Glasser Makes the Most of SXSW's Best Venue

Liz Colville
Papermag's down at SXSW this week, living in the very weird, very fun HP Mobile Park at Red River and Cesar Chavez St. We're chronicling all the fun at hpsxsw.com and hpsxsw.tumblr.com, and re-publishing some of the coverage here.

Glasser
, fronted by Los Angeles-based twenty-something Cameron Mesirow, scored the preeminent venue available to SXSW performers, the Central Presbyterian Church, Thursday night, playing in the one place where sound rises ethereally up and away from the audience seated in the pews instead of pounding into their ear drums. Glasser was the first act in a night that included tUnE-yArDs and James Blake, and while it would be hard for anyone to sound bad in this towering mid-century space, these three artists were particularly well-suited to the venue.

The petite, auburn-haired Mesirow has one of the coolest styles of any female musician around. She often, as last night, pulls off clashing patterns and over-the-top accessories, fitting right in with her hip friends in the balcony, including Twin Shadow's George Lewis, Jr. sporting a brown fur hat, and Nite Jewel's Ramona Gonzales in a fez. Mesirow also dances around the stage like a woman possessed, meaning a show like last night's wasn't just about superior acoustics.

Joined by her bassist, drummer and boards guys, Mesirow recreated much of her album <i>Ring</i> (True Panther Sounds), one of last year's most exciting debuts. The band did use a lot of backing tracks to remain true to the layers upon layers of tribal drum work and background vocals on the album (created with the help of the Knife's producers). It would be nice to see her invite a few more band members into the fold so that they could make more of the performance live, and thus open it up to more improvisation. But Mesirow did have a few tricks up her sleeve: she opened the evening with an a capella rendition of a new song, and remade the centerpiece of <i>Ring</i>, an ode to her best friend called "T," with just her voice and the bass, to chilling effect. During the performance of the album's final track, "Clamour," she employed a band mate's autotuned vocals as backing vocals instead of a recorded version of her own vocals.

It's exciting to see an artist not only come into their own at a prominent event like this -- it's hard to think of anyone Glasser compares to, though Bjork and Bat for Lashes come to mind -- but also think about how already-released songs might be changed or improved. Mesirow took one of the more understated (but still complex) tracks on the album, "Glad," for example, and transformed its ruminative, low-octave chorus into something epic and triumphant just by singing it one octave up. Higher notes meant more emotional power and more confidence, and this was probably the highlight of the set. But like so many of the performances at this chock-full festival, Glasser's set could stand to have been a few songs longer.  

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