SXSW Thursday: Featuring Austra, Mister Heavenly, Chelsea Wolfe
Stereogum/Sacred Bones/Chaos In Tejas Unofficial Party at Beerland
I made it for the duration of our show at dark, somewhat icy Beerland and lost my voice and vitamin D reserves in the process. Outside some sound issues, it was an ideal spot for a bunch of goths to congregate. Highlights included Liturgy‘s increasingly transcendental instrumental passages, Australian sextet Slug Guts‘ raunchy rock ‘n’ roll noir swagger (complete with endearingly brand new leather gloves), Moon Duo‘s sturdy two-person trance psych, Chelsea Wolfe’s veiled set of doom folk (complete with Burzum conjurings), BTW Pop. 1280’s angular, dirty post-punk/noise-rock no-wave stomp (check them out immediately, if you haven’t), and Toronto Austra affiliates TRUST‘s antagonistic dance party. (The excellent Anika DJ’d. Hopefully next time she plays.) My favorite all-around performance came via Altaar, who also showed-off at our showcase in Oslo last year: The quartet creates sturdy, expansive free noise-infused post-metal that feels heavy, light, dark, positive. (Search them out in Austin if you can.) The most compelling, though, set came via Zola Jesus. Sound and staging issues forced Nika to shift her approach: Beerland’s sound guy/system worked well with guitars and drums, but her electronics threw things for a loop. Instead of sulking, she climbed amplifiers, wandered through the crowd, wielded a pool cue, and fought to be heard properly in a space that wasn’t amenable to her immense goth-scapes. It wasn’t ideal as far as polish or perfection goes, but it felt very alive, punk, and weirdly moving, like the ecstatic closing mile of a marathon.
Mister Heavenly @ Beauty Bar (Hollerado’s Nacho House)
The audience at Mister Heavenly’s show asked for an encore before their set began, since their sound check turned into a mini feedback show that ended when co-frontman Nick Thorburn said thank you and walked offstage with the rest of the band. They hugged while the audience chanted patiently. They returned and played the best and final set of their SXSW run. (I don’t know that for sure, but I’d seen one other earlier that day and this one was livelier.) As we’ve mentioned, Mister Heavenly is the unlikely but working combination of songwriter Ryan Kattner (Man Man’s Honus Honus) and Islands’ Nick Thorburn. Live their voices together are another unlikely but wonderful combination. Songs like “Diddy Eyes,” “Pineapple Girl,” and “Charlene,” it’s Thorburn’s falsetto that mixes best with Kattner’s growl.
Austra @ Emo’s Jr. (Domino Showcase)
Our recent Band To Watch on Austra pointed out vocalist/pianist Katie Stelmanis’s “… powerful, instantly memorable voice.” She felt just as powerful live — singing with her eyes closed during some moments, Stelmanis used her mic-free hand to conduct the song, pushing and sweeping the air as if she were conjuring the sounds. It was hypnotizing to watch her and the rest of Austra (it helps that her bandmates are dark-haired but just as darkly glamorous), though the metallic exclamation points inside each song always snap you back.
Kvelertak @ Emo’s (Brooklyn Vegan/1,000 Knives)
Kvelertak offered sweaty, rollicking, instrument-swinging choreography and plenty of Norwegian fist-pumping during their early afternoon set at Emo’s: Live, their divisive mix of black metal and hardcore vocals with crusted punk and rockabilly translated into simple, dynamic fun. It didn’t matter that it was still sunny outside, but it’d be worth catching them sometime after midnight, “Mjød” closing the bar and your night at the same time.