SXSW Music 2022: Discovery & Gratitude

It’s time to return to form and recap some of the top shows I saw during the week of music at SXSW 2022. First off, it’s been widely reported that after years of big name acts, the festival organizers wanted to return to smaller, unknown musical acts and aid in discovery. That’s been a great change and I really enjoyed this shift in 2019 and had been looking forward to 2020. In 2021, I sat in on several livestreams – especially enjoying Say Sue Me and Grrrl Gang.

Knowing we’d be in person for 2022, I prepped, listening to 700+ bands who were scheduled, and culling down to a list of about 40 acts I *really* wanted to see, plus another 150 to fill schedules. Oh yeah, and feverishly exchanged messages with KDJ, sought insights from Craig who runs Foreign Dissent, and checked with a few other folks. Based on prior experience, even among my top choices, there would be misses due to scheduling conflicts (thank you Thursday night!) or plan geo-location incompatibility. Plus, one of the great joys is stumbling across an act in between two you want to see, it’s important to allow for that serendipity.

Gratitude

I have to say, seeing live music is a gift, and it’s a thing I really love. So being able to see bands again in this environment – huge gratitude to all the musicians, venue, and festival staff that made it possible.

As a fan attending shows, the amount of gratitude each band had was palpable. Many band members or singers came into the audience to interact with the audience, seemingly to feel a deeper connection. Most performers stated their gratitude for the ability to play live and be there. Some spoke about their experience as like being in summer camp – making new friends with other bands. At many showcases, you’d see all the bands hanging out and cheering each other on as part of the crowd. To be honest, it was a darn special feeling to be around and to experience this sensation.

What makes a great show at SXSW?

Like any good musical experience, it’s helpful if you like the band, but at SXSW I find a few other things make the experience: if you like the music, match of artist with venue, audience reaction, actual performance, and sound quality. If you have all of these factors in play, you end up with a stellar show. Sometimes one being off can throw off the whole experience. One thing I seek is a band whose live show isn’t just like their recorded music, but a performance that does something new, or brings a certain level of energy to rile up folks.

What were the best performances I saw at SXSW 2022?

During the festival, I saw nearly 70 different sets. Some acts I saw twice, but it was still over 60 unique acts! I overdosed on punk, singer-songwriters, dream pop, indie rock, with a few other things thrown in. It’s hard to come up with a short list, because each one had something special, something fun, and a moment of connection to the audience.

My 15 favorite showcases are presented in order of when I saw the performance, not in order of “best.”

1. Madison McFerrin, Patreon House @ Cheer Up Charlies, St. David’s

Neo-soul

Amazing stage banter and audience engagement (who else could get a crowd yelling “Seatbelts! Seatbelts! when talking about surviving a car crash at one showcase, and joke about going to Episcopal school at a church venue); Incredible vocals that draw you in, and I found myself humming her songs in the days that followed.

2. Fuvk, Elysium

Dream pop

I missed most of the set, but the last few songs I caught blew me away. This was one of those bands you come across waiting for another act and end up really enjoying.

3. Kishi Bashi, Elysium

Eclectic pop violin

I’ve seen Kishi Bashi perform as part of Of Montreal, so never as a solo artist. He was actually debuting his first film at SXSW (looking forward to watching it this month!). This was a you-had-to-be-there performance since he brought on his film collaborators, made up songs about them on the spot, introduced his girlfriend to the crowd, drank tequila, and expressed an incredible amount of joy. Truly something special.

4. Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, British Embassy @ Cedar Street Courtyard, International Day Stage @ Brush Square Park

Brit rock

Super fun and engaging from four white guys. We ended up seeing them twice and both times there was a ton of energy — and you know, you gotta love a lead singer who chews gum while he sings. The group sounds like a mix of various Brit rock bands over the years and it’s a nice blend of sounds you like.

5. Los Nasdrovia, Las Perlas

Indie pop en español

This band kicked off our Tuesday night and our trio found ourselves dancing, buying the band’s t-shirts, and enjoying the heck out of their show. This is a great example of a mellow, sweet set of recordings brought to life with verve.

6. Art D’Ecco, Swan Dive

Rock’n’roll a la Bowie

I looked at my step count after this set and in 30 minutes had “walked” almost 3,000 steps, so you know I was dancing my ass off, as was the entire crowd for this set. Super tight – not a lot of pauses or chatter, just a set that kept the audience moving.

7. Malin Pettersen, Paste @ The Pershing

Country, Nordic Style

We hiked almost two miles out to the Pershing to see a few bands, and Malin’s set happened to be between two of the bands I wanted to see. The moment she started singing, my husband and I turned to one another, jaws agape. Who is this Norwegian singer doing country with a voice that fits it so well? Her entire set was a delight.

8. Bad Waitress, Lustre Pearl

Punk

This band is bad ass. Every person has a personality and they all showed up on stage. It felt like their entire set lasted a minute with all of us jumping and screaming. After we tracked down the drummer to see if we could get some merch and say hello. Charming and funny as people too!

9. Weakened Friends, Sidebar

Hardworking Indie Rock

Damn, what a smiling group of people. You could tell the entire band was having a blast at this day show, as I did in the audience. Day shows can be hard, especially in venues with small spaces, but they brought it!

10. Le Pain, Seven Grand

A modern take of 60s style French pop

Light style psychedelic pop with louder guitars. Seven Grand was a great venue for this – enjoyed a cocktail and their fine music.

11. Seratones, Radio Day Stage @ ACC, Mohawk

Dance, R&B, Indie Rock

I described the band to my husband as “Sharon Jones leads Blondie with Ray Manzarek on keyboards and half the band is dressed like New Romantics.” Then a friend said “I would call it neo-soul.” To say they run the gamut is a truth — and their song New Day is a happy little gem that is a warm fuzzy for the heart.

12. The Shivas, Sidebar

Garage rock

This was day 2 at Sidebar when we got to see the Shivas. In this tight little venue, you were able to see everything the band did, and they entertained the heck out of us! Harmony + energy.

13. English Teeth (with Guest Stars) covering Big Star’s #1 Record, Lucy’s Chicken Shack

50 year old rock’n’roll that serves as a progenitor to so much

Guest stars ranging from John Doe to Chuck Prophet told stories about Alex Chilton, Big Star, and played well known favorites. The fans were all there, and it was sweet to hear stories. Plus, I’ve been reading one of the Alex Chilton biographies and listening to this album, so timely.

14. China Bears, Seven Grand

Anthemic Indie Rock

While in line waiting to see Yard Act, I started talking to the two folks in line behind me (Ann & Liam) and exchanging notes on shows. Our taste seemed similar and they mentioned China Bears, so when making our evening plans, decided we had to go check this out. LOVED it. This is WHY YOU TALK TO PEOPLE IN LINE AT SXSW.

15. Cherym, Esther’s Follies

Pop Punk

This was my penultimate SXSW show and what a delight. Right when the feet are aching and you wonder if you have more energy to go, you run into a band like Cherym, battling a bad sound mix, navigating that, and getting an entire tired audience off their feet and dancing. Also, props for sharing pronouns and making everyone (especially LGBT+) audience members feel welcome.

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