Southern Exposure: SF Makes Its Mark on SXSW
Sugar & Gold; photo courtesy of Melissa Goldstein
Proving you can take San Francisco bands out of the city, but you can’t take them out of rotation, Talking House Records’ SFxSXSW showcase at Austin’s Bourbon Rocks focused the spotlight on the Bay Area’s music talent. We’re happy to share with Texas, but since our loyalty is to the hometown team, here we offer a rundown of the showcase’s highlights, with contributions from Melissa Goldstein, Aaron Davidson and Nicole Beckley.
Sugar & Gold
Looking ever bit like That 70’s Show the Band, San Francisco’s retro-electro-love-machine Sugar & Gold got hearts beating fast during the early hours of the day, delighting crowds with giddy performances of “Do it Well” and “Neighborhood”—the latter of which practically demanded an impromptu room-wide electric slide session.
Port O'Brien; photo courtesy of Melissa Goldstein
Oakland's Port O'Brien may have been collectively suffering from sore throats, as Neil Young-sounding frontman (and part-time Alaskan fisherman) Van Pierszalowski revealed, but luckily a little extra scratchiness goes a long way for the Americana quintet. Beginning with front porch jam session subtlety—cemented by Cambria Goodwin's nimble banjo picking—the set only gained in intensity, reaching its peak on closing number "I Woke Up Today." After Pierszalowski invited "anyone who wants to" to come up and bang on something, some musically-inclined extras seized the opportunity, assisting in a clap-and-sing-and-stomp-along jamboree whose rival we've not seen—this week, at least.
The Dodos; photo courtesy of Melissa Goldstein
Folk pop outfit the Dodos followed on the inside stage, battling sound issues from the beginning. Slowed but not stunted by muted drums, the band's energy made up for technological lacks, with doubly-miked vocalist and guitarist Meric Long looping everything from yodely vocals to trombone snippets to layer with drummer Logan Kroeber's galloping drumbeat on the sonically addictive single "Fools."
Built for the Sea; photo courtesy of Talking House Records
Built for the Sea
Few band names seem more SXSW-appropriate than pop outfit Built for the Sea. In an ocean of songwriters, singer Lia Rose is as prepared as anyone to breech the vastness. Able to sound loud and delicate without falling beneath the roar of her band, Rose sailed above the late afternoon heat for a set that proved memorable in an environment saturated with talent.
Chuck Prophet; photo courtesy of Talking House Records
Looking and sounding something like Tom Petty at the Super Bowl, Chuck Prophet delivered SFxSXSW's most straight ahead rock 'n' roll. Prophet cooks up songs the old fashioned way—sans pretension or rock’s latest stylish vest uniform and even sans introspective lyrics. You get what you pay (er, in this case, RSVP) for: riffs, solos and lyrics like "let's do something wrong/ let's do something stupid." Trying to do everything he could "to put Austin back on the musical map," Prophet punctuated every cynicism with a smile. "We're making music not friends," the recent Carson Daly and Letterman performer quipped. That mass-exposure was noticeable in the devotion evidence by audience members, who sang along with the band, "You could make a doubter out of Jesus," from the song "Doubter Out of Jesus."
Singer Philip Benson filled space in the front of the stage by dancing to his own band—in the charmingly free-as-a-hipster-bird way that has already become something of a trademark for the buzzing indie outfit—as people filed into Bourbon Rocks to kick off the evening portion of the SFxSXSW showcase. As the crowd acclimated from day to night drinking thanks to the intoxicating effect of the band’s bouncy pop dance songs, the wallets loosened, SF-drink-prices were paid and the crowd commenced with shaking to the beat.
Sean Hayes; photo courtesy of Talking House Records
Thanks to a softly commanding voice, Sean Hayes’ set proved mesmerizing enough to preempt SXSW schmoozing. With a weathered face, an old guitar and a minimal backing band, Hayes easily made one of the strongest impressions of the showcase. Rather than sounding like a trend-aping modern-day "indie" band, Hayes wore his influences proudly. He announced his songs—including his actual cover songs—by style or American region, illustrating how own passion for music while avoiding coming off as pedantic.
Audrye Sessions; photo courtesy of Talking House Records
Audrye Sessions, Elephone and the Matches
Showcasing utterly sincere lyrics and a wall of guitar sound, Oakland’s Audrye Sessions pushed out eight solid songs before yielding to San Francisco’s Elephone. Elephone’s keyboardist Sierra Frost punctuated the band’s mellow “Canister” with cutesy backup vocals from behind even cutesier red heart-shaped sunglasses—the perfect accessory for their affectionately self-referential track “Elephone.” But it was Oakland’s the Matches who really heated things up for the nighttime portion of the showcase.
Elephone; photos courtesy of Nicole Beckley
The Matches; photos courtesy of Nicole Beckley
The teenage throng wasted no time in clearing a pathway to the front of the stage to see the post-punk outfit. Clad in dashing red and black getups, the Matches belted out “Salty Eyes,” with vocal assistance from an eager crowd. Playing tracks from their new album, A Band In Hope (out March 18), the band played the home-away-from-home card by name-dropping SF locations on “Their City” and upped the energy with the ode to morning “AM Tilts.” But the set really caught fire on the super-catchy groove “Wake the Sun.” With all the attitude of their Warped Tour contemporaries and far better songwriting than anything this side of My Chemical Romance, it’s no wonder that the Oakland band is set to play a string of sold-out shows this April.
Film School; photo courtesy of Nicole Beckley
Playing just a six-song set, Film School wooed its devoted crowd with psychedelic guitars and tinkly keyboards. Beneath a knit cap singer Greg Bertens hauntingly cooed “Sick Hipster Nursed By Suicide Girl” while energetically pounding his guitar. Bringing out a more synthy-sounding keyboard for “Two Kinds,” the crowd was happy to rock along to the edgy track from the band’s second album Hideout. Kicking out a riff that sounded like it was borrowed from the Strokes, the set’s standout was “Lectric,” a song whose menacing feel seemed to belie its sweet-sounding vocals. Proving the quality v. quantity claim with just a handful of songs, Film School’s dark material and stellar otherworldly guitars won raves from beyond the Bay Area.
Minipop; photos courtesy of Nicole Beckley
Taking the stage at 1:20 a.m. on the last night of the South by Southwest Music fest, San Francisco’s Minipop joked that their late night start time meant they were headlining the entire festival. Bassist Nick Forte asked the crowd if anyone had gone to see ’90s teen trio Hanson—who had performed Thursday night—but clearly this crowd much preferred dream pop to “Mmm bop.” Dressed simply and casually, Minipop eased into “Someone to Love” from their A New Hope disc. Lead singer Tricia Kanne issued delicate oohs and aahs on “Ask Me a Question” and took to the keyboard for an especially dreamy rendition of “Precious.” But it was the quartet’s upbeat, tambourine-tinged “Like I Do” that got the crowd singing (if not bopping) along. —Nicole Beckley