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SXSW 2009: PJ Harvey And A Number Of Others!

Maximum Performance

After three days of wandering street to street in Austin, one would hope the last night of this year's South By Southwest Music Conference would end with the second biggest bang ever.

But due to circumstances beyond our control, this was not to be!

Where to start? How about in the missed opportunities department? Social dynamo that I am, a late arrival and my extended conversation at a dinner engagement kept me from seeing the first band I'd planned to see here last night, and that would be England's White Lies, whose debut album entered the UK charts at No. 1, and yes, I agree, what hasn't? Still the newish band evokes the sound of bands I once liked quite a bit--midway between the Teardrop Explodes and Icicle Works, at least in terms of their lead vocals--and they apparently went down a storm, though sadly not literally.

No, the first band I was to see was at the same venue the White Lies had just played--Stubb's--and again was a band rather notable in theUK. Their name was, and is, Razorlight, and I found them--and this may just be me, here--fascinatingly off.Not quite right. Songs skewing off stylistically in every direction. Brit rock? Kinksy? Deliberately arty? I dunno. I was reminded of the time long ago I saw Brit rockers Def Leppard deliberately "return to the clubs" to promote their about-to-be-released Pyromania, and lead singer Joe Elliott by that time was so used to performing in large venues that his exaggerated stage gestures looked oddly out of place in such small confines. Stubb's was much larger than that venue, but Razorlight's lead singer Johnny Borrell still seemed out of sync with one unpleasant reality: Despite their popularity overseas, here they are really still an unknown quality. And for the life of me, after watching them, I can't tell you what they really sound like. It struck me as I watched them proudly rolling out their material to the largely uncaring audience: It was like seeing Bruce Springsteen at his artistic peak giving a live performance at a Deaf Persons convention: Disconnect. Weird!

Next up was an artist I've always admired but never truly loved--well, at least not as an artist--no, wait that doesn't sound right--oh well--PJ Harvey. Officially performing as PJ Harvey and John Parish--for it is that pair who are about to release the new album A Woman A Man Walked By in another week or so--the people onstage numbered more than two, but that was no problem, as they were quite good. All of them. Harvey is an interesting singer, and an interesting personality, and her outfit--and I really wish I'd managed a good picture here--was topped off with a hat that really seems the sort you'd see a "cigarette girl" wearing at a Las Vegas nightclub if it was 1950 again. She played a variety of material, yelped and yowled at the very end, and continually displayed the skills and charisma that makes her one of more fascinating musicians playing music at the moment. Lately I've been enjoying watching artists who "get to make art" rather than commercial fodder--there seem to be more of them, happily--and that's what PJ Harvey does. Oh yeah, and John Parish, too.

With an hour to kill--sorry, but I decided to pass on the Indigo Girls, who were next up at Stubbs--I wandered over to see the Parlotones,from Johannesburg, South Africa, but apparently just missed them. Isn't this fascinating? So I decided to head over to the Minty Fresh Records showcase at some odd bar called Submerged, to get an early start on waiting for the White Shoes And Couples Company, an incredibly fabulous band from Indonesia who I'd seen here last year and absolutely fell in love with.

Sad to say, though, it was not to be. The band's trip to Austin failed at the last minute and they were a no-show. Instead, in their place, was an Austrian artist named Florian Horwath, a new Minty Fresh signing, who's about to release a new album called Sleepyhead.

Here's a clip of the dude performing a nice duet with Nina Persson of the Cardigans called "Baby You Got Me Wrong."


In fact, Horwath sounded fine--he even played the above track with a female duet partner whose name I didn't catch--dig the arty photo nearby--but there was one bothersome problem. The club at which Horwath was performing was one very thin wall away from another club playing loud, booming, thudding dance music, and the deliberately sensitive nature of his material--one guy, quiet voice, acoustic guitar--did not gel altogether well with the dominating throb in the background. Too bad!

I walked out of the club, miffed at missing the White Shoes And Couples Company, but happy to hear Horwath, at least. Oddly, I wanted to dance--but instead stopped at a convenience store and bought two bottles of Diet Coke. I had big plans for later!

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