Tuesday, March 13, 2018

SXSW Day 1 w/ Field Report, Shamir, Bully, Trouble In The Streets, and A Giant Dog, 3/12/18

A Giant Dog

Baptism By Fire

It's another year of South By Southwest for me. I mentioned that I get deluged with press and information before heading down. My M.O. has, typically, been to kind of wing it, though. If I were better at running a music website, I'd probably have scheduled a bunch of interviews or photoshoots ahead of time; but it's really all about seeing the shows for me.

Yesterday's travels were uneventful, so I won't bore you with that except to say that I'm glad I got out of New Jersey ahead of the weather. Hope everyone is safe and warm.

I checked into the La Quinta on E. 11th and San Jacinto for the second year in a row; and, since spending the last few months getting into "tour shape," I'm happy to say that it feels a lot closer to all the action than it did last year. Walking is much easier.

I picked up my badge; checked out the Zeiss (camera lenses) booth on the convention floor; drooled over that stuff; got a couple of tacos; and headed over to Mohawk Austin. That was kind of the place to be downtown last night; and, at 6:30, it was packed. When I saw the crowd in front of the outside stage, I knew pictures were gonna be tough. I decided to take in a set from Field Report inside before braving the huge crowd.

Random dudes at the Zeiss booth taken with the Batis 85mm f1.8

The Milwaukee 4-piece took the stage, and I immediately recognized singer / guitarist Chris Porterfield and keyboardist Thomas Wincek from the elevator at La Quinta. Porterfield described the band's sound as "spacey folk" to someone up front who had asked him if he played "like John Mayer" and that was spot on. A really nice way to start the festival.

Field Report

I ambled back over to the outside stage where Shamir was already playing. I wandered around trying to find a place to get some shots, but ended up having to stop and just listen. Shamir's countertenor (think Prince on "Kiss" or Michael Jackson) combined with the band's pop hooks make for some sounds that can stop you like that. I hope to catch Shamir and the band again tonight at the Don Giovanni / Father Daughter Records showcase.


At that point, I decided to stay outside and try to stake out a spot for Bully, one of the bands I was most excited about this year. I wormed my way up front and ended up just one row off the stage, but that would still prove to be a bit challenging. Alicia Bognanno and the band ran through their 40-minute set at a breakneck pace ending on a "ferocious" (thanks for the adjective, Bill) cover of mclusky's "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" that saw Bognanno toss aside the guitar and just own the mic.


Now, it was decision time. Should I stay at Mohawk -- with its overcrowding and constant reminders from security (Safety first. I understand.) to keep the aisles clear -- for Wye Oak and Superchunk? Or should I hoof it to Hotel Vegas for A Giant Dog and hope to catch Superchunk at one of their two Tuesday appearances? I opted for the latter. I wasn't sure if I'd have another chance to catch Austin's hometown heroes.

I arrived at Hotel Vegas pretty early which ended up having two benefits. First, I got to check out another Austin band, Trouble In The Streets; and, second, I had a spot right up front for A Giant Dog. That second thing would prove to be kind of harrowing eventually.

Trouble In The Streets combine hip hop, electronica, and R&B into a show that has, deservedly, won them a devoted following. Fronted by Nnedi Nebula Agbaroji on keys and vocals with Andy Leonard on bass and Bobby Snakes on drums, the band wound the crowd up with some positive vibes and a devastating cover of "Bulls On Parade."

Trouble In The Streets

Then, it was time for A Giant Dog. Since seeing them down here last year, I'm convinced that they may be the best live rock and roll band on the planet. At Hotel Vegas this time, it was madness. The band did about a dozen songs from their entire catalog. Singer Sabrina Ellis, wearing something similar to Leeloo's costume from the beginning of The Fifth Element, took control of the entire crowd and bent them to her will. It was probably the most violent front row I'd ever been a part of; and, about a third of the way through the set, I had to find a safer landing spot for my camera gear and me.

A Giant Dog
A Giant Dog

I ended up climbing the little riser at the foot of the stage by one of the big speakers and had a great view. Freed from really being able to take any interesting pics, I just lost myself in the rest of the set.

By the time it was all done, I was spent. There was more stuff to see into the wee hours, sure. But you have to listen to your body and make the tough calls sometimes. Today is another day, after all.

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