The 7 best things I saw at SXSW

Jack Garratt | Photo by Hope Helmuth for WXPN |
Jack Garratt | Photo by Hope Helmuth for WXPN |

As with the past twenty plus SXSW music festivals I’ve attended, coordinating seeing all the bands I’ve want to see each year I go is a function of timing and serendipity. And it’s nearly impossible to see everything I have on my wish list. At any time, there are both official and unofficial showcases all around the city, and there are literally hundreds of them. SXSW is a sprawling, crowded event where you can see a random band rocking out in a vacant parking lot, or see an emerging buzz band, or if you’re willing to wait in a long line to get into the Spotify house, or the Pandora stage or the Hype Hotel, you might be able to see some big name rock bands or rappers along with bands your industry friends have declared the next big thing. It can get very complex very quickly.

Going into SXSW this year I had a list of 23 artists I wanted to see, and given I was at the festival for less time than usual, I knew a list of that size was over reaching. I managed to see about a dozen shows over the three days I was in Austin. Here’s some of the best things I saw.

Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s
Anderson .Paak’s appearance on Dr. Dre’s 2015 release, Compton, was one of the album’s highlights. Since then the rapper, R&B singer and multi-instrumentalist’s star has been rising. The buzz on .Paak going into SXSW was hot, and on his recent release, Malibu, he’s presented himself as a new important musical force in R&B and hip-hop. He played a dozen shows at SXSW, and his show at Stubb’s for NPR Music was one of the first and he was in phenomenal voice and shape. Watch Anderson and the band perform “Am I Wrong” via NPR Music. And stay tuned in long enough to see him get behind the drums. Paak plays The Roots Picnic on June 4th; his name might be in smaller print on the Roots Picnic poster, but if his performance is anything like the one I saw in Austin, his name will be one of the most remembered.

Iggy Pop at Austin City Limits.
While seeing Iggy Pop at SXSW was not on my initial must-see list, I couldn’t turn down a chance to see Iggy with Josh Homme at Austin City Limits. Mr. Pop played a high energy (what else would you expect) incredible set that included most of his new album, Post Pop Depression, and more than a handful of classics. The 68-year-old took to the stage with his band Josh Homme and Dean Fertita (from Queens of the Stone Age) on guitar and keyboards, Troy Van Leeuwen (from Queens of the Stone Age on guitar,) Matt Helders (from the Arctic Monkeys) on drums, and Matt Sweeney (Chavez) on bass. The 22-song show started off on a high note with with two Iggy classics, “Lust For Life,” and “Sister Midnight,” and from there the band rocked its way through a furious set. Towards the end of his main set, he launched into “Nightclubbing,” “The Passenger,” and an incredible version of “China Girl,” which was the highlight of the show. He ended with an eight-song encore, and probably could have played another hour had it not been for the venue curfew. Make no mistake, Iggy Pop is back. XPN Welcomes Iggy Pop to the Academy of Music on April 15th. Be there.

Margo Price at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s
Country / Americana singer-songwriter Margo Price was another one of those hotly buzzed artists on the SXSW lineup this year. Her new album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, out now on Jack White’s Third Man Records, is a remarkable album of confident storytelling that brings to mind country legend Loretta Lynn, yet Price manages to surface her own unique voice to the songs she and the band perform. Below, watch “Hands Of Time” from her NPR Music showcase.

Margaret Glaspy at Hotel Saint Cecelia.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Margaret Glaspy played an invite-only showcase at Austin’s beautiful Hotel Saint Cecelia. Signed to ATO Records, her debut album, out in June, captures her understated, bluesy musical intentions, and she’s got a powerful, emotionally packed voice. Below, watch her perform a solo version of “You And I” recorded at Hotel Saint Cecelia. Her short set at the hotel was enough to convince me that she’s a rising star that we’ll be hearing a lot more from over the next year.

Sunflower Bean at Stubb’s
I saw Brooklyn indie rockers Sunflower Bean at their sold out Kung Fu Necktie show several weeks ago and was more than impressed by their show. Impressed enough to see how they’d sound on a bigger stage in Austin. At the BBC Music showcase, the trio’s music filled the outdoor venue with glorious sounds. As one critic noted about the band’s sound: “It’s rocking and sunny, engagingly textured and clear-eyed. It’s reminiscence without nostalgia.”

Hinds and Jack Garrett at the SXSW VuHaus Radio Day Stage
I could think of worse things in life than being in a convention center ballroom for seven hours with six awesome bands. That’s how I spent most of my Friday (and last day) at SXSW for the VuHaus SXSW Radio Day stage. All the bands played terrific sets, however it was Hinds and Jack Garratt (who were on my initial list of 23 bands I wanted to see), that stood out.

Madrid garage rockers Hinds played the SXSW Radio Day Stage showcase with a spirited and fun set of songs from the band’s debut album, Leave Me Alone. The all-woman four-piece captures the punky spirit of The Runaways with the pop smarts of The Bangles. Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote lead the band with a magnetic charm that’s enhanced by their Spanish accents and irresistible smiles. If Tiger Beat had a special indie-rock edition of its magazine, these young women would be on the cover. Below, watch “Garden,” from their performance.

British singer-songwriter and producer Jack Garratt was one of those hotly buzzed artists to come into SXSW. Over the course of 2015, with the release of several highly acclaimed singles, his profile grew significantly and with the exception of a small tour last winter, American audiences had not really had a chance to see what this young musician could do live. Garratt recently released self-written, self-produced and performed debut, Phases, and early into this year he won the prestigious BBC Music Sound of 2016 poll. Anticipation for Garratt’s SXSW were at a fever pitch; at his SXSW Radio Day stage performance he proved why he’s one of the most exciting new artists on the landscape. Watch him perform “Breathe Life,” via VuHaus below.

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