SXSW 2018: Mal Blum Is Punk’s Greatest Hidden Treasure
Mal Blum has been releasing music for over a decade now, and in that time they’ve built up a solid fanbase, most recently opening up for the likes of Jessica Lea Mayfield and Mary Lambert and performing as part of the popular podcast Welcome To Night Vale’s touring troupe. But they deserve to be way bigger than they already are, and hopefully with their next album, they’ll be able to do just that. They’re only doing three shows at SXSW this year, but judging by their first one of the festival last night — as part of Don Giovanni and Father/Daughter Records showcase — it seems like they’re making each one count.
Blum wore a Screaming Females T-shirt on stage, one where Trump looks like a disemboweled pageant queen. Beyond being just a great wardrobe choice, it’s also a nod to Marissa Paternoster, who produced Blum’s most recent album, 2015’s You Look A Lot Like Me, their first recorded with a full band and the first where Blum’s heart-wrenching, life-affirming queer punk songs really crystalized. The band — who, when performing together, go by Mal Blum And The Blums — played a few songs from that album last night, including the fired-up “Robert Frost” and “Reality TV,” but they mostly stuck to new material, from an album that’s due out eventually.
One of the songs from the new album, “See Me,” is about “being seen and being visible and the disparity between how you see yourself and how others see you,” as Blum said from the stage in the scene-setting banter that occurred between most songs. They recently performed a stripped-down version of it for an NPR session down here in Austin (you can watch that below), and its chorus of “Why can’t they see me when I’m right here?” is a plea for the right to exist. It’s also an apt song for the SXSW experience, where hundreds of bands are all vying for attention. Music like Blum’s can easily get lost in all of that noise, but it’s the kind that we should be lifting up: earnest and honest and radically tender.