It’s been about a week and a half since I returned from Austin, Texas for the annual South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference and I am only now beginning to recover from it. Nonstop shows, bbq, tex mex, Lone Stars, whiskey shots, the entire music industry, air mattresses, zero sleep, 40 degree weather and crazy crowds all combine to make one helluva music-fueled week! This was my fourth year attending the festival and lord have mercy if this wasn’t the craziest year yet. Basically, ever new band that I’ve been itching to see was there, though whether or not I actually saw them depended entirely on the lines outside which were about 4 times longer than any other year (sorry MG&V, The Middle East and Strand of Oaks…I shall see you soon). This year, I made a concerted effort to only see band’s that I’d 1. Never seen before and 2. Are not based in LA. So while When You Awake favorites like Leslie and the Badgers, Deer Tick, Justin Townes Earle and Those Darlins were traipsin’ around Texas, I made the tough decision to leave my tried and true loves behind and venture forth to bring some new and exciting bands into the mix. When You Awake’s complete SXSW coverage is after the jump.
SXSW Thursday: I spent the afternoon DJing between sets at Aquarium Drunkard‘s No Shirts Required Party. The party started off with The Love Language, a sweet band out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina with really nice harmonies and catchy pop tunes.
Other highlights were The Futurebirds out of Athens, Georgia, who played good ol’ fashioned southern rock in the vein of My Morning Jacket and New Jersey- band The Roadside Graves, who impressed with their Felice Brother’s-esque blend of foot stompin’, organ-laden country rock. There was also a photobooth at the party run by the good folks at Gigbot. You can click here to check out all of the pics!
After the party, we left downtown for a bit and headed over to Spiderhouse for a hot cuppa jo and found ourselves some delicious tex mex (mmmmm queso), before heading over to the Longbranch Inn for Brooklyn band The Girls at Dawn. The hot-pants sporting all girl trio were rather enjoyable and would fit in perfectly on a lineup alongside acts like Los Angeles’ Best Coast and Tennessee’s Magic Kids. We then returned back downtown for our last show of the evening. I had met the boys of So What earlier in the day and was immediately won over by their enthusiasm for SXSW and decided to support the sweet quartet from the Hague, Netherlands by attending their show. While their music doesn’t really have anything to do with When You Awake, they honestly put on one of the best shows I saw at SXSW. Really tight musicianship, catchy as hell tunes and an energetic and engaging frontman. Major labels take note, if you are looking to sign the next Killers or Arctic Monkeys, So What just might be the answer to all of your prayers.
SXSW Friday: We began our morning at the Trailer Fire Records Party to see Justin Gordon, who was fresh back in the states from a month-long stay in Guatemala with a brand new band, The Fed. Interestingly enough, a guy named Zeb actually took the lead on most of the tunes while Justin, who’s normally the front man, provided sweet backup harmonies and mellow bass lines. Laid-back, rootsy tunes from these sometimes ex-patriates. The highlight of the show was when Justin and Zeb stepped down from the stage for an acoustic number with only guitar and banjo leading the way. Where’s my licuados?!
As we were walking back to the car, we ran into members of The Fox Hunt and The Hot Seats sharing their banjo, washboard and fiddle-filled goodness on the corner of Sixth Street and San Jacinto. Folks were so impressed with them that one particularly grungy musician actually emptied his entire, nearly full cigarette box into their open banjo case. From one musician to another, that’s a sign of true love.
After watching the bluegrass brigade, we rushed over to the east side of town to see the San Antonio band Hacienda‘s only SXSW appearance. I had waited over a year to see them live and, despite numerous technical difficulties (seriously—who was running sound at that show? Their mics were out for three songs!!), they proved to be exactly what I’d hoped they would be and more. A super tight, good ol’ fashioned tex mex rock and roll band that seemed to channel the spirit of Doug Sahm and The Sir Douglas Quintet. Special kudos go to their spot on renditions of “Green Onions” (during said microphone outage) and “Wooly Bolly” (from fellow Texan’s Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs). My only complaint was that their set ended much too soon. Luckily, they will be coming through Los Angeles on April 30th with a stop at the Echoplex alongside the Heartless Bastards. You can bet I’ll be there front and center.
After Hacienda, I was ready to get out of the sun for a bit and made my way over to Mountain Man, who were playing at a little coffee shop nearby. I was turned on to these girls when I saw this amazing video a couple of months back and couldn’t wait to check them out live. For most of the songs, they held hands and kept eye contact with each other, letting the music combine and flow through them as they wandered their way through incredibly complex three part a cappella harmonies. These girls are really something special and proved a welcome respite for my over-worked ears.
Next, we headed over to the west side to catch our old buddies Paleface at the Mean Eyed Cat. I’ve never seen them put on a bad show and this one was no exception. I may have even ended up on stage singing at the end alongside Kimya Dawson and about half the audience—but I won’t verify that here. The new find of that showcase was Christopher Denny, whose music I heard floating through the doorway when I was sitting inside the bar and that literally made me put down my beer and run outside to see what kind of creature could possess such an otherworldly and awe-inspiring voice. I sadly only caught two songs and was seriously aching for more.
To cap off the evening, I headed back over to the East Side to check out the Woodist showcase. I technically saw the band Woods and a handful of others acts, but I honestly have no idea what they sounded like. The sound was so ridiculously bad there. Up close, it was super distorted. At the back of the crowd, you could barely hear it. After about 20 minutes of trying to position myself just right, I gave up and went to greet some new and old friends in the audience. And boy oh boy, this was apparently THE show to be at. I ran into folks from Those Darlins, The Cave Singers, Juniper Tar, Strand of Oaks, Daytrotter, Muzzle of Bees and WSME among others. Not bad. Not bad at all.
SXSW Saturday: Saturday started off on a high note with a stop by the great Austin band Wiretree‘s showcase and then a run in with some old college buddies on the street called Battlehooch. As you can tell by the pictures, Battlehooch is true Santa Cruz through and through. When the 40 degree (and windy) weather proved too much to bear, we wandered inside to check out London-based singer Johnny Flynn. Despite the audience member who appeared to be on Ecstasy and who almost broke one of the band’s guitars, Johnny Flynn impressed with his beautiful, cello and violin driven orchestral indie folk. Highly recommended for fans of Noah and the Whale.
The last place I ended up was the Bloodshot Records showcase on Saturday night. I walked in just in time to catch the last tune by former X frontwoman Exene Cervenka, who was joined on stage by three other women. I barely got a picture in before their set ended so I unfortunately didn’t get a real good read on her sound, but it peaked my interest enough to vow to see her when she comes through Southern California on her upcoming record store tour. Next up on the lineup was the brand new Bloodshot Records signee, Morgan Whitey and the 78s, who sounded more like the offspring of Waylon Jennings than his own kid does. The lyrics were a bit repetitive with the words “Honky Tonk” and “Honky Tonk Women” in just about every tune, but they had that Waylon Jennings funky beat down pat and proved to be the perfect music for a hot Texas BBQ hoedown.
One of the biggest surprises of the whole festival were the Waco Brothers. The band, which is made up mostly of guys in their 50s, rocked harder than basically any of the younger bands that I saw. They played loose, foot stomping, pint-raising rock and roll that I would go back to see in an instant. Every single person in the audience had their fists raised in the air for their closing cover of The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought The Law.” It was the definition of a pure crowd pleaser.
The Waco Brothers were followed by Missouri band Ha Ha Tonka who also put on a solid show that left me anxiously awaiting their April 9th show here in Los Angeles at the Troubadour. Highlights of the set were the tunes “Close Every Valve To Your Bleeding Heart” and “Hangman,” a 4-part harmony a capella tune that sent shivers down my spine. All in all, the Bloodshot Records showcase was the perfect way to end my SXSW experience and to inject a little country roots back into my soul.
Top 3 Acts of SXSW: Hacienda, Mountain Man and Waco Brothers
Band I’m Very Sad I Missed and Will Be Keeping An Eye Out For Next Year: MG&V, Strand of Oaks, The Middle East, Juniper Tar
Things To Remember for Next Year: 1. Bring a warmer coat 2. Just because people are offering you free shots of whiskey all night long doesn’t mean you have to take them.
Thank you SXSW 2010. You treated me well and I shall be in your warm embrace once again come March 2011.
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