SXSW - Lights, Camera, Dancin' (Pt.1)

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

This was the first and most exciting day (though maybe not for cab drivers) of the South by Southwest music conference. Thousands of musicians and music lovers have been coming from all over the world to share the streets of Austin, Texas since 1987. SXSW is not a typical music festival, more of a music infection. SXSW inc. takes over music venues, bars, churches, fields, and business places and turns them into blank canvases for musicians to come and show off their art – and in what better place than the live music capital of the world? There's a reason the city's slogan is “Keep Austin Weird.”

Foe Destroyer @ The Thirsty Nickel

Foe Destroyer is an alternative band whose origins spread from the deep heart of the Lone Star State to the always sunny skyline of Philadelphia. Cade Sadler, Chris McQueen, and Daniel Garcia change places throughout the set (guitar, drums, keyboard) with Garcia doing most of the vocals, also harmonizing on and off with Sadler. Foe Destroyer is a great band to see live because you can tell that the guys have been playing together for awhile and it tends to give their music a lot of soul, not to mention they all have huge sex appeal. When I first arrived there were probably 20 people in the venue, but once Foe Destroyer started playing people were coming in off the streets and I was asked about four or five times "Do you know who these guys are?!" Luckily, the band played two more shows during the duration of the music portion of South by Southwest and their new fans (who will invariably become followers) could catch them play again.

Dance Laury Dance @ Spill Bar

Stumbling further down what Austin natives call "dirty sixth" street, I checked into the Spill Bar for the Planet Québec showcase, which was made up of artists from our lovely province. It was refreshing to be surrounded by Canadians again, but I was pretty disappointed when I couldn't get a Molson at the bar. Upon my arrival, I was already impressed by the citizens that had travelled so far south. Thanks to Montreal's one and only Dance Laury Dance, I consider myself the newest member of the rock community. I'm glad it was these guys that opened this window for me to check out some of their other stuff and ask around for some other similar music. I used to think head-banging was just another way to get a neck pain and lose some brain cells but I wanted to join along with the five-piece crew while they were rocking out. The intensity of the instruments also made me want to play air guitar, but we all know that's a little lame. Every member of the band is a pure talent, but frontman Max Lemire really knows how to get the whole room full of energy; it's no wonder Jägermeister, the liquor famous for the Jäger-bomb, is one of their endorsers. Dance Laury Dance also do an awesome job at repping where they come from and made whoever was in that room proud to be a Canadian. They're actually on my flight right now, and if it weren't for my lack of French (they're Francophones), I'd give the dudes a high five.

Wednesday, March 14th

This was my favourite day at SXSW - perfect music, perfect weather, and perfect location. God Bless Texas and Lone Star beer.

Blood Orange @ Mohawk

Blood Orange is a solo artist from Brooklyn/L.A. that packed a full house into Mohawk (the best venue in Austin) on Wednesday afternoon. Devonté Hynes played electric guitar and sang over his homemade tracks on his computer. Hynes has a clear statement in all of his songs; I appreciated the fact that I could make sense of what he was singing and it wasn't overshadowed by everything else going on.

When some guy from the band playing after Blood Orange was standing behind him during the performance trying to set up early, Hynes stopped his set and started speaking to the audience: "I feel like I get a lot of shit out here as a solo artist...then I have people come and stand behind me during my fucking set? Like, what the fuck? I'm not trying to be a dick here, but like…seriously, just wait like 20 minutes." The guy ran off the stage quickly in fear. "Alright, let's do this shit again!" The crowd went nuts cheering. I guess it's true: Europeans don't take shit from people, especially when they're solo artists.

Ravenous @ Casa Chapala

Ravenous are a three piece band from Brooklyn, NY. Mattson Ogg’s vocal range is as original as Isaac Brock’s from Modest Mouse; it fits perfectly with Alex Becker’s percussion and Taylor Bragg and Ogg’s own guitar/bass. I can't say I've heard such creative lyrics since Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy album. Much like Foe Destroyer, these guys seemed to instantly attract a lot of people to their music and bring them in off the street.

Yelle @ Mohawk

Later on in the evening I headed back to Mohawk to see Yelle, whose set was DJ'd instead of being accompanied by her usual live band. Apart from being a total French babe, Julie Budet, the frontwoman, is one of the best pop performers I have ever seen live, not to mention my personal fashion icon. It takes a lot of talent to be a pop-singer in the world of indie these days, but more talent to get in front of an audience and get them to love you when 98 per cent of them can’t understand a word you’re singing. I kid you not; I was at this show with one of my friends and figured he was already a fan because he was going crazy dancing with me for about 20 minutes, but then he stopped, turned to me and asked, “What language is she speaking?!” Budet made the whole crowd act like they were on speed. It made them feel good, and that’s what pop music is all about.

The Octopus Project @ Mohawk

The Octopus Project is Austin’s own experimental band, made up of an electric guitar, a drum machine, a Theremin, a synth, and other musical devices. They rocked the socks off of their fellow Austinites and fans there from all over the world. Yvonne Lambert works her way around her beautiful Moog Theremin and by the end of the show had every guy and girl drooling over her talent. Octopus is not only known for their original music but also for their projections made by Wiley Wiggins (of Dazed and Confused fame). The projections are perfectly artistically matched to cooperate with the sound. The band is also famous for their hexadecagon show, which is way better than seeing them play any other way. Unfortunately, Mohawk doesn’t have the space for it. I was happy to hear many pieces from their albums Hello, Avalanche and Identification Parade. If music really is a drug, then The Octopus Project is my drug of choice.

Thursday March 15th

The Shins @ Auditorium Shores

The Shins played a set in front of thousands of people at Auditorium Shores overlooking Lady Bird Lake while the beautiful Austin skyline hung behind the stage. The city of Austin opens up the Shores during SXSW to give locals and visitors a taste of what the city is about: music, natural beauty, and fun.

The band played a few of their new tracks, but most of them were from their old albums: Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World. It was a great show but I had trouble getting into it at first, seeing as the band acted somewhat bored during the first three songs, especially James Mercer. As soon as they were done with their “warm-up” tracks, Jessica Dobson started rocking out on electric guitar and got both the crowd and the whole band into it. Since this was a free show in a well-known park there were a bunch of people that didn't really go there to actually listen to The Shins, but just to hang out with their friends and then brag to everyone when they got home about how "awesome" and "stellar" it was. I found it humorous how everyone was suddenly quiet when "New Slang" began. Freaking phonies! But being one of their oldest fans, I still enjoyed the hell out of it.

After the set was over I strolled across the Austin bridge looking over Lady Bird Lake, where people come from all over to watch the bats flock out daily at dusk. Seeing these bats is a moving experience on its own, but when you have the reverb of all the SXSW music hitting you at the same time, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

Junebug Spade @ Friends

As soon as I got back to “dirty sixth”, I hopped into Friends to watch Junebug Spade, a garage rock/ alternative band from Oklahoma City. Peter Anthony Seay II’s vocals mixed with Kyle Mayfield’s bass playing remind me a bit of Built to Spill, a band that these guys have also shared a stage with in the past. I hate to use the words garage rock because it reminds me of when I would listen to my friends’ shitty ska bands play in high school, but these guys did me a favour and gave this sub-genre a whole new meaning. It’s impossible for you not to feel the energy from these guys, much like my other favourite artists from OKC. The band just released their third EP, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I highly recommend. I’m telling you, you haven’t heard the end of these guys yet!

-Eileen English