With one look at the bands that ruled this year’s South by Southwest lineup, it’s hard not to ask: What year is it, anyway?
Some of the biggest names of this year’s SXSW include the likes of Weezer, Jimmy Eat World and Hanson and no, it’s not 1999.
Why so heavy on the late-1990s/early-aughts groups? Well, I’m just spitballing here, but there’s the fact that a large portion of SXSW music attendees are in their 20s and 30s, nostalgia-ridden for our adolescence, wanting to use the parts of our brains that for some reason know every single word to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” (and yes, even Smash Mouth played a showcase during SXSW).
It also could be because of the wave of ’90s nostalgia that’s, frankly, been a little overwhelming lately. It shows through in fashion (chokers, slip-on Vans, high-waisted jeans), on television (“Rugrats” and “Full House” are on Netflix, and of course, the latter got a reboot on the streaming platform) and of course, you’ve seen all those “only ’90s kids will recognize this” memes.
Regardless of why they showed up, some of the great hip hop artists of the (late) 20th century gave the people what they wanted at this year’s fest: There was Snoop Dogg, fresh off the heels of a Donald Trump controversy (though he didn’t comment on it during the show) and Lil Wayne, who played all the hits at Stubb’s on Thursday. Then there was the granddaddy of them all: The Swisha House reunion at Vulcan Gas Company, featuring (who?) Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, DJ Michael “5000” Watts and more on Thursday. When I walked by, the doors had already been open for three hours and the line was still wrapped around the block.
Then there’s Third Eye Blind, whose first album came out — ready to feel old? — 20 years ago this April. The band played two gigs Thursday for SXSW and even met with local music students, and they’re working on a new record, if that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in. Even pop-rockers and Mmmboppers Hanson, who got their big break during the festival back in 1994, were ubiquitous this SXSW, playing radio morning shows to free day parties and everything in between.
While I’ve got you, let’s talk about the former emo kids. “Emo nights” have been wildly successful across the country, including in Austin. Barbarella, the dance club on Red River, has taken to hosting monthly “Jimmy Eat Wednesday” theme nights, where it plays songs by Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, Brand New and yes, Jimmy Eat World, the first Wednesday of every month. The emo nostalgia was real at SXSW this year, too — even though there were just a few of those old-school players on the lineup, it’s hard to ignore bands like Diet Cig and PWR BTTM, direct descendants of the musical styles that so many of us associate with fumbled first kisses and first beers, slamming doors on our parents, laying in bed eyeing patterns in popcorn ceilings or late-night drives in our first cars.
All of this is to say SXSW was huge for us reformed emo kids. Hardcore emo legends At The Drive In surprised the crowd at the Mohawk Wednesday night, complete with stage-divers and a mosh pit. The same night, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead left fans with ears ringing after a short, loud set in the wee hours. Also on Wednesday night, Jimmy Eat World led a crowd of emo- and pop punk-lovers in singing it back to the good ol’ days (sorry for getting that scream-yelling part of “Sweetness” stuck in your head. But actually I’m not sorry).
After Weezer’s set at Brazos Hall on Friday, music writer Eric Pulsifer called The Blue Album “a foundational pillar for my budding teenage musical persona” (I’m more of a Pinkerton gal myself). It was, amazingly, the band’s first appearance at the festival, but even after all this time, it’s hard not to feel like a teenager again when you hear the opening riff of “Pork and Beans” or sway along to “Island In The Sun” or oooh-wee-oooh along with “Buddy Holly.”
The nostalgia continues beyond the 10-day span of SXSW, too: Blink-182 is playing the Circuit of the Americas the Wednesday after the fest, and Mitski, who put out last year’s most heart-wrenching record (if “Your Best American Girl” doesn’t bring you to your knees, you’re made of stone) is headed to the Mohawk in April. Frequently described as an “alternative” artist (whatever that means), if Mitski’s not modern-day emo then we can just declare the genre dead. Come on: “I’m not happy or sad, just up or down / And always bad” — that line could have been screamed on any Brand New record in the early 2000s.