It’s 11:15 a.m., and I’m sitting at Austin’s Tequila Mockingbird Studios, where Nic Harcourt, the voice of KCRW’s splendid alternative music radio show Morning Becomes Eclectic is holding court during SXSW (the show usually tapes out in Cali). This morning’s guest is a young British musician named Stoney, who’s making his stateside debut on the today’s broadcast and is currently soundchecking on the other side of the studio glass. I’m gonna listen in while I write about what I saw last night, and try to make this into some sort of really splendid pastiche of liveblogging and passionate memories. Or something. I’ll probably end up posting this mid- or after-show, so I guess it’s technically not live. But here’s an idea: If you missed the broadcast, it’s available in the KCRW archives.
addCredit(“Stoney: Meg Griffiths”)
After listening to the engineers check the levels on the drums for a while (boom. boom. boom. chik. chik. boom.), I wandered in to talk to Nic. Sadly, his iTunes had crashed, and he was having to do everything manually. “Should I get out of here?” I asked. “No, no, you can hang out,” he said, and we had a lovely conversation about some of the artists he’s had a hand in breaking, like Damien Rice, Sigur Ros, and Norah Jones. Then he noticed the song he was playing had stopped. “Oops. LA just got some dead air,” he said, casually tossing the Sounds Eclectic Covers Project in a CD player and punching play. “Yeah, so, I wouldn’t say you feel pride [in breaking artists],” he continued, without missing (much of) a beat. “It’s more a feeling of gratification.” I left him to his buttons and dials… and came out to the sound booth, where his producer was on the cell phone with someone who was clearly freaking out about the little oops of dead air.
Sorry, Los Angeles. That’s my bad.
Stoney is playing through a track in the other room now, a spooky, bluesy number. And as much as musicians keep yelling at me not to always be comparing them to other artists, I’m not sure how else to convey this information in an expedient fashion: Stoney reminds me, just a little, of Two Gallants, or Jack White, if he was British. These Brits do know how to make the music. Like my coworker Michael Endelman, I was at Lily Allen last night, and despite nearly being crushed to death by the throngs of people who seem convinced she’s going to save us all, I really enjoyed her short-but-sweet set, especially my personal fave, “LDN,” which I think is just one of the best songs, merengue or otherwise, that I’ve heard in ages. (It is also a song that, unlike “Smile,” does not “bore” her. Yet.)
After she and her cig bopped offstage and three-quarters of the crowd headed for the exits, I headed for the bar, for there was Shiner to be drank, and two more bands to see: Razorlight and The Bravery. Interesting to have these two bands — both Next Big Things that kind of fizzled, at least here in the US — on the same bill. When their first albums were released back in 2004, I can remember being one of few who genuinely liked each of them, especially Razorlight’s Up All Night (rock ‘n’ roll LIES), but I didn’t buy the Razors’ second album and kind of forgot the Bravery existed. This is because I am a bad person and easily distracted by shiny things.
Given the snarky commentary from much of the online music community surrounding that whole flock of bands that hit at the same time (like the Kaiser Chiefs and the Zutons and Franz Ferdinand and whatnot) I found it curious that Razorlight would choose to walk out to the tune of “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine.” That is, as I’m sure you know, a song by the Killers, who are by far the most successful, if not the best, of those 2004 bands. Should one invite such competition up on the stage right before one plays?
Good news, Razorlight: You most certainly should. I thought their set was killer, pun intended. Johnny Borrell glammed around in a white V-neck tee and tight, Iggy-Pop-low white pants, covering every inch of stage, leaning out into the crowd, clapping, running in circles. The songs from the second album, which I dismissed, are just a blast live, and had the fist-pumping crowd all amped up (and, it should be said, doing way more dancing than I saw during Lily Allen). My favorite was “Before I Fall To Pieces” and its great, sunny guitar riff, like a cross between “Good Lovin'” and that Social Distortion song off the Reality Bites soundtrack. Everyone joined Johnny in clapping as he stretched his scrawny torso — shirtless by that time — out over the monitors and sweated on them, and then the steamroller of a set was over. And they didn’t play a single damn song off the album I own. Jerks.
Ooh! Stoney has just started up another song in the other room, which will help me procrastinate from writing about the Bravery. What I’m loving the very most about his stuff is the addition of some very unexpected — dare I use the word “eclectic”? — keyboard effects. Bleeps and bloops and videogame noises get layered over the pleasantly mournful songwriting, and it is making my little puppydog ears perk up.
Anyhoo. Can’t put it off any longer: The Bravery. Um, they do not get a SXSW thumbs up. Granted, it was 1:15am or so before they came on, and the sound at Stubb’s was all of a sudden a) wretched and b) WAY too loud, but after their opening number, “Fearless,” I completely lost all interest. Part of the problem — okay, all of the problem — was the new stuff they played, which struck me as strikingly unoriginal, and completely devoid of that kicky disco backbeat that made their debut so much fun. A track called “Believe” sounded very much like you’d think: heavy bass going duh-nuh-nuh-nuh under softish verses, and then a loud faux-inspirational chorus about begging to be given something to believe. Not good, the Bravery. You can do better. You have done better. I suppose I shall thank you for getting me home at a semi-reasonable hour.
One last Stoney song before I go, this one a softer, plaintive vocal over thudding bass and a sort of carnival keyboard line. His voice really is something lovely — a high tenor with a hint of an accent — and as his sad eyes peek out from under scraggly indie-boy bangs, I can already see him two years down the road, melting the hearts of all those sweet American girls who are far too susceptible to the sensitive poetry of a scraggly indie-boy. Good luck, Stoney!
And… that’s that! Things are still rolling here at Morning Becomes Eclectic, but I gotta jet — I hear there’s an Emmylou Harris show happening somewhere, and I gotta go pick up a pass from Endelman. Ah, SXSW. Will your wonders never cease?