SXSW written recap/reviews Pt. 1 (White Mystery, Twin Shadow, Dotan, Speedy Ortiz); Mynabirds, Orenda Fink, Miniature Horse tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:54 pm March 24, 2015
Speedy Ortiz was the highlight of my Day 1 at SXSW 2015.

Speedy Ortiz was the highlight of my Day 1 at SXSW 2015.

by Tim McMahan,

For those tired of the South By Southwest coverage, bear with me for the next few days as I get through these notes and reviews of each day’s activity. I’m putting them down for posterity and for the record. Writing this is kind of like living the trip all over again, for me anyway.

The first thing one does at SXSW after getting his credentials in order is hit the streets. I arrived late Wednesday afternoon and was on Red River (which abuts 6th Street on the east side) by 5 p.m., which meant an entire evening of music lie ahead. There’s a sense of disorientation when you first arrive — the air is different, it’s humid, it’s warm. That hoodie you brought is no longer needed. Hipsters zing by on bicycles, hucksters are on every corner selling their wares, and everywhere you go there is the deep, pungent stench of weed in the air. Despite the presence of cops, people light up blunts and pass them around in public as if we were in Colorado with no fear of Johnny Law. Too bad I don’t partake in the demon weed as it no doubt changes the complexion of SXSW for those who do.

Anyway, by the time we got to 6th Street we could already hear White Mystery playing on the Beerland patio to a small crowd that tumbled off the sidewalk and into the street. Beerland is an unofficial SXSW venue that hosts its own free day-shows. It is ground zero for garage and punk bands no matter the time of year, and a good place to hang when you’ve grown tired of SXSW’s unending commercialism.

Despite the small PA on the patio, White Mystery sounded as good as when I saw them a few weeks ago at Reverb. The band is a brother-and-sister guitar-and-drum duo that plays gritty, bluesy garage rock reminiscent of another famous guitar-and-drum duo that had “white” in its name.

Next it was off to a warehouse that had been converted into a venue called Iron Castle. There are lots of these conversions along 6th Street during SXSW. Anyplace can become a music venue if you add lights and sound. Only one performer was being featured that night — Twin Shadow. Their staging involved large see-through nylon curtains draped around the triangular stage platform that had images projected onto them. You could sort of see the band’s equipment behind the scrims. I figured someone would pull back the curtain once Twin Shadow took the stage. Nope. The band played behind the opaque mosquito netting — an effect that was more frustrating than innovative.

Twin Shadow plays a bouncy ’80s style of synthpop rife with infectious hooks. This set was no different, though the new music from upcoming release Eclipse wasn’t much of a departure from 2012’s Confess.

Let me note here that SXSW’s history of rigidly following set schedules was nowhere to be seen at this year’s event. Twin Shadow came on 40 minutes late — that meant having to endure 40 minutes of grating house music while I waited.

Onward. Cedar Street Courtyard is located a few blocks off 6th Street in a space between two grand buildings, sort of like the Passageway Gallery in the Old Market. I went to see Speedy Ortiz but (surprise) everything was running off schedule. Instead, I saw a set by Dutch singer-songwriter Dotan and his band. Their sound is mainstream ethnic, the kind of music that would be right at home as the soundtrack for an insurance commercial. Very pretty, very well done. Very safe.

Dotan was a strange opener for Speedy Ortiz (who, in turn, was a strange opener for Spoon, who was scheduled to follow them). The Massachusetts band has played a couple times in Omaha, including at West Wing (and I think Sweatshop Gallery), and I’ve managed to miss them every time. Fronted by Sadie Dupuis, the band plays down-key indie rock reminiscent of Eleanor Freidberger. Great stuff and the best set of the night for me. Spoon was originally scheduled to go on at around 1 but it would be well past that before they got the bands switched out and the sound check out of the way. The courtyard already was well past capacity. There’s nothing quite like standing sandwiched between an enormous crowd and a brick wall unable to move. Spoon would have to wait.

Listen to highlights of Day 1 at SXSW 2015:

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Tomorrow: Day 2, which includes the Saddle Creek SXSW showcase. Two acts that played that showcase are playing tonight at O’Leaver’s — Orenda Fink and Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds. It’ll be just like being in Austin all over again. Opening is the amazing Miniature Horse. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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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