A great start to South by Southwest today. This global music industry conference is held every March in Austin, Texas and features more than 10,000 music acts over five days. We are featuring as many of the Christian acts playing the conference as we can manage to see.
Today we started the evening in the sanctuary of one Austin’s downtown churches. This is a cool place t0 see music. The setting is beautiful, with dark woods and stained glass, and the acoustics are unbelievable.
Even better, I was able to see the great Jennifer Knapp in the middle of her tour back onto the music scene after a seven year journey to find her muse. Am I glad she found it. This was a mesmeriszing performance by an exceptional artist. She mostly played songs from her tremendous new album “Letting Go” which comes to you on May 11th. This was an acoustic set but you can tell Jennifer Knapp likes to rock. She started by asking the crowd “Do you want to vibe out or do you want me to rock your face off.” Jennifer Knapp weaved a powerful, nuanced voice and her guitar mastery into a hypnotic set of songs that left the audience stunned and enthralled. At one point she commented that the crowd did not seem to care that her guitar was out of tune. They did not care, they were too busy soaking up the soulful tunes she was delivering.
Next I ran to the Beauty Bar to catch the Asthmatic Kitty/Sounds Familyre showcase. I went to see three bands I had never seen live and I was not disappointed.
First up were Christian indie music masters Ben + Vesper. First of all, Ben is married to Vesper. Was the band jut called Ben before? Their set featured shot looping harmonies, crystal clear vocals, driving rhythms and, in some songs middle period Beatles song structures. Ben + Vesper‘s songs stop suddenly. At times I felt they were leading into crescendo dynamics when they suddenly ended the song. It was bracing, not in a bad way, and it did catch your attention. Ben + Vesper deliver a full sound with two guitars, keyboards and a trumpet on top of a hard driving rhythm section. The band’s most distinctive performance trait was their group singing which featured powerful, loud harmonies sung over and over. This was a striking dynamic to a performance by talented, visionary musicians.
After that I moved to the outside stage to catch a new band I had not even heard of until this week. Daniel Smith‘s newest protege’s are a four girl group called Ortolan. These are four fresh faced, small town hipsters who performed a set of quirky indie pop songs. Great harmonies with atonal ellements and constantly shifting rythms make this group compelling to hear. Though they claim a lead vocalist many of their songs feature dual lead vocals between the guitarist and keyboard player. At times they seemed surprised the SXSW crowed genually liked their music.
All of that was a prelude to the much anticipated set by indie icon Danielson. As soon as Ortolan finished their set, the crowd surges forward and the club filled. Danielson master mind, Daniel Smith, enlisted the help of four memebers of Ben+Vesper and Ortolan’s lead singer to complete Danielson. Daniel Smith’s vision for Danielson is visual as well as sonic. All of the band dressed in custom, hand-made uniforms, right down to the shoes (see above). While the visuals of Danielson may be quirky and the vocal style off beat, make no mistake that this is complex, precise, layered music constructed to challenge us listeners. And even though Daniel Smith sometimes sings in a high pitched chanting voice do not underestimate him as a performer. The sweat runnig down his face after two songs, even though it was a cool Austin evening, and his intense trembling performance left no doubt that Daniel Smith is a serious visionary and Danielson is his vision.