Cut Copy can’t catch a break in Austin it seems. In October, the Australian dance act was playing a late afternoon set at ACL Fest when their sound was cut off mid-way through their set-closing biggest hit, “Lights and Music,” as part of a festival-wide Tom Petty tribute. At Lustre Pearl Saturday night, at their only honest-to-goodness SXSW show (two members played a DJ set earlier in the evening), the four-piece wrestled with persistent sound issues.
Frontman Dan Whitford was visibly upset, wincing at the piercing shrieks of feedback and knocking down his keyboard during crowd-pleaser “Hearts on Fire.” Having a seemingly amateur sound issue like egregious feedback tarnish the polish of their slick, carefully crafted electronic sound was no doubt frustrating for the guys of Cut Copy, but they played on and made the best of it, with Whitford rebounding from the apparently unfixable annoyance by focusing on pushing the crowd harder to sing and get moving.
“It’s the last night. If you’re not going to dance now, when?” Whitford asked.
Adding to the mix of sound pains was music pouring over from a neighboring Rainey Street bar. But, as with the feedback, the crowd seemed eager to forgive and focus on dancing. “SXSW is a bit of a battle of the bands sometimes. But as long as you’re on our side,” Whitford said with a smile.
Through it all, Cut Copy kept the packed crowd at Lustre Pearl moving, with hands waving in the air and voices raised shouting along the words from a short run through hits from albums In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope, and their latest, Haiku From Zero.
Maybe next time the band can undo their current streak. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long: Cut Copy gets a redo in Austin next Friday, March 30, at Stubb’s. Let’s hope they can find and replace the sound guy before then. (I’ll see myself out…)
I’ve heard plenty of veteran SXSW-ers who bemoan the lack of rock at the festival. With hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music making up more and more of the lineup, many long for a simple drum-guitar-bass setup played loud and played fast. For these, Naked Giants are the cure for what ails. The bombastic Seattle rock trio are an absolute delight, with an energetic live show that is loud, fast, and, dare I say, the most fun to be had at a live rock show at SXSW 2018.
Despite the name, Naked Giants are clothed and of only slightly above-average human dimensions, but their presence on stage is huge, with goofy on-stage antics, high-flying moves, and serious face-melting solos. This is gnarly garage rock delivered with guitar straps worn high and tight and a seemingly endless array of effects pedals. Think: (Thee) Oh Sees or Ty Segall but firmly rooted enough in classic rock basics to appeal to your Stevie Ray Vaughan-loving mother just as well as your record crate-digging music snob pal.
The secret in their mass appeal is the live show sauce. They feel like they’re three buds who just happen to be wickedly talented musicians having a good time together on stage–as well as off stage. Early into their Little Woodrow’s show Thursday at SXSW, bassist Gianni Aiello jumped the railing and played from the sidewalk, holding his bass behind his head and thrashing about, all the while drawing delighted or concerned stares from passers by. My favorite reaction? A child in his caregiver’s arms, smiling while tightly covering his ears: an apt analogy for the Naked Giants gleeful/ear plugs-encouraged live experience. Many smilers turned the corner and walked in to watch the show. (Who needs fliers and email blasts with promotional work like that?) Meanwhile, back on stage, guitarist-vocalist Grant Mullen’s eyes rolled back in his head and his mouth hung open, looking possessed as he sanded down the fretboard with a non-stop spidering of flying fingers. Throughout it all drummer Henry LaVallee played at a frenzied pace, exhibiting superhuman stamina–even more so later during an 8-minute-or-so solo-stuffed jam.
One notable fan in attendance (or at least in the same venue) was Rory McCann–Game of Thrones’ Sandor “The Hound” Clegane.
Naked Giants played SXSW last year but returned this go-round ahead of their upcoming full-length debut, SLUFF, due out March 30.
Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Knox Fortune, perhaps best known as the vocals behind the earworm chorus on Chance the Rapper’s “All Night,” ends a hectic SXSW run with a free all-ages set Saturday evening at Space 24 Twenty, the sunny courtyard behind Urban Outfitters’ campus location.
With free Austin Eastciders and Topo Chico as well as food available for sale from Frank and Bananarchy, it’s shaping up to be a chill destination as SXSW enters the final stretch–and one that feels light-years removed from the relatively close chaos of SXSW central to the south.
This is the fourth and final day of the annual all-ages, no-credentials-required event, which, for future reference for any parents out there, is one of the best-kept kid-friendly parties at SXSW (for people that don’t want to see kids’ music).
Kaytranada-produced rapper Buddy goes on at 5 p.m., followed by Knox Fortune at 6 p.m.
If you were looking for the loudest, most hardcore, most moshing-est show at SXSW 2018, hopefully you found your way into the packed Barracuda Backyard for an up-close-and-personal, all-bands-on-the-floor bill featuring insane Bristol punks Idles and acclaimed Canadian noise masters Metz Friday night.
The off-stage show at Barracuda is likely one of the more intimate setups you’d catch Metz playing these days—and probably the tightest quarters you’d want to see Idles in, lest you desire to spend an hour feet removed from the floor caught up in a battering human blender of rage-releasing fans slamming together. And that close to the band, no less, who are even more energetic than the frenzied fans crashing around them.
This all may sound like your idea of a nightmare or comical if you think the scene is silly, but Idles’ SXSW 2018 performance at Barracuda may be the best punk show of its kind I’ve ever witnessed. Think: Nick Cave meets Mclusky, gritted teeth and grins, bruises and embraces with strangers, uplifting and angry. It felt like experiencing something people will be talking about for years to come.
Pacing the circle of fans enclosing around him and spitting on the ground, frontman Joe Talbot had the ready-to-strike walk and intense gaze of a man one wouldn’t want to cross. Guitarist Mark Bowen brought a sense of levity and used the combination of wireless microphones and the flanked-by-fans setup to be even more mixed in to the crowd than usual, at times handing off his guitar, climbing on swaying towers of audio gear, or, in the ultimate act of subversion, jumping onto the empty Barracuda Backyard stage behind the band to perform.
“Mike Stand, everybody,” Bowen said, giving an acknowledging motion to a fan holding his mic for him.
“Don’t ever give us wireless microphones again,” Talbot said.
Beneath the surface level of barely contained chaos, Idles’ performance felt urgent and like a needed catharsis—not just for weary, worn-out music fans nearing the end of a long week, but for the world at large—touching on anger, humanity, sexism, politics, poverty, and love in that sometimes surprising way that only visceral rock music can.
“I know things are [expletive] right now, but remember to love yourselves and the people around you. Love conquers all,” Talbot said as the set drew to a close.
Weirdly, I almost felt bad for Metz to have to follow such a show.
The calm before the next coming storm was short, and Toronto-based trio Metz soon entered the pit of fans, unleashing a blistering barrage of pure melodic noise, rusty razor-wire guitar squeals, and speedy, piston-pumping bass to a backdrop of jumping and moshing and flying cups and cans.
Grungier than grunge rock played at a volume that would make even hardened shoegaze fans flinch, the static contortionists of Metz unleashed their signature sound of eardrum-killing klaxons of minimal bending guitar screeches that rise and fall like passing sirens, touching on the best bits from their three albums to date, including their latest Strange Peace.
The show began to really come into its own a few songs in. “This song is for dancing, so move your [expletive expletive],” said sweat-drenched vocalist-guitarist Alex Edkins, launching into the explosive “Get Off.” (Side note: While I agree—it is for dancing—I couldn’t help but think this must seem a hilariously confounding moment for any uninitiated listener roped into going to the show with a friend: “This is for dancing?!?”) Dance the crowd did, as event photographers on the frontlines cradled their gear and up-front fans tried to hold the door against the thrashing bodies slamming against their backs to avoid trampling guitar pedals or tripping on monitors past the invisible barrier between fan and band.
As the last bit of feedback faded away, the ringing in the ears came up in the mix. Fans assessed themselves and their belongings, turned and smiled to talk to strangers, and headed out: nothing was broken, no one hurt.
The doubleheader of hearing-ruining ruckus followed sets from “semi-legendary” (as described by frontman David Gedge) British indie icons The Wedding Present and wild, positive political punk newcomers Life. Entry to Barracuda slowed to a crawl well before Idles hit the floor, with long lines of fans inside waiting to move between the inside stage to the outdoor one. The show marked the final set for Idles at SXSW this year. Metz plays Saturday afternoon at the Thrasher X Vans Death Match party at 6 p.m.
Austin’s own less-grumpy Ryan Adams Alejandro Rose-Garcia (a.k.a. Shakey Graves) took to the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Auditorium Shores as to the sun began to set on SXSW Music Friday. In a sleeves-rolled-up red flannel shirt andMeow Wolf baseball cap, the gentleman from Austin is nearly a living, breathing physical manifestation of the town as it aspires to be: a little country/a lot rock, polished and cool but welcoming and warm.
Rose-Garcia and his band opened with new single “Counting Sheep” and followed it with a set of mostly new material from the upcoming album, Can’t Wake Up, due out in May.
Shakey Graves’ new sound skews more barroom-ready blues rock than dusty Americana stompers and just feels bigger. Or maybe it was the setting: Watching Rose-Garcia play the sun down with the downtown Austin skyline behind him felt like an epic moment for the hometown hero.
Halfway through the 45-minute set, Shakey Graves shed the band for just his guitar and signature double-pedalled kick drum/tambourine suitcase contraption (remember: machines will take all our jobs–even yours, percussionists), starting with new song “Kids These Days” and later closing with the muted picking and plucking of pounding hit “Roll the Bones.”
“Y’all be excellent to each other out there in the world,” he said leaving the stage.
Up next was the main event for the evening: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, an eight-member band with a classic, classy sound driven by a horn section and electric organ flourishes to church up the affair. The band’s rowdy, vintage rhythm and blues and soulful revival rock make them a surefire crowd pleaser and tonight’s show didn’t disappoint. Fans danced across Auditorium Shores as far back as the Long Center lawn outside the gated perimeter.
The band took the stage with “Shoe Boot,” the first in a line of non-stop irresistible top-tappers that would include current single ”You Worry Me,” from their just-released album Tearing at the Seams, and previous monster hit “S.O.B.” Familiar or not, each song feels like a greatest hit delivered with Rateliff’s voice never faltering voice, equal parts gruff and honey smooth and never breathless between bouts of celebratory fancy footwork stepping and strutting across the stage.
Rateliff was gracious to Austin fans for their support over the years, including anACL Fest appearance in 2016. “We wouldn’t be here without you,” he said. “And not just us but our families and friends, we really owe you so much.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe in yourself when there are so many people looking at you,” a young woman with a black bob says softly as she tunes her electric guitar. In the glow of aged Christmas lights, in the hot, humid air under a ceiling so low it feels inches away from crushing me, Haley Heynderickx finishes tuning her guitar and plays the most minor of minor chords.
I don’t know who Haley Heynderickx is. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m at Sahara Lounge for the She Shreds SXSW 2018 show, which has quickly relocated after a permitting issue. I’ve shown up seeking some loud rock music courtesy of Shopping and French Vanilla—and I’ll get just that. But, at the moment, I’m enchanted and stilled by this quiet three-piece on stage. There’s a vulnerability in this music and in the singer-guitarist’s between-song banter that creates an intense sense of intimacy across the tightly packed crowd.
The quiver in her voice and the shimmer of her fingerpicked Telecaster strings is chilling. The guitar’s electric hum and her warbly, emotive vibrato strike a nerve in me like no other show I’ll see over the week ahead. It all seems simple enough, but the result feels somewhere between Patsy Cline and Sufjan Stevens.
She plays a song called “No Face” and explains it’s so named after the lonesome black-and-white spirit from Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Spirited Away, a creaturewho wants to love but doesn’t understand how… so he eats people. It sounds silly on paper, but, like everything I’ll see Heynderickx play, it’s delivered via a medium that feels so genuine as to transplant emotions or experiences you’ve never had—instilling in the listener a ghost of a sad or lovely memory that’s not your own but somehow speaks a truth that is yours.
It’s near what I can only imagine it would have been like to unknowingly see Jeff Buckley or Elliott Smith live—or maybe a living artist. Then again, maybe not. Heynderickx’s haunting voice at times feels like it comes from another world and time.
After the experience, I need more, so I squeeze into The Sidewinder Thursday night for her evening showcase as it’s underway, following a bit of one-in-one-out watching from the sidewalk. Inside is noisy with the clamor of friendly conversation and drink orders and the general persistent din of SXSW—sirens and soundchecks and bass—from all directions. On stage, Heynderickx’s band is now complete. Back again are drummer Phillip Rogers and vocalist/keyboardist Lily Breshears, but this show they’re joined by Denzel Mendoza on trombone. The three musicians’ additions to the music are subtle but perfect: there in all the right places and at a light touch or pulled back to let Heynderickx’s words land alone when needed.
The highlight of both sets proves to be “Worth It,” an 8-minute multi-part epic of yes-and-no uncertainties that twists and tangles, oscillating between peaks and valleys, whispers and near screams, slow twang and almost punk-like cathartic crescendos. “I guess you should know that I don’t need you there… but I need you sometimes. But not all the time. I need you there,” Heynderickx sings as the song takes its first turn. She ends on its closing stretch singing with a growing intensity, “Maybe I’ve been selfish… maybe I’ve been selfless…. maybe I’ve been worthless… maybe I’ve been worth it.”
Even describing the show again now feels like recalling a particularly potent scene from a movie, one hard to describe without feeling a lump form in your throat. Whatever magic Heynderickx and her fellow music-makers have tapped into is real. Or at least it was to me.
It’s over. At The Sidewinder, those to my left and right seem unfazed, but I feel cut in half. I wander out into the night and on to some other thing, but I feel at least temporarily changed—softer and maybe more empathetic, having the residue of callused, indifferent unfeeling washed away by the lovely sound of Haley Heynderickx and her guitar.
Haley Heynderickx plays again tonight at the Toms Austin store on South Congress at 8 p.m. and at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cheer Up Charlie’s indoor stage for Brooklyn Vegan and Margin Walker’s Lost Weekend 2.
Though his résumé includes work with Hall and Oates, Trent Reznor, Meatloaf, Robyn, Patti Smith, and Pee Wee Herman, songwriter-producer and self-proclaimed wizard Todd Rundgren isn’t exactly a household name. But the cult prog-rock hero has a fervent following and drew a big, generation-spanning crowd to Elysium Thursday night for his one SXSW 2018 performance.
With his iconic Snape hair and black glasses, the theatrical frontman waved and stretched out his arms as he worked his way through a nearly hour-long set packed with the genre-jumping gymnastics to be expected from a creative chameleon who so firmly refuses to be boxed in.
Several of Rundgren’s tunes were plucked from his star-studded 2017 album White Knight, but a light sampling of tunes across his career were also present. Highlights included the danceable, falsetto-spotted ’70s rock of “Secret Society,” the Talking Heads-light jam of “Buy My T,” and the crowd-moving cymbal-riding disco beat and rave keys of “Party Liquor.”
For an encore, Rundgren launched into The Cars’ “Good Times Roll” solo with his swimming-pool green electric guitar before being joined by the band. “Where the [expletive] are these guys?” Rundgren jokingly asked. “You’re all fired.”
This is not my scene, I tell myself as I enter Fair Market prior to Old Crow Medicine Show’s SXSW 2018 set. But I’m a firm believer in getting outside one’s comfort zone (when it comes to music, not shoes; get some more comfortable shoes for tomorrow, I think) and I feel that swearing off an entire genre of music should be something we feel ashamed to do for its closed-mindedness. If nothing else, it’s antithetical to discovery, which is one of the greatest joys of music. So, here I am.
I arrive early for this SXSW show, partly assuming Old Crow Medicine Show is some sort of barefoot Appalachian-style bluegrass act that the kids love based off the single song I know going in, “Wagon Wheel.” People do love them, I see—sprawling lines snake slowly into Fair Market—but I will soon learn my uninformed labeling of them is off base.
As I take my place under the metal semi-cylinder of the hangar, an energetic cap-wearing young man named Kane Brown is on stage. The crowd goes wild, but, if I’m being honest, I don’t care much for him or his medley of pop tune covers, including songs by Khalid (who I think to myself is playing across town not long from now as I flinch through this), Outkast, and The Fray.
I swallow my distaste with a swig of beer from an aluminum bottle from the big brewery sponsoring this shindig. Brown leaves the stage, and a DJ fires up a crowd-pleasing selection of between-set tunes ranging from “Jessie’s Girl” to “Cupid Shuffle,” the later of which the masses totally take the bait for and begin dancing along to. As wedding DJ-ish as this move is, I support anything that gets people participating. And besides, I’ve decided to leave my judgment hat on the rack this evening.
Finally, Old Crow Medicine Show comes out to a rumble of applause. The frontman, a well-moustached man the internet will later inform me is named Ketch Secor (side note: which is an incredible name that rings with such an air of Star Wars bounty hunter rad-ness that I almost can’t believe it’s real) is a madman on stage, kicking about and singing at the top of his lungs like some sort of countryfied Cage the Elephant, another massively popular act I incorrectly assumed would be a snooze. These are the cases I love being proven wrong.
The band is sharply dressed in denim, vests, boots, cowboy hats, and the like—far from the faux shabby mountaineer look I was expecting. A better surprise yet, rather than sleepy, soft and slow-paced folk, they’re firing on all cylinders, opening with a trio of stomping tunes featuring a storm of fiddle, the deep gut-punching grove of stand-up bass, and barrel-chested harmonies belted in unison, all performed at a runaway train tempo.
And of course, there’s some banjo—the cilantro of the string family: a complex and savory treat to some but a soapy-metallic meal-ruiner to others. Here it fits well alongside harmonica and the sweet sing of pedal steel guitar. This is the sound of a 20-year-old act that has honed their craft to a degree few ever get to. This is good.
The set continues this way, with the band swapping instruments and Americana sub-genres nearly every song, bringing out an accordion for some mid-set dabbling in Zydeco and Tejano music, cueing denim-ed couples across the space to spin their partners around the dancefloor.
The band jokes about playing until sunrise and the show continues without a slow point or misstep, building steam until closer “Wagon Wheel,” which, played here, is much more lively than I could have anticipated compared to the inescapable version I’ve heard on the radio.
“It all sounds a little sweeter in the Lone Star State, don’t it boys?” says Secor as the band winds down. I have to agree. The band exits the stage before one of the most genuinely demanded encores I’ve ever seen a crowd call for.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s new record, Volunteer, is due out April 20.
“This is a feminist anthem we’re going to play at all the people waiting to see Dashboard Confessional,” singer-songwriter Caroline Rose said before launching into “Bikini” at the Waterloo Records outdoor stage Thursday afternoon. With its surf-y sound and stuttered “da-da-da-dance,” it may be the most party-friendly song about female objectification you’re likely to hear at South by Southwest. “Or maybe we’ll play it for the people here to see us,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “That’s a lot… We actually travel with 200 inflatable dolls in the car in case no one shows up, so I’m glad we didn’t have to use them today.”
Rose approaches serious subjects with humor to spare. There’s a tell-it-like-it-is, screw-it bluntness in her songs, delivered with ear-grabbing slinky synth lines and playful guitar riffs that can belie the gravity of the lyrics at first glance. Rose excels and entertains as both a crafter of sing-aloud-in-the-car pop and a clever lyrist. She’s also just plain cool.
Her just-released (and endlessly listenable) LP Loner features her in all red workout gear with a seemingly impossible number of cigarettes jammed in her mouth. Thursday at SXSW, Rose was sporting a similar look: red sweatband, red track jacket, red knee-high socks, red sneakers—the same outfit she seemed to be wearing in the portrait of herself on her T-shirt, which also featured another portrait of her on that T-shirt…
Multi-instrumentalist Rose headbanged her ponytail and swapped between guitar, keys, and even plastic recorder on an interlude to sinister single “Money.” With its dank rockabilly guitar paired with menacing gonzo keys, the song seems to have developed into more of a shredder live.
Caroline Rose plays again at 11 p.m. tonight at the Vinyl Me, Please Rising showcase at Empire Control Room before squeezing in several more SXSW performances, including appearances at Hotel San Jose Friday and Rachel Ray’s Day Party at Stubb’s Saturday.
If you haven’t already blown through your SXSW budget on bar tabs and street food, Flatstock returns to the Austin Convention Center today with a three-day run destined to drain your remaining funds as you adorn your walls and body with finest in rock-show screen prints, cat and coffee-inspired enamel pins, Texas-themed postcards, and all other manners of pop-culture art.
While the annual poster fest predominately features gig posters, other art available ranges from material for the politically minded (Bernie Sanders screen prints and Robert Mueller pins, shirts, and posters are available at multiple vendors between skull-covered punk pieces) to the preschool set (from train prints to playful dinosaur posters).
The show is free and open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. to all badge types and the general public. Though the show technically requires a free SXSW Guest Pass for the general public/credential-less masses, security seemed to be allowing folks in without them Thursday afternoon.