AUSTIN, Texas — Big Harp started out quiet, turned up the volume and then turned the dial back down a bit.
The Saddle Creek Records band, made up of husband-and-wife duo Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney, came here from the Americana band's home in California to play a few shows and show off songs from its latest album, “Chain Letters.”
“White Hat,” the group's debut, was a quiet, rustic affair. When Big Harp performed new material at South by Southwest last year, it was loud, brash and bluesy, and energy burst from Senseney's guitar.
Before playing Wednesday, Senseney told me, “It's more in line with our personalities.”
“The first record was coming off having our kids, and it was a really settled, domestic record,” he said.
Since then, the band has pulled back a bit.
SXSW: Interview with Big Harp
Wednesday's performance, which took place at Saddle Creek's showcase at the Parish Underground here, saw Senseney drawing hoots and cheers for his soulful baritone and finger-picked melodies during songs such as “It's Easy to Be Strange.” The song slowly chugged along, but Senseney howled and ripped into a bluesy solo at the end, which drew more howls.
People danced to the Americana sound, which also featured Drootin-Senseney's thumping bass lines and sweet voice mixing with her husband's.
It was, up to that point, the best-attended of the sets at the Saddle Creek showcase, which also featured rocker Jake Bellows, avant noise rock group UUVVWWZ, garage punk Pujol, dance band Icky Blossoms and performance art and electronica duo Harouki Zombi.
Wednesday seemed to be all about Saddle Creek Records.
Though there were lots of other shows going on — I was once again thwarted from seeing Tegan and Sara as well as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — Saddle Creek definitely had a big presence at the festival.
SXSW: Interview with Jake Bellows
Lincoln group UUVVWWZ and Portland punkers the Thermals, which recently signed with the label, both played well-attended early shows.
The Thermals played a ton of new material at the Parish, which was their first of seven shows at SXSW.
“Hey, hi. Hey, what's up? It's hot in here,” said lead singer Hutch Harris, who was probably sweaty more from careening around onstage like a human bumper car during the band's set than from it being particularly warm.
Songs such as new track “You Will Be Free” had the crowd singing along and turning the venue's floor into a pit of swinging hair, flying elbows and ripped T-shirts.
I'm excited for the Thermals to come to Omaha, where they haven't played in a while. I'm told they'll be back soon.
After the set, I spoke to the Thermals, who were very nice and offered me a taco.
Anyway, the band's new album, “Desperate Ground,” will be released on Saddle Creek on April 16.
“We've known Robb (Nansel), who runs Saddle Creek, and a lot of the bands for a long time,” Harris said. “Really, we were friends with the whole crew. We've been bros for like 10 years. It was like a natural choice.”
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