Sound City 2013 – Reviewed

Almost a week ago Sound City got underway. We pick through the tales from the trenches…

This time last week we were scouring the Sound City 2013 line-up; who could we not miss? Were there clashes? Would a new band we’d never heard of blow our minds?

The answers to these questions, and more, are all below…

Best Band: Before a Fender Telecaster (which seemed to be the guitar of choice for the festival) had been strummed in earnest, we made our tips of the weekend playlist, pretty much hedging our bets between Thee Oh Sees and The Walkmen as our must-sees, our cannot fail to be impressed by this band, pick of the festival. In the event it was pretty much a photo finish. It’s still tough to call, but because of their energy, appreciation for the audience and showmanship, we have Thee Oh Sees by a nose. Playing what seemed an endless (in a good way), most likely exhausting set, the John Dwyer-led San Franciscans were a sight and sound to behold.

“Liverpool Cathedral proved more than a bit special”

Best Venue: Liverpool Cathedral hands down. We’ve been to a performance there before (Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail at Biennial 2012) when the acoustics did little to enhance the experience – hey, it’s a big room to fill – but in the more traditional context of bass, drums and guitars, it proved more than a bit special.

Surprise of the weekend: There’s always one isn’t there? A band you‘re seeing just to fill time, by accident or as background music, rises to the occasion to make a mockery of those previously low expectations. In this case it was London-based five piece Toy. We caught their full set only in preparation for a good spec for The Walkmen. Doing their utmost to blow the roof off the cathedral, they wasted no time in establishing their dark psychedelia as a mainstay of our next few days’ listening.

Disappointment: For all the pleasant surprises that festivals often throw your way, there will be disappointments too. In this case there can be no doubt that after you got past the handful – at best – of marquee acts, those immediately below were, to put it mildly, underwhelming. That Toy were the only band we’ve come away with a new and enhanced appreciation of speaks volumes.

Another quibble is a common festival complaint, but given the relative paucity of Saturday night, some potentially avoidable clashes on the Friday proved something of a nightmare, preventing us from seeing Savages, amongst others.

Best crowd: No contest, Thee Oh Sees performance in the Kazimier paid immediate dividends as the crowd packed in to see them wasted little time to get a mosh pit going (the best natured mosh pit we’ve ever seen, we should add), followed by a succession of crowd surfers. It was infectious stuff – good times.

“Even if we haven’t got over a song written in 2004, the band clearly have”

Most pleasurable moment: Minutes before The Walkmen took to the stage of the cathedral on the Friday evening, we uncharitably texted a friend and big fan of the band, informing him of where we were. Karma struck swiftly as he responded thus: “I saw them last night supporting the Vaccines [some mistake here, surely?]! They didn’t play The Rat.” Talk about a double whammy; beaten to the punch AND prior knowledge that they’d likely miss out playing their biggest tune.

Shaken, we put this to the back of our minds as best we could. As it happens, the ensuing set proved that material drawn from more than a decade’s worth of existence is not to be sniffed at, and even if we haven’t got over a song written in 2004, the band themselves clearly have. With singer Hamilton Leithauser’s insanely powerful vocals, a flair for pathos (even in ostensibly up-beat songs) and the distinctive guitar of Paul Maroon, we couldn’t have torn the smiles from our faces had we tried.

But the best was yet to come, we’d forgotten one thing. Playing with the Vaccines in the role of support, there had been no encore. Headlining here, the crowd wouldn’t budge until The Walkmen returned. In moments, that unmistakable intro led by Maroon could mean only one thing: The Rat. And an already delighted audience were whipped into further frenzy, with a full-on singalong a foregone conclusion. It was a fabulous, deafening moment of catharsis.

It wouldn’t close the show though. That particular honour went to the beautiful lament of While I Shovel The Snow, taken from 2011′s Lisbon album. The first line of which begins, “well, they say can’t please everyone”. We’d hazard that that particular rule was bent to breaking point here.

The Walkmen image courtesy Andrew Abrahamson

Posted on 08/05/2013 by thedoublenegative