If you wanted to experience South by Southwest before it got hectic, Wednesday was your last shot before hordes of people made their pilgrimage to downtown and turn the area into basically a standstill.
Also, if you were trying to scope out a free sponsored showcase without a badge, Wednesday was your last shot before having to wait in long lines. And if you didn’t RSVP to one of the lesser-known showcases, Wednesday was your last shot to get in.
But it wasn’t all dreary for those badge-less and RSVP-less folks, there was plenty of free live music to see as long as you had an open mind.
Hosted by Container Bar in the Rainey Street Historic District, COLLiDE was one of the more accessible showcases near the Austin Convention Center. Pop-punk duo Diet Cig opened up the entire three-day showcase with its daytime performance filled with singer Alex Luciano bouncing across the stage, walking across the sketchy railing, and leg-kicking some energy into the crowd. The duo performed songs such as “Sleep Talk” from their soon-to-be-released full-length debut Swear I’m Good at This. Apparently, drummer Noah Bowman gave up a luging career in order to perform in the band, which I say, lucky us.
Most people know international air travel can suck, so kudos to indie rock quartet Diamond Thug for spending an entire day getting here from Cape Town, South Africa. Scheduling acts in the daytime can be sort of a hit-or-miss prospect since the music might not go over too well. This wasn’t the case for Diamond Thug, who followed Diet Cig’s performance. The band’s calming beats, like on “Cosmic Dreamer,” translated very well in the light breeze and afternoon sun. With the band currently working on a new album, the crowd got to hear some unreleased songs such as “Eclipse” and “Illusions.”
One of the most unfortunate and inherent aspects of festival scheduling is overlap between music acts you want to see. If you’re lucky, you can simply watch one and catch the other at a different time. If you’re unlucky, you have to choose one and completely miss the other if the circumstances don’t match up. Indie rock veterans Eisley, for example, performed only one show that happened to be at 1 a.m. before the band headed back on tour.
Fortunately for me, the stars somewhat aligned so that I could catch about 20 minutes each of three successive bands if I boogied fast between three different venues. I think it was worth the effort to see New Jersey indie band Real Estate (please listen to “Holding Pattern”), London-based ethereal rockers Mt. Wolf (highlight song: “The Electric”), and Australian Elle Graham’s solo project Woodes, which happened to be her first U.S. show – be on the lookout for her new single “Dots” – in such a short period.
I managed to catch a quick early dinner at B.D. Riley’s, which provided me with a pint of Guinness and a chance to see Ohio punk trio Leggy, with their biting lyrics and manic melodies (“Grrls Like Us”).
For the third straight year, I found myself multiple times at Central Presbyterian Church for a few sublime performances. The church, which has hosted SXSW events for over a decade, is quite an interesting place to listen to rock music. The ’70s-esque bedroom rock of Slow Dancer, Simon Okely’s solo project, sounded somewhat inappropriate but just felt right with Okely’s smooth vocals in the expansive chapel.
NPR Music once again turned Stubb’s into a festival within a festival, as the public radio station showcased several important artists throughout the week. Indie electronic duo Sylvan Esso was one of the more popular artists who got quite the ovation as they performed a healthy mix of songs from their eponymous debut album (“Coffee” and “H.S.K.T.”) and their upcoming sophomore album What Now (“Die Young”). From all the way in the back, I could hear the singing crowd almost as well as vocalist Amelia Meath’s words.
The rest of the night was kind of a blur, as I bounced between a few more places. I heard a few brand new songs (“Break Me Open” and “Susie Don’t”) from the Brian Bell-fronted rock band The Relationship, which dropped the name of their upcoming album Clara Obscura – you heard it here first.
I was fortunate to get into Bar 96, which sported a line that snaked quite a while for people wanting to see a really intimate performance by Jillian Rose Banks (aka Banks). However, I was unfortunate to be short when so many people in front of me were tall, so I ended up hearing almost the entire show without actually seeing Banks perform. I could somewhat make out dancers on stage during songs like “Gemini Feed” and “Trainwreck.” Banks was surprisingly effective in getting most in the crowd to put away their phones during her ballad “Better”; however, I wish she made the plea for the entire show.
I thought I would see experimental rock duo Sleigh Bells for a lot longer, but a 30-minute delay at StubHub’s showcase at Banger’s meant I could only stick around for a few tracks (“It’s Just Us Now” and “Bitter Rivals”). And by the time I returned to Central Presbyterian Church, Eisley was already well within its set with songs like “Smarter,” “You Are Mine,” and “Defeatist.” The Texas natives ended their set and my long day with “Shelter.”