SXSW 2013: Thursday 14 | Photos and music review
"It's a shit show." This is the response I received more often than not when relaying my plans to travel to Texas for the music arm of South by Southwest, which spans a multitude of venues—both proper concert rooms and DIY ones—across Austin's east side and downtown areas. I haven't attended since 1999, so I prepared myself to encounter the worst—frat boys in Native American headdresses, the HGTV/Taco Bell alt-rock showcase sponsored by Mountain Dew…the horrid parts of Lollapalooza in the South.
By the time I secured a free place to crash, I had missed the deadline for press credentials. The SXSW PR department’s offer to purchase a badge for upwards of $600 was, well, not at all appealing (or realistic). So I decided to go rogue on the advice of locals who for years have cruised around the behemoth fest's free day shows with ease. And I guess for some folks, it is a shit show. But day one of my SXSW experience was nothing but a sunny, breezy delight. There were minimal crowds, minimal lines and perfect weather, topping out in the low 80s. It's unexpectedly easy to hop from one venue to the next on foot, and lining the walk is a slew of carts offering locally roasted, cold-brewed iced coffee; barbecue brisket; and Topo Chico, plus taco trunks. Food and drink are the only expenses during the day, as everything is free.
By sticking to east side venues along 5th and 6th Streets, and avoiding the massive showcases presented by Pitchfork (all the acts will play the Chicago fest this summer) and Fader (insane line, not happening), I was able to catch a solid roster of bands whom I've wanted to see at home but have missed for one reason or another. Sets run about 30 minutes and, bonus, local beers and mixed drinks run a bit cheaper in Tejas. Here's a snapshot of day one:
A three-piece version of the Malian desert-blues band took to the outdoor Hotel Vegas stage at 2pm as part of a lineup organized by Austin Psych Fest. It was a great start to the day and a welcome shuffle in the array of indie and garage-rock acts lining the east side. Also, the Tuareg group's guitarist-vocalist wins the award for best dance moves.
When in Rome, party like skater kids. This SoCal three-piece was a raucous delight at the outdoor stage at the Scoot Inn, which had a half-pipe for the shredders and plenty of room to breathe for the claustrophobic.
Inside the Scoot Inn, the L.A. outfit, once the backing band for neo-soul crooner Nick Waterhouse, was a favorite among my group of friends and sounded fantastic inside the Empty Bottle–size venue. It was one of the surf rock quartet's first appearances at the fest, if not its debut, which made for a set that was energized and tight.
The avant-garde psych-folk group's records have always been an intense and entrancing headphone listen. Back at the Hotel Vegas' al fresco setting, the band members belted out primordial vocals underscored by monstrous drones. Unfortunately, the sound didn't quite fit the breezy setting, but it was great to see them all the same.
Next door at the outdoor Sailor Jerry stage, the baroque-pop of adorable Dutch singer-songwriter Jacco Gardner was my favorite set of the day. He praised the efforts of the city's Psych Fest and played a fantastic smattering of tunes from his new record, Cabinet of Curiosities, released on Chicago imprint Trouble in Mind.
Inside Hotel Vegas, the highlight of former Here We Go Magic member Teeny Lieberson's new band was badass bass player Jane Herships, who grooved with the panache of a player twice her age.
After TEEN, I stuck around for a set by this former Deerhoof member's electronic-infused psych-pop quartet, but sound issues marred the experience.
The snotty Atlanta twang punks played one of the last sets of the day on the east side, but unfortunately the PA was not cooperating and it was difficult to make out the songs. But that didn't keep the kids from crowd surfing.