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A visit to an Austin restaurant leads to a SXSW discovery

Holly Macve at the Liberty restaurant in Austin
Holly Macve at the Liberty restaurant in Austin tfinn@kcstar.com

Some of the best discoveries can be things you weren’t searching for. This year’s serendipitous surprise at the South by Southwest Music Conference is Holly Macve, a 20-year-old from Brighton, England. She performed Saturday night at the Second Play Stage at the Liberty, a restaurant next to the Austin Convention Center.

It was dinner hour when she started, so a lot of the tables were filled with diners, many of whom paid little or no attention to Macve’s music. And the bar was crowded with fans watching basketball on the many TV screens.

But a small crowd had gathered in the seats before the stage, listening attentively to Macve’s arresting voice and songs. She has a label, Bella Union (Beach House, Father John Misty), but has yet to release an album. One is expected later this year.

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At the Bella Union website, label president Simon Raymonde recalled seeing he for the first time: “I had a tip-off to go to a basement bar where she was playing. In a room full of beery boys chatting across all the music beforehand, the minute Holly opened her mouth the room fell silent. Hers is a rare gift.”

Macve has listed as inspirations and influences some of the usual singer/songwriter suspects: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Gillian Welch.

Accompanying herself piano and acoustic guitar, she sang originals and a cover or two, evoking the sounds and styles of Welch, Patty Griffin and Lissie: a lovely, soulful voice singing tuneful, well-crafted songs with thoughtful lyrics. Her cover of “Crazy” did much justice to Patsy Cline’s version. A few times, she earned some applause from those diners and patrons at the bar who paused to give her music the attention it deserved.

Macve made her U.S. debut Wednesday night at another SXSW showcase. Based on this performance in less-than-ideal conditions, I’d bet she’ll be back, sooner or later.

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The Feedback

Rachael Ray’s annual Feedback at the South by Southwest Music Conference regularly features a wide variety of music acts. This year’s event was no different. Saturday afternoon’s bill at a sold-out Stubbs (it was one out, one in nearly all day) featured 14 acts on three stages, two of them outdoors.

Among the performances: a rare solo acoustic set by Stephen Jenkins, lead singer of Third Eye Blind, who play Liberty Hall on Monday, and a flashy set of hip-hop/soul by the much-hyped Anderson Paak, the latest protégé of Dr. Dre.

The headliners included George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. The day after it performed a marathon set at Antone’s on the other side of Austin, the troupe of 20 or so piled on stage at Stubbs and delivered an abbreviated 30-minute version of its rowdy and gaudy circus show, arousing plenty of dancing and motion among the throng packed in front of the stage. The set list included lavish presentations of two classics and favorites: “Flash Light” and “We Want the Funk.”

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After Clinton’s set, the Record Company set up shop on the secondary stage at the other end of the outdoor venue. The Los Angeles trio plays raw and gritty rock/blues, much of it with a heavy Delta blues flavor.

“We play rock and roll!” shouted growly vocalist Chris Vos, who lathers the band’s music lavishly with licks and riffs of lap steel and pedal steel, evoking the sounds and styles of everyone from John Lee Hooker to Robert Randolph. At times, its sound veered into primal punk, and the sounds of bands like the Stooges. Like many bands at SXSW, the Record Company is touring off a new record: “Give It Back to You,” released in February. The set list included several of its songs. You’ll have a chance to see the Record Company at Knuckleheads on April 2, when they open for the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.

Back at the big stage, Jenny Lewis followed the Record Company. Lewis, a singer/songwriter and former actress, was dressed in a white Nudie suit adorned with fringe and large marijuana leaves.

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Before a crowd that included actor Bill Murray, she and her six-piece band delivered a set that drew heavily from “The Voyager,” her most-recent album, including “Head Underwater.” Her style is Americana with country accents, at times recalling the early recordings of Neko Case. Lewis also performed a re-arranged version of “Silver Lining,” a song by her former band, Rilo Kiley.

The MidCoast Takeover

The evening ended over at the Shangri-La, where Kansas City’s Midwestern Music Association presented the four-day MidCoast Takeover, now in its seventh year. Rain put a dent in Friday’s showcase, so schedules had to be rearranged and some shows moved indoors, and there were some brief sound issues on Thursday; otherwise the event went off without a major hitch.

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Saturday night has typically been raucous and well-attended and it was again this year. The outdoor stage was close to full with fans for final three performances by Dead Voices, Not a Planet and Drop a Grand,

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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