words & photos by Andrew Frisicano
Wednesday - The Middle East @ Club DeVille (more by Tim Griffin)
I started toward MtyMx about 4 hours after my last SXSW show, so I haven't had much time to reflect on what happened in Austin - but before they become too irrelevant, here are some quick pictures and words of my personal highlights at the fest.
The Middle East covered the stage with an arsenal of instruments and percussion, bringing out a flute, a banjo, keys, an accordion, and a rain stick covered in bottle caps. Their set kicked off with a wobbling country-western number. "The Darkest Part" was a solemn, two-member affair, with the others jumping in as it progressed. And the barn-burning jams that built up to their finale, "Blood," brought to mind the more unhinged tunes Mumford & Sons (it clicked a moment later that they're touring together this May). Overall: a tight, short set (with a few nervous slips) in front of Club DeVille's cave-wall backdrop, which hopefully will lead into an engaging debut and tour.
Thursday - Thee Oh Sees @ (Spider House &) Lamar Pedestrian Bridge
I caught Thee Oh Sees twice on Thursday - once on the gorgeously sunny garden stage of the Spider House; once on a footbridge over Austin's Lady Bird Lake at 2am - and they played other shows as well. On the bridge the band traded songs with Home Blitz, who looked not-exactly-pleased to be standing in the freezing wind at 3am. Amps, a PA and a few worklights ran through a generator, and the assembled equipment threatened to topple over from the surging crowd. The band stretched out into extended jams that made the bridge literally shake. After a more than generous set, the crowd still prodded Dwyer and Co. for more, which they gave.
Friday - Billy Bragg @ MWTX Festival
Billy Bragg's set, to the wristbandless masses of MWTX (formerly Mess with Texas) focused nearly as much on politics as it did on music. He buttered up the crowd with "Help Save the Youth of America" and "To Have and Have Not" before speaking about healthcare reform, defeating the BNP and the ubiquity of corporations at SXSW ("This set is brought to you by my sponsor: Woody Guthrie."). His inspiring asides were genuine and welcome, and they lead into the crowd-pleasing closer, "A New England." He played again later on Friday night with a ton of guests.
Friday - Man or Astroman? @ MWTX Festival
On a completely different note, Man or Astroman? (back after a bit of a hiatus) headlined MWTX's south stage in full space regalia, with video flashing in the background and a pre-recorded narrator between songs. Their short burst of mostly instrumental surf-rock was anything but boring, and they closed it out by flicking on a huge Tesla coil.
Saturday - Major Lazer @ Carniville
My expectations were pretty low for Major Lazer, who were playing to an iced-over crowd on the massive, corporated-out stage at the Mexican-American Cultural Center (aka the Mad Decent/Iheartcomix/Jelly-presented Carniville for the fest), but they proved me wrong. The antics of hypeman Skerrit Bwoy and dancer Mimi made the frozen crowd erupt (the free T-shirts and foam guns being thrown off the stage helped too) - they mounted and humped everything in sight including crowdmembers, the rigging for the lights, and a ladder, which they used to dive onto each other for more dryhumping. Diplo got through most of Guns Don't Kill People, Lazers Do, with a brief assist from Ninjasonik. Did I mention the huge pink, furry monster on stage? He got some too.
Saturday - The Very Best (and then Freddie Gibbs) @ Scoot Inn
At Scoot Inn, the frigid evening grew on and most of the crowd there for the Pitchfork showcase stayed huddled around a campfire or in the bar's sauna-like interior - until The Very Best (who I missed opening for Major Lazer a few hours earlier). Esau, with a huge grin on his face, his co-mic-man (whose name I can't remember), a pair of dancers and DJ Johan Hugo all made good use of the short set. Their energy passed through the mic into crowd members for songs like "Julia" and "Warm Heart of Africa," which finished with plenty of the crowd on stage.
Freddie Gibbs, who I had never really gotten into before, was up next and seemed similarly unfazed by the cold as he rapped confidently about gangsta life. A handful of friends passed around a blunt and ceded the floor to Gibbs, who cooly made converts with his laid-back approach.
Saturday - Sleigh Bells @ Scoot Inn
Sleigh Bells brought the energy back up for the last set of the night (and for some, of SXSW). Despite being a relatively new commodity, both the band's halves, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller, are assured, polished performers, and they made their appreciation for the crowd clear with their faultless set.
My many other highlights (bands I'll definitely be catching again in the future) included Califone (in NYC 3/30 & 3/31), La Strada, The Sandwitches, Kid Congo Powers, Private Life/Katie Stelmanis, Happy Birthday, Avi Buffalo, Man Man (who I've seen before, but seem to have a new thing going on) and Think About Life.
More pictures from all the sets above (and a ML video), are below...
Thee Oh Sees @ Pedestrian Bridge
Billy Bragg @ MWTX
Man or Astroman @ MWTX
The Very Best @ Scoot Inn
Freddie Gibbs @ Scoot Inn
Sleigh Bells @ Scoot Inn