SXSW 2011 - Day Two - 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.

Wednesday began with a trip to Austin's First Baptist Church to take in a performance from new UK hyped hopefuls The Vaccines. The gig was the first of AOL's SXSW Pop Up Show series and saw the band playing in front of the place of worship. The group have just released their debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? and pulled their debut Austin set from the collection to a crowd who had previously gorged on complimentary ice cream while waiting in line!

Although a decent amount of people turned up for the event there were far fewer than I expected, especially with the buzz currently surrounding the four piece as these sort of events usually have lines stretching around the block. Mind you, this was probably due to the gig only being announced an hour or so before!

This was my first time viewing the band and I can't say I was overly impressed. I had only given their album a cursory glance before their set so I imagined their output to be fairly full on like debut single "Wreckin' Bar". On realising that the majority of the songs were pretty mid paced, they left me a bit bored and sent me back into the street before their final number had completed.

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I was making my way across town to pick up my media credentials for the Fader Fort, or to give its proper name The FADER FORT by FIAT. The Fort is the most popular venue for afternoon shows at SXSW, usually offering an excellent line up alongside free alcohol, video games, bloggers lounges and the like so it's always a great place to hang out, leading to a humongous line of people waiting to pick up the free wrist band that allowed admission for the week's events. Luckily the press line wasn't as long and I got inside in good time to catch my second set of the week from Swedish electro pop sensation Oh Land!

I had given the singer's recently released self-titled debut album another spin before heading out for the day's festivities, with the collection growing on me even more so I was looking forward to her performance immensely and wasn't disappointed as the show was even better than the previous evening, with the whole set going down well with the crowd. Oh Land's more uptempo tracks like "Sun of a Gun and "We Turn it Up" really won the audience over.

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I was heading next to Antones to take in a couple of performances but decided to pop into Latitude 30 on the way to view a trio of tracks from UK Brit Pop revivalists Brother. The band were playing as part of the British Music Embassy's week long series of shows at the venue. The band's mid 90s sound didn't do much for me as I didn't like that type of music first time round but they came across as decent guys onstage and not the gobby chancers they've been painted out to be.

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I arrived at Antones just as Canadian band Hollarado's last song was ending!

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I had headed along to the venue to take in Nicole Atkins's performance but I wanted to get there early so decided to view all of the preceeding band's set too. Luckily it was worth showing up as Tennesse's Mona were an impressive bunch, travelling the same road as early Kings Of Leon but with added Clash swagger. I thought the band had been on the go for ages but only realised after the fact that they're still to release their debut album, although it's coming soon. I believe they're supporting the aforementioned KOL and Morrissey in the UK in the next few months so it's worth getting there early to check them out.

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I first caught US singer Nicole Atkins live at SXSW back in 2008, viewing three of her performances. I completely adored debut album Neptune City so I was also overjoyed when she made it across the pond to play UK dates the same year. Nicole also played a brief early evening set in 2010 at SX at La Zona Rosa which I attended. The show consisted predominately of new songs and although I knew some of the tracks from a radio session it wasn't as rewarding an experience as previous gigs due to my unfamiliarity with the material.

Well, the same couldn't be said for Nicole's Antones show as it was a real SX highlight for me. I'd grabbed her new album Mondo Amore on import earlier in the year, devouring its contents so was well versed in Miss Atkins' current repertoire and blown away by the live renditions of her new material as the songs came across even more powerful live than they do on record!

Nicole's put together a new band for this stage of her career and it's a great unit, especially guitarist Irina Yalkowsky whose glorious twangs complimented Nicole's sultry vocals extremely well while also wowing the crowd on a few occasions with sumptious solos! It was a real treat hearing the Mondo tracks live, delivered with real passion and intensity. Nicole is releasing the album in the UK in April so there's a chance UK fans may be able to sample her onstage again.

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I had been speaking to a slightly tipsy woman just before Nicole took to the stage and we'd been discussing what shows we were going to next. She had mentioned she was going to watch UK singer / songwriter Jonathan Powell at Creekside at Hilton Garden Inn. I vaguely remembered seeing that there was a surprise performer after him listed as "Special Guest (Platinum selling act) (Cardiff UK - Wales)". I asked if she knew who it was and she said she did, but wouldn't tell me! I must have spent about five minutes trying to get it out of her, resorting to guesses such as "Is it Duffy?"! I eventually came up with the name Charlotte Church, leading to a gasp with "How did you know?" It was obviously a guess but it came to me a few minutes later that I'd seen Jonathan's name in the tabloids usually accompanied by something like "Scruffy singer" as he was Charlotte's new beau.

I decided that this was a show worth turning up for, if only for the sake of curiousity, so legged it to the venue after Nicole completed her set.

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Jonathan's perfomance was in full flow by the time I arrived. He wasn't playing to a large crowd but it's not the sort of venue that ever seems to draw decent sized audiences. I grabbed a seat near the front of stage, taking his set in. There were no songs that connected with me instantly but seemed he a good enough performer and I don't see any reason why he couldn't be as succesful as any of the current decent selling UK singers travelling the same route. Hopefully his SX experience will have gained him a few new contacts that can help make it happen for him.

One thing that did impress me during the songs I caught were the backing vocals coming from a certain Miss Church! They were probably the best backing vocals I've heard in my life so it was an enjoyable experience watching her take to the stage for a quartet of songs about 15 minutes after Jonathan completed his performance. I'm not sure what Charlotte sang but I imagine all the tracks were taken from her current album Back To Scratch. The crowd was still pretty small but Charlotte seemed to be enjoying her first SX experience anyway and was quite chatty between songs, blaming her short set on the fact that she's a Mum now!

It was certainly an unusual way to end my second day at SXSW and it gave me a bit of gossip to tell people the following afternoon.

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