And so it finally arrived, the end of SXSW with the final day of SXSW Music. I could sit here and pontificate about how every year the festival seems more and more commercialized and how when they aren’t erecting giant LED Doritos bags on Red River, Big Music and major label artists are taking the focus away from smaller, newer artists getting discovered and asking Austin music to buy into their selling out, but I’m tired and I just want to play some video games, read some comics, and get ready to return to the rat race tomorrow. I’ll leave the “Is SXSW becoming the Sundance or San Diego Comic Con of music” discussion for another time. Right now I want to tell you about The Sour Notes.
It had been a while since the last time I saw The Sour Notes. If memory serves me, it was in early September at Mohawk, just after they returned from their summer tour. The band at that time was in transition, having parted ways with their drummer mid-tour and as a result, actively tweaking both the band make up and live sound. What was somewhat rough back in September has solidified in a way that has The Sour Notes playing better than I’ve ever heard them. Playing a set composed of old classics as well as new tracks from their upcoming 4th LP, the band looked and sounded great and radiated a competence and cohesion that many bands never attain. Having angered the SXSW gods however by playing a minute longer than they had been allotted, the Soho Lounge pulled the plug on The Sour Notes about halfway through their final song “Do’ers & Say’ers”. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I had seen the same thing happen at SXSW and anticlimactic as it was, the show must go on.
With some time to kill before my next scheduled stop, I decided to head over to Red 7 and see what was going on there. The answer was “nothing much”, at least nothing much that interested me. As I arrived there was a fairly decent (if mostly unmemorable) punk band playing inside, while outside the evening seemed dedicated to the kinds of metal bands whose logos and names are indistinguishable from those of C-list horror films. Merchandise (the band that came on next inside) came off as being remarkably smug and as each of their protracted songs droned on I grew less and less interested in sticking around, eventually opting to head to my next stop early.
The Whiskey Room on 6th was my next venue and Miracles of Modern Science were my next band. I had heard of these guys for the first time last year while listening to SXSW 2012 showcasing artists. Back then I never got the chance to see them play, but with no schedule conflicts this year they had my 10pm slot all to themselves. A 5-piece consisting of a cello, violin, upright bass, mandolin, and drums, Miracles of Modern Science might possibly be described as chamber pop so long as you fully capitalize POP. As far as strings-based groups go this band has much more in common with the likes of Owen Pallett (formerly Final Fantasy) or Andrew Bird than Mother Falcon. Despite being crowded onto the tiny stage at The Whiskey Room and having to deal with a mic that wouldn’t stay put, Miracles of Modern Science managed to play a set of upbeat and danceable tunes that had the crowd asking for just one more when the SXSW schedule gods once again intervened to pull the plug.
Departing the tumult of 6th street, I headed instead to the tumult of Congress ave and the Meduse Lounge in order to catch a local group that has been steadily growing on me since I first heard them last summer: Royal Forest (formerly Loxsly). Royal Forest play what I can only describe as progressive, psychedelic, indie rock, shoegaze. If you wanted to picture Now Here is Nowhere era Secret Machines with the instrumental emphasis switched from guitar to keyboard you’d at least be in the right territory. With an upcoming LP on the horizon, the band played a set of nothing but new songs and they all sounded great, showing a definite growth from their EP material and making me excited for the new album.
My final stop of the evening was Esther’s Follies where I planned to close out my SXSW with Mother Falcon. I arrived early and settled in as the previous act finished. Perhaps the best thing about Esther’s Follies during SXSW is that it’s one of the few places containing and designed for seating. In previous years when they still did comedy all night during SXSW, Esther’s was often a pit stop between acts to catch 15 minutes of comedy and take a load off. With the switch to music after 8pm this year, the venue has become less of a pit stop and more of a destination. I’ve been a big fan of Mother Falcon for a little over a year now. In fact, the first time I ever saw them perform live was at SXSW last year. Since then, I’ve seen them several times around town and it’s always a magical experience. As a credit to their prowess (and the crew at Esther’s) they managed to play a brilliant set despite having 15+ people crammed up on a barely big enough stage. A mix of old, new, and Radiohead, Mother Falcon’s set not only packed the room, but enthralled it for nearly an hour with their orchestral pop brilliance. It was enough to have everyone begging for an encore, but the SXSW gods … well, you know the drill. Mother Falcon weren’t about to let their fans down though, so with Esther’s stage no longer an option the band decided to take their encore outside.
Heading outside onto the sidewalk in front of Esther’s Follies, Mother Falcon assembled at 2am for one final song for SXSW. With the crowd from inside huddled around and onlookers coming to see what the fuss was about, Mother Falcon launched into their latest single “Dirty Summer” off of the 7” of the same name. It was a unique and lovely way to end SXSW and if you weren’t there to see it, check YouTube because there were plenty of impromptu video’s being shot. While the crowd would have loved to have seen Mother Falcon play that sidewalk all night, it was clearly time to put SXSW 2013 to bed and as the band went back inside we all dispersed and melted into the night until next year’s SXSW comes to fill our streets with music and revelry once again.