By Eric Pulsifer
Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 15, 2014
Gardens & Villa are from California, and their sound shows it. Not that they sound like Fred Armisen in a blonde wig, but rather that you can easily picture their music as a soundtrack to rollerbladers on a boardwalk or a sunny day in a redwood forest. The five-piece are doing what a lot of other bands are at the moment; there is certainly no shortage of ’80s-sounding synth-driven indie-pop in Austin alone this week. But, live at Red Eyed Fly Friday night, they showed they can pull off a rare feat for a hip, young band: sounding better in the flesh than they do on vinyl.
This is largely thanks to Chris Lynch’s pitch-perfect falsetto, which brings to mind the Shin’s James Mercer, and a live band that doesn’t lean on pre-recorded material to produce electronic sounds in line with MGMT or a-Ha. The pulsing robotic keys and tight live drums give the songs a sense of danceable urgency and contrast the cool, calm natural mysticism of Lynch’s wooden flutes. (Yes, that’s "flutes" plural. One sees plenty of interesting accessories at SXSW, but one I don’t see many others pulling off well is the camel-colored leather flute quiver.)
While they lost some of the at-capacity audience at Red Eyed Fly for the highly hyped Angel Olsen who played before them, the room filled up again quickly. Gardens & Villa’s set gets the award for highest percentage of the crowd feeling it. The audience was enjoying it so thoroughly where I was near the front that I had to look over my shoulder occasionally to make sure I wasn’t just surrounded by a small crew of particularly rabid fans. Sure enough, they were feeling it all the way at the back too — a refeshing thing to see in a week of too-cool-to-care or distracted attendees. Other highlights of the set included the flute-heavy single "Bullet Train" and the funky bass and quivering keys of "Orange Blossom." Things got even more energetic when the band announced their last song, "Star Fire Power," and a contingent of fans rushed the front to ignite some honest-to-groove-ness dancing and unsolicited clapping. Band pronunciation pro-tip: Villa is said not like "vanilla" but "tortilla," unless you’re saying that wrong, in which case you probably have bigger pronunciation problems to deal with than correctly saying an indie band’s name.
Gardens & Villa have been to Austin multiple times now, and while Californians coming to Austin are often the butt of jokes and gripes from Austinites, I, for one, welcome our new West Coast synth-pop overlords. The band plays one more SXSW gig today at 4 p.m. at Filter Magazine’s Showdown at Cedar Street and will be back again in May with Tycho at the Parish.