August 26, 2011 — Given that this was Conor Oberst’s last tour under the Bright Eyes name and the relative dearth of acts to make their way through London this summer, it seemed only logical to make the trek down Richmond Street. Prior to the show, I was only a casual Bright Eyes fan, but they managed to exceed my expectations and shatter my concept of what a Bright Eyes concert was. Well, if you ignored the legion of teens that were in attendance, which forced me to sip my beer behind a velvet rope. Serving as openers were Toronto’s own purveyors of old-school rock, Zeus.

I had seen Zeus twice before, with only passing interest, but it seems the third time is the charm with them. The members swap instruments and vocals with nearly every song, giving their brand of classic-style rock a great deal of variety. The one-two punch of ‘Greater Times on the Wayside’ and ‘River By the Garden’ was the highlight of their set twice before, and nothing has changed there. By the end of their set, the crowd seemed to have warmed to Zeus as much as I had.

Conor Oberst emerged shortly after, to the expected joy of the crowd, and Bright Eyes opened with ‘Another Travelin’ Song’. The band was touring as a seven-piece, along with a giant drum that the man standing next to me could not get his head around. Despite having a conception of him as a brooding, mopey songwriter type, Oberst, was particularly animated, frequently turning into a whirling dervish on stage, and playfully miming along to his lyrics. Banter was limited, with the most memorable being Oberst claiming that this was his favourite London, and introducing a song with “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.” Much of the set list was culled from Bright Eyes’ final album, the surprisingly good The People’s Key, but the biggest response was given to fan favourites like broken-heart anthem ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’, ‘Bowl of Oranges’, and ‘Four Winds’.

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— , September 11, 2011    2 Comments

Photograph by Steven Walter

South by Southwest is kind of like the Twitter of music festivals. It’s peppy, popular, easy to mock, highly corporate and desperate to hide that fact with little stabs at techy subversiveness. The scene on the ground is as though social networking itself was suddenly given life by a trickster god, as musicians of every flavour and every level of grunginess mingle with industry suits and club kids on spring break. Iffy metaphors aside, the festival deserves its widespread reputation as a hipster-heavy network-a-thon that saturates Austin from downtown to the sticks with more man-hours of music than could possibly be experienced in a standard human year. It’s fun.

I arrive in Austin before the official beginning of the music festival, while the interactive tech and film expos are still in full swing, and before you can say “Wes Anderson” I’m comfortably installed on a patio, chatting with a group of Portlanders about different brands of free-range chicken. I’m off to a comfortable head start on all my stereotypes.

The main drag on Sixth Street is already fairly happening, though it’ll get exponentially more clogged as the week goes on. I spy a familiar face through the open window of the Bat Bar: it’s icon of awkwardness Michael Cera, playing bass with his supergroup-of-a-sort Mister Heavenly. The band is rounded by members of the Unicorns, Man Man, and Modest Mouse, but it’s pretty clear who the gaggle of college girls are crowding around to see, cell phones straining upwards for photos like a curious herd of electric giraffes.

Mister Heavenly – Mister Heavenly

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— , May 10, 2011    3 Comments