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.
You’ve got your at-capacity Sylvan Esso shows that bleed into an alley, and you’ve got your Dashboard Confessional sets full of fans screaming karaoke. One of the best things about South by Southwest, though, is catching up-and-comers in smaller club shows. Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlie’s, at the end of the Red River music district, can make for a great one-two punch of discovery. On Friday night, we caught the madcap Latin punk singer Tall Juan inside Mohawk, immediately followed by Nashville indie rock outfit Soccer Mommy on Cheer Up’s outdoor stage.
I walked into Tall Juan’s set a couple songs late and was immediately bewildered and delighted. To start with, the Argentina-born, New York-based singer mimed smoking a joint, which he passed to a bandmate who immediately took an imaginary toke, who then passed the phantom pot to an audience member who gamely grabbed it.
Did I mention Tall Juan’s day-glo jumpsuit, or his two-toned hair? Or his charming theatricality, including punching himself in the head and pulling his face down in mock tears? Or that he asked us to sit down on the floor of the Mohawk? The singer’s good-natured chaos accompanied songs just as vibrantly pieced together as Tall Juan’s jumpsuit. There was cumbia in Spanish, there was old-school rock with a streak of surf-punk abandon, there was plenty of eclectic percussion.
Wholly unpredictable, wholly original.
Sophie Allison knows her references, but her point of view is all her own. The singer and her band, Soccer Mommy, made a connection despite sound issues at Container Bar earlier this week, and Allison said their Friday night show at Cheer Up Charlie’s was their second of the day at that venue. The tunes are dreamy, woozy and introspective, but they still bang in spurts of indie-kid rock catharsis.
“Your Dog” struck strong images of defiant wins (“I don’t wanna be your [expletive] dog/That you drag around/A collar on my neck tied to a pole/Leave me in the freezing cold”), but also losses in the same relationship game (“Forehead kisses break my knees and leave me crawling back to you”).
Allison spun tales of looking in from the margins that stand with the best of them: I want to be like your last girl, she sang. On “Cool,” she found inspiration in a classic alt-rock character with a heart of coal that will “break you down and eat you whole.” “I wanna be that cool,” Allison mused from the sideline. But from the SXSW stage, her everywoman voice filled the space with a dignified honesty that you couldn’t help wanting to claim for yourself.
Fresh out of high school, 19-year-old singer and trumpet player Cuco seems like an unlikely choice for this season’s heartthrob. He has a mop of unkempt curls, glasses and a low-key demeanor that says band nerd more than playa.
But backed by a six-piece band, he charmed his way into the hearts of a Mohawk crowd last night.
The young Chicano, who alternates between Spanish and English in his lyrics, is not a technically superb singer yet. He started out his set a bit pitchy, but warmed up quickly. By the time he hit track two, the lovely heart-on-sleeve ballad “One and Only” he seemed to have found his groove, belting out his sing-along hooks with clarity and confidence.
Cuco’s true gift is as a songwriter. He writes sunny loves songs, dreamy psychedelic meanderings with catchy choruses and a vibe that poignantly captures the aching impermanence of summer romance.
The showcase featured Latin bands, and the young crooner, whose parents are both immigrants from Mexico, said he appreciated having a space where Latinx fans could come together. The venue was nowhere near capacity, which can probably be attributed less to Cuco’s overall appeal, and more to the fact that he played a sold out show there at the beginning of this month.
For such a young artist, Cuco shows enormous promise and we should expect to see much more of him going forward.
“You felt it all and you felt it deep, them songs would make me weep. Thinkin’ ‘bout the music you might have made.”
Gurf Morlix’s song about his old pal Blaze Foley — so close a friend that he was the one who gave Morlix his colorful name — set the tone perfectly for Friday night’s tribute to the late Austin songwriting legend, which followed the SXSW Film Festival screening of Ethan Hawke’s biopic “Blaze.” With Ben Dickey, the film’s star, at the helm and Dallas band the Texas Gentlemen backing everyone up, an hour went by quickly, as a handful of luminaries delivered splendid versions of songs by, about or associated with Foley.
Dickey kicked things off with two of Foley’s best-known songs, “Clay Pigeons” and “Picture Cards Can’t Picture You,” both of which also has prime placements in the film. A longtime singer-songwriter who’s only recently become an actor, Dickey had a natural command of the stage and was the perfect host for the evening.
Morlix followed his song about Blaze with his favorite of Foley’s own songs, “Cold Cold World,” before hometown hero Joe Ely offered up Townes Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ Round to Die.” Townes was a key character in the film, so including one of his songs made perfect sense — as did the addition of Lucinda Williams’ “Drunken Angel,” a song she wrote about Blaze that Alynda Segarra of Hurray From the Riff Raff sang and played beautifully on her own with an acoustic guitar. (Segarra also has a small role in the film, playing Blaze’s sister.)
The linchpin of the show wound up being not a musical performance at all. Townes’ son, J.T. Van Zandt, had been billed as part of the lineup, presumably to sing one of his father’s songs (something he does better than anyone on the planet, naturally). Instead, though, J.T. just spoke for a few minutes about his father and Blaze, sharing some fascinating insights on their relationship.
J.T. had some good things to say about the film, praising its aesthetic in capturing the spirit of 1970s-’80s Austin. But he also took issue with a key scene toward the end that falsely painted his father in a cowardly light. “I understand the license,” he said, acknowledging that biopics mix fact and fiction. “But I’ll stick up for my father.”
A few songs with Nashville singer Nikki Lane followed before the show ended perhaps prematurely; on the schedule, it was listed to run an hour and a half. It would have been nice to hear someone sing “If I Could Only Fly,” Foley’s best-known song, and it might have been fun if Hawke had reprised the rendition of “Oval Room” that he sang with gusto at a press event earlier this week. (It would have been easier to make the event deeper had they not been without the film’s music director, Charlie Sexton, who also has a key role in the movie as Townes. He left town earlier this week to tour with Bob Dylan.)
That said, tribute shows at the Paramount have sometimes run too long for SXSW evenings that are all about catching as many things around town as possible, so the brevity here had its upsides. To wit: My editor left the tribute portion to catch Ireland’s excellent Lost Brothers around the corner at the Driskill, and got quite a surprise. The duo (Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech) had been at the “Blaze” film screening, and apparently were so enamored that they worked Foley’s “Moonlight Song” into their set. Perhaps that was the best tribute of all — seeds planted that immediately sprouted in another place.
The Parish wasn’t at capacity for Jay Park’s 10:15 p.m. set at the Parish Friday night, but the club felt full, especially up by the stage where a flock of predominantly female fans crowded in, phones at the ready. They screamed madly every time they caught a glimpse of the 30-year-old former K-Pop star, who signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label last summer, near the back of the stage.
Park’s unorthodox international career trajectory began in Seattle. The child of Korean immigrants, he was obsessed with hip-hop. As a teenager he joined the B-Boy crew Art of Movement and spent most of his time “skipping school and going breakdancing,” he told CNN last fall.
When a Korean entertainment company held an audition in his hometown, his mother suggested he try out, and at 17 he was selected to travel to Korea where he became the leader of 2PM, one of the biggest K-Pop boy bands of the era. He became a huge star in Asia, but frustrated by the rigor and the lack of creative input, he left the band in 2009 and returned to Seattle and to hip-hop. A few viral hits, helped him fund his own label and eventually he caught the attention of Roc Nation. He remains a star in Asia, where he began hosting the second season of the popular talent show “Asia’s Got Talent,” which airs in 27 countries across the region, last fall.
As he took the stage on Friday, the crowd was seized by an eruption of heartthrob screams. Park was quick to set expectations. “I’m not going to sing or dance tonight,” he said, noting that this show would be focused on rap. The ladies were unfazed.
This is the career Park has been preparing for all along and he’s seizing the day. He’s a skillful lyricist with a rhymestyle that alternates between a furious rapid-fire verses over an electro grinder and more lyrical story raps set to moody production. He addresses his position, both as an Asian American outsider in the traditional hip-hop world and as part of the global massive, the international movement that hip-hop has become.
Jay Park's #sxsw set mostly featured tracks from his upcoming @RocNation release, but when he dropped the 2015 hit 'Mommae,' rapping in Korean and English, everyone lost their damn mind. pic.twitter.com/RPAZxfZ2iA
The crowd was 100 percent there for Park’s entire set, which mostly featured tracks from the upcoming Roc Nation release, but when he dropped his 2015 hit “Mommae,” in which he raps in English and Korean, the entire room went insane.
Park’s rise underlines the dominance of hip-hop as the most popular music form worldwide, but also the growing fascination with K-Pop in America. Expect to see much more of him very soon.
How far back? Alllll the way back, to the dawn of time — actually, just back to the dawn of partying, to prove to the party gods that he and everybody else in Container Bar on Friday afternoon were fit to throw a South by Southwest rager that could be heard from Valhalla. Or at least from Trinity Street.
In many ways, Andrew W.K. is the perfect ambassador for SXSW. The long-haired, muscle-bound singer has refused to change his sound one iota since releasing his debut album “I Get Wet” — the glam-punk tour de force featuring punch-drunk power pop anthems such as “Ready to Die” and “Party Hard” — 17 years ago. He preaches, in elementary terms, the necessities of living life to the fullest and partying, hard, at any cost, all to the tune of gonzo drums and steel-slab guitar riffs. Basically, he’s the aural equivalent of the man who pushed through the mosh pit carrying a two-pound tub of whey protein and holding a protein bar between his clenched teeth.
Why this man deemed a Friday afternoon at a packed Rainey Street bar to be his ideal anabolic window is beyond me. Then again, Andrew W.K.’s set posed far more questions than it answered, including but not limited to:
Why does Andrew W.K. look like Glenn Danzig but sing like Don Dokken?
Why does Andrew W.K. have three guitarists who all play identical power chords?
Why did Andrew W.K. decide to count down from 93 before playing his final song, “Party Hard”?
Does Andrew W.K. buy intentionally dusty-looking white jeans and t-shirts, or did he just sweat through his clothes and not change them all week?
Is the second verse of “She Is Beautiful” — “You’re giving me moves that hit from all sides / And when you’re hitting like that you melt my eyes” — the most romantic couplet of all time?
The answers to these great mysteries still eluded me as I exited Container Bar after Andrew W.K.’s set, and I don’t suspect I’ll crack the code on them anytime soon. But I believed the singer wholeheartedly when he told the audience, “This is our fifth party at this year’s festival, and you’ve already outdone all of the other parties combined.”
As he left the stage, Andrew W.K. told his fans, “Thank you, stay strong, and never stop partying.” On behalf of everybody at Container Bar on Friday afternoon, I’d like to respond: “You’re very welcome, we most certainly will, and we most certainly won’t.”
Rae Sremmurd operates on only two modes: lit and extremely lit. Usually, they stick closer to the second. Closing out the SXSW Eardrummers Takeover at ACL Live on Friday night, which also featured their producer Mike Will Made It showcasing acts from his Eardrummers label, Rae Sremmurd proved they’re pop phenoms in their own right, even if they left the crowd wanting a lot more.
A year and a half on, “Black Beatles” is still their crowning achievement, restructuring rock swagger into trap bravado. It easily got the best response from the crowd, which jumped and moshed like rap and rock were never separate to begin with. They even encouraged mosh pits at one point, further dissolving the divide. “T’d Up” proved that “Beatles’” success wasn’t a fluke, that they’ve got bangers for ages. It may not have been quite the revelation “Beatles” was, yet there’s hardly anything else on the radio as catchy.
Their next record, which is scheduled to release next month, will be a triple album, two-thirds of which will effectively be solo albums, ala Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee did mini solo sets, with the former coming out swinging with the bumping “Brxnks Truck” and the latter displaying a slower, more future R&B sound with “Hurt to Look.” Swae Lee had the slight advantage, if only because “Unforgettable” was one of last year’s biggest hits. (He also had the upper hand on style, with a full orange camo ensemble.) They work so well as a duo because of their differences, with Slim Jxmmi working within the hard trap archetype, albeit a lot flashier, and Swae Lee the more pop-minded of the two.
Rae Sremmurd’s set was the juiciest morsel that took a bit too long to get to and wasn’t entirely filling, not even making it a half hour. Mike Will Made It struck gold by signing them, and his production set the template for Modern Atlanta, yet the rest of the Eardrummers lineup, featuring Andrea, B.A., and Eearz, didn’t really bring their own styles to the table. Granted, it’s hard to be even half as charismatic as Rae Sremmurd — why not hurry up and give the people what they waited for?
“No Type” didn’t feel like a closer, as it was followed by more Eardrummers and most everyone left rather abruptly. No “No Flex Zone,” the song that set them on their path, and no “Perplexing Pegasus,” the real “Beatles” successor, was disappointing, despite a strong performance otherwise. Mike Will Made It does know how to entertain, though: next to Rae Sremmurd’s set, the crowd ate up him playing Houston rap classics like Lil Troy’s “Wanna Be A Baller” (a cheat code to get any Texas crowd dancing) and Mike Jones’ “Flossin’.” And any night with those and “Black Beatles” is guaranteed to be, at the very least, a night to remember.
Electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso had already made it through about two-thirds of their South by Southwest set Friday night, when singer Amelia Meath dropped a bombshell.
“Guys, I have food poisoning,” Meath said at Lustre Pearl. “I threw up on Sixth Street at 11 this morning. It was just Bloody Mary. … You’re the only people I’ve seen all day.”
Meath’s bandmate, synth player Nick Sanborn, called Meath a “(expletive) champion.” If you watched the pair’s set at the M&Ms Sound & Color showcase, you’d be inclined to agree. A little pallor didn’t keep Meath from glowing all night, throwing down her signature smoky vocals and crowd-riling arm waves. Meath put in a full-body performance — nothing goes with Sylvan Esso’s EDM-for-grownups quite like an Alyssa Edwards/”Black Swan” moment. Sanborn, presumably not saddled with food poisoning, put in a full body, back-arching performance while plunking away at that synthesizer.
In a SXSW year short on star power, festival veterans Sylvan Esso packed in a massive crowd. An hour before they went on, admittance was reserved for platinum and music badges, and that line snaked quite a ways down Rainey Street. A cardboard sign posted on Lustre Pearl’s fence said that the venue was at capacity, and people would only be let in on a one-in-one-out basis. Still, that did not stop people hungry for a bleep-bloop fix, and some fans watched the show from the alley behind the bar.
“This song is for you,” Meath shouted to the folks in the alley before playing “Coffee.”
Those people wouldn’t regret their Friday night choices, because a closing performance of “Radio” was a real barn-burner. Meath chewed into a particularly sexual line in the song involving the word “American” (you know the one, if you’ve ever sung along to it). By the time she got to the line “Do you got the moves,” Meath went full banshee, growling and stirring up audience members in all states of bar occupation.
Would that we could all put on such a show after throwing up.
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.”