“We’ll go our way
We may have changed
But, we’re still here and we came to play”
– Lifetime “How We Are“
As I was preparing for this year’s festivities, I realized that this would be my 9th SXSW in a row. Nine years. That’s over 200 hours of music, nearly as many shows, hundreds of bands, and many miles walked. That’s not even to mention the often mind-numbing process of vetting nearly a thousand bands each year in order to curate my own list of showcases to check out. What I’m trying to say is: I’m dedicated. As problematic as it can be for many reasons, I love SXSW and this year (in addition to my usual report of what I saw and heard) I’m going to impart some SXSW wisdom to y’all based on my nearly a decade of experience on the ground.
Tip 1: Comfortable Shoes
Whether you’re planning on spending all night in the same place or venue hopping like I tend to do, quality footwear is a must for SXSW. This goes for any show really, because in most cases you’re going to find yourself standing up for an extended period of time. For multi day festivals however and especially SXSW, you’ve got to think about the long run. SXSW isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and if you go out there unprepared, your feet and legs are going to give out on you by the third night. So get some good shoes or upgrade your insoles. The last thing you want to do is have your feet complaining to you while you’re trying to enjoy some live music.
I skipped Monday night music this year in order to continue in a D&D campaign with friends. We’ve been rolling our dice in this one for about a year now and our characters currently find themselves stranded on a desert island, exploring the only structure we’ve so far seen: a creepy Lovecraftian temple. Anyway, slimes and oozes were killed and I made sure we didn’t walk into any traps. We’re still stranded, but we’re at least having fun.
Tuesday was my start to SXSW again this year and as is usually the case it’s the night for a lot of local showcases. While I tend to catch up with local bands I haven’t heard in a while on this night, I’ve also made time to check out travelling acts as well in the past and this year was no exception.
Heading downtown just before dusk, my first stop was the recently reopened Parish on 6th street, a venue that I haven’t been to in a long time but that I’m happy to report still has one of the best sound systems in the game. I was here for Fragile Rock, the world’s “only” emo puppet band and Austin locals too. It’s been two or three years since I first saw this group (also at SXSW) and it was a lot of fun to get to see them live again. As catchy as their songs are, Fragile Rock are simply a joy to behold in person. Featuring 4 singers sporting puppets and a (non puppet) backing band, the production brings to mind the likes of Avenue Q. In addition to singing, the performance always features a decent amount of on stage band drama in a loving parody of rock band blowups.
I next headed to Cheer Up Charlie’s where I would spend the rest of my evening. The first act I was here to catch was local funk ensemble Hard Proof, another group I first discovered at SXSW a few years back. While less dancey than the last time I saw them, the group brought the funk and the crowd ate it up all the same before Ume took the stage next. With singer/guitarist Lauren Larson having had a kid a few years back (you may recall my covering her SXSW performance while very pregnant) Ume hadn’t been as active in recent years, but with a new LP having been released last summer they’re back and still bringing the same face-melting, grungey rock they’ve become known for. As always Lauren is a stellar frontperson, whose vocal growl and primo guitar licks are outdone only by her gymnastic stage antics.
Afterwards, I headed inside for an LA act called Rosie Tucker, a ’90’s style indie rock band in the vein of Belly or Veruca Salt, but with more of a punk feel and a queer ethos that was right at home at Cheer Up’s. Moving Panoramas, a local group that I’ve never quite understood, followed. Due to rave reviews I bought their first album several years back, but found it flat and repetitive. They’ve since released a new LP and while I hadn’t heard it, I had again seen rave reviews for it. I was interested to see what they brought live and while not bad, it still didn’t float my boat so I headed inside again to check out the Korean indie rock group Say Sue Me. I was only able to catch a few songs by the group before their time was up, but what I heard was decent. I often feel like the Asian bands that we hear about here in the States are just copies or amalgams of what is already popular for us, but Say Sue Me sounded like they had their own unique voice and I’m interested to check out more.
My last act of the night was The Bright Light Social Hour, back outside at Cheer Up Charlie’s. While their debut LP never managed to hook me, their hard turn towards space rock and psychedelia on their second LP and their recently released third LP Jude vol I got me listening. Sadly, by the time they went on Tuesday night I was out of juice. After an extra long set up time, I only had so much left in me for music so I stuck around for a couple songs and then left. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Bright Light Social Hour, but given the circumstances, I had to tap out.
Tip 2: Parking
What? You thought I was going to give up my parking secrets? Hell no. But I will squash some myths and offer some advice. The first thing you need to know about going downtown for SXSW evening showcases is that the traffic isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. At least coming from the north it isn’t. I can’t speak for the other direction. Rarely have I experienced anything other than normal traffic on my way to SXSW so long as I stay north of 9th or 10th street. This brings me to my next bit of advice: if you’re driving and planning to park, stay north of 9th or 10th streets. Any spots or lots further south than that are likely to have already been filled by the time evening rolls around and the prices are cheaper the further away you park anyway. As long as you’re willing to walk a few blocks, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to find cheap or even free parking just south of or on either side of the 40 acres.
My second night of SXSW Music saw me heading down to Barracuda’s back yard space in order to catch local Molly Burch. This is one of those acts that I’ve heard about time and time again, but have never really gotten too much into. Having seen her and her band live now, I definitely get why people hold her up as a local phenomenon, even if their particular brand of singer-songwriter rock doesn’t quite chart for me personally. Since I was needing to head down to Rainey street for my next act of the evening, I left Molly Burch’s set a little early and made the walk down Red River in that direction. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Rainey for SXSW or anything else really. What was once a lowkey, but trendy spot for the 30+ crowd has since turned into another extension of 6th street albeit with more condos and hotels. Still, there are good places to eat, drink, and see live music here so I headed over to The Bungalow to catch local punks Drakulas.
This is a band that I first heard about a few years back just before their first EP. The fact that it was a national outlet that I heard about them from (likely Noisey’s Dan Ozzi) and not some local vector caused me to both be cautious (the only punk that gets publicized outside of Texas seems to be garage stuff) but curious as well. After that initial impression however I completely lost track of Drakulas until now. Dressed in black clothing and spiked leather, Drakulas took the stage under cover of darkness and immediately triggered memories of my goth/industrial days back in college. Musically however the band couldn’t be more different. Playing an agressive, but tuneful brand of punk reminiscent of Jay Reatard or The Dickies, Drakulas are part performance art and part punk band. Frontperson Savage Lord Mic plays the role of chief antagonist, goading the audience and even stepping out into the crowd to confront individual revellers like some kind of leather clad apocalypse MC. It was hokey at first, but by the end of their set I was totally on board and honestly, the music rocked.
Next it was back up to The Parish for me as I had a break in my schedule and OVRLD were sponsoring the night’s music there. As I entered the space, local folkster Buck Meek had just taken the stage, giving off some series Woody Guthrie vibes, something I can definitely get behind. About halfway through his set however, OVRLD chief Morgan Davis found me in the crowd and as it’s been a fair bit since we’ve seen each other, we got to chatting about everything from music, to SXSW, to video games, and beyond while Buck finished his set.
Next at the parish were Fort Worth darlings The Unlikely Candidates, who since I saw them I have learned (at least based on their Spotify listens) are something of a big deal. While I certainly wasn’t offended by their music, it definitely lumped itself in with the Strokes style Rolling Stones worship that was all too prevalent in the late 00’s and has never really been my bag.
Splitting Parish, my final stop of the evening was the Parker Jazz Club over on 4th for the rare Mother Falcon performance. Having broken up a few years ago, this local symphonic rock outfit reformed with several remaining members not long after and continued to play, albeit in a smaller capacity. The only traditional shows I can recall the band having done in the last three years have been at SXSW and as one of my favorite all time live bands, I try to see them at every opportunity. As it turned out, Parker Jazz Club was the perfect venue for Mother Falcon. A great sound system, large stage, a seated audience, and plenty of cool vibes made for an excellent setting for the band. Even Austin Mayor Steve Adler (who was in attendance) seemed impressed. As always, Mother Falcon’s set was a highlight of my SXSW experience and thoroughly satisfied at its culmination, I headed home for the night.
Tip 3: Food and Drink
I always eat and hydrate myself before I head downtown for an evening of SXSW. The hydration is probably the most important part as (while you’ll find free water at most venues) I find that drinking water early on frees me up for adult beverages during the evening and also helps avoid the negative side effects thereof. Eating beforehand is something you can take or leave. I do it because I’d rather spend my time listening to bands or making my toward listening to bands then stopping to eat, but should you decide to eat while you’re out, there are plenty of wonderful options. Both Red River and Rainey street have food truck parks that can be taken advantage of and that feature some seriously tasty cuisine. Along 6th and elsewhere you’ll find the occasional food cart or store front, usually offering more walkable fare like pizza. Even though I had eaten at home beforehand this year, I found myself on 3 separate nights stopping for pizza. Out of Roppolo’s, Hoboken, and the pizza joint attached to Jackalope, it was probably Jackalope that I liked best for its thick, chewy crust.
My first trip of the evening took me to (the little traveled during SXSW) 2nd street and Guadalupe and a club called Malverde across the street from Lamberts and Moody Theatre, for prolific punkster Mikey Erg. As a drummer/guitarist, Erg has played with a number of bands including The Dopamines, The Worries, Star Fucking Hipsters, and as a singer as well in his own band The Ergs! In addition to all that, Erg has released one LP under his solo nome de punk and has another coming out soon. As traffic was (even for SXSW) especially congested on my way downtown and I had to walk about 20 minutes from my usual parking area to Malverde, I only caught about half of Mikey Erg’s set, but what I did catch, I liked. On stage as just himself with a guitar, Erg demonstrated his multi-talented skills as he blazed through a set of early emo reminiscent punk rock. It was an intimate way to start the evening and though I’ve never really been a fan up until now, I’ll definitely be checking out Mikey Erg after this.
This was destined to be a night of long walks for me. As I mentioned before, I had about a 20 minute walk from where I parked in order to get to Malverde. Next up was another 20+ minutes to get to Historic Scoot Inn on east 4th street. I’ve seen a number of shows here over the years, but none since the venue’s most recent change in ownership and “historic” rebranding. I think the last time I was out here might actually have been the second or third time I saw now defunct local post hardcore dance punks Zlam Dunk, not that long after I started writing for OVRLD. Happily, not that much has changed at the Scoot Inn. The outdoor space and sound is still top notch and while it’s a bit of a walk, it’s not so far as to be completely outside of my SXSW range, especially since I was planning on being here for the rest of the night.
While I was mainly here for the evening’s headliner, I was glad to have gotten to Scoot Inn in time to see Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. For those who may not know, Laura Jane Grace is the frontperson for the longstanding punk group Against Me! and this is (I believe) her first real side project away from that band. While I’ve never been a huge Against Me! fan, Laura’s status as a trans icon in the punk world is something I’m more than familiar with and in general I was just interested to hear her play. Again, while I haven’t heard much Against Me! I think I can definitely say that I like this a lot better. There’s something stripped down and sincere about the style and delivery, it’s diaristic, personal, and brutally honest in the way that a lot of singer-songwriter punk tries to be, but doesn’t always achieve. While they weren’t on my initial schedule, I’m glad I caught their set all the same.
After Laura Jane Grace finished I was headed to the back of the Scoot Inn grounds to grab another beer when someone called out my name, a rare occurrence to be sure. It turned out to be none other than OVRLD co-founder Carter Delloro, which was also a rare occurrence given that he moved out of state several years ago. The last time I saw Carter was a few years ago when I stopped in LA on a couple weeks-long road trip across the southwest and west coast of the US. We’ve kept in touch through social media, but it was something else to see him in person again. He introduced me to his girlfriend Jen and while The Joy Formidable set up and played we caught up on each other’s lives.
After all that (and finally procuring another beer) I took my leave of Carter and Jen and made my way toward the front of the crowd for the real reason I way here tonight: The Get Up Kids. I came to punk music relatively late in life – my early 20’s versus teens – and when I did, emo was just starting to blow up. Among the seminal emo acts of the late 90’s and early 00’s were The Get Up Kids, a group of young midwest punks hailing from Kansas. I became a fan around the time of their (pre-reunion) second to last album On a Wire and then quickly devoured the back catalog as well. When they reunited a while back I caught them on tour and fell in love with their live show. Since then I’ve seen them a couple more times as they’ve toured old and new material alike and every time it makes me feel like I’m 24 again, standing in the crowd at an emo show, singing along so loud that we can hardly hear the band, pogoing, chest thumping, moshing, and just having a damn good time. On this night, The Get Up Kids did not disappoint.
Tip 4: Scheduling
This is where I like to think that I particularly excel. For me, the first step of scheduling comes with deciding who I want to see. As I’m looking for form my own opinions about music and not rely on trendy lists, I spend the months leading up to SXSW listening to tracks from nearly every showcasing artist. This is made much easier by utilizing the official SXSW Spotify list, which is added to regularly leading up to the event. Once I have a list of bands, I go to the official SXSW site and tag my favorites. In previous years I would create a spreadsheet to track this, but the SXSW site (and companion app) actually do a decent job of letting me see where and when the bands I want to see are playing and what conflicts my schedule may have. The next step after the schedule is to figure out who I actually want to see on it, because there are going to be two issues: conflicts, and capacity.
Conflicts are easy to resolve. Either pick the band you want to see the most or the one at a venue that best fits your overall plan for the night. I suppose that’s the other issue: logistics. You simply can’t make it between some locations quick enough to catch entire sets, so plan accordingly and be prepared to step out early from a show if you need to in order to make your next set.
Capacity is a whole other issue in and of itself. What you’re trying to gauge here is a) how popular a band is b) how popular the venue is c) how popular the other bands playing at the venue are as well. A popular band at a popular venue playing alongside other popular bands is going to be a difficult affair to get into. Even with a badge you may end up waiting in line at some places. If you’ve really got to get in to see a band in this situation, plan to get to the venue early and stay until the band goes on. No venue hopping until 15 minutes before the set. You’re not gonna make it in. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on something popular in a large enough (or out of the way enough) venue or on a bill that may be less of an overall draw though. Some places that almost always have lines and fill up fast (in my experience) are Mohawk, Stubbs, Latitude 30 (which becomes the British Music Embassy) and Elysium on Japan or Korea nights.
As it would happen, this ended up being my last night of SXSW this year. My Saturday showcases were almost all locals that I could see almost anytime and I was more interested in spending time with my beautiful and brilliant wife, especially as we had only spent a few spare hours together during the week due to our clashing schedules.
I started the night at a Rolling Stone sponsored event at Native Hostel on east 4th and I-35 where Taylor Janzen was due to play. This was one of my heretofore unknown SXSW picks, another singer-songwriter in the vein of Molly Burch, but more subdued and personal. She put on a nice, relaxed set of mellow tunes to a sizable crowd and then next were The Beths. This was yet another group that came from my listening to hundreds of bands in preparation for SXSW. If you’ve gleaned anything from my picks in previous years then the choice of this band will make plenty of sense. The Beths have that ’90’s sound that I love: jangly distorted guitars, pop hooks, and a hazy, non-affected vibe. Having played a large number of shows earlier in the week, the band looked tired, but didn’t let that stop them from playing well. To further complicate matters, they’re from New Zealand and based on comments they made, they were as shaken by the terrible events that had transpired less than 24 hours earlier as the rest of their countrymen back home and indeed the world.
Leaving Native Hostel, I passed under I-35 and over to the Hilton Garden Inn on 5th street where Lolita Lynne was playing the 18th Over Austin venue. I’ve been a fan of this band since they were called Magia Negra, which in truth isn’t that long ago, but still I’m a fan regardless of the fact that I’ve never seen them play live. When I arrived at 18th Over Austin I ordered my customary Old Fashioned and then settled in near the front of a sparsely populated room in order to hear the band. If anything, seeing Lolita Lynne live only reinforced the band’s mystique. As a live unit they look and play like nothing other than a lounge act from an alternate universe where indie bands rather than jazz trios own the night. It was a solid, intimate set and if you ever get the chance to check them out in such mellow environs I thoroughly recommend it.
With nothing specific on my schedule after Lolita Lynne and not desiring to end what would be my final night of SXSW so early I decided to slip on over to punk mainstay Beerland on Red River and catch a couple punk acts. If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that (for my tastes at least) any punk show is a good punk show, especially in the right setting and so upon arriving at Beerland I grabbed a cheap beer and let the venue’s basement show aesthetic wash over me as Memphis, TN’s Hash Redactor took the stage.
As I hadn’t really prepped to see Hash Redactor beforehand, I didn’t quite know what to expect and what I found was fairly standard, somewhat garagey punk band, oozing with angst and nihilism. As the rule goes, it was a good set, because all live punk sets are good, but where they really impressed me was when their frontperson’s amp went out. SXSW showcases are no stranger to equipment failures. I’ve seen my fair share over the course of the last nine years. Most bands just scramble along with the house sound crew to get things working ASAP, shuffling awkwardly on stage or standing there with expressions akin to a deer in headlights while an audience of almost certainly non-fans looks on impatiently. Hash Redactor’s rhythm section instead took the opportunity to jam. It was a punk jam, so we’re not talking Grateful Dead or Phish here, but it was a welcome distraction while the technical issues were solved.
The next band (and my final one for the evening and this year’s SXSW) was Sick Thoughts, easily the most traditionally “punk” act I’ve seen in quite some time. Sporting leather jackets (which everyone but the singer removed before playing) there was a Ramones by way of Black Flag style to the band that tickled the parts of my brain reserved for rocking out to early punk and first wave hardcore. The band played a solid set replete with racing guitars, pounding drums, and ferociously spit lyrics. Between singer Drew Owen’s intense lyricism, raucous stage antics, and Beerland’s DIY ambiance, I felt for all the world as if I had been transported in time and space to an LA hardcore show circa 1980. Sick Thoughts played a short, but energetic set that culminated with Owen pounding a beer during the final song. It was a fitting end to another year of music and mayhem.
Brian’s SXSW 2019 Playlist: