After taking a bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and flying into Austin from there (cheaper flight, y’all), I hit the ground running for South by Southwest (SXSW) on Wednesday.
After waiting in line at the House of Vans at Mohawk for about an hour, I finally got in and was able to see Denver-based Son Lux. Lead man Ryan Lott utilizes a lot of interesting sounds — both on his vocals and on his keyboards — bringing together a sound that can best be described as a more electronic-heavy version of The Killers. The set-closing song “Lost it to Trying (Mouths Only Lying)” was the strongest track of the set and had the small bar-filled crowd really feeling it.
On the outdoor stage of House of Vans, Canadian rockers Viet Cong brought their usual raging charisma. Their set-closing song “Death” featured an incredibly long but raucous solo that even had Courtney Barnett and her bandmates digging it.
While enjoying Viet Cong, I ate a tasty jalapeno cheddar kielbasa from a food truck on site. While taking a bite, the juiciness of the sausage sent a bit of mustard flying forward, onto the back of an unsuspecting dude’s shirt. After taking to Twitter to decide the proper etiquette on the situation, I notified the guy of what I had done. “Bro, your kielbasa probably cost more than my shirt did, it’s all good,” he said. My first experience with the Austin hipster was a good one.
Courtney Barnett was up next at House of Vans. Perhaps the belle of the SXSW ball considering the sheer number of showcases she is playing this week, Barnett proved why she’s generated such a big buzz behind the pending release of her upcoming album Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, due out Mar. 24.
Her cheeky and creative songwriting style is infectious, and even the crowd of mostly teenagers (as evidenced by the big black Xs on their hands) dug her stuff while they packed bowl after bowl of Austin chronic. Though the final two songs “Avant Gardener” and “Pedestrian at Best” generated the largest responses, songs from the new album like “Debbie Downer” and “Dead Fox” definitely caught the crowd’s attention.
After Barnett, I headed down the street and picked up my wristband for the Hype Hotel. I got in just in time to see Canadian lo-fi rising stars Alvvays play through their afternoon-closing set. They definitely have the lo-fi sound mastered, and though most were there to hear their hit “Archie, Marry Me” (which Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard helped blow up with his cover), they showed they possess more than just one catchy tune. “Atop a Cake” featured a catchy chorus of frontwoman Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley sharing vocals, singing “What’s it gotta do with youuu, what’s it gotta do with meeee.”
Up next, I hit up FADER Fort across the street. There I ran into Colombian singer Kali Uchis playing ping pong. After introducing myself, she recalled the review I wrote of her Echoplex show a few weeks prior and was really polite despite me interrupting her game. She’s one of the performers of this SXSW that in a few years people might look back and wonder how they missed her early-day performances.
Though Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment took 30 minutes longer to get on stage than advertised, it all paid off in the end. The Chicago-based rapper donned a white t-shirt and a White Sox hat while spitting bars like he is one of the best. “We in people’s laptops right now!” shouted Chance, no doubt referring to the mass live stream initiative that is SXSW. The trumpet player in his band was one of the shining co-stars as he crushed it on a solo late in the set.
Action Bronson was over at the Scoot Inn for a release party for his Mar. 23 album Mr. Wonderful. Once he took the stage, Bronson was on fire both with his raps and his comedy. He hit the stage smoking one of the largest blunts I’ve seen in awhile, puffing on it between bars.
The song “Terry” was the highlight for me. Prior to one song, he asked the crowd to “Throw your middle finger in the air! Or whatever finger you put in your butt, just throw it up!” Bronson has a future as a stand-up comedian if his rap career doesn’t pan out. Judging by the massive response he got, he need not worry.
I finished up my long Wednesday night over at Hype Hotel. Though the crowd was sparse to start, rising pop star Ryn Weaver had the place filled out a few songs into her performance, one of the strongest of the day. The AC was BLASTING right at the front of the stage, but Weaver and her band kept everyone warm. The set-starting track “Promises” is one of the songs that fans who caught on to her EP knew every word to. Weaver fed off the crowd’s singing and dancing to her stuff and her stage presence and charisma suggested she’s been at this for more years than she has been.
One moment of Weaver’s set that was particularly breathtaking was when she discussed the passing of her grandfather prior to performing a slowed-down number that had her very emotional by the end of it. Weaver closed her set with the song that put her on the map “OctaHate.” Weaver and the whole place were jumping up and down — most of them singing along. It was a high point of the night for many.
Best Coast was next up, and they took awhile to set up, causing them to cut a shorter set than they would have preferred. Of their seven songs, they played the title track and one other from their upcoming California Nights album. Now a five-piece band after years of touring with just Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno, the fuller-sound really shined through on the newer songs. They played a couple of old favorites, closing their set with “Boyfriend.”
UK rockers Wolf Alice were the scheduled headliners for Hype Hotel. Though a smaller crowd took in their set, they were enthusiastic. A large group of friends on the rail sang along nearly every word, eliciting smiles from singer Ellie Rowsell and bassist Theo Ellis. The entire band came after their set and thanked them for their support. “Bros” and “Moaning Lisa Smile” were the crowd favorites, and a bunch of people around me previously unfamiliar with their music fell in love with their ’90s grungy sound.
Win Butler of Arcade Fire did a surprise DJ set at 1 AM at Hype Hotel, utilizing a couple of pals on the drums and bongos to go along with. The crowd was sparse but some people were pretty into it, particularly the Beck and Kanye West mashup that he mastered after Kanye nearly stormed Beck’s GRAMMY speech earlier this year.
Overall it was a wildly productive day of live music for my first ever SXSW and I can’t wait for more to continue. Stay tuned for more coverage!
Words: <a href="http://markeortega.blogspot.com“>Mark E. Ortega
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