Reviews

SXSW Music 2012: Santigold + Best Coast + Grimes + YACHT

Dennis Shin

Recapping some of the SXSW fun featuring Santigold and Best Coast and the troubles for Grimes and YACHT.

Santigold and Best Coast, Spin Day Party, Stubb’s, March 16, 2012

In a cluttered SXSW day party landscape, the Spin party, with its no-nonsense focus on top tier and emerging artists in a relatively laid-back afternoon environment, creates a level of intimacy that avoids the hipster sprawl of events such as the FADER Fort. In years past, the party has featured the drama of Courtney Love, debuts by Bloc Party and Mick Jones’ Carbon/Silicon, and surprises such as Moby jamming with OMD on "Enola Gay". Spin deftly utilized two stages to manage a smooth flow, creating intimate environments for the long anticipated return of Chairlift, the colossal disco orchestra Escort, and turns by Big Pink, Big K.R.I.T. and G-Side. Main Attrakionz, a major revelation at CMJ, offer up a stark contrast between hard-hitting realities from the streets and other worldly production cloud rap production.

Chairlift - Photo by Eric Voake for Spin

Main Attrakionz - Photo by Eric Voake for Spin

Attention usually flags at the three quarter mark of such events. Last year, the Kills, one of the most mesmerizing live acts in a club setting slogged through a ragged set, the band conceding that their out of sorts performance reflected why they hated playing in daytime. No such worries from Best Coast’s Bethany Consentino, who seems preternaturally capable of creating a sunny environment over all manner of obstacles. In the past, Bethany has won over hecklers attempting to derail her with slings directed at her cat Snacks, and famously played throughout a torrential downpour at Lollapalooza. A group of kids hellbent on mayhem throw out some “Steve Nicks” chants, but Bethany will have none of it, merrily blitzing through a set that includes tracks off forthcoming release The Only Place.

Best Coast - Photo by Eric Voake for Spin

The performance highlight was the long-awaited return of Santigold, who will be releasing Master of My Make-Believe, the follow-up to their 2008 smash debut this spring. Santi White, who famously drew an overflow crowd to a Lollapalooza side-stage in 2009, showcases her versatility as a singer, performer and songwriter, drawing from her days with long-time collaborator John Hill in punk band Stiffed, to offer an irresistible fusion of electronica, rock and dub. Their live set pieces are a delight. Her two backup dancers show up on stage as ladies in the waiting to Santi’s Princess, transforming into cheerleaders, and then wielding sledgehammers in choreographed coolness paralleling the martial shadowboxing of Public Enemy’s S1W. And when all else fails, they bring on the dancing horses.

Santigold - Photo by Eric Voake for Spin

Santigold - Photo by Ryan Muir for Spin

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Grimes / YACHT - Clive Bar

One of the more frustrating moments for any artist is when technical issues go awry, conspiring to derail a live performance. This is magnified at marathon industry conferences where artists play multiple shows in a day with limited opportunity for sound checks, in settings varying from a disco to a parking garage rooftop to an open field. Indie musicians plug and play and make a go of it, and if it doesn't all quite work, it's off to the next venue. For artists highly dependent upon technology, this can be maddening. Last year, artists such as Glasser and Datarock dealt with technology meltdowns by avoiding human meltdowns, winning over fans with their good cheer.

A lesson in coping with these challenges can be seen in the deft response of YACHT, who played back-to-back sets with Grimes, at the Clive Bar, on what appeared to be an outdoor beer deck and dealt with similar technical glitches. YACHT's issues occurred almost immediately, while Grimes experienced some difficulties after she had established some early momentum. Those who have seen Claire Boucher of Grimes will recognize her exacting attention to detail and the many hats she wears: singer, DJ, and sound engineer. Her tendency to utilize sleuth-like instincts to remedy a problem on the spot creates the appearance that she has momentarily lost track that she’s on stage. While she ultimately makes a strong recovery, there are moments of indecision -- when the sound shut downs again she her asked "Am I done?", thinking that the venue had pulled the plug on her for going over time.

YACHT’s breezy reaction offers some perspective. When their keyboard had issues, they stopped entirely, shrugging off the problem as an excuse to spar with their audience for sport, as they do in this improvised Q&A. Admittedly it's easier for veterans such as YACHT, the core of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans packing a steely constitution, than an artist making her first impression. In any event, artists should figure that in a festival environment, 1/3 of the crowd is likely in your corner regardless while 1/3 is likely not paying attention and completely unaware of the mistake. The remainder is most likely bemused by the situation. YACHT’s exuberance, reflected in the ridiculous ease with which Evans surfs atop the crowd once things get going, speaks volumes. Overtime, it’s not achieving perfection, but how one responds that matters most.

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