The first thing I got up and out for Friday was Of Monsters and Men at Filter Magazine’s Showdown on Cedar Street at 1:00pm. Showing up about five minutes past the hour, the courtyard was completely packed. People flowed up and out onto the street, and I quickly determined that getting down into the action would not be an option. I managed to get down to the steps for part of the set, a sound coming towards me as crisp and clear and full as the record. This was an important one for SXSW, since the Icelanders have already sold out a half to two-thirds of their dozen or so North American tour dates, and don’t have any scheduled anywhere near me. They seemed to play mostly selections from My Head Is an Animal, which is due out the first week in April. “Little Talks,” with its anthemic ‘HEYs’ was a favorite, those vocals ringing out through the block. The tightness of live performance was quite impressive.
After a stop at El Sol y La Luna for lunch tacos and micheladas, I made it over to the other side of town for Class Actress at S.O.Terik’s outdoor, tent stage. Not fully impressed with the sound, I was happy to see the duo touring with a live drummer this time, and thought that brought the sound out a lot. The analog sounds and synths characteristic of the Class Actress sound weren’t as thick as they would be in an enclosed venue, and Liz Harper’s vocals weren’t as loud and distinct as they should’ve been, but I’m chalking it up to a bad overall mix – it was obvious that she was having problems monitoring herself, and I’ve seen her give astounding, spot-on performances on more than one occasion in the past.
Next, I caught Zola Jesus at Rhapsody Rocks Austin at Club DeVille, sandwiched between Caveman and party headliners Washed Out. An ultimate complaint about some of the daytime events this year in Austin would be the lack of set times. Simply listing the lineup, even in order, is no help to those of us who operate in 30-45 minute increments. All the same, I guesstimated that Zola Jesus would hit the stage at 4pm (the party ended at 6:00). I was wrong, and when we arrived, it was difficult to even get through the gate, let alone to a place where you could see the stage, even though it was pretty elevated. The sound was actually great. The mix was smooth; vocals were clear. I was happy to see a violinist included in the roster of backup band members this time around. Near the end of the unusually long, but welcomed 45-minute set, Nika made a leap for the mountain of crowd-facing monitors sitting stage left. I could look around and see the excitement on the faces of those too short to have seen her at all for the entire show. It was crowd-pleasing. The Zola Jesus set included a nice mix of tunes, too – not just selections from Conatus or even Stridulum II. Obviously, those there to see her at SX were already fans, and they knew all the words of even the more obscure numbers.
Our next stop was Beauty Bar for Etnies’ Fake Life Fete; I wanted to be absolutely sure that we arrived early enough to get up front for Chairlift, because I knew the nighttime show would be a sea of drunken mess to navigate. The free beer eased the wait, and I was able to step outside and catch the very end of Grieves’ set. I know nothing about these guys, but the rap-electro-rock mix was a refreshing change. The guitar sounded awesome and the vocals were clear. Polica played inside immediately after, at 4:30pm. It was a fun surprise. I didn’t stick around for the whole set, but their live beats and grooves were infectious. Apparently, their SXSW 2012 endeavors were quite successful, garnering them ample press love already. They’re definitely a band to watch.
Chairlift was slated to play at 5:00pm. The start time kept getting pushed back, but everyone waited without many complaints. Initially, I was under the impression that the band was having issues with their inputs (keys, specifically). But about 30 minutes later, when they began the set, it became super obvious that the guitar player was absent. The band pressed on anyway, rolling through all but the last song of the set, including “Sidewalk Safari,” “Take It Out on Me,” “Met Before,” “Ghost Tonight,” “Wrong Opinion” and “I Belong in Your Arms.” The set was in that order, and included songs all from their January LP release, Something. I was majorly impressed. Even minus a member and with some keyboard signal issues, I thought this was the best performance I’d seen so far. The quirks made it unique, and the circumstances seared it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After “I Belong in Your Arms,” frontwoman Caroline Polachek decided to take questions from the audience to buy some time. It worked, because the guitarist showed up just in time for the now impatient event planners to allow the band one final song. It was “Amanaemonesia” and, honestly, it wasn’t any better or worse than any of the previous tunes, though I do enjoy the hookiness of it above several others.
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