I’m going to attempt to make this Thursday recap of my SXSW adventure as brief as possible. Knowing me though, brief is a relative term. Let’s just see how this goes. Oh, and as a reminder, I’ll have all my photos for you sometime next week when I can properly edit them down.
My first stop of the day was over to Google/YouTube’s parking lot party. They had a stage set up on the roof of a parking garage and all the free drinks you could handle. Best Coast had an early afternoon set, and I wanted to hear some new songs off their forthcoming second album. I came, and the band delivered. Bethany, Bobb and two other guys played about 5-6 new ones, with a smattering of old “classics” in there too. There was “Boyfriend” and “When I’m With You”, but also “Why I Cry” and “How They Want Me to Be”, among others. Overall an excellent set, better than the last time I saw the band which was a couple years ago.
Sticking around and drinking more, I caught Cults next. In the about 7 months since I saw them last, they’ve grown quite a bit. I don’t mean physically, but performance-wise. The more touring they’ve been getting under their belts, the better they seem to get. Everything about their performance was spot on, even though I was standing right across from Brian Oblivion’s guitar amp and my ears were getting blasted. Madeline Follin is more confident behind the microphone as well, which is a big help. They played material off their debut album, and maybe a couple new ones, though I can’t be certain they weren’t obscure b-sides or something.
I could think of no place I’d rather be after Cults than waiting at that same stage again but this time for Frankie Rose. I really like her new album Interstellar, plus it’s been a little while since I saw her last. She was performing with the Outs back then, who were subsequently dropped. She’s now got a core backing band of about 5 other people, and they all do a solid job. But really it’s Rose’s show, and her masterful stage presence helps make the hot outdoor stage just a bit more bearable. She also played it pretty liberal with her song choices, pulling almost equally from her first album and her new one.
What’s sad about the Frankie Rose show and the two before it was how sparsely attended they were. Sure, that meant no lines, no fighting to get to the front of the stage, and more free alcohol for me, but those were 3 great bands I saw in a row that maybe 50 others were also there to witness. Nobody even approached the stage or hung out at the barricade until Frankie Rose started her set. Even then it was myself and 4 others all the way up there. I’m sure all 3 of those bands will have much better crowds for the rest of their SXSW, but for an event put on by Google you’d think more people would come. Or maybe it was too early/people were at the conference listening to Springsteen do his keynote. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see those performances without being packed like sardines into some small club. Which is where I went next.
Chairlift are playing about 3 shows a day every day during SXSW, and because I’m kind of in love with their new album Something, I promised I’d go see them at least once. They were playing at a small club for the Under the Radar party, and of course it was crowded. To the point where it became a “one in, one out” situation and I was stuck in a long line. By the time I got inside, the band had already finished half their set. The half I did catch was all stuff from their new album, so I walked away pretty happy. Caroline Polachek appeared to be having a blast too, which is super hard when you’re playing multiple shows every day. Part of me wants to see them again before SXSW ends to get the full set experience.
After trying and failing a couple times to get into the Hype Hotel (a venue put on by the Hype Machine) due to seriously long lines, I decided that standing in line for Pitchfork’s showcase at Central Presbyterian Church would be my next best option. In case you were not aware, the church holds about 450 people total, and Fiona Apple was set to open the showcase. So many people were in line just to see Fiona. Having seen her the day before (albeit at a much larger venue), I was far more interested in the 4 members of my Class of 2012 that were performing after her.
After 3 excruciating hours of standing in line, I was kindly granted access to the church, arriving at the middle of Charli XCX‘s set. She’s really only got a couple songs to her name right now, but she’s already being tipped as a future star by myself and a few others. Her debut album will be out before the end of the year, and undoubtedly all the songs she performed Thursday night will be on it. Everything sounds fantastic, she’s got great stage presence, and I’m intrigued to hear how the recorded versions of a couple songs sound. All in due time.
Purity Ring were up next, another band without a debut album to their name and only a couple singles floating around the internet. Their marriage of hip hop beats and smooth female vocals naturally brings the duo into the sphere of Sleigh Bells by just a little bit. Like Sleigh Bells, it’s also a whole lot of fun. Purity Ring works harder to make it special too, requesting that all the lights in the venue be turned off so they could play around with multicolored orbs that glow and change colors when struck. As visually arresting as their set was, the music was just as excellent. Singles “Lofticries” and “Belispeak” couldn’t have been more on the money, to the point where most of the other songs seemed a little weaker by comparison. It was fun and danceable, but it’s a little tough to get people’s natural reaction in the middle of a seated pew church. Still, I’d like to think the standing ovation at the end of their set was a realistic response to what we’d just seen.
Next up was Grimes, who was quick to set up and get started. She didn’t want to waste any time, nor should she have. Using plenty of looping and synths, she crafted an incredible avant-pop soundscape that was wholly engaging and rather delightful. There were a couple moments where she messed a thing or two up, and that’s almost expected when you’re doing everything on your own, but it was a very forgiving crowd and she was super goofy about it. Most of what she did involved constructing songs off her latest album Visions, however there were a few experiments in there with vocal harmonies and the like that were sheer beauty. “Oblivion” and “Genesis” both got their turn as well, the latter after she was told there was time for one more song. She then refused to stop, playing another song in spite of the house lights coming up and organizers pulling their hair out. It was over after another couple minutes though, and she was treated with another standing ovation.
Much of the crowd cleared out after Grimes, only to make way for Nicolas Jaar, who was set to compose an original set based on the church setting. I expected it to be just a little boring and quiet, because the guy isn’t necessarily big on dance-worthy beats. Yet he still managed to piece together an excellent long-form piece that was introspective and beautiful while also upbeat and fun. That’s no easy feat, and he had a couple friends on hand to provide some live instrumentation along with his laptop-composed elements. I was a little angry at all the people taking flash photos during the set, because that’s long been a rude thing to do. Of course Jaar and his band were playing in near total darkness, and if you wanted a halfway decent picture flash was needed. I took no photos for the exact reason of it being too dark and I didn’t want to use the flash. Some people will do anything for a photo, and it looked like a lightning storm or paparazzi attack for at least the first 15 minutes before tapering off somewhat. The music was amazing though, transcendent would be the word I’d best use to describe it. Go see Nicolas Jaar if you have the chance. The guy’s crazy talented.
Finally, to cap off my night I wanted a little rock and roll. After being kicked to the curb at the PureVolume House because I hadn’t picked up my venue-specific badge earlier in the day/week, I dashed over to catch Cloud Nothings performing on a rooftop. It was an extremely packed space, but even on the very busy 6th Street you could hear the band’s set quite clearly. No doubt many enjoyed their music without actually seeing any of it performed. But up on the roof people were jumping and throwing their fists into the air, like any good punk show should have going for it. Oh, and head banging. Plenty of that too. From what I heard of their set, which was about the back half of it, they played almost entirely material from their latest album Attack on Memory. It’s a great record, one of my favorites of 2012 so far, so I was having a blast. I was also super tired having been on my feet all day, but it was so much fun. A great capper to my night before heading back to the hotel to rest up for Day 3 of this madness. To think we’re only halfway there!