SXSW 2012: Diane Birch Dazzles, While The-Dream Disappoints

by (@unclegrambo)

Diane Birch Performs At SXSW 2012

Diane Birch‘s 2009 album, Bible Belt, was one of the most promising debut LPs to emerge in the last five years. Her voice and songwriting style eschews the kind of tawdry, disposable fluff that tends to get traction on Top 40 radio, and instead hearkens back to the confessional singer-songwriter style of legends like Carole King and Laura Nyro. Aside from her 2010 digital-only cover album The Velveteen Age, she’s been holed up in the studio for the last few years working on her sophomore record. So when we heard that she would be road testing songs from her forthcoming LP (due out summer-ish) at an intimate showcase show during Day Three of the 2012 South By Southwest Music Festival, we dropped our previous plans and made our way over to the Intercontinental Hotel.

It turned out to be an awesome decision.

Birch played seven songs in her roughly 40 minute set, all of which were new to our ears. Whereas her work on Bible Belt alternated between torch songs and jaunty melodies, her new material was considerably more layered and widescreen in its sound. Take her first single, “Speak A Little Louder” (which premiered on Idolator yesterday), for example: She layers reverbed vocals over a bed of warm, atmospheric synths, creating a mood that we saw RCRD Label describe perfectly as “vintage chill.” Over the last few years, she seems to have spent considerable time and effort honing her songwriting craft, particularly when it comes to penning choruses that instantly get stuck in your brain. Birch even proved capable of writing anthemic melodies; the last song of her set last night contained a refrain that promised “We’re superstars tonight.” Considering the way the crowd reacted to her set, that line is certainly prophetic of Birch’s future in 2012.

Other sets we caught last night:

  • We saw most of Melbourne native Teeth & Tongue‘s set at The Intercontinental last night, too. It was difficult to get a gauge on her work, as she performed solo, alternating between a keyboard and a guitar. However, her heartache-laden song “Unfamiliar Skirts” stuck out to us as brimming with potential.

  • Last night’s highly anticipated Pitchfork Showcase took place at the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. Yes, that’s right, in an actual church; we were literally sitting in a pew for Nicolas Jaar‘s set. Jaar performed his blend of moody electro as part of a three piece in near-complete darkness in the church, accompanied by an electric guitar player and a dude wailing on the saxophone. It wasn’t really our cup of tea, but as far as happy accidents are concerned, it was a memorable show.
  • You see, we went to the Pitchfork Showcase with the intent of seeing Mr. Radio Killa himself, The-Dream. He was scheduled to go on at 12:45 a.m., but thanks to a combination of sliding set times and a fairly incompetent sound crew, didn’t take the stage until almost 2 a.m. The crowd was hyped when Terius Nash finally took the stage at 1:56 a.m., however most of the audience felt slightly burned when he wrapped his set after only 25 minutes. Songs like “Walking On The Moon” and “Rockin’ That Sh*t” sound positively mammoth on record, but in a live setting, they felt a little tinny to the ear. There’s no denying that The-Dream is a Radio Killa, but judging solely on his performance last night, he’s can’t exactly claim to be a Concert Killa.
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