If you were lucky enough to get in to the Mohawk on Monday for The Onion/AV Club’s annual South by Southwest party, you probably stood under a canopy of plastic flamingos, drinking Hawaiian beer and wearing a lei. Or you were stuck outside in the line several hundred people deep, at times so long that it could have been confused with a line for Stubb’s.
Although earlier in the day red hot rapper Lizzo had to cancel her appearance at the party, the Mohawk stayed packed all night and the passionfruit-guava IPAs flowed freely. Oh, and Lizzo’s fellow Minnesota artist Har Mar Superstar, who took her place on the lineup, definitely didn’t let the crowd down: Something about Har Mar Superstar’s body positivity (he was shirtless for at least half his set) and his dance moves (let’s just say there was some twerking involved) made the audience feel like Lizzo was among us after all.
But I’m getting ahead of myself—when I got to the Mohawk Monday night, it was just before Minnesota alt-rockers (this lineup was pretty heavy on Gopher State love) Bash & Pop took the stage. It’s been a minute since I’ve been to a show that loud, but even the decibel level wasn’t enough to get the mostly millennial crowd interested in the early ’90s band’s music. The over-40’s in the crowd were a different story, though—they hung onto frontman Tommy Stinson’s every word. Stinson, who you probably know from a little band called The Replacements or maybe another little band called Guns N’ Roses, reunited the group last year after 22 years apart, and they’re touring on their new album, “Anything Could Happen.” Pitchfork called the album “less an exercise in reliving the past than coming to terms with it,” and it’s surprisingly upbeat. The good news is Stinson got the younger folks in the crowd to look up from their phones when he introduced the song “Unf**k You” by saying, “This song is for all the people who voted for Trump and maybe have buyer’s remorse,” and, well, I’ll let you look up the lyrics to that one.
Margaret Butler, lead vocalist for GGOOLLDD, then walked out in a brown fur coat, acknowledging how ridiculous the spelling of her band’s name is (she said it, not me). The coat lasted about five minutes in the warm Texas sun, but it was hard to ignore her shimmery gold sneakers whose soles lit up every time she twirled and jumped. Butler’s nothing if not passionate — at one point my friend remarked to me, “Is she ‘on’ something?” I told her I didn’t think so, “I think she’s just like that.” At several points during the set, she touched the faces and grabbed the hands of fans in the front row, and when her interpretive dance moves ended up entangling her in a mic stand, she pulled an audience member on stage to untangle her. After he did, she sat cross-legged in front of him, hugging him as she sang. GGOOLLDD is one of those bands whose songs you’ve heard, but you probably don’t know it. Case in point:
OK, so back to Har Mar Superstar. He was serving the audience “drunk uncle at a wedding,” but in all the best ways. I mean, he’s not the wedding guest with whiskey on his breath and hitting on your underage cousins, he’s the guy who had a few too many Lone Star tallboys and invites you out to the parking lot to smoke a joint and wax poetic about the 1970s. And man, the guy’s got moves. At one point he and his band did some choreographed dancing reminiscent of the Cha Cha Slide, then they covered Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and Built To Spill’s “Big Dipper” saying, “Yeah, pretty [expletive] good, right?” after a particularly soulful ballad. By the time he closed out his set with “Lady, You Shot Me,” I don’t think anyone was upset that he’d taken Lizzo’s spot.
As the day turned into night, rapper and spoken word artist Noname (formerly known as Noname Gypsy, but she dropped the latter part of her name once she was informed of the word’s racial connotation) took the stage and didn’t stop smiling and laughing until she was finished. The artist, who you may recognize from her projects with Chance The Rapper and Mick Jenkins, released her first mixtape “Telefone” last year, something fans have been looking forward to since first hearing her on Chance’s “Lost” in 2013 (which she performed last night, asking the crowd, “Y’all know Chance the Rapper?”). She quipped, “I was on a date the other night, and I said …” before launching into “Comfortable,” her collab with Jenkins, and she encouraged the audience to get involved. “Even the people at the top who are so cool with your little wristbands, and the people down here who are actual fans of my music,” she said, encouraging those in the VIP section to raise their hands. I was admittedly one of the seemingly disengaged crowd members on the upper deck, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested—I was listening intently to “Casket Pretty,” in which she painfully, beautifully discusses police brutality in Chicago: “Ain’t no one safe in this happy city / I hope you make it home / I hope to God that my tele’ don’t ring.”
Trust me when I say I truly did want to write about the next band on the bill, SOHN, but there’s not much to say, other than there were four people on stage and three of them had intricate keyboard setups with pedals and drum kits and so many lights and buttons it felt like watching TRON, but darker. Oh, and some music happened. SOHN’s one of those bands whose live performance sounds exactly like a studio album, for better or for worse, and everyone standing around you at the show talks about how much they “love this band,” but nobody cares enough to shut up and actually listen to the music.
It’s clear that most of the crowd was there for the main event: Sylvan Esso. And they didn’t disappoint. It was a simple stage setup: A keyboard, two microphones, two humans. Singer Amelia Meath’s dance moves are what everyone hopes they look like dancing at Barbarella after a few vodka-sodas (even though the reality is that you probably look more like Har Mar Superstar). Meath’s mic went out halfway through the duo’s radio hit “Coffee,” but producer Nick Sanborn handed her his mic, and the show went on seamlessly. But the crowd favorite was “Hey Mami,” a song about about Meath’s “personal, various different reactions” to catcalling, she told the Statesman in 2014. If you missed them at the Mohawk last night, you can catch them for free at the Scoot Inn on Thursday.