Every year I go to SXSW Music, I keep a handwritten notebook alongside me to take notes of each show I see. This year I managed to see 39 bands, 2 movies and help a friend with a brand new baby during music. I try to rank shows in the top 10 order, but this year there were several that blew me away for very different reasons.
Hilton Garden Inn, Friday 1am
They have basically become my go-to band. They have wonderful harmonies, seem to work closely as a team, and run the gamut from sweet folk to more full blown folk-rock. The guy sitting next to me had never seen them before and kept saying “this is incredible.” Yes, they are. This was a 1am show on Friday night after the band had been playing multiple shows every day for several days. The audience was lazing around on the chairs in this top-of-the-hotel cocktail lounge. Every person in the room was captivated despite the exhaustion by the tight performance. At 1:40 the band told the audience that they had been asked to stop playing because after it is a hotel and people needed to sleep. Unlike other performances I have been to at SXSW, people didn’t just pick up and go. There was quite a bit of protest as people wanted to hear more from the group. We were saved by the arrival of Bill Murray and his entourage, who had left the Jack White show to come hear the Spring Standards. Next thing you know, the SXSW staff agrees that the band can perform one more and trio goes all coffee shop set on us and performed an acoustic song from their album Would Things Be Different.
Most Audience Engaging
Club de Ville, Saturday 9pm
My notes just say “Fan-FUCKING-tastic.” Lead singer Nardwuar the Human Serviette got into the crowd, managed to get people to stop texting and tweeting, and had everyone bow low on the ground. The show was pure revelry from start to finish and featured hardcore fans requesting songs and the band playing them, namely: I Don’t Need My Friends to Tell Me Who My Friends Are aka I.D.M.F.T.T.M.W.M.F.A. It’s also a lesson in what bands have to do to get people to engage with them even in a live space.
ACL Live, Friday 8:45pm
This show violates one my main rules for SXSW music, which is not seeing bands you can see on tour elsewhere, or that are really popular. I just couldn’t resist this! I adore The Magnetic Fields and love their music to no end. This show was much mellower than others we saw, but was delightful in every way. The band played some favorites such as Book of Love and my personal favorite, Come Back to San Francisco. Wonderful in every way.
Most Show-like Show
Flamingo Cantina, Wednesday 9pm
This Kenyan band knows how to put on a show, with great jackets, stylized dance moves and natural crowd banter. Singing in a combination of English, French and Swahili, it drew me in and even had me dancing. I’ve been humming Coming Home non-stop since this show.
Most Unexpected Discovery & Highest Likelihood of Going on Repeat Play
Red Eyed Fly, IODA Day Party, Wednesday
This is a new project from Dan the Automator, as outlined in this great post on Laughing Squid. When we walked into the day party, we weren’t quite certain what would be playing, but this has been a staple of my March experiences. Knowing that it featured Emily Wells & Kid Koala didn’t hurt and we were grooving away to the tunes. We’ve already bought this and have been listening on repeat.
Other Notable Shows
Miracles of Modern Science – Wednesday 8pm at The Jr
Incredible energy and distinctive vocals all backed by string instruments. Better live than recorded & they just sound great.
Brendan Benson – day show at Swan Dive
Super grateful a friend tipped me off to this day show. Mellow, but enjoyable.
We saw them twice! Once a day show at Mellow Johnny’s and an evening show at Frank. I have to appreciate a band that works so hard *together.* They have been in the biz for a while and know how to put on a show.
He’s My Brother She’s My Sister – Thursday 11pm at Valhalla
I’m not a huge fan of this venue but loved this band. They bend genres – folk, 60s era Joplin and a carnival atmosphere. Other than Sauti Sol, one of the only bands who felt really “dressed” for this show – hope they come to San Francisco sometime soon, can’t wait to see them live again.
Library Voices – Thursday 10pm at Trinity Hall
One of the many Canadian bands we saw, Library Voices has infectious, sing-along songs. Seriously, just listen to Generation Handclap and see if it doesn’t echo around your brainpan for days.
Imaginary Cities – Thursday Midnight at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room
Notes from the show say “Love them. Her voice may be a little Minnie Mouse-ish, but it works. I also love a band that can take what sounds great recorded and make it sound unique and fresh live.”