Saturday, the final day of SXSW 2021, ended with a lasting impression. Sharing stages with Big Thief, The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers, and more, The Deer have begun to make a name for themselves – rightfully so. Their sound is of folky indie pop, yet borders on country. The combination of woody, twangy mandolin, standup bass, plucky blues guitar, and keys gave their songs have a homey, comforting quality. For “Up into Roses,” billowing violin added an extra somber feeling of nostalgia. “Swoon” brought the set to a close with a steady pace; crooning and love-lorne, Grace Rowland sang: “Meet me where the dogwoods flower / Where wolves come address the hour / I still see the embers from when the barn burned down / Meet me where the cattails sway.”
“[SXSW] has changed my life and brought me so many discoveries, and that’s what South By has always been about for me; discovery. It’s also the spirit of how I try to curate the Tiny Desk Concert Series,” said Bob Boilen, host of NPR’s Tiny Desk concert video series. Boilen’s “favorite discovery of 2020” was Steady Holiday. “What I love about her songs is the adventure in her songs, characters, the lyrics are always filled with insight, and her videos always have the unexpected.”
From the cozy atmosphere by the fireplace in her Los Angeles home, singer-songwriter Dre Babinski of Steady Holiday, started off her set with “Living Life.” The track began acoustic as she sat solo at the microphone, guitar in hand. Within seconds she jumped up from her seat, still singing, to open her blinds. For a clever Covid-safe transition, the keyboard player and drummer, in red suits, began playing on her front porch. Even she had to chuckle. A printer, with pasted goggly eyes, spit out a song request for “Tangerine.” The quirky indie pop tracks, also featuring “White Walls” were catchy and sweet. For her last track she went solo, shutting the blinds for “Love Me When I Go To Sleep,” a sweeping acoustic lullaby.
Up next on Tiny Desk was R&B singer and rapper Duckwrth. For his first track, “Kiss U Right Now,” Sultry background vocals and funky thumping bass lines accompanied his undeniable silky smooth flow. He introduced a new song “Make You Go,” dedicating it to the “lovers and freaks.” The funky track was sensual and jazzy, impossible not to groove along. Picking up the pace, witty and golden “Birthday Suit” let backup singers Liv and Amber shine.
Yasser Tajeda & Palotré are a Dominican fusion band, brought together elements of jazz, rock, and Carribean rhythms. Characterized by minimalistic, catchy vocals, jumping bongos, and intricate arpeggios on strings, they emitted joyful vibes. During “La Culebra” the whole band was dancing and shimmying with big grins. Tajeda gave some backstory to their next song “Nuestra Raíces” and their newest album Kijombo “[the song] means ‘our roots,’ and it reflects the goal of this project, that is showcasing afro-dominican music, making fusions with Dominican roots and tradition that is often marginalized in our own country.” Mario Castro joined the band to play satiny tenor sax, adding some flavor to their dance tracks.
The experimental hip hop trio, Clipping., consisted of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. They took “tiny desk” literally, each having a teeny tiny dj set up, and Diggs singing into a microphone the size of a pinkie finger. Diggs’ rapping on “Something Under” was so ridiculously fast paced that your mind lagged trying to process it, but the producers were on top of it. It’s easy to get sucked into his mesmerizing flow and brilliant lyricism, snapping back to reality at the end of each track. The transition from “Check the Locks” to “Shooter” was so smooth. For the latter slower-paced track we got a taste of his clever word play and ability to rhythm just about anything: “Don’t move nothin’ – statue / shooter bout to go nuts – cashew / need cash out the books – past due.”
Sir Woman, the solo project of Wild Child’s Kelsey Wilson, kicked off with a good start by securing Austin Music Award’s Best New Act of 2020. Backed by jangling tambourine, gorgeous jazzy back up vocals, electric guitar, and box drums, her vocals radiated an organic soulfulness. From the looks of bluesy R&B tracks “High Road” and “Thinkin’ Bout Tomorrow,” Wilson’s new album Bitch is unapologetic and reflective on past relationship troubles, yet she grins with glee while performing. The set also included her title track “Bitch,” which was empowering and rich in catharsis.
Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, poetic post-punk band, Iceage, have not wasted time since their debut studio album New Brigade was released a decade ago. The first track of their set cooked up a moody slow burn for their new song “The Holding Hand.” Moving into more gripping hardcore riffs for another new track, “Vendetta,” there was a constant driving force of energy. “It’s a bit bewildering how foreign it already feels, it hasn’t been a year but it already feels like some sort of distant past. You hardly can believe that this was what we used to do. That this was normal,” said frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, reflecting on the live music and the online transition. “It’s no substitute for live shows, it’s hardly the same at all. It’s like doing a tv show or a live session.” That being said, the band’s animated performing style was convincing, as if a sea of thousands of people were there to experience it all.
Nashville dwelling troubadour Aaron Lee Tasjan has evolved his sound time and time again over the course of his musical career. His new solo album Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! “examines sexuality, mental health, and is dedicated to all the alternative kids who felt other growing up.” His first track of the set, “Up All Night,” felt like someone dusted off an 80s pop record to throw on, in the best way. “Don’t Overthink It” took a turn towards psychedelic rock, with a lengthy free-flowing guitar solo seeing it through to the end. He set down his guitar and sat at the keys to express his youthful feminine side on “Feminine Walk,” and spoke of love and acceptance on his closing track: “They don’t see me but would it kill them to try / I know i make them uncomfortable but i’m just living my life / …I love anyone that tells me to.”
For many, March signifies SXSW festival season, bringing music lovers together from all over the world to connect and discover new artists.Through the loss of live music during this unprecedented season, the festival still held true to its purpose. Chat features and daily connection hours allowed fans to talk amongst themselves, often joking about lack of drink tickets, typing out “Woo!” and “I’m moshing from my living room!” The array of performance talent, production, and visuals were off the walls. It’s likely the online platform also brought music to audiences who otherwise couldn’t have joined in on the experience. Here’s to hoping SXSW 2022 will bring even more pleasant surprises.
“Confetti to the Hurricane”
“Up into Roses”
“Love Me When I Go To Sleep”
“Kiss U Right Now”
“Make You Go”
Yasser Tajeda & Palotré
“Check the Lock”
“Nothing Is Safe”
“Thinkin’ Bout Tomorrow”
“The Holding Hand”
Aaron Lee Tasjan
“Up All Night”
“Don’t Overthink It”
File Photo: Stephen Hoffmeister