Rachel’s Best of SXSW w/ pics by Amanda (Austra, Josh T Pearson, Lost in the Trees, The Loom, Yellow Ostrich & more)
photos by Amanda Hatfield, words by Rachel Kowal
Austra @ BrooklynVegan Day Party @ Swan Dive
A few days have passed since I got back from Austin, and I'm still struggling to process the week. Yes, it was my first time at SXSW. Thanks to the never-ending supply of free tacos, music, beer, fellow music-devotees, and sunshine, I managed to retain that little-kid-like wonder throughout the week - even when severe sleep deprivation set in. (And I thought CMJ was a rush. Ha.)
By the time I left Austin on Sunday morning, I managed to see some 54 bands (no counting impromptu street performances) play in 20 different venues. Some were of course flops, but on the whole, I was impressed by the showcase of new and emerging artists. CMJ is great, but let's be honest. So many of the bands that play there play nearly every week in New York or Brooklyn anyway. Austin, on the other hand, seemed to get a much wider variety of acts, and I made it my goal to see as many unfamiliar and/or international artists as I could (in addition to of course scouting out some of my favorites like Sam Amidon, The Loom, tUnE-yArDs, and Papercuts).
Instead of potentially boring you with a lengthy play-by-play (which you can catch on my personal blog if you're interested), I'll try to succinctly present the highlights from my week. (Though to be fair, this is something of an impossible task.)
Since I flew into Houston and drove over (waaay cheaper), I didn't get to see a ton of music on Wednesday, but what I did catch was excellent. My first band of the festival, Still Corners (who recently signed to Sub Pop along with Memoryhouse), turned out to be one of my favorites all week. The British group's well-executed, dreamy sound was the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful outdoor setting on the lawn of the French Legation Museum for the the Bella Union/Yours day party. My two other favorite finds of the day were BOBBY (a Mountain Man side project that later played at one of the BV showcases) and the delightful Cali singer-songwriter Sea of Bees, whose eerily beautiful song "Gnomes" played on repeat in my head all week and prompted me to seek her out a second time the following day.
With the exception of the NPR Showcase, which featured the likes of Wild Flag, The Joy Formidable, and The Antlers (more on that later), the majority of Thursday left me lukewarm... that is until I stumbled upon Austra at the Domino showcase. (Austra also later performed at the BV show at Swan Dive on Saturday - pictures in this post.)
Wow. Zola Jesus may drive me a bit crazy at times due to Nika Roza Danilova's overly dramatic performance, but Austra seemed to strike exactly the right balance - theatrical and eye-catching without coming across as disingenuous or too over-the-top. Their beat was addictive, their appearance and dance moves, arresting. No question about it. Austra is definitely an artist to watch - and probably my favorite live act all week. Many of the sets I caught were only partial - I was constantly arriving late and leaving early in order to scamper off to another venue, but Austra held my attention (understatement of the year?), and I stuck around for the entirety of the set (Bill did too).
By the time Friday rolled around, I confess I was starting to get a bit loopy. (Blame it on three nights in a row of 4 hours of sleep or less and the painful 5-mile-uphill bike ride home at the end of each night.) That said, I still managed to pack in 19 bands. After making an appearance at BV's showcase at Swan Dive for BOBBY, Paleo, and Holy Sons, I made my way back over to the French Legation Museum and saw another excellent line-up: Lower Dens, Grass Widow, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Cults, Sam Amidon, and tUnE-yArDs (all worth seeing!).
But perhaps my biggest surprise of the day came as I was walking back from the museum. Just as I passed the empty lot of an auto-repair shop, I heard a woman introduce herself and begin to play. It was Grimes, who, with her keyboard, knobs, and loops, is much like a female version of Baths... except perhaps a bit more eclectic and confident. (I love Baths, too, don't get me wrong.) But wow. Girl can multi-task. One minute, she's singing into the mic. The next, she has slung the chord over her shoulder and is going at it on the keyboard as she furiously taps pedals and cues samples.
After catching a decent round of artists at Antone's (namely Reading Rainbow and Yellow Ostrich) and a semi-disastrous attempt to check out Baths at the PureVolume house (way too crowded!), I decided to call it a night (editor's note: Baths ended up cancelling that show.).
When I woke up and realized it was Saturday, my last full day in Austin, I couldn't believe how quickly the time had passed. Though I had managed to assemble rough plans for the previous days, I had run out of time to make an itinerary for Saturday, so I hastily jotted down some addresses and set times and biked downtown. (Man this would have all been so much easier with a smart phone.)
Determined to catch as much as possible, I spent much of Saturday showcase hopping, which allowed for some unexpectedly serendipitous moments like seeing Typhoon scramble to unpack their gear and following them into The Palm Door to catch their lively, 12-person performance.
After heading back to the BV showcase at Swan Dive to check out Austra, Malajube, and Little Scream, I ran over to see the High Highs play, and I'm glad I made the trip. The High Highs were one of the few bands that I had awarded the highly selective 5-star rating when I was sampling mp3s from unfamiliar SXSW bands in iTunes, and I was fairly impressed by what I heard - especially for a band that hasn't even released an EP yet.
Back at Swan Dive and Barbarella, Mount Kimbie and Owen Pallett concluded my afternoon. For my final evening in Austin, I decided to take it easy and settled upon a small showcase at The Parish Underground for sets from the sweet up-and-coming Swedish group The Deer Tracks (who were apparently visiting the States for the first time and drove all the way from New York to Austin exclusively on back roads), Indigo Tree, Foxes in Fiction, and His Clancyness.
No late-late night Kanye show with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Jay-Z for me (though I can't say I wasn't curious).
If you found the above post to be incoherent, just know that it was nothing compared to the week. After five days of 80-degree weather, coming back to a cold, rainy New York has only prompted me to begin plotting my return to Austin next year. I hope to see you kids there.
A set of pictures from the March 18th Muzzle of Bees SXSW Backyard BBQ, and more of Austra at the BrooklynVegan party, below...
Austra @ BrooklynVegan Day party
Muzzle of Bees BBQ
One Hundred Flowers
The Luyas w/ Sarah Neufeld
Strand of Oaks featuring Chris Ward
Great Lake Swimmers
Erland and the Carnival
Lost in the Trees
Josh T. Pearson