A day before flying out to Austin we were hanging out in LA, and while lunching at The Counter caught sight of Jason Batemen chomping on a burger two tables across. It was a big deal. So when on SXSW’s opening evening our friends messaged us that at a secret Asis Ansari stand-up show Michael Cera was right next to them, it kind of blew our minds. Foolishly we were tricked into thinking Jeffrey Tambor was there too (a right royal Arrested Development fest our trip would have then become), and although that was just a practical joke, Cera and Bateman was still good going.
Why was Cera in town? A little sleuthing overnight revealed his band, Mister Heavenly, to be playing, so of course, we were one of the first in line. An ‘indie supergroup’ with members from Modest Mouse and Man Man, if imagine if Wes Anderson crafted an indie band, this is how they would sound. With quite a cultured feel to their music, Elysium soon filled up as Mister Heavenly’s stage time was approaching, and the crowd were not to be disappointed. Though the band wouldn’t blow anyone away, it’s no surprise they’re already signed (and to Sub Pop no less), and not just because of the famous members. Similar to Modest Mouse, they boast a cultured, Americana-influenced sound, and a couple of tracks at least have got ‘hit’ written all over them. It was pleasing to see a band back up their promise (or moreover Michael Cera seriously forge a music career), and follow through on undoubted potential. Two tracks before the end of their set though we had to dash, and for good reason.
In the months leading up to SXSW we were a little back and forth on whether to make the trip. You get the rewards, but the Austin festival is a crippling experience on body, mind and ears, returning home more exhausted than ever before, while of course, having the time of your life in the process. When We Barbarians confirmed, however, our plane tickets were booked the next day.
Part of a great opening day at the Lustre Pearl, Dickies always curate a fantastic line-up, day and night, and with the Cali-now-Brooklyn three-piece starting things up. Now pumping out a heap of new songs, We Barbarians are really stepping it up and buzz is building around a band that has always harboured limitless potential. Fast and effortlessly rhythmic, Headspace and The Wait Is Over especially showcase a move to slightly less atmospheric, more straight-up indie, a change that comes off very nicely. Playing with such energy and vigour, it’s hard not to be drawn in, and even for much of the crowd who probably hadn’t seen We Barbarians before, you could tell they made a big impression.
Whether it was entirely relative to how great We Barbarians were or not, sadly the more well-known The Naked And Famous didn’t come close to making a similar impact. Quite samey from the first track to the last, they’re very flat live despite obviously going for it. Cracking out hit single Punching In A Dream fairly early on in an attempt to entertain, the New Zealanders are surprisingly boring on stage as their music struggles to craft any sort of edge.
Every year at SXSW the organisers put on a big free show on the lake, with a couple of the biggest names announced gracing the stage. Some guys called The Strokes headlined 2011’s Auditorium Shores, and a packed crowd witnessed one of the best events of the week. Playing a ‘greatest hits’ set with a handful of new tracks dotted along the way, while The Strokes have always lacked a certain spark live, they’re still pretty great, and with huge, lengthy fireworks set off behind the stage during closer Last Nite, it was a pretty unique experience.
Leaving on the last beat of their encore, we raced back into town for our second We Barbarians show of the day, this time at Palm Door. Never were we to doubt it but the boys were great again, with Cold War Kids showing up just before they hit the stage to join a busy crowd lap up every track.
Next up it was another LA affair at The Driskel, the most glamorous official venue at this year’s SXSW; a small side room in the old hotel laid host to Superhumanoids. Filled up on free popcorn, we readied ourselves for one of the bands we were looking forward to most in advance of the festival. Possessing great rhythm and tempo to their music, Superhumanoids are like a less expansive or eclectic version of Local Natives, but that certainly shouldn’t be counted against them, and with a female singer sharing vocals, they still have their own place on the music sphere.
Ending another day at Beauty Bar, this time in their backyard, if we were after a quiet end to the night, Miami Horror certainly had other ideas. A potent mix of Jamaica and Daft Punk, the Australian band know how to impress and put on a wonderful show. Though much of the crowd didn’t seem to know every song, everyone was instantly dancing away, and the perfect end to day 2.