Live Review

SXSW: Japanther, Maps & Atlases, The Strokes & More

Now, don’t get us wrong. The Strokes were good. Not mind-blowing by any measure, but really very good.

Lia Ices

Lia Ices has the light and limpid way of a bird. Her tunes rise and blend; her voice spirals in and around itself, exploring. It’s a fun show, backed up by harmonising keyboards and rhythm guitar. Long, human notes play in the way that guitars are usually heard here, and stack. Hers is a meditative music, not too catchy but always going somewhere.

The perfect compliment to a sun-soaked afternoon, where your thoughts move with the clouds.

Tristan Bennett

Empress Hotel

A funny mix of 70s rock and contemporary pop, Empress Hotel’s charismatic frontman and winsome girl keyboard player bounce off each other in a way that can’t fail to fill and entertain Skinny’s Ballroom. A sweet relief from the electro-inspired and techno-drenched streets of SXSW, their big, rock’n roll sound radiates youthful fun of a bygone era.

Hannah Hancock Rubinsky


Three cheers for Japanther, whose unencumbered exuberance and library of tapes propel them headlong through their set. This punk(ish) band from Brooklyn rains staccato attack on the heads of their crowd.

Notably absent is the guitar. Comprised of one bass and one drum kit, Matt Reilly stampedes the act tumbling forward, audience dragged bouncing behind while drummer Ian Vanek screams his assent.

Japanther are notable in that their show is without the self-conscious hand-wringing so often seen by the bands here. They plunge without second thought from song to song, taking not even the most cursory of rests, as sweat and saliva drip from their modified microphones.

Maybe it’s that pound of flesh we expect from every artist: that self-immolation that starts rebellions; someone’s soul offered on a melodic silver platter. These are the hallmarks of those who do not simply play, but live their music. Japanther in their terrifying honesty does just that, and well.

And they ask, with every breath and every drumbeat, can you claim the same?

Tristan Bennett

Maps & Atlases

Whether it’s from the sound of their guitars or the fact that frontman David Davison can’t stop smiling, Maps & Atlases are the kind of band that bring joy wherever they play: the crowd loves them, and they love the crowd right back. Bassist Shiraz Dada bounces around the stage, whirling much like a dervish to the highly rhythmic guitars. Like someone you haven’t seen for a while but can sit on the couch and hang with, this set feels comfortable. Complicated and sweet, their music makes you feel like you’re out driving with your best friends at night.

Hannah Hancock Rubinsky

The Strokes

Now, don’t get us wrong. The Strokes were good. Not mind-blowing by any measure, but really very good. Though, who wouldn’t expect at least competent for a band who’ve been playing together for over a dozen years? They wisely sprinkle tracks from new album, ‘Angles’ among the well-known and well-loved oldies, allowing them to fit right in. There are a few obvious growths on display, both musically and rhythmically, but it’s still familiar and comfortable. Like many great bands, The Strokes know where they want the song to go, or more importantly, when it should end.

Hannah Hancock Rubinsky

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