BY PETER LILLIS
The gripes with SXSW are well documented and justified, no doubt about it. As Brooklyn’s DIIV stated, it’s just “drunk corporate goons and other industry vampires and cocaine.” Or as Roomrunner stated on stage at Club DeVille last Thursday, “keep tweeting, none of this fucking matters.” Even the supremely likable Foxygen suffered a sort of meltdown, calling a criticizing audience member a “coward.” Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield said on stage at her first of five performances “I feel like I’m standing in the way of someone’s photo shoot.” Last year, Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles called the event out for what he referred to as “classism,” with regards to the uneven badge and wristband system, and criticized the prevalence of litter, or as he called it: “#HIPSTERSHIT”.
Yes, SXSW is a shit show. But if the best bands and labels and agencies are going to continue to feature their work at the event, you can be damn sure we’ll be there to cover it. We will continue to support our local and national music scenes, and encourage you to do the same. While the world of SXSW is exploitative, it pays off when you can find new bands, and support them by telling your friends, buying records and going to shows. Yes, it’s easy to be an “industry vampire,” but that’s not what we’re about.
You’ll likely read loads about the Justin Timberlake and Earl Sweatshirt shows, you won’t find those high-profile reviews here. Below is nearly 40 reviews of shows you probably didn’t hear about, in chronological order. Click here for full image gallery.
Marnie Stern @ Flamingo Cantina
Happy to have Marnie Stern open up our SXSW experience, especially since she was one of the five artists we told you we planned to catch. Despite some minor sound issues (typical of any SXSW performance), Stern pulled out some an excellent opening set, mostly filled with cuts off this month’s The Chronicles of Marnia. Throw in a few vagina jokes, some blistering tapping and playful chanting, and you’ve got yourself a full Marnie Stern set in under 30 minutes.
Pallbearer @ Mohawk
Something about the beautiful near 80-degree day we were basking in, Pallbearer’s damaging and towering doom metal didn’t satisfy or terrify in the way I hoped. Not to say they weren’t up to the challenge, I’m just certain Pallbearer is a band that would benefit from a full set, a proper soundcheck and several bong rips.
Darwin Deez @ Cheer Up Charlie’s
After an unsuccessful trek to East Austin for Wavves at Scoot Inn (should have guessed the line would be around the block), we made our way leisurely back to the Dirty Six and beyond. Upon walking by Cheer Up Charlie’s on East 6th, I found myself singing along to Darwin Deez’s fantastic “Constellations”—the opening track on his debut, self-titled record. The realization that it wasn’t the studio version hit a few seconds later, and we rushed in to catch most of his sunny dance pop set. His particular brand of off-kilter indie rock is of the same vein as late-Dismemberment Plan or a less brainy Television. Needless to say, it hit the spot that perfect afternoon.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ Mellow Johnny’s
Man, that was a long walk. I dig Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s II more than others on our staff, so I was happy to walk across the city to catch their KEXP set at Lance Armstrong’s Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. Unfortunately, a concrete and metal warehouse building isn’t the best place to listen to some subtle, smooth psych. I vowed to catch them again throughout the week, but unfortunately that didn’t get to happen. There’s no doubt they’re capable live performers, but this was another casualty of sound and setting at SXSW.
The Holydrug Couple @ Holy Mountain
After a much needed dinner break and an ill-advised trip to the IFC/freecreditreport.com Party (thanks for the free drinks, though), we made our way to the Enabler Agency Showcase at Holy Mountain, featuring bands from Suicide Squeeze, Don Giovanni and Sacred Bones records. The Holydrug Couple are a psych-trio from Santiago, Chile. With faces down and the reverb up, these South American dudes shredded and freaked through an excellent set somewhere between Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Psychedelic Pill and GOAT’s World Music. They’re also friendly dudes. Yet another win for Sacred Bones.
Audacity @ Holy Mountain
This slacker-punk band from Fullerton, California makes up for their lack of originality in decibels and fun. Closer to Bleach than to In Utero, Audacity emphasize the carefree side of punk, something many bands at SXSW could learn. See also: FIDLAR.
California X @ Holy Mountain
Much like the argument I made for The Men’s New Moon, these guys know that throwback doesn’t have to be a retread. California X are a rising Amherst, Massachusetts band who dig Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney, and aren’t afraid to let you know. Their show, however, exuded a far greater confidence and originality (within reason) than those who performed immediately before. Their debut self-titled record on Don Giovanni is yet further proof that the grunge punk revolution is in full swing.
Föllakzoid @ Holy Mountain
The highlight of Day 1. Another group of strung out Chileans on Sacred Bones, Föllakzoid (foi-yak-zoid, what they told me is “lighter” in German, but maybe I heard wrong) are much more on the drone, slow-burning side of psychedelic rock than the freakouts of The Holydrug Couple. Playing in pitch black and perturbed by the flashing cameras, Föllakzoid were simultaneously graceful and unnerving, eventually achieving the highest status of psych: spaced out. Look at the cover of their Sacred Bones debut II if you don’t believe me. Then, listen to it, buy it, and repeat.
Antwon @ Holy Mountain
Next time you feel out of place, be happy you’re not Antwon playing a SXSW showcase with a bunch of psych and grunge bands. The eager but poorly placed emcee never stood a chance. But I hope whoever threw that beer was promptly removed from the club.
The Coathangers @ Holy Mountain
Another great find that Wednesday night. The Coathangers function much like the American punk rock bands of yesterday (The Germs, The Ramones, Fear), complete with name changes and ripped denim vests. Their abrasive tone and trade-off vocals indicate a band of punk rock girls unwilling to sit still or shut up.
Waxahatchee @ Holy Mountain
“This song goes out to the girls who yelled at me for me yelling at them for calling someone a ‘fag’. Woohoo, SXSW is awesome,” deadpanned Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield before heading into the crushing “Brother Bryan”. While this year’s Cerulean Blue is a fantastic piece of plaintive but assured lo-fi bedroom folk-punk, Crutchfield came off as entirely perturbed and discontented that late night. Turning up the distortion on her Marshall combo with a Fender Squire plugged in, she and her band stumbled through a set marred by poor sound, a restless crowed and a drunken bassist. Even her strong emo-ed out cover of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” couldn’t revive the talkers in the back. Yet another casualty of SXSW. Don’t worry, we’ll be seeing her many more times in the future. You should join.
Roomrunner @ Club DeVille
“We have cassettes and t-shirts available, if you’re interested in either of those antiquated technologies.” This Baltimore abrasive neo-grunge band shook out the cobwebs for us that early afternoon. With a sound that can only have come from the deleted Albini takes of In Utero, Roomrunner blew back our hairs and insulted our twitter accounts. A definite highlight of the week, and a band we will continue to cover.
Sir Sly @ Hype Hotel
We were there for the free Miller Lite and Taco Bell. That is all.
Milk Music @ Brooklyn Vegan
Brooklyn Vegan’s day parties at Old Emo’s were a great place for us to hole up for Thursday and Friday, beginning with Milk Music’s excellent early afternoon set. Dusting off a great cover of Johnny Thunders’ classic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” with updated lyrics (“we thought we could do better, but I’m not the right person to ask” half-joked bassist Dave Harris) as well as assumed cuts off the upcoming Cruise Your Illusion, out this April on Fat Possum. Their particular brand of grunge revival is as fresh as 1992 ever was.
The Spits @ Brooklyn Vegan
New classic garage punk in the Texas sun. Doesn’t get much better than this, you guys.
METZ @ Brooklyn Vegan
While I can understand why METZ is a buzzworthy band—they’re heavy, young and unrelenting—the most noteworthy thing about this set is that I watched two unfortunate stage divers go head first into a pole within ten minutes of each other. Yes, you read that right.
Cloud Nothings @ Brooklyn Vegan
It was clear from the get go that Dylan Baldi’s Cloud Nothings is in the middle of yet another reincarnation, as evidenced by their opening number: an extended and increasingly violent take on the Attack on Memory highlight “Wasted Days”. From there, the band bounced between the heaviest tracks on last year’s new classic record and cuts off their upcoming Body Music. Leaving their poppy side writhing in the mud, Baldi and bros are growing up with a serious cloud of distortion and delay effects swirling in earnest anger just above their heads. Color me interested.
Bleeding Rainbow @ Hotel Vegas
Someone must have told Philadelphia’s Reading Rainbow that punk and drugs are cool now, because Bleeding Rainbow—their “trippy as shit” rebrand—is about as disingenuous and misguided the new class of psych rock can get. Sporting newly cut up Black Flag and Bruce Springsteen shirts likely purchased from HotTopic.com, Bleeding Rainbow desperately tried to hide the fact that they’re nothing more than a cutesy lo-fi pop band with new toys and homemade haircuts. Points for guitar theatrics from new addition Al Creedon, but he’s not enough to save this band with an almost complete lack of substance.
Night Beats @ Hotel Vegas
For all of its down time, SXSW is great because you get the chance to see bands you’ve been meaning to see for months/years. I first heard Night Beats as house music at The Empty Bottle while waiting for Bare Mutants to set up and soundcheck at the beginning of 2012. Since then, I have missed this Seattle soulful, groovy an jam-heavy psych three-piece on several occasions, kicking myself each time. Playing the outdoor stage at Hotel Vegas, these dudes showed that great sets can happen at SXSW, and are a great answer to any artist complaining about poor sound and disinterested crowds. Hopefully this means they’ve got some new music coming our way, I think I’ve broken my Spotify playlist of their 2011 self-titled debut.
Föllakzoid @ Hotel Vegas
Again, this time with a light show that kept blowing a fuse.
Thee Oh Sees @ Hotel Vegas
This is an absolute highlight of the weekend. If you know anything about Thee Oh Sees, there’s no description of this show necessary. Someone should tell the management at Hotel Vegas that they should cement that tent to the ground, and get the power cables out of the trees, because there will always be hop-ons at a show this rowdy.
METZ @ Hype Hotel
Again, this time with a light show that didn’t fit the band at all.
Billy Bragg @ Waterloo Records
This all-time classic singer/songwriter bantered with the crowd for more than half of his sweltering afternoon set at the offset Waterloo Records. Which is fine, I just would have preferred more playing and less preaching. But at least we got a great rendition of “Greetings to the New Brunette”.
The Thermals @ Brooklyn Vegan
After almost seven years and four records (including April’s forthcoming Desperate Ground), Portland’s The Thermals are yet to write anything as engaging as 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine. Fortunately, the band seems to be self-aware, as almost half of the songs of their seven-song set came from that era. “Oh, Lord, we’re so pure.”
The Polyphonic Spree @ Brooklyn Vegan
Another band seemingly content to rest on the laurels, in a very different way. Dallas’ The Polyphonic Spree appeared—all 25+ of them—on the Old Emo’s stage in new flower-powered tunics, and despite some initial sound issues, they were entirely comfortable to jam their hearts out, mostly with cuts off The Beginning Stages Of… An obvious and eternal highlight is their surprisingly emotional and moving cover of “Lithium”.
Jim James @ Auditorium Shores
Jim James’ debut solo record Regions of Light and Sound of God is a surprisingly tender and grounded piece of work, a welcome departure from the increasingly dense and doctored records from My Morning Jacket. Live, the dude doesn’t disappoint, letting his Gibson Flying V do the talking when his pristine, airy voice couldn’t.
The Flaming Lips @ Auditorium Shores
“I’ve got too much shit up here,” says Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne as he’s wrapped in plastic tubes that are mysteriously attached to a baby doll that he appears to be playing like a bagpipe. If there’s ever a time for band to try out their entire new album—warts and all—I suppose it’s best to do it at a free show that will be covered by virtually every media outlet across the country and perhaps the world. It was a spaced out, strange, periodically brilliant but wholly uncomfortable performance. That said, I’ve got high hopes for The Terror, out this April.
LODRO @ Cheer Up Charlie’s
I ran into guitarist Jeremy Cox and Jigmae Baer on Red River Street Thursday night, recognizing them from when I interviewed their previous incarnation Royal Baths in the Empty Bottle mop closet at the beginning of 2012. They informed me that Royal Baths are on “indefinite hiatus,” but recommended to check out their new group LODRO, formed with former Friends bassist (and girlfriend of Cox) Lesley Hann. I’m damn happy we did. Things haven’t changed much from Royal Baths, as the band still opts for drugged up, sludge washed psych rock that sounds darker and edgier than the darkest Velvet Underground songs. The addition of Hann doesn’t exactly lighten the mood either, but she does add a nice dynamic to the Baths’ sexually deviant anthems.
Diarrhea Planet @ Cheer Up Charlie’s
“Sludge through the sewage, it’s such a world of shit/Feeling like we live, live on a Diarrhea Planet,” sings Patrick Stickles on Local Business’s “In a Small Body”. How could I pass up this opportunity to see my favorite rockstar’s favorite rock band? Diarrhea Planet completely blew my mind to pieces that late night in East Austin. Their four-guitar attack is as comical as it is powerful, and they’ve got the chops to back it up. It’s a fucking party: there’s no better way to describe a Diarrhea Planet show. And when it ended with two of the guitarists climbing the stage and playing solos 25-feet in the air, the only logical thing to do was to crack another beer and mosh along in awe. “So give me another beer, we’re gonna drink until the sun comes up, or at least until there’s no more beer.”
Alex Bleeker & The Freaks @ Beerland
Anyone who thinks Real Estate don’t turn it up enough needs check out Alex Bleeker & The Freaks, featuring bassist of the aforementioned buzzband. His looser, more roots-rock influenced take on the sun-drenched pop of Real Estate was certainly welcome at Beerland that afternoon. With some excellent Robbie Robertson-esque guitar solos and clear moments of inspired improvisation, Alex Bleeker & The Freaks make exactly the kind of original American rock and roll we need. Keep an eye out for their next record on Woodsist Don’t Look Down, out this May.
The Young @ Beerland
I love The Young. Their two records are fuzzed out, weirdo takes on Crazy Horse style jamming, with a specific ethereal edge that is impossible to pin down. Despite what may be simple chord progressions, The Young exude a smoky, otherworldly sound akin to the best Sonic Youth or Wire songs. Live, the band never disappoints, and this way too short set at Beerland was yet another sign that this band will forever be smoldering below, after all the flashes in the pan have burned out.
Spider Bags @ Beerland
These guys are professionals, a rarity as SXSW. Wasting absolutely no time on a soundcheck, Spider Bags roared into a sloppy set of drunk punk and regret. Lifting the laments of singer/guitarist Dan McGee upon their shoulders, the packed Beerland crowd swayed and danced to some of the dirtiest but tightest punk rock of the week. As he purposefully collapsed on the floor in front of me, I was content to give up on standing as well. If he jumped off the Congress Avenue Bridge, I probably would have followed him then too.
Lemuria @ Beerland
Poor Lemuria, no one but Patrick Stickles himself could have followed up that great Spider Bags set. Their confident, dark emo-punk fell somewhat flat at Beerland, and the band seemed less confident without a proper soundcheck. That said, singer/guitarist Sheena Ozzella has got the pipes and songwriting chops to hold up on the record. Looking forward to LP3, out sometime this year.
Masked Intruder @ Red 7
Madison, Wisconsin’s Masked Intruder has a shtick. They perform in character and costume: ski masks and Chuck Taylors in corresponding primary colors. They even brought a mosh pit enforcer dressed as a cop. In-between song banter usually centers around how they’re just out of jail or how they’re going to steal all the tourists’ money or how “Green” is just a hired goon; it’s all done without harm, and mostly without taste. However, their 60s pop inspired pop punk is more than capable, however, bringing up images of Blink-182 meets Smoking Popes. Granted, those bands are giants of their genres, but Masked Intruder is certainly a band worth seeing and/or running from, depending on your preference.
Andrew WK @ Red 7
The best part about Andrew WK’s now classic I Get Wet is the multitude of ten-ton guitar riffs. So, don’t see an Andrew WK “solo” set.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Red 7
I have my gripes with Frank Turner and his unsubtle approach to songwriting (one chorus is just “There is no God”), but the dude can perform. Clearly battling the SXSW sickness that I was just coming down with, Turner would belt out his mini-novels of songs while just squinting his headache away, as the crowd begged for more. His band (The Sleeping Souls) acted with a calculated studio precision that is their exact purpose, and the result was one of the best sounding and performed sets of the week.
Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He’s still nursing a SXSW cold. All images are his.