Time is the most important consideration at South by Southwest, especially when it comes to the music festival portion. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. It’s a zero-sum game, especially if your favorite band or the buzziest band is performing only a few times during the week.
For a lot of people, time doesn’t matter because cost is more important. A music badge isn’t cheap, and most venues will allow entry to non-badge holders as long as those people are willing to wait—and some people will wait hours if it means seeing their favorite singer or band in a great bar or club.
Since I’m trying to cover as much live music as possible, prioritizing time down to quarter-hour blocks was crucial to making sure I can see as many music acts as I could without exhausting myself and ensuring I could actually enjoy myself. For Thursday’s events (March 16), I decided to eschew panels for live performances, which meant a lot of moving around downtown and eating on the go.
Fortunately, Sounds Australia once again hosted the Aussie BBQ at Brush Square Park’s East Tent (right across the street from the convention center) during this year’s SXSW, which enabled me to listen to a few music acts while eating free grub. I managed to catch a few songs from garage rock band Food Court (“For the Morning”), metal band Black Rheno (“Dirt”), and pop vocalist Vera Blue (“Hold”) throughout the afternoon.
After hearing Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso rave about an earlier performance from PWR BTTM, I had to check out the garage punk duo at the Pitchfork Day Parties held at the The French Legion Museum. It was a gorgeous setting for the noted “queer” band, joking that the afternoon set in full sunlight was just about the best time to see a drag queen (or two). The duo had a very lively rapport with an enthusiastic audience that seemed to enjoy the tongue-in-cheek lyrics and overall positive atmosphere. Please listen to “Big Beautiful Day” or “I Wanna Boi” for a crash course in what the band is all about.
I hightailed it back to the convention center in order to catch a few more bands performing at the Radio Day Stage and International Stages. Los Angeles quartet The Shelters provided a bit more traditional rock and roll to my music diet with the likes of “Rebel Heart” and “Down.” Canadian indie music vets The New Pornographers followed with a good mix of new music from their upcoming LP Whiteout Conditions (“New Ticket Attractions”) and older tunes like “Use It” and “Hey, Snow White.”
All-female Japanese pop punk quartet CHAI was an unforgettable band with infectious energy. Even though I couldn’t understand a single word that was sung, I appreciated the quasi-dance performance that went along with most of the songs I saw the group play. I think there was a cover of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” somewhere in the set, but I didn’t know for sure.
Los Angeles duo FRENSHIP was my favorite performance of the day. Most people have probably only heard their hit song “Capsize” since it’s still played a lot on the radio, but that electronic single featuring Emily Warren creates a somewhat misleading understanding of the band (and I’m guilty as charged too). James Sunderland and Brett Hite crafted a soulful, very upbeat rock atmosphere through their shared vocal duties that I didn’t expect. Everyone cheered and sang along during “Capsize,” but other songs like “Morrison” and set-closing “1000 nights” were similarly solid.
Female indie folk-soul duo Overcoats participated in their second consecutive SXSW. NPR’s Bob Boilen raved about the duo last year, and Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell were up to the task at giving another superb intimate performance in support of their upcoming full-length debut, Young. Overcoats bounced figuratively and literally – they practically danced nonstop – between new (“Leave the Light On”) and old songs (“The Fog”), including an invite to those in the front to dance with them. They’ll be the first to tell you they don’t call what they do dancing but do it anyway and seem to having fun at it.
Another stop at the Central Presbyterian Church led me to a surprisingly filled chapel for people wanting to see both Los Angeles native/singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and London native/singer-songwriter Kate Nash. Eilish had a somewhat indifferent demeanor on stage, even as those in the crowd cheered hard after hits “Six Feet Under” and “Ocean Eyes,” with the latter closing the set. Nash had a much different demeanor, pulling in a much different response from the audience as she and her all-female backing band performed their routine set that was complete with provocative gestures and head-rocking seemingly completely devoid of any cognizance that they were performing underneath a huge cross. I loved it.
Unfortunately, subsequent set delays forced me to leave early after “Mouthwash” (which is probably my favorite song of hers) in order to catch the last festival set of electronic solo artist Gab Strum (aka Japanese Wallpaper) at Tellers Bar. JW’s sound was quite lush and filled the bar with enough shoegaze-like atmosphere to help drown out the NCAA basketball games playing on all the bar’s televisions. The set’s highlights included “Forces” and “Between Friends,” songs that felt a bit more elevated in the cramped bar.
I’ll be the first to admit that the lighting in the Iron Bear sucks, but it works quite well for artists like London-based singer-songwriter Fifi Rong, whose moody yet lush music played harmoniously well in the dimly lit stage. “Forbidden Desire” and “Future Never Comes” almost felt rapturous in the setting, which again highlighted the special moments in seeing music artists perform in Austin’s unique places.