Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Future Islands at Mohawk

Last night I was in attendance for the sold-out Future Islands show at the Mohawk. Future Islands are the returning champs of SXSW 2014 and last night's performance was their victory lap. Before the band took the stage I looked around and I saw so many members of so many Austin bands in the crowd. I also saw most of my fellow music bloggers and presumably some print media types too. In other words, it was the hipster show of night. Maybe even the hipster show of the week?

I'm not going to pretend I've been a big Future Islands fan since before they started getting buzz, because that would be a lie. I have been aware of the band for years, I have heard their records but last night was my first time seeing them perform live. Genre-wise, the band is kind of hard to nail down. They sort of sound like an 80's new wave band but there's more to it than that.

Future Islands - Seasons (Waiting on You) video via YouTube

It's no secret, Future Islands' lead singer Sam is the star of the show. He stalks the stage, unleashing bursts of movement, gyrating, gesturing, beating his chest and generally acting as if he is on the verge of coming unhinged. Sam was incredibly connected with the audience, making eye contact, pointing, shaking hands and being generally convivial. The core of Future Islands is their incredibly tight rhythm section, with melody provided by a keyboardist/computer-dude and the vocals. I'm still not sure how I feel about Sam's pro-wrestler/cookie monster voice that comes growling out on occasion but the crowd seemed to be into it and if it ain't broke don't fix it. By the end of the night Sam had sweat through his white T-Shirt and every one of his overly dramatic gestures caused great cascades of perspiration to fly through the air.

I had low expectations for the crowd because I knew that this was a show that a lot of people would want to say they were at. I strategically chose to watch from the floor level because the further you get from the stage the more casually attentive the audience becomes. I was hoping that remaining on the crowded ground level would mean people were more dedicated to paying attention to the performance and that was largely true. I also feel like the Mohawk's outside stage always sounds best on the ground level. It sounds good on the decks as well but if you're willing to sacrifice personal space the ground level is where it's at. It was also great to watch the people who were in the viewing area on the side of the stage singing along to every song and mimicking Sam's grand gestures. One of my favorite things in life is that feeling you get when you sing along at a show with your face toward the sky and your eyes closed tightly. There was a hell of a lot of that going on last night.

If you missed last night's show, I wouldn't fret too much. 2014 is a big year for Future Islands and I expect they'll be back through town again before it's over. I'm definitely going to include them in my Guess the Fest spreadsheet for FunFunFunFest. We'll know May 20th if I'm right or not.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ACL Festival 2014: Line-Up Reveal

It's been over 24hrs since the Austin City Limits Festival line-up was revealed, which means tickets are on sale now. It also means we've all had some time to reflect on the line-up and form thoughtful opinions. Just kidding, we all formed snap judgements within moments of the announcement and now we are sticking to our guns on that. In a nutshell, I feel like this year's line-up is as exciting or more exciting than in previous years. Clearly, I'm a big hater in a general sense so I'm not really the target market for ACL Festival. If you want to sell-out a big-ass music festival you can't book a bunch of "cool" bands that assholes like me enjoy, at least not exclusively. You have to book bands that people who listen to the radio will be excited about. You have to book a band for the kids and a band for the people who brought those kids. You have to make Bob Schneider fans happy AND AVICII fans happy at the same time. So with that all in mind I'm going back to my original point which is, this year's line-up is good.

Bad Rabbits - Get Up and Go video via YouTube

For my purposes, I feel like a discussion of the headliners is mostly irrelevant. I'm "excited" to see Outkast but after the Coachella reviews I'm setting my expectations pretty low. I'm excited to see Beck and I'm hoping he headlines either Friday or Saturday so the CapMetro Bus System doesn't fuck me with their shitty Sunday night bus schedule. Now's the part where I just list bands I like who will be at ACL Fest this year:

I promised myself I wasn't going to do one of those things where I single out one of the acts and question their worthiness but can I just point out that Lana Del Rey is the 7th name on the list. We live in a world in which LDR gets higher billing than The Replacements. Just putting that out there. Also, I'm really hoping Belle & Sebastian has an aftershow.

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Review: Damien Jurado at Red 7

I want to start this post by acknowledging that I know very little about Damien Jurado. One of my good friends from High School has been trying to get me to listen to Damien Jurado for a decade or more and thanks to Jurado's most recent LP, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, I finally started paying attention. With that being said, I really can't report much about which songs were or were not played because I'm not that familiar with his catalogue. What I can tell you is that I almost didn't attend last night's show and that would have been a travesty. I arrived at Red 7 shortly after 10:30. I was expecting the first of three artists would be on stage when I entered but it turns out the second of three was already midway through his set. I was kind of bummed that I only got to hear two and half songs from Ola Podrida's David Wingo but what I did hear was beautiful and atmospheric.

Jurado took the stage shortly before 11pm and he started his line check. There was a distinctive hum/buzz in the line and the sound guy asked Jurado about it. Jurado said it's been doing that for the past few days but he didn't seem too concerned. The buzz was very audible and I could tell the sound guy was annoyed that he couldn't get rid of it but he was resigned to just try to lower it in the mix and accept that it would be there throughout the performance. When Jurado first started performing all I really heard was that buzz but by the time he hit the chorus of the first song not only was the buzz not a distraction it complimented the atmosphere of the songs with a distant AM radio vibe.

Damien Jurado - Jericho Road video via YouTube

For the first twenty minutes of the set I had total tunnel vision. I was so focused on the lyrics and the performance that when someone standing next to me accidentally brushed my arm I was completely startled because I had forgotten there were other people in the room. The audience was so completely quiet all you could hear was the songs and the distant hum of cars on 7th street. Not only was the audience almost completely silent, they kept their phones in their pockets and they simply listened. Needless to say, it was an eerie experience considering the utter disregard most Austin audiences have for a performance. There was a moment where it felt like we were all getting Langoliered and the show was going to end with the sound of Jurado cooing as the audience was blissfully eaten-up by those time creature things. Maybe that was just me though?

Jurado was by himself on stage armed with an acoustic guitar, some chorus and reverb affects and his voice. The performance felt naked, vulnerable and honest. He emoted in a way that didn't feel like a contrived performance as much as a genuine expression. This is a man who has lived the majority of his adult life on a stage A performer who has learned how to command a stage without resorting to any sort of tricks or gimmicks. The set was an hour long, with Jurado returning for a three song encore. The library-like quiet wasn't maintained throughout the entire performance but it was pretty damned close.

This is a crazy week for sold-out shows in Austin and last night's performance at Red 7 was the antithesis of most of those other shows. For me an ideal live music experience involves both the performers and audience giving in to the moment for as close to the duration of the performance as humanly possible. If you're in the audience, that means yielding attention from yourself for the duration of a band's set. It means talking time is later, right now let's all be together and listen. It means, taking some photos is cool but try to spend most of the time enjoying your actual reality. The folks who turned up for Damien Jurado last night get it, the people shouting along the lyrics in Orville's face at an OBN IIIs show get it too. It's not about being quiet as a mouse, it's about respecting the performance and getting what you paid for by enjoying the moment. Most importantly it's about trying not to annoy me. Can we all just work together toward trying to annoy me less? Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.

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