SXSW 2014 - Wednesday - Austin, Texas
South By South West is an industry-based music conference/festival located in Austin, Texas. An average of 2500 bands play over a period of five days so it's a great opportunity to watch the latest "up and coming" acts from around the world alongside more established bands playing slightly more intimate venues than they are used to.
My Wednesday began with a return trip to see London's Wolf Alice at Holy Mountain. The band had really impressed me the night before so was eager to take in another set. I wasn't disappointed, with the group's jagged, jangly female-fronted rock setting me up nicely for the rest of the day!
I believe I first encountered Nicole Atkins at SXSW back in 2008 and have been a fan ever since, seeing her live on numerous occasions, both in Austin and London. This was my first chance to hear the songs from Nicole's current album Slow Phaser in a live setting and it was predictably exhilarating experience.
The singer had ditched her guitar for her SX sets, leaving her free to "bust some moves", with Nicole and her band offering up gritty versions of tracks from the album, including 'Girl You Look Amazing' and rousing set closer 'It's Only Chemistry" (whose "Why Daddy why?" refrain annoyingly stuck in my head for the rest of the week!).
I didn't have anything planned for the rest of the afternoon and was heading to the Convention Centre to sort out my pictures. I checked my emails on the way, finding out there were 'Special Guests' at Spotify House, with the first one imminent, so took a detour, legging it to the venue.
I'm glad I did as I got there just in time to squeeze down the front to take in a set from US band Dum Dum Girls, with an appearance from Debbie Harry, joining the gal's for a cover of the Blondie classic 'Dreaming'.
Dum Dum Girls
As I was in the area after the DDG's set I decide to head to Fader Fort (or to give it it's correct title - THE FADER FORT Presented by Converse) to pick up my media credentials, staying at the venue to take in performances by twerking diva Big Freedia and the UK's own London Grammar, whose set seemed to be plagued with sound problems.
I started my evening with my second official showcase from The Walking Dead star Emily Kinney. Emily's released a couple of EPs and performed an enchanting set featuring material from Expired Love the night before. Things were running a tiny bit late in the venue so I was clock watching slightly as I had another show to attend. I was still able to enjoy what I heard though, including my fave Emily anthem, the bounding 'Julie'.
As it was, it was quiet when I got to my next venue, Latitude 30, so I could have squeezed in a couple more songs from Miss Kinney. At least I had a decent position to shoot my next showcase, from Scottish songstress Nina Nesbitt. I'd seen Nina play with a band at T In The Park and London's Koko previously but had never encountered her playing solo. It was interesting to hear tracks from her album Peroxide in a stripped down setting and I was blown away by her heart-tugging rendition of 'The Hardest Part', which I almost didn't get to hear as she was swithering between the aforementioned track and 'Stay Out'.
The next showcase I wanted to see wasn't till midnight so I decided to stay at the venue to see what Bella Union act Ballet School were all about, coming away suitably impressed as singer Rosie Blair proved to be the best front person I'd see all week. You could see her feeling every line of each song, producing a captivating performance.
My final act of the evening was my second trip to the ballet, this time taking in a set from Tony Hadley and his gang in a very intimate venue. I left Latitude 30 with a couple of hours to kill before Spandau took to the stage. The band were playing new venue Vulcan Gas Company and I was unsure of its size, though I expected it to be pretty big and pretty mobbed.
I was surprised to find it was a normal sized - and very narrow - trendy bar, with not much in the way of patrons! I think you'd have been hard pushed to squeeze a couple of hundred people into the area facing the stage, so it was going to be an intimate affair indeed. As it was quiet I managed to get a front row spot, with the venue slowly filling up behind me.
The band took to the stage around 12.30, producing a spellbinding greatest hits set that had the whole house singing along, with tracks like 'To Cut A Long Story Short', 'Chant No 1' and (my fave) 'Only When You Leave' all sounding sensational, with set closer 'Gold' blowing the roof of the building!
This was the group's first US appearance in decades and it was one I'm sure they'll remember for a long time as they were bowled over by the response, especially Martin Kemp as he had grown women screaming their adoration throughout the set!
The Spandau chaps were in Austin to promote a new documentary as part of the Film Festival which will hopefully appear in the UK at some point. Their SX gig was certainly a memorable one for me anyway as it ended up being my show of the week - and one of the best showcases I've attended in my nine years at SXSW!