Mastodon goes back to roots, debuts new music at SXSW, in warm up for ACL Live show in May

Mastodon didn’t have lasers back in the day, but the band has played rooms like Empire before. They performed Friday, March 17, during South by Southwest. Andy O’Connor/For American-Statesman

Before Friday night’s headlining performance at Empire Garage, Mastodon hadn’t played a show in almost six months, according to bassist and vocalist Troy Sanders. For a band that’s usually constantly on the road, that can feel like an eternity. While metal has seen better days at SXSW, this was a show people were excited about, and the band got to unveil some new songs from their upcoming record, “Emperor of Sand,” live.

They opened with “Sultan’s Curse,” a return to the intricate prog-metal they came up on. It was knotty but also immediate, and guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher were flexing with flair like it was second nature. “Andromeda” further went on the prog tip, a throwback for fans who crave them going nutty with instrumental flair. “Show Yourself,” on the other hand, is a more straightforward rocker, dominated by drummer Brann Dailor’s high-strung vocals. His move into singing has been one of the best things about Mastodon’s more mainstream sound, and he’s still a dexterous drummer on top of that. That was evident when he ripped the opening roll of “The Wolf is Loose” from “Blood Mountain”; if anything, all this touring has only made him a more disciplined, but also vicious player. Finding that sweet spot between tight and loose is important to them: Hinds ripped out a shreddy country lick during “Megalodon” that’s still as twangy and juicy as it’s ever been. It was a little part of what makes Mastodon a treat live: yeah, they know all of these weird time signatures, and they still manage to have some fun on top of that.

HIGHLIGHTS: Some of our team’s favorite moments from SXSW 2017

One of SXSW’s main features, for better or for worse, is putting big artists in rooms far too small for them. This forced intimacy can make for some great Instagram moments and bar talk for some, and frustrating lines for many more. Mastodon came up playing rooms far smaller than Empire, so this felt like a natural return to form for them. They built their reputation not just on merging prog with metal, but by packing rooms where even if you weren’t in the front, you could still make out all their tattoos. They thrive off bodies moving in close contact with each othe. and while they didn’t have lasers when they played the old Emo’s on Red River a decade ago, this show was like the old days in spirit. They went all the way back to their debut, “Remission,” to close the set with “Mother Puncher,” and hearing that crunch felt as new as it did in 2002. Most of the crowd seemed like newcomers who probably didn’t check that album when it first came out — Mastodon’s energy made equals of everyone, as long as you were able to get in.

Couldn’t make it out during SXSW? Mastodon will be back May 20th at ACL Live with Eagles of Death Metal and Russian Circles.

5 Women Who Rocked SXSW 2017

Liniker Barros performs with the band Liniker e os Caramelows at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

South by Southwest 2017 has been full of inspiring moments and amazing musical discoveries. I kept finding myself at showcases led by strong, talented women. Here’s a few who caught my eye.

Luna Lee (South Korea): She may be small, but she’s fierce. Not only is the Seoul-based musician a rock star, but Lee has revolutionized the way a traditional Korean gayageum is played. She’s invented techniques to play rock and blues on the zither-like string instrument. And when her government pulled funding for her to attend SXSW, Lee’s fans brought her here anyway.

ILe (Puerto Rico): You may recognize her as the feminine voice of Calle 13, who for nearly a decade toured with her brothers Rene Pérez Joglar aka Residente and Eduardo Cabra aka Visitante. But it’s time to get to know Ileana Cabra’s own music as a solo artist. Cabra pours everything into her moving, theatrical performances that are a nod to yesteryear.

La Dame Blanche (Cuba): Yaite Ramos Rodriguez oozes swag. The hip-hop artist struts on stage wearing a cape and smoking a cigar. She spits rhymes and then turns around and starts playing the flute. She’s uber talented and her live performances can’t be missed.

Luz Elena Mendoza (Portland): In the middle of the madness that can be SXSW, Mendoza, frontwoman for the folk band Y La Bamba, offered an authenticity that pierced through all of the festival noise.

Liniker e os Caramelows (Brazil): It was her first time performing in the U.S., but hopefully not the last. We want to hear more from Liniker Barros, frontwoman for the popular Brazilian soul/funk band. As a black, transgender singer, she brings an important perspective to music and on stage her charisma and magnetic performances make her an artist to watch.

SXSW: You’ve never seen anything like Anna Meredith

There’s more than a fair share of lo-fi surf-rock bands, left-field rappers and indie electronic acts at SXSW 2017, but there’s nothing I’ve seen quite like Anna Meredith.

Anna Meredith. (Photo credit: Eric Pulsifer)

The British composer played Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. Live she played keys, laptop, bells and clarinet alongside a band of musicians playing tuba, cello, drums and guitar. Occasionally they all sing in unified accapella harmonies like some sort of hippie indie collective that lives in a bus. It’s a weird and wholly unique sound — a collage of disparate elements that magically come together, like complex geometric patterns that can (seemingly impossibly) be tiled.

The group, dressed in black and gold attire, played a strange brew of maximalist progressive pop that sounds like Battles, Jonny Greenwood and Belle and Sebastian formed a supergroup to score a fever dream. Weirdly enough the resulting songs were something that got the packed Latitude 30 crowd dancing.

Meredith opened with “Nautilis,” with a pounding simple, semi-chromatic climb of “Jaws” tense and triumphant stabs of synth and bumbling tuba blots. Other songs in the set mixed trance electronic loops and the soft swell of strings with thundering, dueling off-tempo drums and math rock guitar.

Sorting through the influences and elements of Meredith’s tunes is part of the fun. Combining elements of metal, techno, 8-bit videogame chiptune, jazz drumming, and pop in songs with time signatures that would require a mathematics degree to count, Anna Meredith is one to watch for those who embrace music that is truly outside the ordinary.

SXSW 2017: Graham Williams stresses importance of small venues during Saturday panel

Discussing the high rate of turnover in the small music venue segment of the Austin ecosystem Saturday, local promoter Graham Williams made a startling observation; that the Continental Club is perhaps the only small full-time music space from the first South By Southwest still in operation. Also more recently, there are perhaps only a handful of music-first spaces from the 2007 festival still in operation.

JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The point of those thoughts – offered during Williams’ participation on the “Saving Small Venues & The Independent Music Scene” panel – was that in Austin and other music cities across the country small clubs have a way of sprouting up and filling the demand for music fans and artists.

“The title of the article that comes out every two months is that the music scene is going away, and it has changed but it feels like places pop up too,” said Williams, founder of Margin Walker Presents and co-owner of The Sidewinder club. “It’s frustrating running a club and it is hard, and we need to work more with the city. But if you’re strong and passionate about it you’ll find a way to work it out.”

Williams was joined on the panel by promoters and club owners in New York and San Francisco, other markets where surging real estate markets have a tendency to price out incubator clubs after only a few years of operation. Just as East Austin has become home to more clubs in recent years, small venues in New York have moved out of Manhattan and deeper into Brooklyn each year, while Oakland has become the release valve for venues and artists priced out of San Francisco.

“Williamsburg started as a place where artists were living in the venues they operated out of, then all the waterfront got redeveloped and we had to figure out how to stay around,” said a former owner of the Glasslands Gallery venue in New York City. “When you do events you have to take responsibility for what it is you’re doing, and realize that when the attention gets bigger it becomes a business and that is something you have to protect.”

Much of the discussion revolved around industry issues such as the inability to generate digital content revenue at the small venue level, and the effects of radius clauses for emerging acts playing festivals, which are thus barred from playing competing clubs in a market.

While the city of Austin has taken initial steps to improve the fortunes of artists facing higher costs of living and stagnant music revenue, Williams said more needs to be done from a regulation and permitting standpoint so venue owners know what is expected of them to operate in compliance with local laws.

“The thing that keeps coming up is, how can we work with code and permitting because we have headache after headache from getting different rulings a year apart from people telling us what they see as dangerous that we have to spend money to fix,” Williams said, “We’ve almost had cases where weren’t able to talk to (building) to get a permit to fix something code enforcement said was wrong, and we could get shut down because two departments couldn’t talk to each other.”

SXSW’s final day winds down with long lines at Red River clubs

Cheer Up Charlies on Red River St. Martin do Nascimento/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

As the final (real) day of SXSW Music transitions into the final night, one-in-one-out lines formed at Cheer Up Charlie’s for Survive and Side Bar for Muuy Biien.

A line at Barracuda for Broncho was moving slowly, while the Mohawk and Sidewinder had no wait as of 5:30 p.m.

At Stubb’s, where Rachel Ray’s day party ended at 4 p.m. a line of nearly 100 was already forming for the night’s hip-hop lineup, featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Gucci Mane.

SXSW Spotlight: Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba on music, identity

Luz Elena Mendoza at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

Catch Y La Bamba at 11 p.m. March 18 at the Palm Door on Sixth Patio

For Y La Bamba frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza, music has been therapeutic. And when she takes the stage, you feel the raw emotion of her journey.

Mendoza, a South by Southwest showcasing artist, has been performing sans her Portland-based band at the festival. It’s something that she says is “really scary and hard, but also inspiring.” A stripped down version of her music means she’s relying on her individual strength while she’s on stage, which results in honest performances that are a refreshing step away from the usual SXSW madness that can sweep up the festival.

Mendoza, 35, has been writing and singing since she was a young girl and remembers penning her first song in elementary school. She didn’t grow up on Bob Dylan or the Beatles. Instead, as a daughter of immigrant parents, her childhood soundtrack included artists like Vicente Fernandez and Ramon Ayala.

Her bilingual folk music has also been an exploration of her Mexican identity. “I’ve never felt Mexican enough for Mexicans or American enough for Americans,” she says. “But also I’ve never felt Mexican American enough for Mexican Americans because of the way I look,” she says.

Mendoza, who is tall with short hair and fair-skin, says she knows what it feels like to be “an outcast among outcasts.” Lately, even at SXSW, she’s been asked about her identity a lot and peppered with questions from why she speaks Spanish so well to why she’s singing in Spanish.

“How do you talk about this with someone in a way that’s productive?” she says. When Mendoza writes, she doesn’t think about what language works best for what song. She writes what she feels and that comes from all the layers that make up her identity.

“People sometimes want to put you in a box,” she says. “But I’ve realized that I just need to take care of my spirit. My body is just a capsule and it doesn’t define everything.”

SXSW: An intimate evening with Weezer is a sing-along trip down memory lane

Like so many who grew up in the ’90s, I remember my experience with The Blue Album. It was impossibly cool — a foundational pillar for my budding teenage musical persona and probably the first not completely embarrassing thing I owned on CD. (Sorry, Spin Doctors’ “Pocket Full of Kryptonite.”)

Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, right, and Brian Bell perform at Brazos Hall during the South by Southwest Music Festival on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

But like all things cool, the album and the band eventually started seeming a little less cool. As I grew and it aged, the charming Blue Album began to feel simple and silly compared to the darker Pinkerton, and by the time of the disappointment that came with The Green Album the Blue Album made its way from my CD player to a bookshelf and eventually to a box in the closet. Memories were stirred with every “oh-we-oh-we-oh-we-oh” of “Undone – The Sweater Song” at karaoke or the plastic guitar clicking and off-key screaming of “Say It Ain’t So” in Rock Band sessions, but that box and memory were left to gather dust as Weezer and I went our separate ways.

In my super-scientific survey of others in my generation, many who were weaned on the big W have followed a similar relationship trajectory with the band. But Weezer has continued to produce new music (they’re approaching 11 albums now) and go on tours, and we’ve gone on to sell stuff or edit Excel spreadsheets or do whatever it is we do.

Then one day I hear Weezer is coming to SXSW so — what they heck, why not — there I am in Brazos Hall at midnight on a Friday with 899 other people, one of whom is Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. As revisiting and reevaultaing emo still seems to be all the rage (see: warm receptions for At the Drive-In and Trail of Dead earlier this week), why not revisit the gateway drug to that genre for so many?

PHOTOS: Weezer at SXSW on March 17

Outside, in a bit of a SXSW miracle for credential-less music-lovers, general admission entry for the show was allowed earlier in the night (for $40). But lines outside for the relatively small capacity venue began to slow to a halt two hours before the band went on, with even “don’t you know who I am?” types being turned back to the queued masses.

Inside, Brazos Hall felt relatively open, as fans forced to the front to be near the stage, a stage that is a little lower than ideal in a packed house situation. But seeing the small size of the venue and realizing the size of the act about to take that stage did make for one of those rare “only at SXSW” moments.

And like that Cuomo walked out in a green varsity jacket with a seafoam electric guitar. The crowd erupted. Cuomo puts off a Rick Moranis meets Marty McFly vibe in the flesh and looked largely unaged as he ripped into set opener “Hash Pipe.”

“It’s really awesome to be here,” Cuomo said. “This is our first time at SXSW. We should have come back in ’95.” That would have been something, but better late than never.

Weezer’s power pop (like the un-powered variety) can seem simple but depends upon a difficult to pin down alchemy to produce pop gold. But injecting plenty of oohs and nah nahs into your songs can help your odds at ensuring the recipe is a success. Weezer’s reliance on this approach made their set ripe for audience singing, and Cuomo expertly cued the crowd as needed (and the sea of outstretched hands replied in one voice).

This came in handy when, after a few songs, audience attention seemed to be fading and chatting increased. As the set turned the corner into its second half Blue Album heavy-hitters compelled the crowd to shut up and pipe up. With the opening notes of “Undone – The Sweater Song” phones and eyes lit up for a full-song sing-along from fans, one of many similar moments throughout the night.

With the final guitar feedback from “Buddy Holly” still blaring, Cuomo dove into the crowd with arms outstretched then returned to stage and joined the band for a bow.

Encore on the mind, unified chants of “Weezer” bellowed out the second the band left the stage — chants that were quickly drowned out by house music and bright “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” overhead lights.

Setlist

  • “Hash Pipe”
  • “Pork and Beans”
  • “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”
  • “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”
  • “Perfect Situation”
  • “Beverly Hills”
  • “Feels Like Summer”
  • “Undone – The Sweater Song”
  • “Island in the Sun” (with intro)
  • “King of the World”
  • “Say It Ain’t So”
  • “Buddy Holly”

SXSW musical journey through Latin America

La Dame Blanche at SXSW. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

At South by Southwest, where acts from all around the world descend on Austin, it’s easy to take a musical journey to any part of the globe. On Friday night, the sounds of Latin America took me on a sonic trek to Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela.

At the Sounds from the World showcase at the Russian House, Aluvión Afrobeat Pacifico led the dance party with Afro-Colombian rhythms from the South American country’s Pacific Coast. The group’s lead singer leapt off the stage to lead the energetic crowd in some dance moves. The killer marimba sound plus charismatic stage presence makes Aluvión a band that must be experienced live.

In 2015, SXSW presented its first Sounds from Cuba showcase and I was glad to see a strong lineup return this year. Among the top artists billed for the show was Yaite Ramos Rodriguez, aka La Dame Blanche. Rodriguez strutted on stage wearing a white cape and smoking a cigar. As if her magical blend of hip-hop with a bit of cumbia, dancehall and reggae wasn’t enough, Rodriguez also takes command of the stage when she whips out a flute to round out her sexy, soulful sound.

For the first time at SXSW, the festival presented a Sounds from Venezuela showcase featuring seven bands including rockers La Vida Bohème. The band’s third album “La Lucha,” which was produced by Calle 13 co-founder Eduardo Cabra (Visitante), releases on March 24. La Vida Bohème’s Friday performance included many of the new songs as well as plenty of the older anthems that fans love to sing like “Radio Capital.” When the lights at the Speakeasy dimmed for their show, the reflection of their matching jackets continued to glow. La Vida Bohème’s live shows never disappoint. They have one last SXSW performance at 11:20 p.m. March 18 at Palm Door on Sixth.

You don’t have to have Garth Brooks’ albums on your phone to get into his SXSW show, but it helps

 

A fine-print sentence in a ticket confirmation email for Garth Brooks’ sold-out Saturday show at the South by Southwest stage at Auditorium Shores makes it sound like fans will have to clear an additional hurdle to get into the event.

Garth Brooks announces a free show at Auditorium Shores during SXSW during a news conferenceon Friday, March 17, 2017. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

After the standard terms and condition language about ID verification and re-entry into the venue, there’s a sentence about downloading and showing the Amazon Music App on your phone.

“Also, be ready to show your favorite Garth Brooks album via the Amazon Music App on your mobile device upon entry to the show.”

A confirmation email sent to a Statesman employee who got tickets to Brooks’ show. Highlights added.

Brooks, who famously shunned streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music in the past in favor of his own service, ghosttunes.com, discussed his months-old partnership with the streaming service today during his SXSW keynote speech.

Brooks chose Amazon because of its reputation for catering to the customer, he said in the speech. He also liked that Amazon also still deals in CDs: “Anyone who tells you the physical world is done is probably someone who isn’t dealing with physical” product, he said.

More: Garth Brooks talks up Amazon deal and the value of songwriters at SXSW keynote

A representative from Amazon told the Statesman that the app download “isn’t mandatory, but a great way to listen to Garth before the show.”

More: Is this Garth Brooks SXSW tweet shameless? Let’s let the friends in low places decide

But simply downloading the app doesn’t guarantee access to its services. To do that, you have to buy a subscription from Amazon to link with your Amazon account— $7.99 a month or $79 a year for Amazon Prime members, and $9.99 a month for non-Prime members. Every one of Brooks’ albums is currently streaming on the service. Wal-Mart and Target have previously exclusively sold his albums upon release.

And what if you want a ticket for the show, but missed the noon release time? If you have $1,000, you might be able to snag a ticket or two.

Peter Blackstock contributed to this report.

 

SXSW Flatstock is ready to rock your naked walls

Scenes from the Flatstock show at the Austin Convention Center. Photo by Eric Pulsifer/For the American-Statesman

If you’re looking for some affordable art that screams “I like music!” to adorn your naked walls, consider a detour from shows to the SXSW Flatstock gig poster show in the Austin Convention Center.

Whether it’s a minimal industrial-looking print from a Wilco show, a melty psychedelic neon cat on a Neon Indian gig poster, or cute Threadless-esque pun-ny prints for a kid or kid-at-heart’s bedroom walls, the show has a wide selection of art from local and international creators. Other items include postcards, shirts and enamel pins. Some smaller prints start at $5 and other limited or rare pieces, like the full nine poster series from the original Emo’s closing run of shows, go for more than $150.

Flatstock rolls on from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The event is open to badges and the public via a free SXSW Guest Pass. A full list of the exhibitors is available here.

Scenes from the Flatstock show at the Austin Convention Center. Photo by Eric Pulsifer/For the American-Statesman