With Interactive heading out of town, SXSW Music kicked off proper yesterday, and busy at the film festival on Tuesday night, we had some catching up to do.
With day parties taking over every venue, bar and empty space across town, we headed to Container Bar for our first of 10 shows of the day.
Packed for headliners Charles Bradley and Delta Spirit, we got in just in time for Heartless Bastards taking to the stage. Playing indie rock with country inflections, the Cincinnati natives put in a strong performance with great melodies getting the crowd moving, although they could have gone for it a little more.
Our first time attending Fader Fort during SXSW, next we raced across town for the magazine’s annual event. Largely hosting hip-hop acts in the evening, the afternoon was indie rock, so it was perfect seeing The Cribs take to the stage. With older tracks being met by rapturous applause, the Jarman brothers played a lot of new material too, which seems to be a return to the highs of their first three albums. Typically bold on stage, Ryan tore left and right, though somehow held back from his customary dive into the crowd.
For the start of the official evening showcases, we set up at House of Vans, taking over Mohawk on Red River. First up was Girlpool, playing downbeat lo-fi rock. The songs are slow and winding though they change it up every so often with a chorus at breakneck speed. For the all-girl band – one on guitar, one on bass – playing without a drummer is fundamental to their sound, but you can’t help but wonder if they’d be better with a third member on percussion.
Alvvays (pictured) were on straight after, one of our real hopes for the festival. For fans of TOPS, Tennis and Real Estate, Alvvays play upbeat, melodic indie rock. Lead singer Molly Rankin brings a calm, tenderness to their music, and the tracks from their excellent self-titled debut album were even more engaging played live.
Heading south, next we stopped off at Stubb’s to catch Courtney Barnett. Every year at SXSW, there are always a handful of artists who really blow up, and we had Barnett pegged as a hype act for 2015. Unfortunately her lo-fi indie rock fell flat, missing the punch of something heavier, or the melody of something with groove, though her band did fill the huge outdoor stage with a powerful sound.
Wanting a change of pace, next up we hunted out some electronica and found Son Lux at Red 7 Patio. Very ethereal and ambitious, Ryan Lott’s musical project is a little hit and miss but when he gets it right, it really works. Playing with a couple of backing musicians on stage, Son Lux make great use of house beats and have an amazing energy live, but it can be a little grating over time.
Just around the corner, Beacon were more of the same at Swan Dive. A duo from Brooklyn, their silky techno works nicely with the soft vocals over the top, though after building to a crescendo each track never really drops, so in the end it feels more like chillout music.
Every time we come back to Austin, half of the venues seem have swapped location; this year Cheer Up Charlie’s has traded Sixth Street for the outdoor space on Red River and 9th. We camped out there for the rest of the night, with Twin Peaks first on-stage. Playing rowdy indie rock, and a little like a US version of The Cribs, most of Twin Peaks songs are short but go at 100mph. With surf and punk influences, their heavy style quickly got the crowd going.
A far more recognised name and still riding high on the successes of 2013’s Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee are an all-girl garage rock band. Playing a lot of new stuff, sometimes they were a little droning, though the more upbeat tracks worked a lot better. It’s a lot of noise, similar to Twin Peaks, and though it was well-defined, it lacked the layers to pick the crowd up.
Debuting tracks from their excellent third LP, Atlas, at last year’s SXSW, melodic indie rock band Real Estate were back again, and our highlight of a busy first day of the Music festival. Playing a killer set with tracks from all three of their records, the Brooklyn band hadn’t planned a set so took some requests from the crowd before a particularly emphatic rendition of Talking Backwards finished off their show.
10 bands down, we were beat, so headed home ahead after a very successful first day. Roll on day 2!