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SXSW 2014 Reviews: Coldplay, Chance the Rapper, London Grammar, Imagine Dragons

on March 12, 2014, 12:50pm

In past years, Tuesdays were the warm-up to South by Southwest (SXSW), the night in which there was relatively little to do, but the crowds hadn’t yet fully descended. This year, the first half of that equation stayed true, but the masses were in attendance. For some acts, that’s just the way it is, as big names like Coldplay and Imagine Dragons took to a stage prepared for their huge following. A set from Chance the Rapper, however, was cut short after being beset by this larger than usual Tuesday night crowd. And the thing is — we’re just getting started.

London Grammar – iTunes Festival at Moody Theatre – 7:30 p.m.


Photo by iTunes Festival at SXSW

London Grammar are a wonderful band on record — as exemplified on last September’s If You Wait — melding and swirling elements together for music that’s heartfelt and achy while also serving as the perfect soundtrack for bourgeois encounters. Live, however, the songs take on whole new life: “Wasting My Younger Years” seems straightforward but explodes into a complex anthem of youthful rebellion and emotional uncertainty; “Hey Now” becomes all about singer Hannah Reid as she showcases a set of pipes that readily morphs between sweet and sensual and a husky croon; even arguably their biggest single, “Strong”, bends and contorts to a size and scope that was required for the Moody Theatre (which is in a weird Venn Diagram between quaint club and smaller arena).

More than the songs, though, is the trio’s interactions. On one level, they couldn’t be more incongruous, with Reid belting like a jazz singer, guitarist Dan Rothman stirring up post-punk riffs, and Dominic Major alternating between synth constructs and spurts of drum and bass. Together, though, it’s an experience that transcends the boundaries of any one genre for the kind of musical event that glues you to your seat and sends your mind into a flurry of bubbling emotions and old memories. It’s an an experience no album could ever recreate, but it’s also a dynamic that may differ significantly between shows, adding to the singularity of each subsequent encounter So, yeah, color me a total believer from here on out. –Chris Coplan

Imagine Dragons – iTunes Festival at Moody Theatre – 8:30 p.m.

ImagineDragons_16-9_2048x1152-50_1004601I want to admit something I’ve nearly said before: I like Imagine Dragons. I don’t buy into the idea of mainstream bands being inherently bad just because they have a lot of fans. Nor have I ever been a subscriber to the notion of guilty pleasures. Even still, I have never really flown the Imagine Dragons flag that high, and I’m still not sure I may. Like my experience with London Grammar, seeing the band’s spectacle live really opened my eyes.

The Las Vegas natives pair their sweeping rock anthems with an equally gimmicky set-up, utilizing copious amounts of smoke and fog. The big hook, though, is their obsession with drums, to the point there had to be more percussion onstage than any other counterpart. They string these elements together into an extravaganza of extended intros and outros, especially on tracks like “Rocks”, “It’s Time”, and their smash single “Radioactive”. These performances all warranted sweat-soaked, utterly speechless moments where you couldn’t help but feel apart of some all-knowing hive.

Still, it’s hard to shake the idea that all of this flash is just that, a blinding cover for a distinct lack of something. There’s no discrediting their enthusiasm and showmanship, but in the live setting, it often feels like they’re overcompensating for lackluster material. Even in the moment, it’s difficult to excuse multiple songs featuring variations of falling up or down. Then again, maybe that’s just Imagine Dragons’ role: to be a big, showy rock band and/or make people forget about their lives for an hour. Bottom line: It’s fun, it’s infectious, and it’s worth letting yourself indulge in at least once, whether we admit it or not. –Chris Coplan

My Gold Mask – Chicago Made Showcase at Red 7 – 8:35 p.m.


Photo by Sasha Geffen

While they tend to court electropop on record, My Gold Mask burned a raucous set into the early hours of SXSW’s Chicago Made Showcase. This was full-blooded rock, the kind you can get your teeth around, with glam quirks layered over Midwestern muscle. Singer Gretta Rochelle slammed a tambourine over songs like the 2013 single “Severed”, while Jack Armondo flushed Red 7’s back patio with assertive chords and backing vocals. Maybe most impressive was percussionist James Andrew, who balanced playing synthesized drums on a pad with accents on a cymbal and tom. He took a backseat to Rochelle’s laser-eyed presence, but watching him flip his sticks between his hands and build beats that sounded like they could have come from a kit made for a subtle treat. The trio ended a whirlwind set with a brand-new song, a high-energy number (whose title is still under wraps) that got the crowd clapping right along. –Sasha Geffen

Syd Arthur — Harvest Records Showcase at Haven Lounge — 8:45 p.m.


Photo by Michelle Geslani

The first day of SXSW Music seems to always be the toughest, with lukewarm audiences still settling into the chaotic festivities, still getting a feel for the loud, nearly sleepless nights to come. Even so, Canterbury group Syd Arthur, who played early Tuesday night, managed to get some bodies moving with their brand of killer psychedelic rock. “Thanks for being patient,” singer Liam Magill called out to those in attendance at the oddball venue-meets-lounge Haven, which experienced a number of delaying technical difficulties throughout the night. It wasn’t the ideal introduction to the band, but their set proved to be worth all the fidgety waiting.

As a straw hat covered most of his face and long locks, Magill led Syd Arthur through 30 minutes of winding and whiplashing trippy jams, a few off their forthcoming sophomore album, Sound Mirror. A colorful frontman with seemingly an endless well of energy and panache, Magill often hopped and jammed across the stage like his legs were made of rubber. With a band name partially inspired by Pink Floyd’s own Syd Barrett, it should come as no surprise Syd Arthur know how to bring the rock — even on a night when Austin was not quite ready for it. –Michelle Geslani

Bonzie – Chicago Made Showcase at Red 7 – 9:10 p.m.


Photo by Sasha Geffen

Just 18 years old, Bonzie—the eccentric stage name of Chicago’s Nina Ferraro—is already recording with the same guy who produced In Utero. She’s hard at work getting down her first record with Steve Albini, but she’s been taking a break from the studio to make her first course through SXSW. Last night, she played her first show of the week as part of the indie-focused Chicago Made showcase. A recent guest on Consequence of Sound‘s Rock It Out! Blog, Bonzie played Red 7 with a full band in tow, lending buoyancy and strength to her already powerful alt-folk songs.

For most of her set, she stayed behind her acoustic guitar; for “Catch / Release”, though, she dropped the instrument to hammer out percussion from a gourd instead. “Routine” saw her stomping through an erratic but hypnotizing set of dance moves, while harmonies from her backing vocalists set the song along an country slant. Bonzie closed with new single “Data Blockers”, an eerie tune that was nevertheless easy to clap to. The crowd warmed up immediately to this young newcomer—after she’d finished her performance, a pink, paper rose landed at her feet onstage. –Sasha Geffen

Glass Animals — Harvest Records Showcase at Haven Lounge — 9:30 p.m.


Photo by Michelle Geslani

“Gooey” is Glass Animals’ latest single, and also happens to be the perfect way to describe their 30-minute set last night. At once groovy, off-putting, and sensual, their quirky pop (think Alt-J, Wild Beasts) seems to be more of a mindset or experience than simple sonic arrangement. The music seeps into your bloodstream, a sinuous and ultra contagious flow of good vibes that could be likened to a euphoric trip to a technicolor Neverland. It’s not an act either; frontman Dave Bayley fell victim to his band’s own potion at Haven, his body rippling to and fro like some silvery liquid that just could not be contained. By the time they slithered through standout tracks like the aforementioned “Gooey”, “Psylla”, and “Black Mambo”, the entire room seemed hypnotized, too, their hips swaying slowly, slinkily, as though caught in a hot and sweaty time warp. The audience might be on to something, here, and they’re not the only ones to see Glass Animals’ potential. Famed producer-to-the-stars Paul Epworth — known for his work with Adele, Foster the People, among others — has signed the band to his new label, Wolf Tone. –Michelle Geslani

Arthur Beatrice – Harvest Records Showcase at Haven Lounge – 10:15 p.m.


Photo by Michelle Geslani

English outfit Arthur Beatrice brought the sleek yet sobering indie-pop of their debut album, Working Out, to the stage on Tuesday, and amazingly, it sounded just as glossy as ever. It’s rather difficult to capture and translate that LP’s polished tightness to a live setting, but the four-piece made it look entirey too easy. Like seasoned professionals, they commanded and allured audience members with a number of their acclaimed singles like “Carter” and “Midland”. But it was likely Ella Girardot, the group’s lone female, who stole the show. Whether she was standing off to the side or pounding morose chords on the keyboard front-and-center, she and her impassioned, satin vocals were an emotionally powerful sight to behold. –Michelle Geslani

Coldplay – iTunes Festival at Moody Theatre – 10:20 p.m.


Photo by iTunes Festival at SXSW

I’m genuinely perplexed by the entirety of Coldplay. This is a band who has sold millions of records worldwide, headlined major international festivals like Glastonbury, and generally been part of the cultural lexicon for the better part of 15 years. Yet every time I told a friend, co-worker, or my wife that I was seeing their show, they inquisitively asked me if I really wanted to go. Though I maintained my enthusiasm and certainty, I’d be lying if I said that their doubts didn’t nag at me slightly. Then I saw Chris Martin’s slightly dopey grin, and I remembered why I wanted to see Coldplay: they can be your band, if you let them.

Coldplay_social_900x594-33_247372Similar to Imagine Dragons, I won’t defend their occasionally pompous tendencies or overly saccharine emotional demonstrations. Instead, if you understand those as part of a show and part of an experience to confront you with pure emotion, then what happens next is a live performance that tantalizes every point on the spectrum of human experience. “Clocks” brings things down into a moment of tearful contemplation; a few songs later, “Viva La Vida” lifts you right back up with the roaring crowd; and when the band dedicates the optimistic “Fix You” to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, even this ceaseless pessimist believed a difference could be made. It seems like an odd thing to say, that a band can be fun if you just “trick” yourself into believing. But it’s less about building the right mindset and more about letting go off the wrong one.

Coldplay exemplify emotions at their most primal states; if you can let go and embrace that sensibility, then a track like “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” is less kitsch and more poignant and profound. Still, I can understand why some might be hesitant, which is why I’d instead point to the band’s newer material. Whether it’s the Bon Iver-esque “Midnight”, the funkier “Magic”, the dream-pop/rock of “Always in My Head”, or the self-deprecating vibes of “Another’s Arms”, the band’s forthcoming Ghost Stories is already demonstrating new shades and variations that will hopefully encourage more people to buy in. And if not, forget ’em; I’ll go to the next Coldplay show with you. –Chris Coplan

Archie Powell and the Exports – Chicago Made Showcase at Red 7 – 11:00 p.m.


Photo by Sasha Geffen

The overfull crowd at the back porch of Red 7 was there for reasons other than wild-eyed, rowdy rock ‘n’ roll, and Archie Powell and the Exports seemed to know it and also tried to overcome it. Powell admitted that they’d be “out of your hair” soon so the party could commence, but drummed his band’s name into the crowd’s collective consciousness, repeating it ad nauseam hoping that it would stick. But, rather than the name, it’d be the quartet’s goofy-via-ferocious tunes. A noisy, sprawling jam introduced as “Mambo No. 9” was described by Powell as “what Lou Bega would’ve sounded like if he kept writing.” Another tune found Powell leaning heavily on a lo-fi telephone handset microphone for his cat-scratched and rabid delivery, but only after he introduced it thusly: “This song heavily features our gimmick.” Gimmick or not (leaning on not), Powell and the Exports deserve a few more people remembering that name after a set this rambunctious, tuneful, and good-spirited. –Adam Kivel

The Hood Internet – Chicago Made Showcase at Red 7 – 12:00 a.m.


Photo by Sasha Geffen

After a long evening of entertainment demonstrating Chicago’s diverse music scene, the professed “party” portion of the evening truly kicked off with an appearance from The Hood Internet. Steve Reidell (aka STV SLV, one half of the production/remix/mash-up duo) got the crowd good and hyped, deftly bouncing between old-school jams (“that girl is poison”) and new favorites (“started from the bottom, now we’re here”). Things turned up to 11, though, when he invited friends to the stage; ShowYouSuck and Probcause turned up for a bonus song each (“Make-Out King”, and a remix of “LSD”, respectively), while host Hologram Kizzie (fka PsalmOne) brought the Hug Life, and Auggie the 9th brought the crew together for an epic take on their joint single “Subzero”. STV SLV and friends laid the perfect bridge for Chance (the obvious draw of the massive crowd), but also highlighted the talented community that Chance grew up in. –Adam Kivel

Chance the Rapper – Chicago Made Showcase at Red 7 – 1:00 a.m.


Photo by Sasha Geffen

The back patio at Red 7 is a small space. Not tiny, but small. The Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot reported that there were 350+ in the 300 capacity venue, but more to the point were the masses lined up outside waiting for a chance to get in, pressing at the entryway. So, in the end, Chance the Rapper only spent about 20 minutes onstage before the fire marshal ordered the show shut down. Those 18 minutes were packed with fan favorites (Acid Rap jams “Juice”, “Nana”, and “Everybody’s Something” all got the treatment). Chance clearly felt the crowd’s amped energy, offering a choice of a coffee shop set or something more turned up, and you can guess which side won that argument. But then, a few snippets later, the whole thing was over, a voice boomed through the PA asking people to leave. The crowd was reluctant to say the least, chanting equally for Chance and against the fire marshal.

At one point, the voice over the PA even said that they could start the show back up if everybody left and they could then let in 200 people. (Frankly, a ridiculous proposition considering you’d at best be cutting out nearly half of the people who had already started to see the set, and possibly even swapping out the entirety for those who had been waiting outside.) Some held on hope as long as possible, refusing to heed the PA voice, but then bouncers started walking the floor, shining flashlights, and ushering to the door. At the time of writing, I haven’t seen any reports of the venue cycling 200 people back in. So, in the end, Chance hit the stage for less than 20 minutes, and will still wind up grabbing pounds of press. Not a bad deal for him, but tough luck for the die-hard fans who had been waiting hours for the Chancellor. –-Adam Kivel