Thursday, March 15, 2012

SXSW 2012 Dispatches: Unexpected Soul

It sort of felt like kicking off the day by going back in time.

The lead singer, clad in a leather jacket, despite the near-80 degree heat, deepened his voice as he took the mic, almost like he was intentionally trying to sound like Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode. This was the Chain Gang Of 1974, who neither employs the musical styles of 1974 nor (to my knowledge) is a chain gang. At 2:30 on the Stage On Sixth, the band repeated the lyric, "can you feel it?" and the bass pounded in my chest. Yeah, I could feel it. Ripping through "Tell Me" and the '80s industrial-sounding "Undercover," the Chain Gang also took time out to dedicate a song to Molly Ringwald, saying, "if you're out there Molly Ringwald, this one's for you." The lead singer finally ditched his jacket and came out into the audience, working up the crowd on the Hot Chip-tinged electrodance track "Hold On."

Inside Hospitality was playing that sort of happy female-led rock reminiscent of Tennis, who'd be taking the stage just after them.

An hour and a half later, the inside of Mellow Johnny's bike shop was all set up for KEXP's radio broadcast of Allen Stone. By the looks of Stone -- shoulder-length blondish hair, big glasses, and earthy style of dress -- you'd almost expect him to play a set of folk-inspired indie rock. But don't judge a book by its cover, friends. Kicking off the set with "Sleep," the singer harnessed his soulful voice, launching into a terrific falsetto on "Contact High." If Stone's brand of soul belongs somewhere in the mix with Jamie Lidell and Aloe Blacc, he reserved the real funk (and a bit of whistling) for the closer, "Satisfaction."

Unaware by allenstone

The thing I actually was not expecting to see at the Last Call with Carson Daly-sponsored showcase at Red 7 Patio was Carson Daly. But after a schedule mishap, SF rockers Thee Oh Sees took the stage, and in their final song Daly joined them on drums. Well, he joined them as an additional drummer, trying to match the exhaustive energy of the band's regular drummer. Thee Oh Sees' energy throughout the set was powerful, eclipsing the fact that you couldn't understand the lyrics to any of their songs.

Some time after 11PM a trumpet and a saxophone were brought out, followed by backing band The Expressions, and finally Lee Fields. The Brooklyn soul singer, with his occasionally deep and guttural vocal phrasing can sound like James Brown, though he didn't fully demonstrate this until the closer "Faithful Man." What Fields has in vocal strength unfortunately isn't matched by songwriting. Songs like "I Still Got It" and "Ladies" just don't seem sophisticated enough for such a soulful voice. In the song "Ladies," Fields takes time to call out all the types of ladies he loves, "Short ones! Tall ones! Big ones! Small ones!" Lyrically, "Ladies" might as well be "Mambo Number 5."

Lee Fields & The Expressions - Ladies by sylvanscott

It was well after midnight and Colombia's Bomba Estereo was shaking up the place. Singer Liliana Saumet, in a shiny gold jacket, paced rapidly across the stage, repeating lyrics with a speed normally reserved for details at the end of cell phone service commercials. Once the band started a song it seemed impossible for them to stop, getting so caught up in their cumbia rhythms topped with CSS-style intensity. They only made it through three songs.

Sometimes you just can't stop.

No comments: