|Why yes, Mel. Attending SXSW is exactly like eating Batman ice cream.
In other words, AWESOME.
I’ll be the first one to admit it: this year, I did SXSW all wrong.
Instead of seeking out all the bands I wanted to learn to love, I saw mostly all bands I already knew I loved.
Do I care? Not really. Because I saw some damn good shows, with a few new bands mixed in, all of which added up to a weekend that left me musically satisfied and completely exhausted.
Best of all? This year I didn’t get frostbite!
Due to having next to no vacation days at my job, I could only manage to take off Friday. Which meant as soon as 5 p.m. hit Thursday afternoon, I was out the door, in the car and flying down I-10 towards Highway 71. But before I could escape, all the Tweets and Facebook posts got to me, so I broke down early and started watching live streams of shows.
NPR Showcase: Via @AllSongs, I pulled up NPR’s showcase stream and caught half a set by Wild Flag and all of The Joy Formidable.
Wild Flag: As one of the buzz bands for this year, I knew this wristbandless girl would probably never get in to a show Wild Flag was playing, so watching online was the next best thing. A super group of sorts, these ladies played some amazing rock music whose energy you could feel the wattage of even via the Internet. I honestly have nothing to compare them to, as most of my girl groups lately are super mellow – but safe to say they are the exact opposite of a band like Eisley. Where Eisley is dreamy and melodic, Wild Flag was hard, fast and loud. I know nothing of any of the women in this band, other than what I’ve read of the past few days, but it’s safe to say I will be learning more in the coming weeks. Wild Flag was a perfect pre-start to the weekend. See what all the fuss was about here.
The Joy Formidable: As I listened to various magazine SXSW playlists to determine new bands I’d want to check out, The Joy Formidable was a band I wrote in my notes to vocally have a Tegan & Sara sound. Their live show was something different entirely. Part guitar-driven rock, part ethereal, dreamy vocals, they were perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises of my weekend – and I wasn’t even there in person to witness it. Which is a shame since the band is from Wales and my chances of seeing them is next to zilch. Check out an archive of their live show here.
|The Eastern Sea|
The Eastern Sea: Upon arriving in Austin, I caught up with two of my partners in crime for the weekend, Katie and Lauren. When Katie told me The Eastern Sea was playing the parking lot behind us, my jaw-dropped at my luck. I’ve been dying to check them out. Despite playing a show to a parking lot of maybe 50 people, their multi-layered sound seemed to fill the whole space as the sun started to set. Our favorite part? The bassist’s changing accents between every song. Gotta love bands with tons of personality on (and off, for that matter) stage. After the show, I found out that was one of 14 shows they would be playing that week. You can call The Eastern Sea anything – just don’t say they’re not dedicated. (Click the link on their name above and download “The Name” for free – I can’t get enough of this song.)
|River City Extension – by YesterdaysNewss|
River City Extension: A band Katie, Lauren and I semi-befriended last time we followed Steel Train through Texas, RCE was one of our must-sees – which proved especially hard since they only played two shows the whole weekend. Their showcase at Lambert’s was PACKED. Who knew so many people enjoyed the folk punk sound? I’ll admit, I’m still not a big fan of their recorded music, but live? This band grabs the attention of every last person in the venue and forces you to pay attention to all eight – yes EIGHT – of them on stage. Give it a listen, but opt for a live show and be sure to say hi – they are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet in a band.
Quiet Company: Official showcase and my first true Austin QC show. Nothing is better than listening to a favorite band than when you can do so surrounded by people who love them just as much as you. I got to (finally) meet my Twitter bud Jessica. I got to DANCE. I loved this set. While you still can, grab their free SXSW sampler here, filled with some of my favorite songs.
Still exhausted from the night before, we kicked off Friday with one of my personal favorites and continued with what was by far our most successful day – even if we didn’t eat anything until 6 p.m. that evening.
Gold Motel: Despite being a casual Hush Sound fan, I happened on Gold Motel by accident when they were listed as on tour with fun. and Steel Train last fall. Upon discovering GM is fronted by Greta Morgan, I listened and fell in love. Their debut record “Summer House” is one I can listen to repeatedly and never get sick of. Due to a massive line of Gwar fans, I missed most of their set back in November, which made me even more determined to catch them at SX. Their bouncy, melodic pop sound only gets better live and Greta’s vocals are pure bliss. If they had kept playing, I would have stayed their all day. My only regret? Missing their second set later that day in favor of food.
Matt Nathanson: Holy bejesus, how do I always forget how GOOD this man is live? I’ve seen him at least twice as an opener on various tours. Every time I walk away thinking “I’ve gotta go get his stuff,” but 24 hours later I seem to have forgotten it. Katie might have put it best when she said he kind of leans towards the John Mayer persuasion of guitar guys, but he does it so much better (i.e. without being a total prick when he speaks.)
At this particular show, I’m not sure if it was exhaustion, nerves or excitement, but his energy was all over the place throughout the set – and served him well. Matt played the Phoenix, probably my favorite venue of the weekend, and between songs the room was dead silent until he cracked jokes. This was easily my favorite show of the weekend, crowd-wise. You gotta love a room of people solely there to see the performer – it makes for a much more intimate setting.
PureVolume House: We camped out here for awhile Friday to see Eisley.
Kitten: While waiting, we happened across Kitten – a band I can only describe as so appropriately named it hurt. The singer danced across the stage with cat-like moves timed perfectly to every song. Or she head-banged along, darting back and forth as she sang. They were, in a word, wild – and the music matched. Despite having keys, they were heavy on the guitar and bass making for a heavier straight rock sound than I’d expect from a band called Kitten. I may be past my angst stage in music, but Kitten entertained from start to finish.
|Sherri DuPree Bemis of Eisley|
Eisley: This made show no. 6 for me & Eisley, and one of the reasons I say I did SXSW all wrong. Your time should be spent seeing new bands, not old ones. But since I haven’t been able to stop listening to their new self-released record “The Valley,” there was nowhere else I would have rather been Friday at 4 p.m. And they didn’t disappoint. One of the things that captivates me about their album is the blend of their usual star-crossed lover-esque sound with darker lyrics and a deeper sound. The first Eisley record felt like we were floating off into space, daydreaming but this one leaves you with your feet firmly planted on the ground, grown-up and ready to face reality.
Thank god they bring that vibe live as well. Starting off with one of my new faves, “Better Love,” the band continued to blow through every song so beautifully that I may or may not be counting down the days to their June 3 Houston show. Well worth the time I could have spent seeing someone else.
The Sounds: WOW. I saw this band open for Rooney in 2003 when they were just starting to become a big thing in the US and the only thing I remember? Maja Ivarsson spitting beer on Mel, and Mel being pissed. (She’s still pretty bitter about it, as I discovered Friday…) We only meant to stay for a couple songs but ended up watching the entire set, and I was left wondering – why don’t I love this band more? Swedish indie pop screams my name, always and forever. Their sound is straight up my alley, they have fantastic live energy. Sometimes, South by is a good reminder of those bands you like but may have forgotten about.
Saint Motel: After ditching downtown in favor of food (Brie burger at Galaxy Cafe FTW!), we returned to the west end for what was perhaps my most anticipated show of the weekend: The Californian. (As a Phantom Planet devotee, I’ve been dying to see Darren Robinson’s new band.) But the venue was running behind, so we ended up being treated to a set by Saint Motel (who all my friends ended up liking more than The Californian.) Despite the sound system being way too loud for the tiny venue, Saint Motel’s power rock/pop electrified the place. After reading up on their outlandish shows they throw (Valentine’s Zombie Prom, anyone?) they’re definitely on my list to check out again in a different setting.
The Californian: Put together one of my favorite musicians, beach guitars and catchy “na na nas” that are easy to sing along to, and I’m so there. While the overblown sound system did no favors to the band’s intricate guitar riffs and niche sound (even Darren said it was LOUD on-stage when I chatted with him afterwards), it was so wonderful to see a guitarist I love play again and get a hint at what these songs and this band are like live. I love bands that are completely mellow and yet totally rock. Here’s to hoping next time around, it’s in a better venue more conducive their style.
Best part? After mentioning on Twitter I’d be seeing them later and getting a few retweets from various SXSW feeds, the singer John kindly offered me a free EP once I got to the show. He lived up to his word, and it became part of my free EP shuffle during the drive home. Fingers crossed he heard my pleas to please please please come back to Texas soon. Download their song “NaNaNa” free here.
At that point, we were all so spent – even though it was only 10:30 p.m. – we called it a night, headed back to the hotel and crashed out in bed with some beer and TV.
We started off Saturday scattering in different directions. Mel and Luis hit up a band called City and Colour who they said was phenomenal. I left Katie and Lauren around the corner at the Alternative Press show at Emo’s to catch River City Extension a second time and I headed over to Lipstick 24 to meet up with my new pal Lori for Quiet Company’s last set.
That’s where I made my BIG FIND of South By…
|FrANkie says LET THERE BE ROCK!|
FrANkie: Now, he might only be nine years old, but Frankie is going places kids. Considering his age, the kid was damn impressive on the drums (“I can’t even play that well!” I marveled when asked how I liked QC’s opening act.) and his soon-to-be hit single “The Apple Tree” as not left my head since Saturday morning.
In all seriousness, though, the kid was excellent and even if his dad did pull some strings (he was apparently the wine distributor sponsoring that show) so they could play. And how awesome would it be to grow up saying you playing SXSW at nine years old? Can you imagine from his perspective getting to do his thing, only to turn around and watch an awesome band completely rock out and think “Hey, maybe I can do that!” Pretty inspiring stuff.
Quiet Company: I love these guys through and through in case you didn’t know. While this show was pretty low key – I told Taylor maybe we could have just had an acoustic sing-along – with only a handful of us hanging out, they still rocked it. And you have to admire a band who brings it every time, no matter the size of the venue or audience. (I also scored their new Satellite Sets DVD, which I’d been anxious to get my hands on for the download of the audio. See my review here.) If you didn’t grab their SXSW sampler, do it now.
|The Eastern Sea, part deux|
The Eastern Sea: From Quiet Company, we literally ran across town so I could catch a second set by The Eastern Sea. I fell more in love with their music. I chatted with Matt afterwards, who refreshingly shares some of my disdain for H-town. Looking forward to seeing them at FreePress Summerfest in early June.
From there, honestly, the rest of Saturday was kind of a bust. We busted it over to Homeslice for Kimya Dawson, only to find the place crawling with people and Telekinesis off the list of that afternoon’s performers. About three songs in, we bailed.
Katie, Lauren and I then decided to catch up with one of the guys from River City Extension, only to find the show he wanted to see at capacity and with a line. We spotted him hanging around outside and chatted for awhile until he bailed for a badges-only area for more free beer. (Can you blame the guy? It was his first South by…)
At that point, we had walked so damn far we ducked into the convention center for air conditioning and ended up crashing there until the rest of our group left for Bright Eyes at Auditorium Shores. Katie and I stayed behind and attempted to see Saints of Valory, but instead happened across an okay-ish singer/songwriter named Chelsea Madrigal.
Upon Tweeting our whereabouts, I got a Tweet back from SoV saying they’d bailed on that particular show for various reasons but offered up free drinks if I came to their midnight show. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it, but I was surprised by their kindness – all they knew was a Twitter name of a girl who really wanted to see them and to make up for missing them, free drinks? Ah, the power of Twitter. (If you’re reading this, thanks again guys. Won’t be forgotten next time you come to Houston!)
Katie and I bailed and headed back towards city hall and discovered this super awesome underground band called Super Moon. I can’t really tell you a whole lot about them, other than they were AWESOME and totally going to be THE NEXT BIG THING. (They also played with a band with a super offensive name I refuse to put in this blog…)
Following dinner at one of my favorite sushi spots in Austin, Katie, Lauren and I returned for our final show of the weekend.
Hanson: I’ll admit, I wasn’t too keen on going – and this is one of my favorite bands. To be honest, I just didn’t feel like standing in line, paying a $20 cover for an official showcase and chancing them playing a whole six songs. Going with Mel and Luis to a random bar on the east side and spending that $20 on a couple drinks sounded like a much better plan given how exhausted I was.
But after 14 years, I should know those boys better than that.
The room was PACKED with a combo of hardcore fans, those who appreciate Hanson for their talent and curious onlookers. Halfway through their set, some people filtered out making Antone’s comfortably full rather than packed to the gills.
And for all the whining/complaining I did during the day (sorry again, L&K and thanks for putting up with me…), I’m really glad we went. I’ve kind of been waning on Hanson live, probably because I’ve seen them WAY too many times in the past 4-5 years, but this show was different. The small venue offered a bit more intimate setting than the House of Blues shows I’ve learned to become accustomed to. And without the big sound system, they sounded SO much better live than they did back in November – I’ve never heard “Been There Before” sound as absolutely perfect as it did Saturday night. Impressive considering the three of them said they’d had next to no sleep for three days in preparation for their 12-hour SXSW4Japan Livestream that took place all day Saturday.
And does it really get better than enjoying your favorite band at 1 a.m. in Austin?
But all in all, another successful SXSW on the books. Even if I came home slightly sunburned, blistered and tired, I’d still rather do this marathon of a festival over any other.I just thank god it only happens once a year.
– The Good Groupie