For many, the music portion of SXSW began this past Tuesday as hundreds of bands and thousands of eager fans crowded onto 6th street, Red River, Rainey street, the east side, and indeed all over Austin for the event that more than any other truly defines this city as the live music capital of the world. While I would have loved to have been with them (likely spending most of that night at The Parish’s showcase of local bands) I had other plans and was instead over in Houston to catch Muse at the Toyota Center for what turned out to be a brilliant show.
Last night, I began my SXSW in earnest however and after a quick stop in the morning to grab breakfast at the Omelettry, I headed downtown to procure my wristband and get ready for a night of music. When it comes to SXSW I’m really more of a night person and tend to stick to official showcases as opposed to gallivanting around town to catch the various RSVP-required events and parties. The fact that this leaves my days open makes SXSW my ultimate week-long staycation as I spend my days playing video games and my nights seeing live music. After a day’s worth of Sim City building I arrived downtown promptly at 7pm and headed on over to BD Riley’s to catch a group I had only just heard of earlier that day when looking for something to fill the time slot in my schedule.
You, Me & Us are a three piece out of Palm Springs that radiate charm as loudly as they wail on guitar. I caught definite shades of Rilo Kiley while listening to their set, but with a tinge of rawness inspired by the current garage trend. You, Me & Us offered up guitar power pop wrapped in a decidedly twee packaging. Fans of the (formerly) local group Literature should definitely give this band a listen.
With some time to kill before my next scheduled stop, I headed a couple doors down from BD Riley’s and popped into The Parish where a two-piece by the name of You Won’t had just started their set. As far as random, unplanned SXSW stops go, this one was a definite winner. Hailing from my former home state of Massachusetts, this duo played a twangy brand of folk aided by a plethora of instruments ranging from the usual guitar and drums to a harmonium and saw. While the somewhat nasal quality of the vocals did grate on me a bit, the overall experience was pleasant and a welcome pit stop between acts.
After The Parish I headed over to Maggie Mae’s in order to catch Austin’s own Mirror Travel (formerly Follow That Bird). Musically I knew what to expect from Mirror Travel: a kind of psych/stoner edged rock that swings wildly between mellow, reverb-laden riffs and thrashing, fuzzy guitar solos. While they’re recorded work always leaves me with a Velvet Underground taste in my mouth, the thunder of their live performance adds something more modern and welcome to the mix.
My next stop of the evening would take me over to Valhalla on Red River to see a band that I had meant to check out last year, but never got the chance to and somehow managed to forget about shortly afterward. Let me say up front that after finally seeing these guys live there is nothing forgettable about Austin’s Oh No Oh My. Having been around since the mid 00’s, Oh No Oh My have perfected their own brand of synth infused alt rock. With their upper register and oft-harmonized vocals, mostly mellow compositions, and penchant for strategically executed guitar and keyboard effects, Oh No Oh My are both familiar and unique and having finally seen them, I won’t forget about them so soon this time.
Next up on my list was to have been Pswingset – one of my favorite local finds from last year – so I headed just down the street to the patio at Barbarella for the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, an unofficial showcase presented by Go Media. When I arrived I found out that they had gotten a later start than planned and instead of Pswingset going on in another 20 minutes, Cherry Cola Champions (the band that was 2 ahead of Pswingset) was just finishing up. Ultimately it was no skin off my back though and the Kent, OH two-piece managed to be right up my alley, playing the kind of mathy post punk I often gravitate towards.
Next up in the rotation was Papermoons, another guitar and drums two-piece, but this time from here in Austin. Featuring both Pswingset’s drummer and new guitarist, Papermoons play a mellower, less noodly version of that late 90’s/early 00’s DC-sound/post punk/indie rock. All things considered, I was starting to become rather glad that the lineup at Barbarella was running behind. The only downside was that if I were to stay for Pswingset, I would likely have to miss The Calm Blue Sea. While a tough decision, I decided to stay.
As I’ve mentioned here before, Pswingset are a band whose sound draws heavily from the era of DC/VA/NC post punk that spawned acts like Smart Went Crazy, Shudder to Think, and Bats & Mice. It’s a brand of guitar rock that focuses on minor notes and single string noodling, while tending to play with time changes as well. I love this stuff. Pswingset played an excellent set of songs off their recent LP All Our False Starts and gave me a chance to get some post punk white boy dancing in for the evening. As they wrapped up I made haste to get back over to Maggie Mae’s in hopes of catching the tail end of The Calm Blue Sea’s set.
As I walked into Maggie Mae’s to a wall of guitars I knew that I had indeed arrive with time left to catch a couple songs before The Calm Blue Sea finished. While I only got to hear two songs I considered myself lucky that both were from their 2010 debut, the heaviest and easily my favorite of their two full length albums.
As The Calm Blue Sea finished up it mean that Ume were up next. This is another Austin group that I’ve been trying to catch up with live for some time, but for whatever reason the stars never aligned to see happen. Musically I knew what to expect from Ume as I’m no stranger to their grunge-like guitar sound and front woman Lauren Larson’s impassioned vocals, but performance wise I got more than I bargained for. To start with, if you had told me that that Ume were a three-piece I would have laughed in your face. Not many bands with a sound that big contain so few members. Secondly, Lauren Larson is some kind of amazing freak of nature: an attractive blond who can belt out a tune, shred guitar, and thrash on stage better than 9 out of 10 front women or men anywhere. I left Ume’s set with a new appreciation for why this group has been turning heads and ears across the country recently.
With no real “must see” acts on my list for 1am I decided to call the night early and head home after leaving Maggie Mae’s. Tonight will be another evening of SXSW and I’ll need my rest to keep the momentum going.
– Brian Audette