Local Current Blog

Exploring SXSW: Caroline Rose, Amy Shark, and the Shacks

Caroline Rose. Below: the Shacks. (photos by Jay Gabler/MPR)

“You are so old,” said the guy who checked my ID, shaking his head. “Sorry, had to say it!”

Welcome to my life as a 42-year-old music writer entering the Pandora showcase last night at SXSW. The Gatsby courtyard has been transformed into a maze of VIP areas; dodging them brought me to a GA pen where I hung back and waited for Amy Shark to take the stage. I ran into the band Wild, and chatted with Gopher State native Tyler Thompson about how he’s flown beneath the radar of Minnesota media who are typically eager to grab the local angle on a rising band. He moved to L.A., he said, where he started playing with his current bandmates Zach DeGaetano and Lauren Luiz.

I wasn’t surprised that they were also interested in Shark, a Australian indie-pop singer-songwriter whose songs share Wild’s surging, uplifting quality. Playing with a tight, electronically-enhanced two-piece band, Shark beamed out at the audience. “I’m Amy Shark,” she said, “and I’ll be your entertainment for the next 40 minutes.” Wild admired Shark’s Adidas jacket and tee, a tri-stripe motif that was to recur at my next stop of the night.

Pacing the stage and gesticulating passionately, Shark ran through an appealing set that culminated in “Adore,” an Australian hit that’s crossing over to America — en route to Austin, Shark stopped in New York to sing it on The Tonight Show. My favorite number of her set, though was the penultimate “Weekends,” a blissful song about what might be an ill-fated affair. I’m excited to see Shark at our Pledge House party today.

Wanting to preserve my midweek energy, I made just one more stop last night. The record club Vinyl Me, Please was sponsoring a showcase at the Empire Control Room. As I walked in, the Shacks were playing a beautifully breezy set. At first, they sound like they might be a gimmick band: bassist Shannon Wise sings her lead vocals in a high, almost baby-doll tone as the four-piece band unfurl Latin-tinged dreamwave grooves.

After I watched the band for a few songs, though, I realized they have serious chops. Suddenly guitarist Max Shrager was ripping a juicy solo, while Wise worked her unassuming but skilled way up and down the neck. There’s more than chillout playlist fare here, although I suspect the NYC-based band might sound most at home playing a Brooklyn rooftop on a summer Saturday night.

Next, the on-brand Caroline Rose came out in a red headband and Adidas track jacket, her bandmates matching in blue. Even as they set up their gear — adorned with plastic chili-pepper garlands — it was clear that despite being fresh faces on the indie circuit, Rose and her band were just about as unfazed as it’s possible to be in the hectic atmosphere of SXSW. When a mic stand failed to expand properly, Rose just cracked a grin and shrugged at the crew.

Once the band started to play, it was clear they knew they had nothing to worry about. By the time their 11 p.m. set began, the room had filled with curious onlookers who wanted to see the artist behind the smart and appealing new album Loner. While the album title alludes to the romantic travails explored in Rose’s witty lyrics, it’s also ironic: if anything, she’s the life of the party.

Switching from keys to guitar to, briefly, recorder, Rose conducted her band through a quick blizzard of forceful but fun originals. Maybe it’s because I was a kid listening to Top 40 during the Reagan years (see above), but her songs took me back to the early ’80s, when songs could rock without requiring bone-crunching riffs and simultaneously pop without feeling frothy.

The band’s garb also recalled that decade’s fitness craze, although Rose rocks red socks instead of retro leg warmers: this was active wear for a vigorous set that climaxed with a pounding performance of “Bikini” — a protest song about the expectations placed on women in entertainment. Rose defies all sorts of expectations, including the expectation that a major industry event isn’t the place to cut loose and have a good time.

Hopefully we’ll channel that joyful spirit today at the Blackheart, as The Current welcomes day four of our Pledge House party. Stop by if you’re in Austin, or follow along with live video.