1,655 miles in the air
171 miles on the road
4 miles on the bike
I’ve come a long way for this week, and it’s hard to believe it all passed by so quickly – especially considering the fact that I was up about 20 hours a day. While CMJ seems to stretch on and on, my first SXSW flew by. (Maybe it had something to do with the fact that ‘home base’ was a hotel room shared with friends and not my own familiar apartment.)
One-and-a-half hours of sleep is not a solid foundation to build your SXSW week on, but somehow, it worked. The rush of the week and the promise of abundant (free) tacos, music, and beer kept me going.
I had intended to post an update at the end of each night, but my plans quickly fell through when I realized that I needed that time to plan out the next day’s activities.
Allow me to catch you up now.
My computer clock’s preference for Eastern Standard Time meant I accidentally ended up downtown an hour earlier than necessary (precious sleeping time!), but it also meant I had time for some free food courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan and a quick set from the adorable Savoir Adore. As is often the case at SXSW, the band had to compete with overflowing music from neighboring venues, but they still managed to engage the audience with their fun hand motions and polished sound.
Savoir Adore clip:
I fell in love with the outdoor space at the French Legation Museum my first day in Austin, so I decided to go back to catch at least a couple of acts: Papercuts and Hanni el Khatib. Though I found the latter to be intriguing recorded, I can’t say I was really feeling them live, so I headed over to one of the NPR Music showcases and saw Khaira Arby, Wild Flag, The Joy Formidable, and The Antlers.
Even if it wasn’t really my bag, it was fun to see Carrie Brownstein’s new project: you guessed it – an all-girl garage band. Then there was The Joy Formidable. All I can say is wow. Chick has the crazy eyes. Photographic evidence:
The Joy Formidable clip:
By far the highlight of the show (besides chatting with the Jon Pareles, the chief pop music of the NYT) was the set by The Antlers. They performed the entirety of their upcoming album, Burst Apart, in sequence for the first time in a live setting. (You can stream the show here.) Apparently, the band had been practicing it like crazy with back-to-back sessions. A lot of the task was finding out how to build all of the layers included in the studio recordings. I’m not convinced that their new material is nearly as cinematic in scope as Hospice, but of course it’s hard to tell what direction the new songs will ultimately take in a live setting.
Like Hospice, much of the new album seems to project a dark kind of resignation to pain, sickness, and heartbreak. But in addition to the darker songs, it ended in a surprisingly hopeful, (albeit bleak) vein. “I’m not going to die alone. I stitched the stuff up to close up the hole,” sang Pete Silberman in a particularly Hospice-like song.
As the last strains of The Antlers were dying out, I quickly left the building and headed back to the French Legation Museum with just enough time to see two songs from Low, a band I had been meaning to see for a while.
Up next was quite a change of pace from the big-name headliners in the dimly lit upstairs room at The Parish – a lesser-known crop of musicians, playing on a rooftop bar. In quick succession, I saw Herman Düne, Bobby Long, and briefly for a second time, the captivating act Sea of Bees before attempting to get into the Pitchfork showcase at Central Presbyterian Church to see Juliana Barwick. Upon learning the show as a mean $30, I declined (but not before asking the SXSW staffer, “Is this Pitchfork just being a jerk?”).
To fill in the gained time, I checked out a couple of new acts: goofy, ironic mustached garage rockers Gospel Claws and the pleasant uptempo Scotish artist King Creosote. Neither were particularly memorable, or at least not in comparison to what I saw next: Austra.
Zola Jesus may drive me a bit crazy due to Nika Roza Danilova’s overly dramatic performance, but Austra seemed to strike exactly the right balance – theatrical and eye-catching without coming across as disingenuous or over-the-top. Their beat was addictive, their appearance and dance moves, arresting. Austra is the project of three women: Katie Stelmanis (front and center) and Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf (who contribute both backing vocals and synchronized dance moves).
Throughout the week, I had either an Austra or Sea of Bees song stuck in my head – not that I was complaining about it on either count.
I finished off the evening with Lord Huron and The Heligoats before calling it a night and jumping back on my bike to take the late-night uphill ride back to the hotel room.
band count of the day: 15.