by Brian J. Audette
“When the music went away with all that I’ve conceived
The sun goes down and smiles start to fade
Another Tuesday and I smell the leaves, they’re dying in my city.
Inspirations lost in sirens. ”
Kid Dynamite, Never Met the Gooch
Thursday was scheduled to be another big day of venue hopping downtown and my first stop for the evening was Lucky Lounge on 5th to see Purple, where I encountered one of my least favorite occurrences at official showcases at SXSW: unadvertised restrictions. While the event was labeled as open to both Badges and Wristbands, I was told by the SXSW volunteer at the door that I needed some Budweiser special snowflake wristband in order to get in. On the one hand this didn’t make any sense because it wasn’t a Budweiser sponsored event and there was no takeover branding of the location (see: McDonald’s Loft or Spotify House) and on the other hand, that usually didn’t matter if you had a SXSW wristband or a badge. Luckily it wasn’t an issue. I had gotten there early enough that the volunteer was willing to let me in with just the warning that if I left, I wouldn’t be able to get back in with just my SXSW wristband. This wouldn’t be a problem as I was only planning on catching Purple and then leaving anyway, so I made my way inside and up front to wait for the set to begin.
I don’t count myself as a huge fan of Purple, but I really dig several of the songs off of their debut LP (409) and I’ve been itching to see them live for a while. As it turned out, Purple are one of those bands that are 10 times better live than recorded, even though they’re pretty good in the studio as well. Those few songs that had lured me in proved to be the rule rather than the exception in terms of the energy and intensity of their performance and all told, it was the perfect way to start my evening and cemented Purple on my “Texas locals to see live again” list.
My next stop was across town at Swan Dive’s inside stage for Big Ups, a post hardcore band from New York that came to me via my SXSW prep. Big Ups specialize in the “spoken verse” brand of hardcore: sort of early Hold Steady meets La Dispute, with screamo bits via At the Drive In. The complete opposite of Purple, I dug Big Ups way more recorded than live, their stage presence lacking any charm and the band sporting that SXSW shell shock of “why are we even here?” It was a sharp contrast from the fun of Purple and managed to put a bit of a damper on the set.
As fate would have it Big Ups played a short set, leaving me time to meet with my friends George and Joe at one of the nearby food truck lots on Red River before heading over to Esther’s Follies for The Sour Notes. In general this SXSW I had been trying to steer clear of local bands that I’d seen before or see often, but the combination of my not having seen The Sour Notes in a while and Esther’s (with its ample seating) was too much to pass up.
The Sour Notes played a customarily excellent set of bouncy psych pop, featuring a decent mix of old favorites and newer, unreleased tunes and I touched based with Notes’ frontman Jared after their set, learning that we may be getting some new material later this year … possibly. Afterwards Joe wanted to smoke so we grabbed some more drinks and Joe, George, and I headed out to Esther’s smoking area to chill during a break in my schedule.
A little after 12am, Joe and George decided to beat the Metro rush and catch a train back up north where they could Uber back home to their lairs more cheaply. Having driven down from my humble abode I decided to soldier on with my final two acts and headed next door to the Velveeta Room where Waxahatchee was playing. I’ve tried with little success to get into Waxahatchee in the past, but I respect the music and was going to be sticking around for the following act anyway so it seemed like a solid move. The room was packed when I arrived so the venue was in “one in, one out” mode, which given my ambivalence and the lovely weather didn’t bother me too much. It didn’t take long to get inside however and I was able to catch the last 4 songs of Waxahatchee’s supper mellow set. Again, it didn’t do anything for me and yet I feel like it’s something I should be into. Maybe I’ll try Waxahatchee again when I’m in more of an early Mountain Goats or Elliott Smith mood and see where that gets me.
After Waxahatchee finished up, the room practically cleared and gave me a clear shot to the front for The Worriers, a Post Punk outfit that Noisey writer Dan Ozzi has been touting for a bit now and that I’ve been meaning to give a more serious listen to. After seeing them that night becoming a Worriers fan has now become a priority. The band put on a great show of tuneful punk with solid lyrics and instrumentation: a mature, almost Frank Turner-esque sound, albeit punkier rather than folkier. It was a high energy outro to night four of my SXSW music experience and a fitting bookend for Purple’s raucous intro earlier in the evening.
As Friday progressed, the threat of rain grew greater with each passing hour. The weather so far this year at SXSW had been humid at worst, but otherwise idyllic compared to last year’s rain and drizzle, so I had hope to avoid any schedule smashing downpours. Unfortunately that was not to be the case and around 6 or 7pm the skies opened up, dropping a deluge on the city. On the plus side, my Friday schedule was pretty light on personal picks and I had planned to spend most of the evening at Stubb’s outside stage for my friend Andrew’s music choices. For better or for worse however the rain did subside and after meeting up with George and Joe once again, we headed downtown and over to Stubb’s.
Andrew’s plan for Stubb’s was centered around catching Santigold and (having seen her unique live show before) I couldn’t really blame him. With Stubb’s being an outdoor venue however and the rain having arrived just before the first acts were to have gone on, the schedule had gotten a bit out of whack. It appeared for a while that they were still planning on going through with the entire schedule of acts for that night, but as Everything Everything gave way to Crystal Castles, and then Charlie XCX, it became clear that Santigold might end up being the final act instead.
Truth be told, they could have gotten to all the acts that night, but horrendously long setup times between acts (seriously, 30-40 minutes!) saw to it that this did not happen. I may not be a musician, but I’ve been to hundreds of shows and if you can’t set up and sound check a drum kit, keyboard, and mics in less than half an hour, you’re doing it wrong. This is live music, not a studio recording session. 99% of the audience won’t be able to tell that anything’s off.
Arduous setups aside, it was a fun evening, bolstered in large part by Joe and our friend Spencer dancing like they just didn’t care to pretty much every song because well … they didn’t! Eventually Santigold went on, but by that time the cold front that had precipitated the rain storm had moved in and we were all freezing our asses off. She put on a good show all the same, but I’m really not a big enough fan to have gotten into it that much and the quirky magic of her performances appears to have worn off on me since first seeing her at FunFunFunFest several years ago.
The final day of SXSW music had come and it was obvious that everyone was feeling the burn. After checking out the game expo at the convention center and grabbing food at Frank, Andrew, George, and I decided to head over to Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room to catch the Russian band that I skipped on my final day of SXSW last year and that Joe and George have not since let me forget.
I’m pretty sure the show at the Gibson Room that night must have been put on by the same group that had put on the one I ended my SXSW experience with last year, as the assortment of bands was the same conglomeration of Asian and eastern European groups that were on the bill previously. We arrived to the final blaring moments of Albatross from Nepal, a band that sounded like they would have been right at home opening for Tool in the mid 90’s. Next up was Mumiy Troll (the Russian band) though what they had in store was something different that what I missed out on last year. Rather than the entire band, we were treated to their front man on vocals and guitar and a second member running synth through a Playstation controller while a Russian sci-fi movie from the 1930’s about a voyage to the moon played on screens in the background.
For the 40-45 minute running time of the film Mumiy Troll scored the silent movie with a euro-pop sound that approximately resembled a Russian version of Depeche Mode. It was unexpected, but definitely entertaining and at least this time I can say that I did not miss “the Russian band”. With nothing pressing to follow Mumiy Troll we decided to stay at the Gibson Room and catch a Japanese DJ called Emufucka. To be honest, out of all the DJ’s I saw at SXSW this year, Emufucka may have been my favorite, but maybe I’m just a sucker for drum and bass, also it didn’t hurt that we were able to find seating for the entire set.
My final act of the evening and of SXSW as a whole was to be Wild Child at St. David’s, so with time to kill we decided to get there early and ended up catching the set of delta blues folk singer Parker Milsap. As midnight rolled around Wild Child took the stage, bearing all the charm and talent I’ve come to know them for and played an excellent set of mostly new tunes interspersed with old favorites and plenty of witty banter. You shouldn’t need me to tell you that Wild Child are great (even though I did in my album review a few months back) but if you’re doubtful, I suggest seeing them live. Kelsey Wilson could charm the paint off a concrete wall!
With nothing left on my schedule and no Russian band to miss, Wild Child ended not only my evening, but my SXSW 2016. It was a year without any huge pre-event favorites for me like last year’s Frank Turner set, but I came away with a lot of new bands to check out and another week of good times, with good friends, in the city I love. SXSW may not be for everyone, but for me it’s everything I love all in one place.
As always, if you’d like to check out the bands I saw this year (even the bad ones) I’ve put together a list on Spotify. Check it out and give some new bands some love!
Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bjaudette.