Noah and the Whale – SXSW Diary

Mixing business with pleasure

The London folk-punk five-piece journeyed to Austin to partake in the showcases and proved that quite often mixing business with pleasure can offer some unexpected results…

Wednesday 12th March

With just sufficient time for Urby Whale to roll up his yoga mat after his routine early-morning sun salutations, Noah and the Whale left for the airport. There is no part of transit by air that Charlie Fink enjoys. There is no part of Austin, Texas, during the second week of March that he does not enjoy. Assisted by tentative experimentation with advanced multimedia psychological conditioning and Urby Whale’s acclaimed vestibular-breathing techniques, Charlie did make it to Texas.

Thursday 13th March

Noah and the Whale played their first live performance in the United States of America at the Team Clermont showcase at the Flamingo Cantina on 6th Street. Akron/Family played at the same showcase and dominated the stage more like a vigorous sanctified cult than a collection of musicians. They swept up the crowd of the small venue into howling call-and-response choruses with their hypnotic energy and gruelling focus, their tribal rhythms and stinging, slashing, shrieking wall of sound.

Noah and the Whale played their official SXSW showcase at the Clash Magazine party at Friends. Their luggage monopolised by Urby Whale’s brothel creeper collection and Charlie’s burgeoning library of self-help manuals, meant that the band were forced to borrow equipment from almost every other artist on the bill. But Noah and the Whale rose above such self-inflicted shambles to rally a fine and discerning crowd through their greatest hits.

Noah and the Whale also savoured the melodic mellifluousness of man’s man Johnny Flynn for the second time in the space of six hours. Laura Marling joined ‘The Sussex Wit’ on stage for two songs. Photographic records depict the moment when Urby Whale was seen to glaze over at the set’s finale. Popular reports put it down to intravenous infusion of Whiskey Sour, but it could easily be explained as the benign stupor of absolute joy. Nonetheless, the Noah and the Whale rhythm section did not get into the Playboy party.

Friday 14th March

On Friday, Noah and the Whale played a small fete. Perennial jamboree-devotee, Tom Fiddle struggled to suppress his disappointment at the tombola-shaped void in proceedings. But a spontaneous cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Devil Town’ and the promise of homemade lemonade won the day in the Texan twilight.

The audience was silent and Noah and the Whale bellowed “work more, earn more, live more, have more fun”.

Urby Whale was in supple and ebullient form, refreshed by his routine mid-afternoon One-Legged King Pigeon and Downward-Facing Dog variations. Over Philip Chang’s Szechuan Blue Cheese Wedge, Urby was further cheered by the delightful surprise of catching up with Billy F Gibbons with whom he shared screen time in ZZ Top’s little-known made-for-television production Mother Goose Rock ‘N’ Rhyme.

Noah and the Whale watched Herman Dune play in a hotel bar and bemoaned their bland British neutral tones. The imperturbable, stress-free Franco-Swede made lead-changing a riotous comedy routine.

Noah and the Whale watched Laura Marling. The audience was silent and Noah and the Whale bellowed “work more, earn more, live more, have more fun”.

Saturday 15th March

Urby Whale is photosensitive and as such was not thrilled by the prospect of a garden party lit directly by the sun. But pulling the brim of his trilby tightly over his pasty forehead and emptying two-thirds of a child-sized bottle of anti-sun paste over all of his extremities, he did not weather badly.

The Press Here Garden Party staged at the unlikely, but verdantly peaceful, situation of Austin’s French Legation Museum played host to half of Camden. The first four acts of the day (Emmy the Great, Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling and Lightspeed Champion) all from London had shared innumerable stages and musical experiences in the preceding months.

Away from the picturesque music, Doug Fink did find time to challenge a television presenter with Down’s syndrome to a b-boy break-dancing contest. He was later scorned by Urby in the aftermath for not deploying The Sprinkler with more aplomb.

Later the band played on a cliff high above Austin for a charming dancing French man with a video camera. Events will be accessible on the Takeaway Shows website.

Sunday 16th March

Noah and the Whale finished their official commitments. Waffles were cooked and consumed and the festival packed its bags too.

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