Concert Review for SXSW – featuring The Almost & Bright Eyes

 

(Photos of The Almost by JD Photo)

SXSW – what comes to your mind when you hear that name? Music, Excitement, joy, beautiful chaos? All these words and more make up what SXSW is; a music and film overdose that leaves your head fuzzy, feet in pain, and heart and soul so, so happy and free.

Saturday March 19th I got to experience my dream of attending the famous Austin, Texas festival with none other than my favorite people, and fellow Waking staffers, Krystal, Amanda, and Amber. Along with a good friend of Amanda and Amber’s who graciously did the driving in the crazy traffic and people filled streets, so a big thanks to him! 🙂

After parking in a lot on Congress, and walking 6 streets all the way to, ha, you guessed it, 6th street; we arrived at Emo’s, a popular Austin gritty rock venue, where The AP Tour was making a stop for a free all ages SXSW day party, with The Almost being the very special guest on the bill for that day only. The AP Tour 2011 featured such bands as The Ready Set, Versaemerge, Black Veil Brides, and Animals As Leaders, among many others, but not being familiar with any of the other bands, we went to the show specially for The Almost. However, standing line we got a chance hear one of the bands, and while I don’t know who they were, they must have been post hardcore…good screams, loud screams…it was entertaining 🙂

Walking into the venue, we got a pretty sweet spot a few rows back from the stage, and were ready to rock out baby!

The Almost started off their set with a bang, playing the title track off their late ‘09 release “Monster, Monster”, and it was a perfect choice as it had the whole place dancing I’m sick of this monster, monster, You’ve gotta get here, You’ve gotta get here.”, though none of us wanted to get out at all, the crowd was instantly dancing along! I love seeing the whole crowd bounce up and down, swinging their hair, and scream the lyrics together, it’s when you’re defense come down and you feel connected with the crowd, during an Almost show that is what you are going to feel the whole way through.

Shortly after the beginning of the show lead singer Aaron Gillespie announced to the crowd that he is going to be a dad, people cheered and “awww”’s could be heard around the whole room. Congratulations to Aaron and his beautiful wife, Jamie, no doubt their child will have some creative and rockin’ genes! 🙂

“Lonely Wheel” was next, and the crowd seemed to slip into a fun rock groove, and really connecting with the band. At this moment I looked behind me where Amanda, Amber, and Krystal were standing, and was just so thankful.  You see, we girls live hours apart and this was our first show together, it was so special to hear some awesome rock ‘n roll, and dance with my favorite people :).  I was also happy to see a few people I attend class with at the show, ha, it’s pretty cool to know you are all experiencing a special live music moment together 🙂

I was pretty in awe at this moment in the show; I was standing just a few feet away from my favorite drummer, Aaron Gillespie. I have been a Underoath fan for what seems like forever, and never got to see them live before Aaron left to pursue The Almost and his solo music full time. This was pretty epic for me and I was a bit star struck lol, he looks even more awesome and cool in person, and his tattoos are so amazing to look at! Okay, crazy fan moment over, ha 😉

The band’s current single “No I don’t” was my favorite of the night; this song has been a sort of anthem for me for quite some time now, and it was the song I was most looking forward to seeing played live. Gillespie’s distinct vocal’s really made this song, sounding strong and clear, which was really evident on the first verse of the song when the music starts off softer than the normal Almost sound. When it came to the bridge, I have to say I was a bit taken with the emotion and spirit in the song, “I’m free because you said”, in that moment, thinking back to all this song has walked with me in, that lyric, that song, felt so freeing to sing. I know musicians sing their songs over and over to different crowds every night, but the emotion in Aaron as he sang that song seemed so genuine and like he was singing it for the first time. I admire that. I have to say, I had so much fun throwing my fist in the air and singing out the lyrics “It’s none of their business!” along with Aaron and the crowd of other people, who seemed to all scream out the lyric with just as much determination and energy. This was the song that the band told everyone to jump on, and jump they did! The place went crazy, and it was awesome.

 

 “Southern Weather” was the song bassist Jon Thompson got to display his mad skills by pounding us with some gritty bass lines in this song that feels oh, so raw and grimy. One thing I love about watching Jon play is that he is always so happy, ha, the smile didn’t leave his face the whole time, and was contagious to the whole crowd. Prompted by the band, the whole place had hands in the air, pulsing and swaying to the chorus. Thanks to the heat that day and the dancing we were all doing, the song felt authentically southern rock; hot and messy. The Almost is a very interactive band, always inviting the crowd to take parts of the songs and on “Southern Weather” the bridge was our turn, “Blame it on the southern weather, blame it on everything, it’s not like you to do a small favor, you can blame me for everything”. You could hear voices shouting in unison as Aaron pulled the mic away from his mouth and led us in singing, and then took over and finished the tune.

“Say This Sooner” was no doubt the biggest crowd pleaser of the day, and had Aaron leading the crowd in singing the bridge break down “No one will ever see things the way I do, no one will try. All my friends say that I’m gone but I swear, I swear I’m not” with fists poised high in the air, people packing in even tighter as the mood turned even more crazy. Again, work of guitarists Redmon and Vilarid made powerful and intense appearance on the bridge of the song, serving up some yummy rock rifts (yes, I said yummy rock) and there was no way a single person in that place could help but throw their whole bodies into jamming out.

After the rock tune ended, Aaron told us the night was about over, and with a “Jesus loves you”, went into the band’s choice of a set closer’; a cover of the Tom Petty classic “Free Falling”. They couldn’t have been more right in picking the tune as the last song, the crowd ate it up! Aaron called the crowd to all gather together close to the stage, and he rewarded us all by getting right in the middle of the people and singing from there, and even grabbing a girl’s camera and taking a photo of himself with it, ha, lucky girl! Hands went up in the air as we all sang in unison “I’m free, free falling”.  This Tom Petty song has always been a favorite of mine, and The Almost did a wonderful job bringing their style and groove to it, in fact, may I be so brave to say that I prefer The Almost’s version over Tom’s? Yeah, don’t kill me, but I do :).  A fun and groovy way to end the all too short set, it had the band and the crowd smiling from ear to ear. It felt special.

Aaron sounds almost flawless live, as well as the rest of the band, whose musicianship and backing vocals are top notch and stunning, from the drums, to the bass and guitar, making the songs feel alive.

Packed in a hot and sweaty room, taking in all the energy and smiles, you couldn’t deny that there was a vibe about The Almost, one that feels happy and chill, no frills, just raw and gritty, sweaty rock ‘n roll…puurrfect 😉

 

 After enjoying some yummy dinner at Chuy’s and going on a yet another hunt for parking lol, we walked down to Auditorium Shores to see Bright Eyes.

Now, being that there were thousands of people there, and i am quite “fun-size” , I didn’t get to actually “see”, Bright Eyes per say lol, I more just got to see the sky and backs of people’s heads ha! But, thankfully there was a screen and for short moments in the show I did get to see what the amazing band looked like playing live, ha…praise God for screens! 😉

The first sound we heard as the show started was a voice echoing over the empty stage, talking of extraterrestrials and life on other planets, grabbing everyone’s attention and making us wonder what the heck we were in for.

 Bright Eyes chose to open their set with the song “Firewall”, a song off their newly released 7th studio album, The People’s Key. Starting out soft, it’s growing mystery and intensity, it showed off the bands superb musical skills, and from the start of the first note, the crowd and the band instantly connected, and the mood and atmosphere was set, we were all anxiously waiting what the night of music from this energetic yet somber band would look and sound like.

I have been a Bright Eyes fan for some years now, but this was the first time I have ever had the experience of seeing the band in a live setting. Bright Eyes is an eclectic band to begin with, but on stage you really see that confirmed, the band, which played a 2 hour set filled with 24 of their oldest and newest hits, played songs ranging from a little folk, to electro, to even some R&B grooves. One second you were swaying in time with the beautiful melodies and the next you were dancing to the crazy energetic beats. …oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about, baby! 😉

Bright Eyes live is very different than Bight eyes recorded, the music is bigger, the beats stronger, the vibe; epic. With various instruments such as strings, sax, organ, banjo, and the trumpet, the band makes for a fun and whimsy mix.

“No One Would Riot for Less” displayed such passion and defiance as Oberst’s fiery honesty came through in his vocals.

I was happy to see “Four Winds”, a favorite of mine, in the set list and enjoyed hearing Connor’s almost mischievous and vocals on this spiritual referenced laced song. I loved the way Connor sings this one with an almost defiant passion. The folk-western feel was perfect to show case the bands musicianship.

Keeping with the folk feel, “Cleanse Song” was up next, and got the crowd swaying to the sound of the sweet Americana sound. I really love the way the guitar sounded on this one! The song was flowy enough just perfect for a Texas evening.

The beautiful and semimetal “Bowl of Oranges” created a lovely moment in the crowd when Oberst sang out the lyrics “And every time you feel like crying I’m gonna try to make you laugh. And if I can’t, if it just hurts too bad, then we’ll wait for it to pass. And I will keep you company through those days so long and black”. Looking around at the thousands of people there I’ll always remember hearing the way the audience sang those lines and the smile on their faces when they did.

 

Always one to voice his views and concerns, during the set lead singer, Connor Oberst, made a point to acknowledge the war in Libya, saying “today we murdered children, as a country”. Now, while you may not agree with Oberst’s opinion, you have to give him respect for the boldness and honesty the musician has always held. The show doesn’t feel like it’s about the bands “celebrity”, you can tell that these people have more on their minds and hearts, and that’s to be admired. The band then proceed to play “Old Soul Song”,  leaving us all mulling over the gravity of the situation in our world as the somber song echoed in the night.

Around the middle of the show I was moved a few feet to a better spot in the crowd by a sweet and fun, albeit a bit tipsy, gal, who the whole night felt bad that I couldn’t see because there were tall people in front of me lol. She even offered to put me on her shoulders ha, and proceed to tell me what was happening on the stage since I couldn’t see. Her and the guy she was with decided to leave halfway through the show and making a sad puppy dog face and patting me on the shoulder she moved me to her spot where I actually could see lol. So sweet! Big thanks to her, she rocked!

“Lua” was the shining song for me personally, and I experienced a bit of a “magical live music moment”, if you will. Let me paint the scene for you, shall i? Picture this, standing outside with thousands of people under a clear, starry Texas sky; Austin’s magnificent skyline lit up bright, the moon (or “super-moon” as it was that night) shining it’s light upon the stage where the band plays a slow and sweet melody, soft and sweeping, lulling you into swaying along as the breeze falls over you and you sing along the lyrics “Because what is simple in the moonlight, by the morning never is”. Breath taking. That’s what Bright Eyes is really; breath taking beautiful musicians, with emotional and vulnerably honest lyrics that make your soul feel, and there live show will no doubt make you feel.

“Lover I Don’t Have to Love” was a dance floor anthem, baby!  The electro rock feel of this song had the whole place bouncing around, and turned the outdoors into a dance club! “Love’s an excuse to get hurt and to hurt. Do you like to hurt? I do, I do, do!” Oberst shouted on the songs bridge as the beat blasted through and the lights flashed, making us all want to grab the person next us and start grooving! I have to give a shout out to the guy who was standing next to me during this song, whose energy and love for the band showed through his awesome dancing and singing of the lyrics, making the song even more fun than it already was! Ha, that is how you rock out baby! 😉

Other songs to grace the set list were “Jejune Stars”, “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now”, “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)”, and the title track of the bands new release “The People’s Key”, among many others. In fact, I think the only song Bright Eyes didn’t play in their 2 hour set was my favorite, “First Day of My life”, ha! I have to admit I was a little disappointed, but I guess that just means I have to attend Bright Eyes shows until the band plays it…oh, what a chore 😉

The in your face “Road to Joy”, and “One of You, One for Me” closed out the show in a most epic and stunning way, colorful fireworks shot through the starry Austin night sky as both crowd and band looked upon the sight in peaceful wonder…it truly felt like we were all experiencing something special and it was connecting us, as the band continued to play the song out, Connor shouting the lyrics“One for the bread lines, one for the billionaires!” with such vigor. The last sound we were left with were the words “love” and “mercy” being played through the speakers making their way into the night sky. It was truly a lovely end to a truly lovely day. 

 

Oh SXSW, you left my heart in such happiness and peace. Watching the people of the city, and walking the streets that on every corner are bursting with music, taking in all the sights and smells…my clothes smelt like pot and other grimy things after leaving you…I call it love though, only for you Austin.  Your streets make me feel alive and free 🙂 Until next year SXSW, thank you for your music and memories, and smiles and laughter with my dear ones. See you in 2012! 🙂

(To see more photos from SXSW click to: http://www.facebook.com/pages/JD-Photo/116708131675655)

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About Cecily Wetter

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