SXSW 2014 highlights: Ásgeir, Sylvan Esso, Mighty Oaks, Nick Mulvey, Rare Monk, Hozier, Leif Vollebekk, Highasakite, Spanish Gold, Typhoon

Ok, here we go – this year’s SXSW roundup! So let’s get to the numbers (sadly, I forgot my UP band this year which totaled my walking mileage each day)…referring to last year’s official SXSW statistics, I listened to likely 2,200+ bands this go-around in an insane 15-day binge. I siphoned it down to 224 bands worthy of a deeper look. Those 224 bands garnered a second listen, and from that point I got the number down to 102 bands that I attempted to schedule alongside about 180 already-familiar bands (of the 2,200+). I managed to see 41 bands in 3.25 days. I had 10 clear favorites (one of which was Typhoon, which shouldn’t count since I’ve seen them before, but I couldn’t resist as they performed in a church), so without further ado, in no particular order:
Ásgeir – Iceland
Sylvan Esso – USA
Mighty Oaks – multinational, based in Germany
Nick Mulvey – England
Rare Monk – USA
Hozier – Ireland
Leif Vollebekk – Canada
Highasakite – Norway
Spanish Gold – USA
Typhoon – USA

To elaborate on a few of these…

Ásgeir


His performance was hauntingly beautiful. I remember being so confused when he announced his final song – it felt like he had just begun. It was as if he hypnotized the crowd, with a voice even more crystal clear and heartbreaking than in his recordings. He sang a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” that was simply bone-chilling. I am very touchy with covers, especially those of legendary bands, but this was an extreme exception. Ásgeir reinvented the song in all the right ways without losing its integrity, and though this video does not even come close to the performance I witnessed, at least it gives you a solid idea.

Sylvan Esso


These guys were such unexpected performers! For music I was originally considering to be of the mellow persuasion, I am now dubbing it “thug Feist.” This was an all-out dance party. Having seen the Durham-based duo create this music in a live setting, it’s obvious that this is the area where they shine. Their recordings don’t do this art justice in the slightest. If they are in a town near you, even if you are on the fence about their music, GO. You’ll be wildly impressed.

Nick Mulvey


No words really. This Brit is something special. It was just him and his acoustic guitar at the alter of the St David’s Episcopal Church. He was able create such immense, beautiful sounds completely solo. It felt like he was wrapping the audience in a warm blanket and with each song that passed, he drew everyone closer. I was entranced watching him keep a bass line with his acoustic guitar all while plucking these amazingly intricate melodies that kept building on top of each other, layer by layer – no loop pedal, no other accompaniment. It was magical to gaze at this man creating.

Mighty Oaks


My love for Mighty Oaks runs deep. Having been a fan and follower since 2012, I was long overdue to see them perform. Fantastic doesn’t really cover it. They play with such intensity and passion, it’s infectious. Though their album isn’t out in the US yet, expect huge things from these guys in 2015. Huge. For now, enjoy these two favorites.

Highasakite


This band was a total crapshoot. I figured I’d take a chance on them and holy shit I am so glad I did. They finished playing and I looked over at the person next to me and said, “What just happened?!”. A wall of paralyzingly gorgeous, complex sounds and harmonies disarmed me and everyone surrounding. I have since learned that they are Norweigen, have a forthcoming album out April 7th (worldwide, yay!), and are now on a US tour with London Grammar…so basically, you’ll be hearing a thing or two from Highasakite before long!

I won’t draw this out any longer, so for the four bands that didn’t receive my complete debriefing, I want to stress how excellent they were. Hozier was mind-blowing – so captivating and so piercing live. He exceeded my expectations and totally confirmed all the hype. Rare Monk was inventive and intense. They were able to successfully pull off some extremely intriguing effects and vocal distortions, including the least chill version I’ve ever heard of “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Leif Vollebekk was a complete treat and solidified a permanent space in my (figurative) singer-songwriter favorites file. Spanish Gold was rocking and got everyone moving. The zillion people in line to see their show at Stubb’s was yet another reminder that people still care about rock –very much so. And they give good reason!

Happy listening…