“Everyone should clap along because it’s a party,” Jade Bird encouraged the crowd at Mohawk’s outdoor stage on Thursday night during SXSW in Austin, Texas.
I didn’t clap, as I had a camera in my hands, but it sounded like most people in the audience did. I think most found it hard to turn down a request from the super positive British indie folk singer-songwriter, especially since Bird regularly hinted when to get ready to dance or when to cry (“If I Die” via piano solo).
Even the stage manager refused to force her offstage with three possible minutes remaining, which Bird and her band obliged with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
This was one of the many Thursday highlights, which included a rare live performance from electro-pop artist Kotomi (real name: Lauren Hillman). Surprisingly, Hillman’s SXSW invitation went hush-hush compared to the citywide poster blanketing and email blasting of similarly well-regarded artists.
Kotomi’s evening show at The Sidewinder was only one of a handful of scheduled Austin appearances. Hillman and her band were not afraid to jam and shamelessly rocked out to their own beats such as on “The Last Time” and “Swimming.” No apologies necessary—they were good songs.
Dancing was an appropriate theme for many of the evening shows I attended. Electro duo Salt Cathedral almost brought the roof down at Esther’s Follies with “No Love” and a cover of “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child. (Special shout-out to lead singer Juli for requesting silence from those chatterboxes in the crowd.)
Known for its live act, Philadelphia electronic soul pop band Vita and the Woolf kept the energy up for its midnight show at Friends Bar. It was probably one of the better live translations of a studio release I’ve seen, since the band’s 2017 EP Tunnels isn’t outwardly danceable. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been released on Spotify, but the highlight was a powerful, yet manically catchy performance of a song called “Parents” which I still can’t get out of my head.
I tried to catch Australian singer-songwriter CLOVES’ show at the Palm Door on Sixth, but an almost 30-minute delay resulted in my seeing only three songs before I left—one included “Bringing the House Down.” Electronic indie duo Freedom Fry brought the beats to the Palm Door at Sabine. It was such a party that a mariachi band joined the two on stage during the closing song, “Classic.”
Dancing wasn’t the only item on my day’s agenda; serious contemplation was on it, too. Norwegian singer-songwriter Yori Swart brought some melancholy to Waller Ballroom at her first SXSW. So did Nashville’s indie quartet Sun Seeker, which had some intimate mood setting with its downtempo beach sunset/bedroom rock (or “divorce rock,” as the band self-describes it) in a church of all places. Attendees at Central Presbyterian Church got some satisfying quasi-intimate melodies dedicated to anyone in the automobile industry (an inside joke about wanting a song of theirs in a car commercial), anyone attending SXSW, and any corporate sellouts.
Swedish indie pop quartet Hater made an appearance at the International Day Stage to showcase its simmering rhythms and emotive, yet immediate lyrics on songs such as “Mental Haven.” London’s Hater spiritual counterpart Girl Ray proved a tonal antidote to the continual reverb that seemingly echoed throughout downtown. The London lo-fi indie pop was flowery (in a ’70s peach and love sort of way), dreamy, and assuredly patient.
At some point, I arrived at the rooftop stage of Cheers Bar to listen to what I thought was the Hungarian band Belau, but it turned out I wrote down the wrong date; I instead watched the Austin-based alt-rock quartet Swimming with Bears. I was pleasantly surprised by the band’s crafty infusions of blues and soul into songs like “Shiver and Crawl” and “Without a Plan.”
Los Angeles-based Cecilia Della Peruti brought some disco flavor to her solo indie rock project Gothic Tropic as part of the Girl School Showcase at TOMS. And Baltimore native Lindsey Jordan made her second consecutive SXSW with her solo project Snail Mail. Thursday’s afternoon performance at Sidewinder had listeners waiting until the end to finally get to Jordan’s hit song “Thinning,” in all its garage/dream pop glory.
But it all comes back to rock for me, and New York’s indie rock band Sunflower Bean provided so much energy, as the trio performed songs off its upcoming LP Twentytwo in Blue, including “I Was a Fool” and “Puppet Strings.” You could tell the band was exited to perform at the Showtime House hosted by the Clive Bar, as lead singer Julia Cumming leaped off the stage to jam in the crowd.
- CLOVES – “Don’t Forget About Me”
- Freedom Fry – “Junkie”
- Girl Ray – “Trouble”
- Gothic Tropic – “Your Soul”
- Hater – “Cry Later”
- Jade Bird – “Cathedral”
- Kotomi – “Bright Side”
- Salt Cathedral — “No Ordinary Man”
- Snail Mail – “Static Buzz”
- Sun Seeker – “Might Be Time”
- Sunflower Bean – “Easier Said”
- Swimming with Bears – “French Girls”
- Vita and the Woolf – “Sun Drop”
- Yori Swart – “Bonfire”