I had intended for this to be my SXSW/Andrew Bird post, and I guess in a way it will be, but all that music got my wheels to turning…
Andrew Bird was magnificent. He was everything I had hoped for, and that encore (3 part harmony on some old hymns made me teary eyed in the best possible way). Andrew is a classically trained violinist and has said in interviews that he was a classical music kid, he never really got pop music, citing the beatles White Album as the closest he got to pop as a kid. His classical education really shines in his live shows. Bird’s use of layering and looping should build up into a cacophony of sound but somehow it all works, each piece fitting like a harmonic puzzle, giving way to a huge rapturous sound that doesn’t seem like it could come from the mere 4 people on stage. I also realized how much Andrew’s voice likens to his instrument. The attack and decay of his voice mimicking the violin, the slight vibrato, the quick words matching his nimble plucking. Did one inform the other or is this a conscious effort? Either way it was beautiful and intricate, a ridiculous tapestry of music being woven right in front of us. How could you ask for more?
SXSW is always a bit of a gamble, especially when you’ll only be there for a day. You scour the lineup and try to plan the best possible day of music and hope and pray that you’ll get in and that you won’t be missing something even better down the road. Kelley and I didn’t actually make up our mind on who to see until the day of (actually we were still questioning ourselves about 20 minutes before we needed to be there). We finally decided to go to Antone’s to see Glen Hansard (of the Swell Season and the Frames) and Lost in the Trees (whose new album I am listening to as I write this and it is insanely beautiful!). Both of whom are on my list of shows for the year! There were 6 bands in total playing the showcase and each of them was actually pretty good (with the exception of Cold Specks who were better than pretty good. They were awe-inspiring and so unique.). I’d been keeping track of the sxsw happenings and everyone had raved about the shows Glen had done so far so our anticipation was building for this show and he did NOT disappoint. Glen is not classically trained. Glen busked on the streets of Ireland and hardly became famous overnight (though it may appear so). The set started with Leave from the once soundtrack and then Low Rising (my favorite from the swell season album). Clarence Clemons’ nephew Jake came out to lend his saxophone skills to Low Rising and pretty much every song that followed. The crowd ate it up and Glen continued to dish it out and not hold back. There’s something in his style that is so guttural, he is not reserved, the music is like an animal burrowing inside of him and he’s working it back out. After the first two songs Hansard only did covers the first of which was Bruce Springsteen’s Drive All Night which turned into a massive sing-a-long leading Hansard to say he didn’t ever want to stop (I took a video of the song lasting 5 minutes and put it down because I wanted to really wanted to experience it and it probably had another 5 minutes to go). He then went on to another cover saying “I know I’m supposed to be here promoting myself and stuff but I just can’t.” He played a tune that he used to play when he busked that he likes to play to remind himself of how far he’s come. He ended the night with an old Irish funeral song that he dedicated to his dad. Hansard’s Irish brogue shining through this simple a capella song that ended up as another massive sing-a-long.
Both these artists had me teary eyed and took my breath away despite their huge differences. It got me thinking, about individuality, about how important it is to stay true to yourself and your voice. If Glen had tried to be more like Andrew, reserved and classical, he wouldn’t have the same impact, and if Andrew had tried to be more guttural and instinctive like Glen it would be inauthentic.
I’ve always been good at mimicking, impressions and accents come easy. But finding your own voice can be more difficult. I remember in my voice lessons my teacher saying “No, Nikki Nicole, sing it in your voice.” (I hated that nickname) But she didn’t want me pretending to be Adele or Lissie or whoever we were singing that week, she wanted me to be me. She would ask me “What does Nicole sound like?” I found that to be a much more difficult lesson to learn, especially in a world of copy cats, look a-likes, and sound a-likes. It’s hard to step out and find your own voice. So that’s my goal right now, to find my own voice, in singing, in writing, in life. To not follow or mimic, to be authentically me.