SXSW Guest Review: Sydney’s Sons of the East: Dare I call this Australia-cana?

While at SXSW last month, a few emerging non-Australian writers were invited to head along to watch show featuring an Australian artist. Our first writer, Sam Jackson, looks back on his experience watching Sydney outfit Sons of the East.

“The more people dance, the better we play.” I don’t think Sydney’s Sons of the East meant that as a challenge, but the crowd sure takes it as one, and a dance floor forms next to them within a minute of ‘Hold On’. An older couple leads the charge, and keeps going well after everyone else has slowed down.

It’s a welcome flash of soul at Austin venue Lucille’s, taken over by the Metropolitan Groove Merchants (MGM) and G’Day USA for the Wednesday night Sounds Australia showcase at SXSW, and filled with Pier 1-esque furniture, some ‘Welcome to Austin’ street art, and a freaking Instagram cut-out. I’m not a purist Austinite by any means, but the arrangement has me wondering if I’m on set for a Saturday Night Live skit about gentrification.

Thank God for Sons of the East, then. They’re from the northern beaches of Sydney, surf country apparently, and it shows in their unshakeable calm and smooth tempos, despite some feedback issues early on. They play a kind of folk-inflected rock – dare I call it ‘Australia-cana’? – reminiscent of Marcus Mumford and company.

Photo by Pat O’Hara Photography

Though Sons of the East have a lot more under the surface: harmonies woven tighter than DNA strands and, glory of glories, even an actual guitar solo, which I wasn’t expecting yet was starving for. Plus, as set opener ‘California’ proves, nothing makes folk rock better than sudden double time changes.

Most of the set, I watch the fantastic singer and guitarist Jack Rollins, who looks like a bulkier N’SYNC era Justin Timberlake and has the most expressive face I’ve ever seen. In the span of just one song, he sneers, pouts, smiles and more. Meanwhile, his hips desperately want to swivel like Elvis during ‘Already Gone’, but there’s not enough room on the stage, sadly. He is magnetic. No disrespect to the other band members who are fun too, especially when they say it’s their first time in Austin and they already love it, despite being here to promote Australian tourism. Also, the word “y’alls” was used at one point, which didn’t sound as bad as you might think.

It’s hard to be snarky about anything when Sons of the East are in full swing. They sing about love and fun – “I was born when I met you honey” – and it soothes like a sudden breeze on a warm day.

Points to the MC, too, who almost stole the show introducing people, especially when he yelled at the kickoff: “AUSTRALIA! NASHVILLE! BLOOOOOOD!” That’s probably not what he said but it was glorious anyway.

Photos by Pat O’Hara Photography. Learn more about the band on their Facebook page.