SXSW 2012, Friday Night March 16

Wild Belle

After Beauty Bar we made the trek to the 1100 block of East 11th. The plan was to catch Cheers Elephant at Kenny’s Backyard BBQ – an outside, makeshift venue with a funnel cake vendor and chairs on the lawn – at 7:00pm. We ended up across the street before they played, grabbing a light dinner at Blue Dahlia Bistro. The food was divine, much better than we’d been eating, and the atmosphere was a nice break from the bustling chaos happening on the other side of the interstate.

Cheers Elephant is four guys from Philadelphia currently expanding their touring realm beyond the Northeast and Midwest, and I was glad that they secured a handful of dates during SXSW this year. The guys are supporting their new record, Like Wind Blows Fire. Still not sure how I feel about it as a whole, they were gracious enough to gift me a pre-release hard copy (it comes out in the U.S. on April 24). Hopefully I’ll be able to give it a proper review – something to replace the humorous and devilish faux press currently staining up their web home. The guys are rock ‘n roll, first and foremost, and the live show, what I’ve seen of it, brings all the quirks that accompany that. I hear lots of Muse-type progression in their sound, but that’s also coupled with hints of lost Morrison, a little Terry Reid on speed and some live antics that resemble those I imagine Jack White encourages his Third Man bands to incorporate live. Obviously though, Cheers Elephants’ antics aren’t learned, but inherent, making them a fun band to watch. The drummer’s animation is a party itself. That and they play really cool vintage instruments. One constructive critique for the lead guitarist – I very much adore the sound of your Tele, but I think you should trade the glass slide for a metal one.

With a little time to spare, we headed west, in the complete opposite direction and far other side of downtown. We caught Denver duo Wild Belle at the Billions Corporation Showcase at Antone’s around 9:00pm. It was amazing to see live. And, because they’ve literally only released one song, I had no idea what to expect. The band had three touring members to back – drums, guitar and bass. It was super pristine, like a band of session players. I didn’t mind such cleanliness, which might otherwise bother. The mood was right and I was getting acclimated to Wild Belle’s sound for the first time. It’s a strange mix of reggae and blues lounge rock with smooth, soulful melodies and sexy vocals. Natalie Bergman’s live deliverance was award-worthy, as she hit every note with perfect pitch and timing. And when Elliot Bergman picked up his tenor sax, you couldn’t have pulled me from the front of that stage. As with most SXSW 2012 showcasers, they saved the single – in this case the only one, “Keep You” – for last. It was a fine ending to a suave, professional set.

Bar Louie, next door to Antone’s, was the next stop. Over drinks and conversational recaps, we charged phones and gave the feet a break for a minute. A short jog down East 6th, we caught the very end of Reptar’s set at Buffalo Billiards. Not a huge fan, the energy was good. The crowd embraced the Athens boys properly. Above all, I thought Buffalo Billiards to be one of the better indoor venues of the festival. It sucked that the security rivaled that of TSA standards.

The Keep A Breast showcase at Bandpage HQ was my last stop of the evening. I wanted to see Chairlift again, in a nightlife, ‘party’ setting, and that’s exactly what I got. After some unsuccessful haggling with the entry guys, my press comrade and I took our rightful badges next door and entered through a conjoining entrance in the back, near the stage. The place was uber packed. Except for a few minutes spent in front of the stage right monitors, we didn’t really get to ‘watch’ the band. The sound was louder than anything else I saw that week. The set was virtually identical to the one I’d seen earlier that afternoon, except for the guitarist’s presence and the band’s upped anti in the fashion department. Still, I loved it again.

A good number of people left after Chairlift’s performance, scurrying off to afterparties before they got too crowded. We stuck around for Escort, who closed out the show. Nothing of a disco lover, I danced as if I’d been waiting on them to play all day. Others did the same, singing along with words I didn’t know, or dropping out like flies, incrementally, to the sorted, messy line of bean bags littering the live room as Escort pushed through an extended (by SXSW standards, at least) setlist. “Cocaine Blues,” the somewhat dated single (2010), became recognizable to me, though the rest of the set seemed to fuse together, albeit super professionally delivered.