SXSW 2013: CL dispatches from the Austin, Texas fest

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Andrew W.K. & Co.
Dawes was up next in the spacious, but ultimately kind of weird Radio Days ballroom inside the convention center. It’s gotta be rough playing to a crowd half full of adults on their laptops and people just kind of splayed on the ground to catch some rest inside this place. They managed it well, though with a good spread of songs from their latest, Nothing is Wrong, as well as their newest single “From a Window Seat” or, as I now call it “Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’ as churned through the creative meat grinder of Dawes.” (That’s a compliment.)

Andrew W.K. & Co.
Up four blocks, Yoni Wolf’s indie/hip-hop/indefinable/whatever outfit Why? were setting up for a packed, sweaty performance inside the cavernous Russian House. Easily one of the most magnetizing stage presences at the festival, Wolf would’ve make a fine Tim and Eric sketch as he gyrated and motioned on the stage in a style akin to your weird uncle doing his best Eminem impression after seeing him for the first time. Why?’s strength, though, is that they own their absurdness all the while crafting deliciously creative instrumental undercurrents to hold the whole thing up. Tracks like “The Vowels Pt. 2,” “The Hollows,” and “Fatalist Palmistry” off the great Alopecia sounded all weird and muscular in all the right ways.

Andrew W.K. & Co.
We ventured a few blocks east to the Belmont’s beautiful, but painfully small outdoor courtyard to catch the ugly, but painfully awesome Andrew W.K. perform an 8:30 p.m. set. You can’t help but give props to the guy for making an hours-worth of gimmick oil last over 10 years now, but after the fifth song with the word “party” in the title, the magical absurdity of it all starts melting off.

Down at Viceland (again), Detroit quack-rapper Danny Brown played to a smoked-out crowd of way too many flower print button downs and five-panel hats that should ever be in a building at once. He ferociously blazed through a few short one-offs and tracks off his seminal mixtape XXX. The bass repeatedly rattled itself into a fuzzy soup as Brown barked and bounced from one end of the stage to the other like some nightmarish self help guru hell bent on boning and smoking his way to nirvana.

Andrew W.K. rawks.
It’s cute that MySpace still thinks it’s relevant, and even better that I got to reap the spoils of such delusions with the a trip to the Myspace Secret Show featuring Sleigh Bells, Flying Lotus, and Dillon Francis at a small music hall in the heart of Downtown. Craning our necks to see ‘em, Sleigh Bells sounded as beastly as ever bathed in their signature epileptic stage lighting. Crowd surfers’ feet looked like they were nearly touching the setting, giving this thing a whole sense of controlled chaos that’ll look great in the next marketing campaign.

Weighing between catching the shuttle or taking our chances with some other kind of ride to our hotel eight miles away, we opted for “just like, 10 minutes” of Flying Lotus before we had to go. Big, translucent screens were erected in front and behind his booth before Lotus came out for one of the most visually stimulating and “thank god I’m not on hallicinogenics” moments of my life. The music just kind of sounded like he was randomly shuffling through clips on Ableton with little to no cohesion and way too many unnecessary, abrupt stops for a 10-minute period. I think back to his brain-melting, near-religious set at Bonnaroo last year, and shed an imaginary tear.

Aaaaannd, that’s it. We’re all flying out in about an hour. I’m gonna sit back and process this all, regale my fans (mother) with my brush with rock royalty and all-out insane time here, then return to normal life, secretly pining for South By Southwest like that stupid island on LOST. Til next year?

Iron & Wine

SOUTH BY CL, DAY 4: Hip Hop>Indie Rock
Thursday brought a much-needed dose of hip hop to SXSW with a slew of shows from righteous up-and-comers like Trinidad James to current canine-to-feline convert, Snoop Lion.

Trinidad James
Not that we actually got to see the Lion. We stuck it out in the Viceland line, missing Major Lazer, only to actually get inside, then see there’s another line to get in the actual concert area. I tried to rally the two larger dudes next to me into charge the gates and just pummeling through the security guards, but they both whined about “arrests” or whatever and went back to sipping their tiny drinks. Through the small doorway space, I glimpsed a vague figure that somewhat resembled the Doggfather, and heard notes from a reggae-d out version of “Gin and Juice.”

Trinindad James took the huge, outdoor MTV Jams stage for a much more visible and goddamn ridiculous afternoon show. As divisive as the “Popped a Molly” purveyor can be (I just imagine what my grandpa listening to this would yield), his excitement in being there was palpable as he rifled through a brief 30-minute set of nauseatingly repetitive, but stupidly catchy songs including the ubiquitous “All Gold Everything.” He told everyone to wait a second right after his set ended before grabbing an iPhone picture of the crowd. Who knows how long he’ll be around, but you can’t knock his appreciation for where he’s gotten so far.

Surfer Blood
Brooklyn-bred Joey Bada$$, the 18-year-old phenom who’s been garnering crazy critical praise for his 1999 mixtape, took the stage next and proved to be the quickest disappointment of SXSW thus far. The kid’s got skill, and insight that’s almost frightening for someone his age, but onstage his delivery is all one loud bark. One of 1999’s strengths is Bada$$’s near-conversational, smoked-out delivery. Here, it’s gone, but he’s got plenty of time to find it.

LA-by-way-of-FLA’s Surfer Blood was set to take the way-too-tiny Warner Music stage at 8:30 that night. Clad in cat (or mouse?) facepaint, frontman Jon Paul Pitts had the presence of a seasoned frontman, but still, the face of a 12 year old, which I still find oddly hilarious and wholeheartedly relatable.

Their deceptively brief set gave us a few hints at new songs, which sounded just as well composed and energetic as anything off their debut, Astro Coast. If anything, this solidified my sentiment that SB will grow into being one of the most reputable indie outfits of the later ‘00s.

Surfer Blood

Local Natives
Local Natives closed out the night with a 1 a.m. set at Mohawk, arguably the coolest outdoor venue we’ve been in thus far. Even from the back of the bar, the weird architecture of the place makes the stage feel like it’s pretty much right in front of you. Whatever semblance of boozed-out tiredness I had was immediately slapped right the fuck out of me as the Natives near-literally erupted into a relentless set of tracks well-divided between their recent Hummingbird LP and 2010 debut Gorilla Manor. Sporting one of the best mustaches in indie rock, Taylor Rice and company played like their lives depended on this set, sweating buckets and rocking the fuck out until it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume they’d all just melt into steaming piles of goo like the bad witch in the Wizard of Oz when it was over.

Which, in this nice segue, is kind of how I feel right now; voice shot, sandpaper throat, pulsating temples, and more! But, please. Save your “awws” for another 12-year-old-looking man. We have our last full day ahead, and with shows from The Flaming Lips, Andrew W.K., Jim James, and more, it’s easily set to be the biggest thus far.

Yeah. So, the nicest dude in rock is definitely the nicest dude in rock. We rolled up into this place, Iron Works BBQ, for some late lunch grub around 3 yesterday afternoon. Lining up for checkout, I spotted him like a hawk, Dave motherfuckin Grohl just chillin’ with his wife and crew smack dab in the middle of this place.

I’ll admit, it’s kind of not fun seeing big musicians I adore in real life, because it turns all my uber manly and stoic tendencies into an awkward ball of nerves and embarrassment that a 13-year-old Belieber would scoff at. So, we all acted like he wasn’t there, went upstairs to this empty patio kind of thing, and got to feasting. We told a waiter guy about it a few minutes later and he said, 'Wait a minute' before disappearing down the stairs.

Soon enough, he returned with three signed menus, telling us, ‘Dave will be up in a minute.’ Good to his word, who else but ol’ Dave Grohl himself appeared in the doorway, arms outstretched, big shit-eating grin splayed across his face like he’s meeting with some long lost old friends for the first time in forever.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of our little interaction, but I will say it was the most unforced, hilarious (see video), and all around nice celebrity encounters I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. You’re a stand up guy, Dave. Don’t let anyone tell ya otherwise.

Devandra Banhart
ANYWAY, still reeling from the little love fest, we made our way to a convention center to check out Devendra Banhart. Perched in a lone chair on the stage, guitar in lap, Banhart played to a modestly packed ballroom, finger-picking his way through an assortment of tracks, none of which I knew, but each sounding more oddly beautiful than the next. I did have the sudden urge to grow a pencil thin mustache, put a rose stem in my mouth, and dance along a Spanish promenade with my lovely senorita, though, so that was kinda weird.

After a few free drinks at the “Registrants Lounge” (pro-tip: grapefruit vodka is deceptively delicious, esp. when you throw some sprite up in there), we made our way over to Stubb’s to catch Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In full disclosure, I’ve never heard a note of their music in my life, and after this performance, quickly learned I never really wanted to in the first place. At risk of shitting all over his musical legacy, the only line in my notes says, “this is music Morrissey would kill himself to.” Just a serious buzzkill, man.

Tampa’s very own buzz band (We have one! Yayyyy!) Merchandise were lined up to play the Viceland stage at 9:30, so we trekked over for more free stuff a few minutes before the show (thanks Dr. Dre Beats, Corona, Smirnoff, Garnier Fructis, and, wow, I’m so sorry if I forgot anyone, cue exit music).

Merchandise set up, and Mike and I recognized like two of these guys from our far-gone high school punk band days, which was kind of surreal and inspiring at the same time. Seriously, anything that emerges from Brandon, Florida that isn’t a murder or meth lab bust is a small, notable victory for my hometown.

Whatever whispers I’d heard about this band all involved the word ‘shoegaze,’ but the first thing I noticed about Merchandise is the teeth they bring to this all-but-neutered genre. They’re not averse to earworm-y melodies, but don’t quite beat you over the head with it, which is appreciated. Great fucking sound texture, too. I felt like my mind was sloshing back and forth in a warm, sonic soup of fuzzy reverb. Does that sound gross? It’ll be interesting seeing where these guys go in the next few months/years.

We ventured back to Stubb’s to catch the tail end of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Being so far away, Karen O was a mere spec. “Gold Lion” and “Maps” both sounded pretty fire, though.

Alt-J closed out the night with a goddamn mind-blowing set at Stubb’s. I’m totally drinking the Alt-J Kool-Aid everyone’s been so hip on these past few months, and their performance at Stubb’s really sealed this sentiment. These guys are deliciously weird, but tight, airtight. Just the sheer will to make these off-kilter harmonies and seemingly off the cuff compositions into a reality is far beyond anything I really considered possible. I could close my eyes and almost picture two pitch-perfect computers harmonizing instead of the humans onstage. Nothing is original these days, blah, blah, blah…if anything, though, Alt-J comes damn close, all while managing to burrow themselves in our collective ears all at the same time.


Oh, dear lord, South by Southwest, do you ever know the way straight to this manboy's heart. Tuesday started slow, but eventually ramped up to one of the most glorious and varied displays of balls to-the-wall music I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of.

Team Spirit
It all culminated Tuesday night at Vice Magazine’s aptly-titled Viceland, an outdoor showcase-turned-sweaty, wasted warzone as Skaters, Team Spirit, Wavves, and Japandroids lined up to play on a way-too-small stage for a way-too-huge crowd.

New York’s Skaters opened the show with a wholly uninspired assault of 2000-era garage rock ripped straight from the book of The Strokes, leather-clad frontman and all. After a minute, the boredom took over. Drifting off, I pictured Julian Casablances coming on the stage and just patting them on the back, saying “there, there little buddies,” and silently escorting them off the stage before apologizing to all of us out of their earshot. Inspiration is one thing. This was near plagiarism, not that they really gave a shit.

Team Spirit hardly made things better with a barrage of whiny, milquetoast surf/punk/whatever rock Vice would absolutely book on the first night of their showcase. If a 2013 blogg-y buzz band could come in a box, Team Spirit comes packed with all-seasons-perfect accessories - ironic mustaches, Hawaiian shirts, greasy hair, purposefully bratty, throw-all-over-the-place vocals. Is the moratorium on “we don’t give a shit” fuzzed-out bands from NYC and LA out yet?

At least Wavves does it well. Nathan Williams and company took the stage around 11, immediately commencing an all-out great shitshow, for lack of a more awesome description. “Idiot” started, and within five seconds, I was hurled into a bony pit of meat bodies flailing like a church tent revival. It got so bad so fast and was absolutely splendid.. Guitars and mics got unplugged halfway through songs. A wall of red-shirted security was forced to create a wall in front of the stage that was wholly ineffective against the force of the crowd. Fists pumped, beers flew, bodies surfed…it’d be such a trite thing to say “this is what live music is really all about” right now, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the longest grin I’ve held during the length of this stay so far.

Wracked with more sound problems, including an entirely too quiet guitar, Japandroids got off to a rocky start, but immediately kicked shit into high gear, basically firing the wall of security from stage duty. “I’ll take my chances” Brian King remarked before rifling into a set of whooaaa-oohh-laden hits from their latest, Celebration Rock, and debut, Post Nothing.

Tuesday during the day was a mad scramble of hotel switches, shuttle problems, and disappointing pizza (heavy metal pizza is not as intriguing as it sounds). The Polyphonic Spree was set to play an outdoor venue, Club Deville at 5. Surveying the tiny stage as Brooklyn’s girl-duo Lucious harmonized and rattled their way through a surprisingly diverse, refreshing set, many were probably wondering how the 22 members of the Polyphonic Spree would fit, but somehow they did it. Ohhh, they did it. Seriously, if they’re a cult (matching floral robes anyone?), frontman Tim DeLaughter’s got all the trappings of a loving leader. His charisma was palpable as he led his troupe of horns, strings, and a chorus of, like, 12 coincidentally attractive young women through a set of epically twee and cheery songs with a surprising sense of composition and flow underneath that made for very few boring moments during this intimate afternoon set.

Stay tuned for more written updates, pictures, and continued dispatches …

The Polyphonic Spree

South By CL 2013, DAY 1: LANDING
Greetings from the sketchiest Motel 6 in South Austin. Yesterday, I saw a knife-wielding man running just outside our room, screaming and chasing after some unseen person who seemed to have really pissed in the man's cornflakes. And that wasn’t even the highlight of the day!

That’s because we (myself and photographer Mike Wilson) are here in Austin, navigating our way through the biggest, craziest, nicest tech/movie/music/drinking event in the world, South by Southwest.

Music doesn’t “officially” start till today (March 12), but “official” really means little more than, “all the shows that paid to be mentioned in our complimentary guide book don’t start until Tuesday.”

Skinny Lister [pictured], a British folk troupe complete with the requisite stand up bass, accordion, and guitar, drew us in as they jumped and hollered in the middle of 6th Street performing an assortment of breakneck speed, hoedown-y tunes that were pretty fucking raw and awesome to watch, despite how overblown their respective styles might be. Their bassist had “This Machine Kills Dubstep” painted across his axe. I silently laughed at the thought of Skrillex having “This Machine Kills British Folk” painted across his CDJs.

Michael Angelakos, Passion Pit
Last night, Monday, the big draw was Passion Pit, performing at a place called The Hype Hotel, an empty first floor/parking garage-turned-temporary venue at the Whitley Condos. A band called Wildcat! Wildcat! opened the show, providing some fairly decent, but ultimately forgettable background music to pound free drinks to (...thanks Hype Machine and Taco Bell! #LiveMas! #HailCorporate!)

Passion Pit got on around 10 p.m., entering to a sea of cutting edge stage lights, livestream cameras, and a whole fuckload of people. This thing was understandably packed, but there were enough considerate people who still tried to slice their way through our thicket of meat bodies in hopes of getting better spots. Tell you what, there’s nothing like watching the Billabong logos on the back of two beer-swilling bros bounce up in down right in the center of your vision.

Regardless, it got better. Passion Pit fucking slayed, which is weird to say about an electronic-y/dance/love band, but really, in a live setting, this band is, like, 80 milligrams of audible Prozac as compared to the 20 they are on record. Frontman Michael Angelakos has this heavenly falsetto that moves like some fabulous dancing elf atop the chest-rattling bass and synth with songs like “Take a Walk" and “The Reeling.” For about an hour, we were buzzed and captivated, an ideal kick-off to this weeklong foray.

So here I am about to fly out to (arguably) the largest tech, movie, and music conference in the world, joined by a trusty crew that includes best friend/photographer Mike Wilson, my girlfriend and another mutual friend — and none of us have ever been to this thing before.

I imagine it’ll be hot and daunting and absolutely glorious as we bounce from free show to free show wrapped in bursting-at-the-seams swag bags and balancing all the complimentary drinks we can handle, because that’s what my extensive research mindless internet surfing has led me to believe this thing is.

I’ll be covering music, mostly, hopping around town to catch shows by artists ranging from the Flaming Lips to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Father John Misty, Surfer Blood, Alt-J, Acton Bronson, Snoop Lion (Dogg), Major Lazer, Kendrick Lamar and whoever else pops up on the radar.

You might be thinking, ‘This sounds like a pretty slipshod plan for a music journalist covering this festival for the first time,’ and you’re absolutely right. I want to let this thing eat me alive and push me out wherever it feels like. Maybe it’ll suck and turn out to be some big corporate black hole, too big and too packed for me to see any good music. Or, maybe I’ll have a ball, and talk about it until even my own mother won’t want to hear about it anymore.

My dispatches from SXSW will start Tues., March 12, with daily blog updates, intermittent pictures and random musings posted at, via the @cl_music Twitter feed, and #southbyCL on Instagram. Check back there to laugh, cry, boo, and jeer as I lose my South by Southwest virginity and shamefully detail how short and awkward it was after the fact.

South by CL DAY 5: Climax and Conclusion
You ever feel like you’re functioning, but completely devoid of any real, useful thought? Like, you just hope no human comes up to you in fear that you’ll just garble up a bunch of random syllables like a broken Speak-n-Spell? Usually after like, less than three hours of sleep?

click to enlarge Vacationer - Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson

Yeah, me either. That’s why, uh, I’ll try and keep this one a little brief, and hopefully coherent. [Text by Andrew, photos by Mike.]

Friday was, for lack of more eloquent words, pretty fuckin’ nuts. South By is reaching its imminent climax, so everything is just in overdrive mode now. You’re inundated with so many shows at this point, it seems like you could stub your toe on one if you’re not paying attention.

Former Starting Line frontman, Kenny Vasoli’s current project, Vacationer opened up our day with a laid-back afternoon set outside Clive Bar. Their debut Gone is a surprisingly solid spread of happily laid back numbers speckled with influences ranging from J-Dilla to Sting. Live, they breathe it to life, albeit a little less nuanced when it’s blasted raw out of the soundsystem. Either way, Vasoli’s charisma can’t be knocked as they breezed through a handful of grooves, each seemingly more head-bobby than the next.

[More after the jump ...]

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