The BBQ still weighs heavy. We’re back from the bacchanalian monstrosity of music-blogger networking utopia South by Southwest, where thousands of musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, brandsonbrandsonbrands and even President Obama made Austin their own.
Now more than ever, SXSW is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of scenario. If you’re bored, you’re boring. If you’re griping that the entire fest has devolved into assholes dressed like 19th century blacksmiths waiting in line for five hours for a free taco at a corporate-shill event, congrats: you are that asshole.
But if you know where to look, and plan ahead, you can hopscotch your way to a wildly eclectic blast in the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world. Having arrived just after President Obama stressed technology’s vital role in America’s security in his keynote speech, the downtown atmosphere was still rich with a kind of semi-political clear righteousness untainted by the current gnashing political orgy of fury and fear, a far cry from the stumbling madness it would be on St. Patrick’s Day just a few naps down the timeline.
My divinely elevated resting place was around the corner from beloved local watering hole Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden (homemade sausages, 100+ beers on tap… yeah) on Rainey Street, where StubHub hosted one of the most potent lineups in the entire event with their three-day showcase: Miike Snow, The Kills, Bloc Party, Ghostland Observatory and X Ambassadors positively dominated the literal Southwest corner of Austin during SXSW. We still have highly fond memories of catching Portugal. The Man, Charles Bradley and more at StubHub’s jam last year, but the consistency of this year’s entertainment has the edge.
The Kills’ upcoming album Ash & Ice hits this Summer, and the duo of Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart are operating on a level of smoldering, brooding enthusiasm which tells us they’ve got a few monsters up their sleeve. Following a tremendous performance by Bloc Party, The Kills turned out an airtight set of prowling rockers that had lines wrapped around the block. It was even more maddening on Friday for the hugely potent combo of X Ambassadors and Ghostland Observatory.
Wednesday was the first-ever Bud Light Factory event launch at SXSW, the brand played host to Stereogum’s Showcase featuring Into It. Over It., Chairlift, Twin Peaks, KING, A$AP Ferg and Lower Dens at Brazos Hall. I rolled through to catch Thursday’s lineup at the VIBE Showcase, featuring sets from Yo Gotti, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, BJ the Chicago Kid and more.
Bud Light’s new cans and bottles were on pre-release display as Justine Skye turned heads with a sultry impromptu cover of Rhianna’s “Work” – she even rode Drake’s verse for a moment. The trick worked, as she caught my attention – her original stuff is nothing to scoff at, either.
Anderson .Paak closed the day with a performance that may take the cake as the smoothest of the entire festival. His unbelievable debut album Malibu was brought out in full force as the breeze-throated flowmaster dominated the stage – and at one point jumped behind the drum kit and threw down considerably killer fills while rapping.
Paak’s blend of rap, funk and soul was a perfect atmosphere for the otherwise chaotic day. Anderson also brought out BJ The chicago Kid to perform “The Water” as well, locking down the day’s highlight.
We had to dash, but Bud Light held it down for the rest of Sx, with appearances by Santigold, Bloc Party, and a special event with The Roots, with an exclusive performance by Big Grams (Big Boi + Phantogram). Surprise guests for The Roots included Talib Kweli, Too Short, Yo Gotti, Ashanti, X Ambassadors, Emily King, Naughty By Nature as well as solo sets by Big Boi from Outkast and Sarah Barthel of Phantogram.
Friday was madness, spent running frantically between Antiquiet’s unofficial showcase on the flipside of 35 bringing in 68, Plague Vendor and others for a blast-rock sexy riot of a good time, and Spin‘s annual showcase at Stubb’s up the street, where Deftones and CHVRCHES headlined in an unlikely pairing. I only caught Deftones – CHVRCHES are festival fodder I’ve seen plenty enough – and their first-ever SXSW set was a blink-and-miss blast through nine songs, save for one time-stopping moment: when Bushwick Bill from the beloved Geto Boys became the new Deftones frontman.
Out of nowhere, the most hardcore little person you’ll ever meet appeared onstage and started rapping the lyrics to “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me”. The band jammed along behind him in what would eventually be “Digital Bath,” everyone highly amused in the moment, save for the twentysomething revelers wondering what the hell was happening.
Deftones’ upcoming album Gore was only sampled in one song, and was that a “Hotline Bling” snippet I heard? Wonders never cease at SXSW.
After bringing a whopping $317.2 million in revenue to the city of Austin in 2015, the evolving magnitude SXSW will continue to defy expectations. But don’t let anybody else define it for you – go rock it your own way.
All photos: Johnny Firecloud