SXSW 2011 - Day Three - A Review In Pictures - Austin, Texas
South By South West is an industry based music conference / festival located in Austin, Texas. An average of 1500 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.
I had another lunchtime start to my SXSW Thursday, beginning proceedings at the Convention Centre Radio Day Stage to photograph Country legend Emmylou Harris. The singer performed a handful of songs and talked about her forthcoming album Hard Bargain due out in April.
I had decided to spend the majority of my afternoon at Pure Volume House where they were holding the Idolator Pray For Pop Party as the line up looked extremely promising, including a performance from UK pop poppet Eliza Doolittle. Eliza hasn't made great waves in the States yet but there were still a few fans down the front excited by her appearance, having learned all the words to the likes of "Moneybox", "Skinny Genes" and current UK single "Mr Medicine", drowning out the singer at times where I was standing!
I hadn't seen Eliza play since the Summer and had forgotten how many quality songs she has under her belt while still on her first album. It certainly was an entertaining show and I had planned to watch her again later in the week but it sadly wasn't to be, with our paths only crossing the following day when I noticed a slightly irate Miss Doolittle in the VIP line at Fader Fort struggling to get in due to the venue being already crammed.
LA singer Miguel hadn't featured on my radar before but there were certainly numerous people in the house (especially the ladies!) more than au fait with the man's work. The singer largely first appeared in the public eye through working with Usher, releasing his debut album for Jive Records All I Want is You last November, with the title track and "Sure Thing" big sellers in the US R & B and Heat charts.
Miguel was a real showman, offering up synchronised dance moves with his band members and working his mic and mic stand to the best of his ability, including a risque gesture to a swooning girl in the front row to the slight annoyance of her boyfriend who just grimaced through the moment! After initially expecting to be bored throughout the lad's set I ended up pleasantly surprised as I really was just waiting for the next act to come on.
This was my third SX outing watching Swedish songstress Oh Land. The singer had released her self titled debut album in the States that week and seemed to be having a lengthy celebration, playing as many gigs as she could during her SXSW experience (the final total was 11 or 12!).
Oh Land performs with two band members, flitting between her keyboards, syn drums and the middle of the stage where she incorporated a series of dance moves into her performance making it captivating viewing. I've raved about the singer's more chartworthy, up tempo material in my previous reviews but I had begun to really enjoy her slower tracks like set opener "Wolf and I" just as much. The singer was certainly my SX find of 2011 as even though I knew some of her material previously I hadn't caught her live until my trip to Austin. That being said, I had planned on this being the final set I took in from the singer during my SX but these things do have a habit of changing...
I'm a regular viewer of cheesy TV talent shows so I'm always slightly excited when covering live performances from previous contestants, winners or losers, so I knew I had to catch a set from American Idol's Crystal Bowersox during my 2011 excursion, with her Pure Volume show giving me the perfect opportunity. Country singer Crystal was runner up in 2010's competition, releasing her debut album Farmer's Daughter towards the end of that year.
Crystal was on good form, chatting to the audience throughout the set and sounding great live, even throwing in a cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" as compensation for Cee Lo Green cancelling a show in town that was scheduled for later that evening.
Unfortunatly I had to leave halfway through her set to get to another venue for the start of the night's proceedings, an evening that was a bit of a let down all round!
My first port of call was over to the Auditorium Shores Stage, a huge outdoors arena that puts on free gigs and is always popular with families. This was my first time attending the venue in the six years I've been coming to SX, mostly because it's quite a distance from the main drag, leading to taking a trip to the venue by pedicab.
I was there to photograph The Strokes but I had a feeling it was going to be a nightmare as these sort of shows always tend to draw too many photographers so I generally avoid them. Well, as it was I was right to do so as the section for entrance to the photo pit was completely rammed, leading to three groups of photographers only getting one song each. I ended up in the third group, even after getting there with an hour to spare and knew it was a pointless exercise as these things only work if they get rid of the groups already in the pit easily, something which was never going to happen at Auditorium Shores.
I could also see a problem the second the band started as they were playing in a hideous lighting state which required a flash and I was far too crammed in the line to get mine out my bag sitting on my back. As it was we were shoved into the pit with only half a song to shoot due to the aforementioned difficulties, leading me to come away with nothing in the way of a decent photograph! I wasn't the only one so it didn't seem so bad but I knew I shouldn't have gone there in the first place, so wont be returning again on future visits.
I actually seem to be one of many not making the trip in the years to come as several of the general public complained loudly about crushes in the arena as a huge section of audience members waiting in line outside charged into the venue, knocking down fences the minute the band took to the stage, causing a messy situation down the front.
I slowly headed towards the 6th street area stopping off at Antones for a beer on the way, not really caring who was playing, hanging around for an hour or so, drowning my sorrows and getting my energy back after a lengthy walk.
The next show I was purposely attending was Ellie Goulding's over at Klub Krucial. Ellie was playing an acoustic set so it was a bit of a subdued affair. I could only stay for a couple of songs, so left her performing to an adoring audience.
I took another pedicab ride over to a venue a fair distance away as I was looking forward to a set from a singer I'd photographed a few times previously. The venue usually has decent lighting and a photo pit making things slightly easier. I entered the venue only to be told that entrance to the pit was only allowed if you had a separate wristband for the evening in addition to your SXSW photo pass attached to your camera.
Now this really annoyed me as there had been nothing to say a different pass was needed. It does happen sometimes at other venues but only for the real big acts generally playing at Stubbs as a secret last minute show. Had I known in advance I actually had two inroads to get things sorted and would have probably ended up with the extra pass no problem! I did try on the night but the person in charge was far too drunk to make any effort in sorting it out so the gig and venue will remain nameless!
I had been told that I could shoot the show from the crowd but the place was already busy when I entered so it would have been a pointless exercise the minute the first camera phone was hoisted in the air as I woudn't have got anywhere near the front. I was in no real mood to enjoy the gig as a fan so just decided to leave, taking a lengthy walk back into the main area. I was tempted to catch The Sounds playing at Cedar Street at 1am, but the line for the show was abominable, so felt pulled by a magnet to Buffalo Billiards on 6th Steet to view a 1am performance from Oh Land again!
I got there while UK dandy King Charles was finishing up his set. I had no idea at the time who the London based psychedelic tunesmith was and was suitably berated by uberfan Olivia, perched front of stage after his performance! There weren't many people watching his funky offerings but that's probably because he was a last minute replacement for Brooklyn's MNDR.
Oh Land's set certainly put a smile on my previously miserable face, delivering a performance as good as the previous three I'd seen but I was having problems with camera settings as the light was minging so didn't enjoy the first half of the show as much as I could have done. I eventually set my camera down, having more fun just taking in the music and enjoying a great time as the evening drew to a close.