Taking us through the highs and lows of Friday at SXSW is Minneapolis writer Jonathan Garrett, who finds joy from San Francisco, and Breeders-like pop smarts from one of Nashville’s hottest new acts.
“Friday came just in time. After the horribly tragic events of Wednesday night and a truly lackluster Thursday spent on interminable lines and watching a series of underwhelming performances, I was ready to throw in the towel and swear off SXSW for the foreseeable future. But then Friday came along restored my faith in what this festival is really about: seeing all the newest and best talent the world has to offer in the space of a few square blocks and just a matter of hours. There’s nothing quite like it, really.
“My day began at precisely midday at a venue 10 minutes-drive from the center of town called the Hole in the Wall. I was there to see the last SXSW performance from San Fran outfit Happy Diving. Based on the online tracks to date, I was expecting a heavy but enjoyable mess from this teenage troupe. What I got instead was a surprisingly hook-laden, tight batch of songs which split the difference between vintage Dinosaur Jr. and the triumphant pop-punk of Ash. Me, the other audience member, and the guy at the bar who looked like he’d been there since the previous night had stupefied grins on our faces throughout.
“Next up were The Districts. Perhaps not since Haim in ye olde 2012 has a band used SXSW so effectively to generate word-of-mouth. The whispers have clearly turned to breathless anticipation judging by throng who assembled at the Red Eyed Fly at 1 pm. I really have nothing to add to what my parter-in-crime Kevin EG Perry said the other day about The Districts’ blazing live show, so I will simply co-sign.
“From there, I hightailed it over to the Buffalo Billiards for an acoustic set from latest Arts & Crafts signings, NO. Unfortunately, the band had trouble finding its footing in the admittedly awkward space, and due to the horrendous acoustics, many of their songs were drowned out by some party being hosted upstairs. Not an ideal venue for a stripped-back performance.
“I then wandered to the outskirts of the downtown area for a Nylon fete featuring a DJ set from sizzling electro act Goldroom. His joyful dreamwave—equal parts New Order and Daft Punk—provided the perfect soundtrack for the immaculate, fashion model-filled room. For a few minutes anyway, this slovenly writer felt a lot less slovenly.
“After a short break at the hotel, I headed back out for Coin. With the golden setting sun at their backs, the well-coiffed synth-pop quartet pleasantly breezed through a short selection of songs from their EP and forthcoming debut album – and threw in a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’ for good measure.
“The evening sessions began at The Swan Dive, where I saw a small portion of the set from Viet Cong, the new project to emerge from the ashes of Women. The band brought good energy though I do wish I could recall the melody from a song or two here the morning after. I then ambled out to the backyard stage where I caught my first Texan act of the fest, a band by the name of Purple. The trio had the distinction of having a female drummer who also sang lead. Sadly, the music itself wasn’t nearly as distinctive, and not a minute after I had scribbled “stripper-pole rock” on my notepad, the drummer removed her top to reveal a pink-ish purple bra. No joke.
“My unexpected surprise of the evening came by complete chance when I followed a friend to a venue called Parish Underground to kill some time before my last scheduled event of the day. Bully, despite their name, are not some pummeling metal act, but rather an appealingly tuneful alt-indie outfit from Nashville. Their set had energy and charm in spades, and reminded me a bit of the Breeders in their scrappy prime. Judging from the line of newly minted fans who made their way to the foot of the stage after the show, Bully’s only misstep was not bringing along any hard copies of their recorded material.
“I capped the evening over at the Blackheart with a performance by Gang of Youths. The band from down under easily won the prize for the most raucous show of the day, helped in part by the audience’s level of inebriation but also just simply due to the band’s sheer force of will. Frontman Dave Leaupepe is a massive, hulking singer with impressive presence as he stalks the stage. At times, he reminded me of fellow Aussie Angus Andrew in his commitment to whip the audience into a frenzy. The band was allegedly none too happy with the sound, but it scarcely mattered. As any SXSW veteran will tell you: in Austin, performance is king.”