Just as important as going to Austin to see music is going to Austin for the food. I’ve previously mentioned my affinity for breakfast tacos, but Friday I tried a different culture’s food. Not sure if it blasphemy to eat something that isn’t Mexican that close to Texas, but this morning called for Coffee with a capital “c.” No one does Coffee like the French. So Friday morning, I found myself at Le Café Crépe, being handed a menu by a Frenchman who was greeting me with a “Bonjour, mademoiselle.” Behind a glass window, employees were preparing mouth-watering crépes. Sadly, we were in a rush (as always), so we got our mochas to go and paired then with pain au chocolat, which is bread with chocolate. The flaky bread was fresh from the oven and filled with gooey chocolate. A light dousing on powdered sugar made this perfectly delectable. As we walked toward a first venue in considerably better moods, we promised to revisit the restaurant when we had more time, which we did Sunday morning before driving home.
After brushing some spilled powdered sugar off my shirt, I dashed into Emo’s for the mysterious Cults. For a long time, it was downright impossible to find out anything about this band and hopes of catching them on tour were slim to none. Fortunately, they seemed to have changed their mind on that as they have started touring more extensively and the band was practically everywhere at SXSW. The band is essentially the pop project of couple Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, but they were joined by a full band for the performance. “Go Outside” was the only tune I really knew, but the lo-fi pop songs were all catchy and light-hearted…at least in sound. Lyrically, the duo likes to stay true to their name and often draw inspiration from cult leaders.
Chain Gang of 1974 was playing in another room at Emo’s just above Cults, so I went to check out this buzz band. Don’t be fooled by the 1974 in their name. They sound like a better fit for the 80s, but without going overboard on synths. There was an edge to the music, but also a danceable beat. If you’re like me and have heard the buzz about this band, but hadn’t checked them out before, start by giving their epic “Hold On” a listen.
Foster the People is a band that I was saying should be huge since last year. “Pumped Up Kicks” was my summer jam. Radio was a little slower to recognize its catchy awesomeness, so a lot of people are just discovering Foster the People. In the year since I’ve first learned of this band, I’ve only come to love them even more and seeing them live only solidified my love. At times this piano pop rock group sounds like Peter Bjorn and John and then other times it seems like they’ve got some Vampire Weekend thrown in, but with the subtlety of a group like Tennis. There are a lot of diverse influences working together very smoothly for this band, so if you’re lagging behind with the radio stations, get on it and check this band out asap.
Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt was a performance that was so epic that it got its own post. You can find that here. In short, the wild performance art band got us to run around the venue, freestyle dance in the middle of a clapping circle of strangers and jump up and down under a parachute while shouting, “We’re alive! We’re in love! We’ve got hope…just because!” Definitely gets the award for most memorable set of SXSW.
Reeling from the insanely fun experience of Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, I stumbled out to Sixth Street a bit dazed and unsure of what to do next. How do you follow up a band with a parachute? I found myself wandering. First I traveled up to Mohawk, where Ted Leo was starting an acoustic set a little early. Crisp vocals and friendly tone demonstrated why this guy is a favorite of so many. From Ted Leo, I bounced to a tent next door where Glasser was taking the stage for the Rhapsody Party. A beautiful set, but one that couldn’t quite match the almost holy experience of seeing that band the night before at Central Presbyterian Church.
When I wandered out of Rhapsody, I honestly had every intention of giving the music watching a break and finding a spot to charge my phone. But then luck took me by Stubbs and a woman asked me to check-in on Foursquare in exchange for two passes to the exclusive Spin Party. How can you pass up something as simple as that? I love social media!
Some middle age guy that I had never seen before was on the mainstage when I walked in. In awe of my sheer luck, it took me a moment to realize I knew the song being performed: “Touch Me once, touch me twice…” Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was singing the song from one of my favorite soundtracks of all time (and no this was not the OMD performance at Stubbs with the camera boom incident). I might have dismissed OMD when I first walked in as some rando middle age dude, but he’s still got it. As an added bonus, Moby joined OMD on bass.
From OMD to DOM, the inside of Stubbs was getting packed for this buzz band. “Living in America,” has long been my jam. How can you resist the slinky chorus, “It’s so sexy to be living in America”?
And back outside, the Spin Party band I was most anxious for: The Kills. With Jack White in attendance at SXSW, there were some rumors of some special collab, but this was a straight up the Kills set. And I was ok with that. Allison Mosshart continues to steal the show no matter who she’s on the stage with – her vocals, her attitude – it’s just impossible not to watch her.
I left the Spin Party before TV on the Radio to chat with the duo behind Acrylics. Look for that interview soon on PopWreckoning. After my chat with Acrylics, I wandered through the Brooklyn Vegan Party to briefly watch the Dodos, Middle Brother and J. Mascis. I had heard a lot about J. Mascis, but I found the set kind of boring. The falsetto just wasn’t my thing. So I quickly left and went to catch a band from across the great pond that I knew would entertain: A Silent Film. I had the privilege of seeing this passionate piano rock band at their first US show ever back in Kansas City during the Fall. They seem a lot more confident now and delivered such a great set that people even asked for an encore and the venue guys, who had at first seemed very anti-encore to stay on schedule, even gave their approval because they were enjoying it so much. This band could easily draw some comparisons to Keane, but I find Keane rather sleepy. If anyone has heard of the UK’s Embrace, I would say that is a more apt comparison.
!!! might not be a band name that everyone can understand or say, but people have no problem understand the band’s music. The tent that !!! was a non-stop dance party. It kind of reminded me of seeing LCD Soundsystem at Bonnaroo – a little similar with the music and with the vibe.
I trekked far from Sixth to the Lustre Pearl to catch the next two acts. Noah and the Whale is a band that I had been eagerly anticipating for SXSW. Their romantic folk ballads had won my heart on recordings, but I had yet to see them live. They were supposed to play SXSW two years ago when I was here, but canceled. Then I was supposed to see them at Lollapalooza and they canceled. This year was to be my chance. Now, after finally getting the chance to see them, I think I’m ok that they canceled. Love their music, but they were one of the most boring bands of the festival. I didn’t need another Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, but I just didn’t feel any energy or passion from these guys. I’d rather just go home and listen to my CDs because this particular live performance added nothing.
In contrast, the band that followed had plenty to watch on stage. Gayngs followed and this is autotune done right. This is a supergroup featuring members of Bon Iver, Doomtree, The Rosebuds and more. I don’t believe I counted all 23 members there for this performance, but they sure came close to a full group. The stage was packed. The soft-rock set got the audience dancing and I think any Austinites holding a grudge for the band’s unfortunate cancellation at ACL was quickly forgiven by this performance.
When I returned back to the main area of SXSW, I headed back to Stubbs for an old SXSW favorite of mine. The Airborne Toxic Event has this amazing ability of making viola look badass. Viola is not a badass instrument, but this band knows how to make it rock. And if one viola wasn’t enough, the band had another join the performance as part of a string quartet set up on the side of the stage. Awesome. They played through songs from their popular debut and several from their upcoming release. The Airborne Toxic Event never disappoints. But the rest of the night did disappoint. TATE would end up being my last of the night. After waiting in another line for an hour and encountering several venues that ended up being Badges only, I gave up on Friday and decided to call it an early night before the final day of SXSW.
Check back for more to come from PopWreckoning’s Bethany and her experience at SXSW. You can see more photos from Day 3, Friday, March 18 below and click these links for Day 1 and Day 2: