The second-to-last full day of SXSW Music – part of the 30th annual South by Southwest in Austin, Texas – was a bit of a challenge. Being a Friday, it felt like the entire city came downtown, as all of the blocked-off streets were filled with people looking for something to eat, free stuff, or an available spot to just observe the craziness of the area. I had a lot of sympathy for anyone traveling by car, as detours and police blockades created hectic scenes of bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles.
Is Austin a Vortex for Musicians? How an Impassioned Community Gives Back
This important session was about the ways that the Austin community helps struggling musicians in the city as they try to make it big. And the struggle was about internal and practical conflicts like obtaining affordable housing, getting counseling, and getting help with mental and physical health issues as well as alcohol and drug addiction.
Much of the attention on SXSW has been about the positive effects that the festival can have on the music industry – promoting emerging artists, highlighting the city’s historic venues – but not a lot is written about the day-to-day problems of local artists. There are a lot of nonprofit organizations dedicated to assisting these artists, including St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Austin Music Foundation, SIMS Foundation, and Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
“Go public radio!” lead singer Lauren Mayberry exclaimed during the CHVRCHES performance at the Radio Day Stage inside the Austin Convention Center. Before what was easily one of the bigger crowds I’ve seen in the vast room, Mayberry provided the candid commentary she’s best known for between versions of the Scottish indie band’s popular hits like “The Mother We Share” and “Leave a Trace.”
Hinds, an all-female indie rock quartet from Madrid, had already performed two shows earlier in the day ahead of this one at the Radio Day Stage (and were scheduled to perform two more times that night), so it was surprising to see how much energy they still had. You could tell how rambunctious the band is as Carlotta Cosials sang a bit of Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop the Party” during the brief soundcheck. There was a bit of a beach rock vibe during much of the set, crisscrossing between breezy songs like “Easy” and “Garden.”
Just when I thought I wouldn’t get to see any rock bands this week, I lucked into attending the Spotify House, where cool-as-ice The Kills were performing. I use the term “lucked into” because sometimes these major showcases draw large crowds and once they reach capacity they let no one else enter. Fortunately, the show had an early-evening start time, so I was able to gingerly stroll through the short line. I had only ever seen The Kills on a monitor screen so it was a rush to see Allison Mosshart and Jamie Hince jam the hits “U R A Fever” and “Last Day Of Magic” to a similarly enthused crowd nearing dusk.
PHASES Future Blondes
A sudden storm dumped rain on the city at dusk, and the accompanying lightning forced organizers to cancel many of the scheduled performances from 7-9 PM that unfortunately included the last festival performance by the indie rock band PHASES.
While the scheduled start was delayed, I couldn’t wait to see if the venue would be able to move the rooftop stage indoors, so I trudged through the rain to the nearest indoor venue I knew of: Iron Bear. Experimental band Future Blondes performed a free show, to a near-capacity crowd because of the rain. Probably not many of those who entered knew what they were in for. The show included a sort-of stage performance by a member of the band, best described as a fly who is sort of attracted to a single lamp. Most left after about five minutes. I never saw a faster exodus of people in my life, which was disappointing because the visceral, not-quite-hardcore music had a surprisingly good beat through the band’s two extended songs.
Lily & Madeleine
Indianapolis folk sister-duo Lily & Madeleine enchanted the audience in Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room with their smooth harmonies. The sisters performed many songs from their recently released LP Keep It Together on new record label New West Records, such as “Not Gonna” and “Westfield.” Highlights were “Devil We Know” and the group’s love letter to their hometown of Indianapolis with “In the Middle.”
South Korean dream-pop duo HEO gave a very chill performance, which was a welcome change from the hectic environment just outside the Majestic on a Friday night. The best part of their show was that the lyrics tended to be secondary to the ambient sounds and beats. That may seem counterintuitive, but the band built dominant soundscapes with “Mono Sand Hill” and “Sleep Tonight.”