Live Music Review: Pennyfest Boasted Top Austin Acts

 

Two Saturday’s ago Pennyfest Music Festival at Empire Control Room and Garage produced by by Austin firm, Penny Loafer PR featured a solid local line-up anchored by San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma who headlined the outdoor stage. The rest of the roster was filled with a slew of great Austin acts including Emily Wolfe, Lincoln Durham, My Jerusalem, Otis the Destroyer, Slomo Drags, Ghost Wolves and MCG. We also discovered the amazing Darkbird thanks to a tip from ACL Live’s Whitney LeMond. From MCG’s indie-pop to Otis the Destroyer’s heavy guitar-oriented rock, a wide range of music was presented at the mini-fest run by Australian founders Rob Pascolo and Sharna Haine who relocated to Austin a few years ago to launch Penny Loafer PR. 

Arriving after indie-popsters Slomo Drags took the garage stage, we watched the quartet work their way through mostly new material then noticed record producer Matt Parmenter (Ice Cream Factory) singing along with the band. He mentioned he’d produced the new record which despite finishing three months ago still doesn’t have a distribution deal or label to put out the album. Slomo Drags have been courting local and national indie labels to find the right fit but haven’t managed it yet. We wouldn’t be surprised if an Austin label picked up the record. Several outfits come to mind; Chicken Ranch Records, Austin Town Hall Records and Modern Outsider all seem like appropriate labels. We could also see them on Secretly Canadian, French Kiss Records or Paper Garden Records. Whatever happens, be sure to check the new record once it drops. 

Naturally we followed up an indie-pop set with more indie-pop from MCG on the Control Room stage inside. The low ceilings, light and projectors complimented Mariclaire Gamble’s remarkable vocals perfectly. With a crack quartet of musicians backing her, led by lead guitarist, David Tenczar. Gamble’s band manages just the right combination of pop, electronic and rock sounds to turn their set into a joyous party. Check out their latest, Outside EP produced by Austin’s Frenchie Smith. We think you’ll agree this band has a big future ahead. 

Next we caught hard-rockers, Otis the Destroyer on the same stage. Led by Taylor Wilkins this guitar-driven act has come into it’s own on the release of latest record, “Keep Bashing,” also produced by the prolific Smith at his Bubble Studio. Wilkins has endured recent lineup changes like when his longtime bassist, Kyle Robarge relocated to Seattle this year. You can still hear Robarge on the new album. Andrew Dalton has stepped in to take over on bass when the band performs live. Aside from Wilkins exceptional stage presence and musicianship, drummer Clellan Hyatt is a dynamo. Hyatt’s atypical cymbal arrangement (he places them up higher than normal) makes him even more appealing to watch play. His arms are everywhere all at once. 

365 Things Austin favorite, My Jerusalem appeared next on the inside stage. While we really love this band, the PA inside the Control Room was turned up a bit too loud for the relatively small space (compared to the Garage stage outside). There were points during the performance when they sounded distorted, as if the mixing board engineer was not aware of the issue. All of that went away though when bandleader Jeff Klein cued up his lone crooner, “No One’s Gonna Give You Love.” This song that has a hook that grabs ahold of the listener and doesn’t let go until it’s over. It’s a radio hit waiting to happen. We’ll admit to putting the tune on repeat when it dropped last year on Washington Square Records. If you didn’t click the link provided, we recommend backing up a second to take a listen. 

The highlight of the evening was an outstanding set by Darkbird. Fronted by relentless vocalist Kelly Barnes, this Austin rock outfit puts on a incredibly entertaining show. Barnes dressed in a black jumpsuit and boots with ringlets of curly auburn hair framing her face,  cavorted about the stage belting out lyrics as her band chugged along behind her. There simply are not many bands with a lead singer as animated as Barnes on stage. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Even our photographer was seen grinning ear-to-ear while watching the performance. 

Darkbird’s band bio refuses to pigeonhole the band into a genre of music beyond rock. Some have described their sound as indie. They’re indie in the sense that they’re unsigned to a record label but we wouldn’t go as far to call them indie rockers. They’re just plain rock ‘n rollers who know how to craft a good song and put on a helluva show. Check their new singles, “Daredevil” and “Bad Self” which dropped last month. 

The band’s genesis started with Barnes and Brian Cole, who co-writes the music with Barnes. We asked how they define their music. Barnes responded, “I remember saying to Brian ” I wonder what we’ll sound like” when we began and he just said, “whatever it is, it will sound like us.”  

Barnes continued on, citing a few influences, “That said, I’ve always loved The Pixies, PJ Harvey, Annie Lennox etc…”

Frankly we’re looking forward to another Darkbird show. They play an acoustic set at Collide ATX September 27 and a full electric show at Oskar Blues Brewing on September 29. 

Head to the author’s Do512 calendar for more local music suggestions or search the site for upcoming shows by the acts featured in this story.