The start of SXSW proper, it was ominous that we were already pretty tired, but a super lie-in soon cured that and we delved into the unofficial day shows. On the first Wednesday you can normally catch pretty much all of the biggest bands at the festival, and this year was no different.
Walking straight into The Stage before an apparent tidal wave of fans turned up barely a couple of minutes later, we caught Tennis for one of their first shows this SXSW. Though lead singer Alaina Moore was getting over a cold you could barely tell as they raced through tracks off debut Cape Dory and the newly-released Young And Old. Their sophomore plays really well live as the summery twee pop band have really matured over the last 12 months.
Putting out our favourite LP of 2011, it’s no surprise Youth Lagoon were near the top of our “must see” list coming into this year’s festival. Playing at Red 7 late afternoon, however, I don’t know why we were surprised by the venue’s popularity, racing over to find a mammoth queue we would never get to the front of. Cutting our losses we ran around to the back and caught his opening couple of tracks through the open patio door before declaring it unfinished business and moving on. Even under the circumstances, however, Daydream and Cannons were more than impressive, and even better than on a record we already loved.
The first official show of the day, Blood Orange kicked things off to a near empty crowd at Haven but by the end it was at capacity. Indie rock meets chillwave meets Kavinsky, everything was on a backing track bar the lead guitar and vocals but once they got the sound right (turning everything up) Hynes put on a good show. Jumping off the stage and into the crowd on numerous occasions it’s obviously the once Lightspeed Champion belongs in the live arena after writing for numerous pop and other acts over the last few years.
A big fan of Derrick Comedy and their cinematic release Mystery Team, to change the pace, next I caught my first comedy show in my SXSW history. Performing at Esther Follie’s, D.C. Pearson was a nice break from the music, and pretty funny too.
Barely five minutes up Red River, The Good The Bad‘s only official showcase (though they do play a bunch of unofficial events) was at Headhunters. Long term fans of the band without ever catching them live, it’s fair to say the Danish three-piece didn’t disappoint. Playing high energy instrumental surf-influenced rock, their music is a wall of sound but with a real definition often lacking from similar bands.
Running another couple of minutes up Red River to Mohawk, we thought we might miss the start of College‘s highly anticipated set but suffering technical difficulties erecting a mini-projector on stage we made it just in time. Making his name with the breakout single A Real Hero you probably heard on the Drive soundtrack, the rest of College’s much is much more dancey, though even that track was much more emphatic live too. His music is another example of why cool French electro should be a genre of its own.
Determined to see Youth Lagoon proper this time, we hotfooted over to Vice for his next performance. Despite having to change AA batteries in a keyboard mid-set, to much amusement of the crowd, and unfortunately at the expense of Daydream from their set, Youth Lagoon were impressive as expected. They’ll grow and grow before hopefully playing the festival again in 2013.
With things now winding down and a weary day, we were back to The Stage for their indoor/outdoor stage combo and three bands in a little over an hour.
Walking in to 1,2,3‘s debut at SXSW this year, they play catchy pop-rock, and while they’re far from terrible, they sound a little too much like a lot of other bands to really stamp an authority. You’ll hear their stuff on a few TV shows and ad spots, however, so they’ve got to be doing something right.
Outside, Crocodiles were next with their uncompromising brand of garage rock. Think The Vaccines only without their catchy hooks, we abandoned mid-set.
An apt closer for the real opening night, The Drums finished things off at The Stage. Fighting fatigue at this point – I probably shouldn’t have walked 30 miles around NYC in four days last weekend -they’re fuller, more emphatic and darker (haunting synths aplenty) in the flesh, and made hitting 2am no problem. Loving their latest release Portamento was made even easier as their sophomore album does even more when seen in person. While lead singer Jonathan Pierce’s impersonation of Ian Cutris still feels very forced, he’s dulled it down a little bit now and didn’t put us off enjoying a fitting end to the day.