his Red House Painters period. I really loved his modest mouse covers. But then there’s his fascination with metal (he has a new record with Jesu, the British band that formed after Godflesh broke up), and his recent confessional record, “Benji.”

It’s highwire improvisation, an ornery persona with a heavy heavy dose of irony. In other words, Kozelek’s stage banter is another way for him to do something different. To him, I think, it’s comedy.

As Kozelek pointed out, most of his new songs are ten minutes long, so when you count the banter, this set was like four songs deep. And that included a hoarse-voiced Bowie cover: a depressive, boring version of “Win,” from “Young Americans.”

Much better luck with Kozelek’s new confessional work. With just a keyboard (and a single sustained drum riff) running under each song, it’s a platform for Kozelek’s long, rambling new music, which is almost spoken word, but not quite.

“Thank you from the souvenir from Austin. I always wanted one of these.” Kozelek said after he’d wrested a pro camera from a photographer in the front row. He then wore it around his neck. (Probably, for safety’s sake, a great idea.)

Then he launched into “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes,” almost a confessional rap that, like much of “Benji,” records the inane details of his life at the time when he heard this serial killer had died.

“Exodus,” Kozelek announced, was a song about the death of Mike Tyson’s daughter. It’s from on the Sun Kil Moon/Jesu record, and it also deals with singer Nick Cave’s son, also dead. A song for bereaved parents, he explained. Kozelek asked the crowd to sing along at the end, even if it felt corny, a sort of good vibe for bereaved parents everywhere. Even after he launched into an insult about a crowd full of hillbillies, people cautiously chimed in.

Kozelek is so acerbic during the breaks. He seemed to be falling into some spiral of endless irony, like a sad, but still compelling comedian.

The surprising thing is how effective it all was. No one there will forget that show for a long time, just based on its weirdness alone. Too many SXSW bands have a generic or formulaic stage presence. Kozelek’s salty, abrasive style pulls you in. Plus, his style and delivery has more than a passing resemblance to Christopher Walken’s. So there’s that.

As his songs delve into his earliest sexual encounters in fairly graphic detail, you may raise your eyebrows, but if we’re being truthful, there’s an honest voyeuristic appeal to it.

So you stay all through the tiny, oddball set, watching Kozelek hunched over to read off his lyrics sheet (understandable, given how long these songs are), more like a modern Robert Lowell poet than a rocker.

 

SXSW 2016: Porches brings all the feels 

Somehow Cheer Up Charlie’s was magically protected from the rain, or something, because their evening showcase sets Friday night were running more or less on time. (Must’ve been the parachute. Probably.)

The 1am slot had Porches on the outside stage.

This band is obviously anchored by lead singer Aaron Maine. The eyes of every other player on stage are on him almost without a break.

Maybe that’s because his stage presence felt a little volatile. On Friday Maine’s stage, his mutterings were an interesting mix of deadpan ironic gibberish.

“You dead…we dead…” he repeated more than a few times. Sound weird? Yup, it was super weird.

Thankfully his band is always smiling, seemingly entertained by it, so it lightens the mood.

 

Porches’ music waxes and wanes from sensitive and beautiful 80s guitar ballads, to prickly and abrasive guitar rock depressives.

Sometimes there’s a a yacht rock vibe, except you tune in and it turns out the lyrics are about wanting (and not wanting) to die.

But there’s a reason Porches are here. Recently signed to Domino Records, home Dirty Projectors and other rock contortionists, Porches fit right into that mold, even though Maine’s band has recently put away the guitars and opted for shimmering electronica instead.

“That was our rock set,” Maine said at the end. And it was too bad that, at least for this set, they hadn’t brought their newest material. Because Porches are a band in rapid flux.

They’ve gone from making super intense music you make when you’re at the age where you feel all the things; the kind of thing you listen to on repeat for a very brief, very intense part of your life … and then one day you stop playing it. And you won’t hear it again for 20 years.

This depressive rock stuff can be satisfying to hear, but it tends to do better in the privacy of your own home. Still, worth keeping an eye on Porches as they continue to leave their guitars behind.

SXSW 2016: Eleanor Friedberger

Eleanor Friedberger has an unmistakable Patti Smith thing going on, and it’s not just the haircut.

Friedberger, of the Fiery Furnaces (now on hiatus), is keeping things going as a solo artist, carving out a niche for fans of 70s singer-songwriters and millennial beach rock.

It’s good stuff. Her lyrics seem intensely personal but relatable, and Icewater, the Brooklyn band backing her up, have no trouble setting into a groove.

The stage at the Urban Outfitters backlot on Guadalupe is some sort of concert going dream. Not too busy, surrounded by food trucks, a michelada station, and a coffee truck. Not to mention shade.

Though, maybe it’s just SXSW fatigue or complaints about the mix in their monitors, but Friedberger and her band hardly cracked so much as a wry smile their entire set.

Too bad, because Friedberger, who went to UT, and recently posted a video from footage of her own experience at SXSW 1996, has a connection here that not many artists have.


Aside from the lack of cheer, it was a good set, with both new material from her spanking new release “New View,” and great songs from her 2011 record, including “Roosevelt Island,” with its enviable lyrics about a day trip, in the both senses of the word, (“Woke up next to that guy we used to hate.”)

 

 

SXSW 2016: Bombino jam out Hotel Vegas’ backyard

There was a big crowd and a killer age of Aquarius-style projection at Hotel Vegas’ Patio stage Thursday night. It was almost a micro festival vibe that fell right in line with the Levitation Fest showcase happening indoors.  

A huge line snaked around the building, waiting for a lineup that included Yuck, but the buzz seemed to be for Bombino — at least until they ran about a set behind.

In their place at 10:45ish was Noura Mint Seymali, who has a similar vibe. Seymali, from Mauritania performs in full headscarf, which drapes luxuriously over her torso.

This was not completely unlike Bombino, if they were less about rocking out and more about having a Female singer floating above a great rhythmic jam — the guitar strums, sparkles and jams while and Seymali’s voice does much the same thing, often erupting in long sustained warbles.

Above the band on the white tent was an awesome projection made by heating up colored liquids directly on top of old school overhead projectors. And the result is a lava-lamp of circular shapes that the projectionist actually made move in time to the beats. Brilliant and perfect for each of these bands.

In between sets I popped inside to catch the end of a satisfying oddball set by Exploded View out of Berlin. It’s Jefferson Airplane meets Portishead, with a bit of noise guitar thrown in for a laugh. I barely caught any of the vocals but apparently it’s political. Lead singer Anika wandered into the crowd towards the end.

At last though Bombino started outdoors. These guys can do no wrong. Their set was peppered with older familiar material (though, they don’t make the kind of records that you listen to one track at a time, so it’s incredibly hard to tell what they actually played).

Their collaboration with Black Keys was a bit of a misstep for me, as if the band allowed their sound to be corrupted with a scuzzy guitar for no good reason. Not that we shouldn’t embrace change. And a new collaboration with Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, and his great restless energy will, fingers crossed, be a brilliant and weird undertaking that does Bombino justice.

But their showcase featured their typical tight playing, a couple of blues riffs even found their way in there. There was less focus on vocals and the band laid into nothing but the grooves, making space for sleek guitar solos, hand claps and pulsing drums. 

The bits of blues and jazz, Bombino are so good at ramping up and down, at carving out that space for silence and solos, it’s a result of impeccable communication between the band. Nothing felt formulaic or pre thought. The band are always fixed in eye contact—in constant communication with one another.

Four piece took a triple bow at the end, totally deserved. 

SXSW 2016: Roger Sellers’ Bayonne tries to escape the bedroom

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Bayonne’s Roger Sellers squats behind his electronics on stage at SXSW 2016. Photo Aidan McQuay

Austin’s Roger Sellers played an early SXSW set at Barracuda Thursday under his relatively new moniker, Bayonne. 

“I’m going to do a lot of weird loops for the next 30 minutes,” he said. The talented, inventive electro-acoustic artist drew a solid crowd, and for good reason. There’s always an infectious pulse under most of Bayonne’s songs, and Sellers’ vocals are catchy and totally emotional enough to speak to an audience.

And he’s putting in a huge effort in his stage show, dancing and moving his body along with cues to the music.

But there is something tricky about bridging the disconnect between pre recorded loops and a live audience.

Sellers bounces around the stage, does live vocals, live drum loops and God knows what else with the triggers under his fingers. But he never quite sustained eye contact with the audience, and try as he might, the stage show doesn’t impart a mood or sense of urgency to the crowd.

Ultimately there’s probably only one way to make a live show of all these digital pieces feel live, and that’s to perform as much music as humanly possible on stage in front of the crowd.

Every time a performer steps away from the instrument (or electronics in this case), to dance, or do anything, something does not compute in the viewer’s mind. It begs the question, why are we watching you on stage right now, instead of popping on headphones and downloading the album?

Still, it’s not for lack of trying. Sellers does interesting live vocals, and pounded away on drums, building loops that worked under the digital arpeggios. He brought on a second drummer halfway through too.

It’s completely compelling music, and there’s a good reason that, his next record is being released on a serious national label, Mom and Pop. In any case, this could be a huge year for Bayonne, but mostly because his records are gorgeous works of art.

 

A (Very Loud) Classical Refuge at SXSW 2016

GrahamReynolds1- Aubrey Edwards
Austin’s Graham Reynolds. Photo by Aubrey Edwards

It’s not Classical — it’s Austin’s Graham Reynolds, Justin Sherburn, Line Upon Line, Mother Falcon, Fast Forward and others, all under one roof, tucked away in the Hideout Theatre on Congress.

 

It’s only a block away from the action, but walking into the dark theater to sit down was an awesome exercise in sensory deprivation. You have a seat, immersed in the dark instead of jostling with a bored, chatty crowd, and on stage is Graham Reynolds and his piano, two singers, a cello, violin, guitar, drum kit, and bass/tuba.

The one thing this show had in common with the rest of SXSW was the volume. It was freaking loud. Stupidly loud. But at least with earplugs, it worked well enough to send the message that this was not delicate music. And let’s be honest, anything that so much as hints at old people’s music is not going to play well here. So it’s a smart strategy.

And so was the music, Reynolds’ epic piece about the life of Pancho Villa. The singers, Liz Cass and Paul Sanchez do much of the heavy lifting of this chamber opera, singing in Spanish. But it’s a choreographed affair — shifting moods that tell Villa’s tale.

The strings are solid, Adrian Quesada does gorgeous work on guitar, and the strings and percussion keep the pace moving. It gets a little messy — Reynolds tried to cue solos but sometimes the players were unsure when to come in and out. This will hopefully change as the piece grows. 

The Hideout seems to be a good fit for this show. It gives the performers a quiet performance space in the theatre, and a place to mingle just outside. The result was both an oasis away from 6th Street and an epic storm of something different. 

Nerds make you dance SXSW 2016 edition: Canada’s Royal Canoe 

This should be a good year for Royal Canoe.

This Canadian six-piece (straight outta Winnipeg, Manitoba) has been making good music for a while now; stuff that seems like standard indie-rock, until they do something that makes you go, “Huh?”

At their early morning Canada House showcase at Friends, the band had a super elaborate stage set. Two drummers, a bunch of different synths and effects. Lead vocalist Matt Peters sings with a couple of mics, one for straight vocals, a second to weird out his voice with effects like a deep Laurie Anderson monster bass.

But Royal Canoe never get too deep into their nerdy rabbit hole. Their music has just the right blend of bounce, handclaps and sincere vocals. The lyrics aren’t overwrought, but when they come, in between the pulse of the music, Peters would burst out all emotive lines like, “I want to taaalk to you.”

You hear a little Britt Daniel in Peters’ voice, but then there’s this angelic falsetto. Not to mention four-part harmony.

Peters took a couple of straw polls from the stage, one about whether the new dividers on Sixth Street were helpful or not. The crowd booed them down. “See I kind of thought that it was good,” Peters said, “I thought it was for emergency vehicles. What happens if on of you guys trips in a giant St. Patrick’s day clover?” What, indeed.

There’s no point reaching for comparisons, because Royal Canoe are fresh, fun, and seem wholly their own thing, but without being self-consciously nerdy about the tech side. That could be because the band has mastered pulling their effects onto a stage show. They have a confident vibe.

And the hijinks aren’t strictly digital — one minute they have a funky beat that’s brilliant bedroom music, the next they’ve broken the beat down into compound rhythms, keeping everyone on their toes. Like Tune Yards, it seems like Royal Canoe could pull of a great unplugged set too.

On Thursday’s showcase the band played their singable track “Bathtubs,” but also a bunch of new material, and that’s the stuff I’m looking forward to next. Produced by Animal Collective and Deerhunter collaborator Ben Allen, keep an eye out for more of this danceable weirdness in 2016.

 

 

 

ACL Fest 2015: Nero not so much

Of all the electronic acts at this year’s ACL, you’d have to think Nero were the hardest for non-fans to get excited about.

There’s just something robotic about them. When the UK trio are on stage, you rarely catch a look at the guys triggering the music, from their light box on stage. But it’s not just stagecraft that’s robotic. Even a guy in a mouse mask formed a stronger connection with the crowd. It’s the music.

Marisa Morales dances with a hula hoop during a performance by Nero at Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. JAMES GREGG/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Marisa Morales dances with a hula hoop during a performance by Nero at Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. JAMES GREGG/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

When they play tracks with solid hooks, things work fine, it’s interesting candy. Totally listenable. But others are just a slog. Nero worked with Skrillex to win a Grammy for “Promises,” but the lyrics (repeated versions of “I’m so wasted on myself”) don’t add up to much.

Still, give Nero credit for having a real singer in the band. Alana Watson appears on stage and actually sing in the flesh, looking and sounding like a band that fell out of a “Hunger Games” set.

The final moment of disconnection seems too rich a metaphor. The set ends on a huge drum roll out, but the band has already thanked the crowd, clicked a button and left the stage.

Obviously they had a huge crowd. EDM is a huge movement. Still, they seem to take themselves so seriously, that it just seems silly. Despite sounding glitzy and polished, Nero felt mostly soulless, like a soundtrack to a big budget, but disappointing dystopian Hollywood blockbuster.

 

 

ACL Fest 2015: 90 Million views? Yeah, they’re working for Vance Joy

Vance Joy performs on the Homeaway stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Vance Joy performs on the Homeaway stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Suzanne Cordeiro for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Were there this many people here to watch Vance Joy last weekend?

So much for counter-programming. This was by far the biggest assembly at the Home Away stage I’d seen all weekend, with the exception of Hozier, and then they’re about tied. Was it a quirk or the schedule? Or does the folky pop of this Australian singer songwriter have this many fans?

A bit of both, maybe.

Vance has a certain appeal: his voice is solid, and his plainspoken emotional lyrics definitely speak to the college crowd. His video for “Riptide” has 90 million views and he’s been opening on tour for Taylor Swift. So there’s that.

But the outer ring of the crowd—which was bleeding, amazingly, into the Samsung stage—was just using it as background music. They were here to chill and chat—folks who had heard Vance Joy on the radio or online, but haven’t heard of indie poet Kurt Vile or Chance The Rapper, who were busy playing on competing stages.

Sometimes Vance Joy’s music is so straightforward it’s annoying even as harmless pop, like when he bellows out a heartfelt chorus, “allll I really wanted/was time,” ten times.

That’s when it’s time to bail on the YouTube show and go watch Chance the Rapper and his brass band sing “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”