Six Philadelphia artists who crushed it at SXSW 2015

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Sheer Mag | Photo by John Vettese
Sheer Mag | Photo by John Vettese

This time last week, I was traveling home from Austin after a jam-packed three days of nonstop music at SXSW 2015. Many who make the trek to the annual industry rodeo do it with an eye on discovering new artists. That certainly fits in the mix when I’m down there – and the sets I caught by California rapper Boogie and Indiana singer-songwriter Elephant Micah were impressive – but my primary focus is catching up with Philadelphians at the festival to see how they fared.

We already saw some of this – the afternoon I spent with Vita and the Woolf as they bounced between unofficial showcases, or the night I hung out at RECPhilly and What Scene?’s all-Philly hip-hop-centric showcase on 6th Street. Here are six more Philly bands who, in one way or another, impressed me at SXSW, beginning with the band whose photo you see at the top of the page.

1. Sheer Mag – I am happy to report that this garagey South Philly five piece is not, in fact, bullshit. I certainly had my doubts when the hype hit last year following the release of their debut 7″. It got a Pitchfork writeup before the band had really begun to tour, and music bloggers and blaggers subsequently bean tripping over themselves to scream about Sheer Mag like they were some freaking musical revolutionary force, the next coming of The Clash. Whenever that happens, I’m immediately suspicious. But we can’t really fault the band for how industry dumbasses react to them, and taken on their own merits, they’re a fun crew. I caught them at a super late night set at Las Vegas Hotel. I lost my wallet at their show and still had a good time. Their live act is loud, unhinged and intoxicated; verges on the sloppy, but they’re relatively tight players and hold it together in the end. Songs are pretty generic, but you can tell watching them slam around the stage that Sheer Mag freaking means it, is in the moment and is doing it for nobody but themselves. I don’t expect they’ll have a long, prolific run; I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re no longer a band in two years, and are a minor local music footnote in ten. But for right now, while they’re not brilliant, they’re better than not bad.

Left and Right | Photo by John Vettese
Left and Right | Photo by John Vettese

2. Left & Right – The Red River Street club Valhalla was maybe half filled when this Philly-via-Charlottesville four-piece (and recent Key Studio Sessions stars) took the stage on Thursday evening, but this didn’t faze them. Like Sheer Mag, Left & Right are in it for themselves, and they rocked it as I’m sure they’ve been rocking the packed clubs they’ve been playing on tour with Diarrhea Planet (they hit Underground Arts on April 7th). Their sound intertwines rumbling BigMuff riffs with sparkling guitar leads; some moments simmer, some are a storm. The walls around the stage are filled with a checkerboard of old LP covers and it set a solid backdrop as the LNR Dudes stomped around, dove out of sight and into their pedalboards, returned amid bracing noises and delivered a set to outstretched arms hoisting Lone Star cans.

Pine Barons | Photo by John Vettese
Pine Barons | Photo by John Vettese

3. Pine Barons – These Jersey guys are in a pretty enviable place right now. They have super catchy indierock anthems and are tight performers, they’re on tour as direct support for their Philly BFF’s The Districts playing lots of sold out rooms, and they’ve got a new album in the can, waiting for somebody to release it. Hopefully this SXSW helps them out with that. I caught them at the Rachel Ray BBQ day party, and their short set had a lot of fire and energy. It was a hot and sunny day and I definitely got sunburnt. I also got serious Weezer vibes from Pine Barons’ very poppy new songs, which crosses surprisingly well with the Built to Spill / Dr. Dog approach of their earlier material. Excited to hear more from them.

The Districts | Photo by John Vettese
The Districts | Photo by John Vettese

4. The Districts – Of course I couldn’t hit this year’s SXSW without catching these guys. Like Courtney Barnett, they were ubiquitous, and it seemed at points like I couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into a District or four. Bruce Warren sung their praises previously, and I would just add that their live game right now is on, and that their Thursday night set at Parish was jammed with energy and excitement; “Peaches” is catchy and lively, “Young Blood” rips it up more than ever. Very excited for their Free at Noon next week.

A Day Without Love | Photo by John Vettese
A Day Without Love | Photo by John Vettese

5. A Day Without Love – When Brian Walker bought a badge and booked his spring vacation to SXSW, he didn’t expect to perform. He was going more to hit the panels, see bands, network and get some perspective on approaches he could take with his ever-evolving emo / alt-rock project A Day Without Love. It was one of those deals where somebody ran into him and was like “hey dude, want to play my unofficial day party?” Which can be hit or miss, but when you didn’t think you had a gig, anything is good. The party was at a sushi restaurant a half hour walk from downtown, there were maybe fifty people in attendance – which isn’t a bad crowd considering that Walker usually plays house shows here in Philly and had never played Texas before. The folks putting on the show seemed to be of the electro-jam-rock Lotus-ish variety, and one of them rushed behind Walker to provide drum pad accompaniment on an iPad as Walker performed. When he realized it was going on, he laughed and was like “Whaaat?” during a solo; his songs played sans beats brought the focus on his gripping words and fierce delivery. There was a lot of applause.

Creepoid | Photo by John Vettese
Creepoid | Photo by John Vettese

6. Creepoid – When I interviewed Creepoid for City Paper five years ago, bassist Anna Troxell had this great quote: “I’m turning 28. I’m not tryin’ to thrash anymore.” That mindset evidently went out the window, since when you see Creepoid now, she’s a force of nature, a dynamic presence front and center and slamming around to the drumbeats of her husband Pat and the roaring guitars of her bandmates Sean Miller and Nick Kulp. The band’s set at the Noise Showcase on Saturday afternoon was the last one I saw before catching my flight. It was filled with loud new ragers and lots of dry ice. The upcoming album sounds like it’s going to be solid. And, despite the band’s relocation to Savannah last year, they still introduce their sets saying “We’re Creepoid, we’re from Philly.” Love these guys.

For more coverage of SXSW 2015, click here.

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