SXSW: Cut Copy can’t catch a break in Austin

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Cut Copy can’t catch a break in Austin it seems. In October, the Australian dance act was playing a late afternoon set at ACL Fest when their sound was cut off mid-way through their set-closing biggest hit, “Lights and Music,” as part of a festival-wide Tom Petty tribute. At Lustre Pearl Saturday night, at their only honest-to-goodness SXSW show (two members played a DJ set earlier in the evening), the four-piece wrestled with persistent sound issues.

Frontman Dan Whitford was visibly upset, wincing at the piercing shrieks of feedback and knocking down his keyboard during crowd-pleaser “Hearts on Fire.” Having a seemingly amateur sound issue like egregious feedback tarnish the polish of their slick, carefully crafted electronic sound was no doubt frustrating for the guys of Cut Copy, but they played on and made the best of it, with Whitford rebounding from the apparently unfixable annoyance by focusing on pushing the crowd harder to sing and get moving.

“It’s the last night. If you’re not going to dance now, when?” Whitford asked.

Adding to the mix of sound pains was music pouring over from a neighboring Rainey Street bar. But, as with the feedback, the crowd seemed eager to forgive and focus on dancing. “SXSW is a bit of a battle of the bands sometimes. But as long as you’re on our side,” Whitford said with a smile.

Through it all, Cut Copy kept the packed crowd at Lustre Pearl moving, with hands waving in the air and voices raised shouting along the words from a short run through hits from albums In Ghost Colours, Zonoscopeand their latest, Haiku From Zero.

Maybe next time the band can undo their current streak. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long: Cut Copy gets a redo in Austin next Friday, March 30, at Stubb’s. Let’s hope they can find and replace the sound guy before then. (I’ll see myself out…)

Setlist

  • “Need You Now”
  • “Black Rainbows”
  • “Airborne”
  • “Pharaohs & Pyramids”
  • “Hearts on Fire”
  • “Take Me Out”
  • “Out There on the Ice”
  • “Lights and Music”
Crowds line up to get into day parties along Rainey Street during SXSW on March 13, 2018. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.

Female rockers reign on Rainey Street: Bully and Soccer Mommy at SXSW

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“I thought you all were doing a dance,” said Bully singer/guitarist Alicia Bognanno, referencing the audience’s raised bobbing fingers, signaling the sound booth to up her vocals. The across-the-crowd gesture echoed her own request and followed a swapping of microphones Wednesday afternoon at Container Bar. “I love South by Southwest,” she said with a sigh.

Alicia Bognanno of the band Bully performs at Container Bar on Rainey Street during the 2018 SXSW Music festival March 14. 03/14/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Mark it as another blow lobbed at that punching bag of sour sets everywhere, the sound guy, who surely has their work cut out for them this week. It was the latest in an afternoon of less-than-ideally leveled vocals, following an earlier set from equally buzzy and equally Nashville-based Soccer Mommy. (More on that in a moment.)

But, c’est la vie at South by Southwest. Even lowered in the mix, the Bully leader’s screams and growls were inescapable as the four-piece’s fiery grunge sound melted away the chill of party predecessor Porches for a packed Rainey Street crowd.

Bully is no stranger to SXSW, and, like any act that rises above the noise in such a crowded arena, they know the show is more important than the “sounds-like” labels. As such, the band is more of a knockout than a nostalgia trip, with ’90s grunge-forged guitars, disheveled and distorted, feeding back over Hole-like vocals. While the sound is familiar, the execution is done with gusto, with a hint of Diet Cig playful-punk hyperactivity and a serious scowl behind Bognanno’s messy, banging hair.

The band opened with “Feel the Same,” the heavy-hooked lead single from their most recent effort, 2017’s Losing, and closed with a blistering cover of NSFW-titled Mclusky song “Lightsabre [expletive] Blues,” for which Bognanno tossed aside her pistachio-colored electric guitar and thrashed about the stage for a three-minute barrage of raging rock.

On the less angry end of the angsty rock spectrum, buzzed-about singer-songwriter Soccer Mommy played earlier in the afternoon at Container Bar. Though Sophie Allison’s beautiful and broken Sheryl Crow-like vocals and personal lyrics were buried under guitar and bass—due to the aforementioned sound issues—the band still stopped the crowd in its tracks. Allison’s intimate bedroom pop (self-described as “chill but kinda sad”) grabs with a sense of gravity and realness that works where other overly earnest singer-songwriter types fail, and even when you can’t fully hear the words she’s saying you can tell she’s saying something special.

Soccer Mommy and Bully are a rare treat, but just two in the long list of talented electric guitar-wielding female-fronted acts playing SXSW this week—see also/go see also: Caroline Rose, Lucy Dacus, Anna Burch, RVG, and Haley Heynderickx. (Now what was it that that Recording Academy head honcho said after this year’s Grammy Awards?)

RELATED: Lucy Dacus is SXSW’s calmest force of nature

Bully plays again tomorrow night at Scoot Inn, while Soccer Mommy plays a slew of daytime shows this week before an official showcase at Cheer Up Charlie’s Friday night.

See all of our SXSW 2018 coverage