Since moving to Austin two years ago, I have begun looking forward to SXSW as a ritual-of reversal, like Halloween or Mardi Gras: time stands still, and community, festivity, and discovery reign. I eagerly anticipate the perception shifts accompanying sleep deprivation, extensive walking, unpredictable weather, and a “gonzo” go-with-the-flow mentality. Altered states of consciousness equal better absorbed, more deeply felt musical experiences…all the better for giving new sounds a shot!
The three acts that left a lasting impression on me expertly played the crowd in addition to their instruments and equipment, ramping up the energy to that sublime sweet spot where you can’t help but give “it” up (ego and agenda, that is!). It takes great craft to impel the suspension of disbelief, and the following groups—each of which I had never seen live before—had me converted after one song:
He^rd x PayPal Music Tech Mashup at Empire Control Room & Garage (Tuesday 3/17)
Performing the hard-hitting Afro Funk indicated by their name, Hard Proof has made Austin proud with national renown and a relentless groove that sweeps up all spectators in its path. The band won Best World Music Performing Act in the Austin Chronicle’s 2014 Austin Music Awards, so it stands to reason that the room would fill up as soon as they took to the indoor stage at 6:45PM. The frontline of Joe Woullard on baritone sax, Jason Frey on tenor sax, and Derek Phelps on trumpet met the jubilant audience front row with wicked melodic motifs and improvisations for the entire hour. Tasty keyboard work by Gerardo Larios created a reliably moody depth. The fiery energy of percussionist Tommy Spampinato on shaker and cowbell provided an infectious counterpart to Tony Cruz’s percolating conga and Stephen Bidwell’s drumset polyrhythms. Although I employ Hard Proof tracks in all of my African and Latin programs, experiencing their live sound is a completely different animal and much closer to the in-store consumer experience than my daily headphone evaluations at work; by the end of their set, I was ecstatic for the opportunity to finally understand what all the fuss is about!
The Ting Tings
FLOODFest at Cedar Street Courtyard (Thursday 3/19)
Kicking off their set with the pop bonanzas “Super Critical” and “Wrong Club,” Katie White and Jules De Martino energized the crowd with sass and style, providing sunshine on a cloudy day. I was only tangentially familiar with this duo’s oeuvre before the show, having recently programmed tracks off their 2014 album, Super Critical, for a retailer specializing in fun, fresh teen clothing with an edge. Post-performance, I am a fan and plan to attend their upcoming show at Emo’s Austin on Wednesday, 4/22. I later read that White and De Martino initially bonded over a love for one of my favorite genres, trip-hop, so I am not surprised by my affinity for their sound! White worked the stage like Blondie, Madonna, and Fergie combined, and her confidence became ours. Each subsequent song upped the ante, reaching a climactic plateau on their early single, “That’s Not My Name,” which had the crowd jumping and waving their arms in the air. I left the performance feeling like I’d tripped the light fantastic, having experienced the best that live dance electronica has to offer.
Blackfinger Day Party at The Dogwood (Friday 3/20)
Austin’s premier reggae band, Don Chani, was the highlight of Blackfinger’s Friday line-up. Their upbeat, eclectic vibe encompasses ska, lover’s rock, roots reggae, and cumbia, never tolerating a dull moment. This would not be possible without the top-notch musicianship and versatility of each of the band’s nine members, most notably lead guitarist and co-founder Erick Bohorquez, who also happens to be a Music Designer for Mood! Their cover of the Desmond Dekker & The Aces classic, “Israelites,” was one of the evening’s standouts for me, and the number of dancing bodies and smiling faces in the crowd said more than probably any recap could. The band will be opening for the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry and Yellowman at the Austin Reggae Festival at Auditorium Shores on Friday, 4/17, at 5pm…one for the books and not to be missed. Look forward to inclusion of Don Chani’s music in Mood’s Core, Custom, and Elements offerings in the near future!
– Submitted by Amy Frishkey, Music Design