SXSW recap Pt. 2 (Icky Blossoms, Viet Cong, Natalie Prass, PUJOL, Mynabirds, Krill); Born Cages tonight…
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
More SXSW 2015 recap-ilation.
The weather was still pretty awesome on Day 2 of SXSW (last Thursday), so why not take a walk to the Saddle Creek / Nicodemus Showcase at Stay Gold? I mean, hey, it’s just on the other side of the freeway in east Austin, right?
Well, two miles by foot later we finally came upon Stay Gold, a new venue with a great outdoor beer garden and a sweet indoor stage where Josh Berwanger Band already was playing (Alas, we were too late for Twinsmith and Orenda Fink).
Berwanger, a former member of Lawrence band The Anniversary, is repped by Nicodemus Agency. No idea what label he’s on, but the band was pretty good in a straight-forward indie rock sort of way. Very clean, very tight and a good preview to PUJOL, who took the stage next.
I’ve never seen Daniel Pujol and his band play live. I think they’ve only played in Omaha once, despite being signed to Saddle Creek Records. I’ve had discussions with local garage-rock aficionados who say Pujol (who apparently counts Jack White among his fans) was Creek’s stab at releasing a garage rock band. I don’t believe that was their motivation at all. Pujol’s sound is too controlled, to pro to be mistaken for garage, reminding me more of Marshall Crenshaw or Graham Parker but with a bit more dirt behind the ears. My quibble: Too many of his songs sound the same, but you could make that same argument about Crenshaw and Parker’s music…
Laura Burhenn of the Mynabirds followed with a solo keyboard set that included a number of old favorites and a few from her upcoming Saddle Creek album, Lovers Know, played in a down-key style that accentuated her rather luscious voice. How will the new material sound with a full band?
Last up at Stay Gold (for me, anyway) was Icky Blossoms playing in front of a max crowd of maybe 50 people – no doubt a sharp contrast to their sold-out send-off show a few weeks earlier at Slowdown Jr. The band kicked right into some tunes off their last album before rolling out a couple new ones from Mask, including “In Folds,” which translated just OK in the live setting.
They could have beefed up the energy level, but what do you expect playing to a half-empty club on a Thursday afternoon? Icky is playing as a five-piece — didn’t recognize the drummer or bass player, but it was indeed a good rhythm section. This was easily the best vocal outing for Sarah Bohling, who continues to grow into her frontwoman role alongside Derek Pressnall, the consummate professional, while Nik Fackler is the band’s wild-card wild man.
They need to get more new songs polished and stage-ready before hitting the road. As much as I like the Creek debut, I’m crazy curious about this new record. Maybe we’ll hear more new stuff when Icky Blossoms returns to Slowdown (in the big room this time) April 14 with Reptar.
It was back to the Courtyard for evening festivities, specifically the controversially named Viet Cong. The place was even more packed than the night before — I could barely move. On stage Viet Cong’s drummer was playing hurt with a cast on his left hand. Somehow he managed to soldier through the set Rick Allen-style. The band’s sound is abrasively indie with some prog flourishes here and there. I’m not sure why they’re so hot these days, unless it’s all about the name.
Afterward I high-tailed back to Red River and the 720 Club, a tiny bar with a small indoor stage area all but vacant on this Thursday night. Under the lights warming up, Krill, a band that colleague Chris Aponick has suggested I check out. The Chicago trio also has caught the attention of such taste makers as Stereogum and Pitchfork, though you wouldn’t know it by the eight people standing in the club. I guess it was everyone else’s loss, as Krill brought their A-game to a post-punk set that recalled Protomartyr but with (much) better vocals. These are the kinds of sets I go to SXSW for — intimate, special, the feeling that you’re seeing something you’ll never see in Omaha.
Finally it was time to pluck one of the artists off my must-see list — Natalie Prass. I’ve been enjoying her debut self-titled album (on Spacebomb) for a few months — rich singer/songwriter stuff, like Jenny Lewis singing Joni Mitchell. The venue listed was Maggie Mae’s. I figured she’d probably be playing at the venue’s rather large rooftop stage.
My SXSW badge got me past the line and right up the stairs, but I didn’t recognize the band performing. Did I get the date wrong? I asked the door person, who had no idea who was playing that night. There actually are three performance spaces in Maggie Mae’s — the rooftop, the Gibson Room and the standard downstairs stage. Turned out Prass was slated downstairs.
Once again, there was no problem getting in and plenty of space right up next to the stage. By the time her set began, the floor was filled, but not uncomfortably so. There was Prass seated behind a piano, her face hidden behind her dark brown curls. Backed by a solid band, Prass performed a half-hour of the best songs from her album. It was the closest thing to a “perfect moment” I experienced at SXSW this year. Check out part of the performance (along with snippets from everyone else mentioned above) in the podcast below.
Vega just announced this morning that Prass will be playing there July 22. I might have to make a pilgrimage to Lincoln….
The final chapter of my SXSW 2015 journey tomorrow…
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Tonight, alt-rock band Born Cages (Razor & Tie) plays at Slowdown Jr.. The band apparently opened for Guns & Roses a couple times, though they sound more like an indie version of Simple Minds. Opening for them tonight is fellow New York band Dreamers and Omaha favorite The Kickback (from Chicago) and Low Long Signal. $10, 8 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
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