SXSW Post-Mortem: Eggs’ Top Sets And Discoveries
Another SXSW has come and gone, and after two days of recovery, I finally sit here with a clear enough mind to recap the extremely long and tiring four days of awesomeness that we all just took part in. After studying for a solid month before the festival, I thought I had a good idea about what I was going to do all four days, but everything changes once you finally dip your toes into the action. Overall, I think I stuck to about fifty percent of my plans, and for the other half, just wandered and found different and sometimes better options. I wasn’t worried about seeing Kanye, or getting into Duran Duran, or Death From Above 1979, or Wu-Tang or TV On The Radio – I can do that at any major festival or shed throughout the country. I was more worried about having new experiences with new bands, and several choice performances from some of my past favorites. With forty bands caught over the course of the four day extravaganza, that mission was successfully accomplished if not surpassed.
Read more for my favorite performances, as well as a list of my top discoveries from SXSW 2011.
Eggs’ Top Sets Of SXSW 2011
To pick five favorites from the list of 40 bands, I went back and searched out what was good about each one, and which sets stood out above the rest of the others. Of the list, I’ve already seen about a third of the acts, but it had been many years since I’ve seen most of them. These five bands listed blew me away with every second of their set, and during these I had the best moments of my entire weekend with family and friends from Houston, Austin and well beyond.
5. The Civil Wars @ The Stage On 6th
Only a few weeks prior to the festival, I fell in love with The Civil Wars debut LP Barton Hollow after doing some research for SXSW. I could’ve technically put this in my favorite discoveries of the festival, but decided since I had already had some knowledge of their catalog, and had them as a must see, that they belonged on this list rather. Their set was beautiful. Utterly stunning. Playing to a packed room during the Paste Magazine day party, the singer songwriter duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White quieted the crowd already hopped up on the free Magic Hat they’d just previously run out of before the duo took the stage. They play like they’re in love, even though they aren’t even a couple, but their connection seems to run much deeper. You can tell that they’ve come to know each other very well since hooking up musically a couple years back, and have had plenty of practice time, which is evident in the ever-changing harmonies throughout each tune. Covering both The Smashing Pumpkins (“Disarm”) and Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean”) were bold moves, but with their own unique folksy take on each, they came out like a dream. The only thing about this set that distracted me was how eerily similar John Paul White looks like Johnny Depp ala Pirates Of The Caribbean. Otherwise, perfect.
4. Okkervil River @ Red 7/Antone’s/Lustre Pearl
I had the opportunity to catch Austin native’s Okkervil River three times at this year’s event, none of them being planned leading up to the weekend. First was a nice little drunken performance at Red 7 on the first night of SXSW. I had some friends that were up the street at Mugshots, and after convening with them, we all decided to go see what our chances were of getting in to see Okkervil. With only a small line, we got in just in time for the start of the set. After running into another group of friends, I rocked out with the small amount of energy I had left from the 17 hour day I had already accomplished. This was good, but the least fun out of the three.
Second showing was two nights later, when I met my parents and some other friends at Antone’s to check out Yellow Ostrich, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and Okkervil. We waited for quite a while in line, while piles of DWB’s (Dicks With Badges) flocked into the half empty venue. We couldn’t understand that, even with a shit-ton of space inside, and us only about ten people back in line, that we couldn’t just waltz on in. After about an hour-and-a-half, half a flask of whiskey and some funny conversation and shit talking, we made it in where my folks were awaiting with a round of Lonestar tallboys. Finally, a few hours later, Okkervil took the stage to a pretty packed house (they finally let a whole bunch of people right before they started). After almost getting in a fight with lead singer Will Sheff in the bathroom (not joking), they came out with a bunch of new tunes, and some choice old fan favorites. The crowd was riled up, and really into the moment, which translated very well. The best part of this was being able to spend the very last moments of my parents SXSW trip with them and my best friend while watching some seriously great music. This was the best of the three shows.
Finally, we decided to skip the Auditorium Shores stage with Middle Brother, Man Man, Bright Eyes and The Felice Brothers because honestly it was too damn far away. In lieu of that, we headed over to Lustre Pearl (still kinda far, but not nearly as) to catch the Dickies/Filter day party where Tapes N Tapes and Okkervil were set to play later in the day. Without much of a wait, we walked into the party and started to get our final days drink on. After a few bands, and a hell of a set from Tapes N Tapes, we once again had Okkervil River standing in front of us again. This was their final show of tour, their last stop before heading home after quite a while on the road. They were happy, and had a crowd of pretty devoted fans to perform their last gig for. An unbridled energy, or more like a 20th wind, caught the group and it made for one of the most fun sets of the weekend with tons of clapping and even more singing along. The final song, “Unless It Kicks,” was a culmination of greatness from the three sets I had caught by them, and the perfect way to end my last day party of the week.
3. Middle Brother @ Barbarella
One of the main reasons for wanting to attend SXSW 2011 (like it was really that tough of a decision to decide to attend) was to witness a set from indie rock supergroup Middle Brother. Consisting of Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez as well a rotating cast of members from both Dawes and Deer Tick and a few random appearances from Johnny Corndawg, the group has been touring in support of their debut eponymous release, and pulled into SXSW with a slew of high profile gigs including this headlining set at Brooklyn Vegan’s day party on Friday afternoon. After watching a ton of other great bands at said party, Middle Brother finally hit the stage and gave us an hour of their best. Trading off between guitar licks and vocals Goldsmith, McCauley and Vasquez all shined throughout, specifically on “Blood And Guts,” “Thanks For Nothing,” “Me Me Me” and “Middle Brother.” Stage diving, ripping guitar solos in the crowd, water being tossed everywhere, and overall general madness concluded with an all out take on Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” that featured all of Deer Tick, Dawes and Johnny Corndawg in tow. Perfect way to end a pretty stellar party.
2. Dawes @ Lustre Pearl
It was what I was most excited for leading up to the festival, and would have been number one if the next act didn’t destroy me right after. Dawes are a band that the BOT crew have been borderline obsessed with ever since around October of last year when we first started to pick up on them. I caught a brief part of their performance at ACL, but it wasn’t until their own heading at Fitzgerald’s a couple weeks later that I truly fell in love. Ever since then, I’ve listened to Dawes almost every day, and I know I can say the same about several of my cronies. With this being one of their only two sets at SXSW, and the other one only allowing DWB’s, I knew that this is how I was going to end my weekend as soon as the schedule was released. They opened their set with three kinda rocking new numbers that were all pretty damn good, including “Fire Away” which you can view right up above. If this is the direction that they are headed with the new album, and if this song is also included, I truly can’t wait for it to drop. While I didn’t get to hear “A Little Bit Of Everything” (see last sentence), I did get to shout out the lyrics of “That Western Skyline,” “Love Is All I Am” and a set closing version of “When My Time Comes” with most of my closest friends in the world. “When My Time Comes” featured both Vasquez and McCauley of Middle Brother, Johnny Corndawg and the rest of the Deer Tick boys for what was the by far the best and most entertaining musical moment of the entire week. As Goldsmith finished the song he screamed out “thank you so much to my friends, this has been so much fun!” No words could’ve been truer at that particular moment in life.
1. Deervana @ Lustre Pearl
About a week before SXSW, I received and e-mail that was simply entitled “Ladies & Gentleman…Deervana!” The only description was a black poster with a yellow deer tick with the famed Nirvana x-ed out eyed smiley face in the middle, and the words Deer Tick performs the songs of Nirvana, Saturday, May 19th at Lustre Pearl. As I already knew I was going to be there for Dawes and Robert Ellis earlier in the night, this was the icing on the cake for the perfect way to finish out the weekend. I’ve seen Deer Tick now numerous times, and they have never really rocked out that hard, so when I heard they were going to tackle the punk-fueled alt-rock of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, I was super intrigued. Well, as soon the first notes of “School” from Bleach were worked out, I knew this was going to be no joke. It was hard hitting, and with McCauley’s gritty voice matching Cobain’s quite well, was a near perfect musical costume. Hell, McCauley even died his hair that same kool-aid red that Cobain did for that famed SNL performance years ago. By the time “About A Girl” came on, the front half of the crowd were thrashing away like it was 1992, moshing the miniscule bits of energy out they saved from the weekend. It was a sweaty mess by “In Bloom,” there was stage diving and crowd surfing by “Blew” and “Lithium” was an all out melee. “Negative Creep” found Matt Vasquez stepping up to show of his love of Nirvana while ripping through the lyrics and a mean guitar attack that ended with him tossing his guitar up in the air, thankfully not smashing into his head like Novolosec did with his bass at the ’92 MTV music awards. “All Apologies” was by far the peak of the set, finally finishing with tons of stage diving and the smashing of every instrument at the end of “Scentless Apprentice,” walking off with a swagger only a bunch of guys that just shredded the shit out of some Nirvana songs could do. This was the most fun I’ve had at a show in a long time, and is definitely the most sweaty and beat up I’ve ever been as well. I lost a chunk of my tounge, I couldn’t hear anything, my voice completely lost it’s higher register and I’m pretty sure I broke a few toes. Awesome.
Honorable Mentions: Tapes N Tapes @ Lustre Pearl, Vetiver @ Barbarella, Trampled By Turtles @ The Stage On 6th, Mister Heavenly @ Emo’s and !!! @ Mess With Texas
Eggs’ Top Discoveries Of SXSW 2011
Over the four days, I also had the chance to run into a host of bands that had never hit my airwaves before. These bands were typically playing before or after or in between different bands that I’d come to see. Luckily for me, they were, because I now have a nice little list of bands to dig deeper into as soon as I get my hearing back.
5. Tim Easton @ Lustre Pearl
Walking into this performance, I knew that anything that came before Robert Ellis, Dawes and Deervana had to be very good to even interest me in the slightest. I was surrounded by good friends around every corner, which brought me to want to talk to them rather than listen to music that I had never heard of before. As I was sitting there, enjoying delicious al pastor and pulled pork taco’s, I heard the band right before Robert Ellis start their set. It sounded pretty good from where I was sitting, so me and my fed friends headed over to see what we were hearing. A couple of girls in front of me seemed to be pretty into the set, so I asked them who it was, and they had no idea. They eventually found out from some other folks that we were watching Tim Easton. His gruff voice, matched by catchy songwriting and a pretty good supporting cast of musicians around him immediately led me to see how and why he was included in this showcase. He, himself, reminded me a whole lot of Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes/Middle Brother, but his music and delivery had much more of a pop sensibility. It was a fun, danceable set that assuredly found Easton quite a few new fans. I know at least me and those two hotties in front of me are in. I can’t wait to see what else he has to offer along the lines of studio material, and hope that we see him and his band in Houston some time soon.
4. Rural Alberta Advantage @ The Stage On 6th
I have heard about this band for quite some time, and even had a few friends that predominantly came to see just them. I still have a tough time verbalizing their name, but am now looking forward to delving into their catalog. The sound was not the best for this show, as the bass was turned up way too high, but what I saw of the set I sure did enjoy. They rocked it; killed it really. Before the show, my energy level had been at a serious decline as I sat in the muggy venue, but as soon as they began it started to pick back up. Any band that can give me energy, I have an instant attachment too. Now I just need to get my friends to give me some of their favorite tracks to work from.
3. Dominique Young @ Cheer Up Charlie’s
We were told that Houston rapper Fat Tony was to perform at 1am at Cheer Up Charlie’s in place of Baths who couldn’t make it, so we headed that way around 12:30 to catch his set. Sets were running well behind, so he still had another performer in front of him, so we stood side stage and watched as they set up. I asked Tony about who was playing next and he told me it was Dominique Young. I’d never heard of the Florida rapper before, but I stood awaiting what was to be one of most danceable sets of the weekend. She came out supported by a beat maker that looked a whole lot like John Turturro and a keyboard player with long, almost albino-blonde hair that was assuredly German, which was odd enough, but when she started flowing I could’ve sworn she was the female incarnation of Spank Rock. Serious booty shaking beats, and nasty flows all day long.
2. David Wax Museum @ Barbarella
First off, the chick who was in this band was cute and she could play the shit out of a jawbone. Ya, really that’s the main reason I liked this band initially. But, after I got over that, I was stuck on their music. Front man David Wax was super energetic and had a great voice that matched the, at times, four part harmonies of the rest of the group. Oddly instrumented, the group perform perfect folk and pop tunes that remind me both of Paul Simon as well as some of the more folksy material put out by The Grateful Dead. They had great chemistry between all members, constantly paying attention to each others playing rather than showing off for the crowd. Their album is in my download cue now, so I’ll let you know more about how great they are when I dive further in.
1. The Submarines @ Antone’s
A while back I posted a video that was featured as part of The Voice Project, a peace movement to bring about awareness about the women of Uganda that features a slew of bands covering their favorite bands. One of the videos included in that video series was of a female fronted band called The Submarines covering The Beatles’ “For No One.” Being a huge John, Paul, George and Ringo fan, I put on the video. It was short, and sweet, but I never checked into the band after that one viewing. Something did stick with me, though, and that was how hot the front woman was. When they took the stage in between Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and Okkervil River at Antone’s on Friday Night, I immediately thought back to that short video I watched. Once they started, they were great. The female/male vocal trade-offs, heavy indie guitar riffs and poppy everything else made the perfect bridge from Thao Nguyen to Will Sheff. Everyone around seemed to be pretty into the as well, as the conversation in the room that was at a pretty high decibel before, was barely audible throughout the set. I’ve watched a ton of YouTube vids ever since I’ve returned, and am now officially stuck for good.
Honorable mentions: Baby Baby @ Side Bar, The Vaccines @ Emo’s, Lighthouse Music @ Liberty Bar, AgesandAges @ Barbarella and Johnny Corndawg @ Everywhere
Finally, what would a SXSW be without seeing and supporting some of my favorite local Houston bands? We made it a point to jump around town, and try to make a nice Houston presence known, while at the same time enjoying the shit out of the new tunes everyone brought for the event. I caught Buxton and Robert Ellis perform in front of a grand amount of new people at the New West day party, Grandfather Child make a packed patio at Liberty bar dance their asses off, Fat Tony using the most of his twenty minutes on stage before getting cut off by the APD at curfew only to finish his set sans amplification, and Robert Ellis again two days later performing his first ever official showcase at Lustre Pearl in front of a huge crowd of both new and old fans and friends. People asked me several times why I was going to see bands that I see on an almost weekly basis, and the only answer that I could possibly muster was that they were better than everything else going on. Good showing Houston!
I’ve slept for more in the past day than I did the entire time I was in Austin for SXSW. Ya, probably not healthy, but well worth every second of it. After this hangover subsides, I’ll be back in the Houston music game, but damnit if I don’t need a break. I’m getting old.
See ya next year SXSW!