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SXSW photo recap: Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson’s ranch in Luck, Texas

Willie Nelson’s western town in Luck, TX, is about a 45 minute ride from downtown Austin. On Thursday, March 15th, at SXSW, the town was transformed into the Heartbreak Banquet, a performance space with two stages featuring over 20 musicians including Rhett Miller, Father John Misty, Blitzen Trapper, Daughter, Billy Joe Shaver, Phosphorescent, and Gary Clark, Jr.
Heartbreak Banquet was presented by Electric Lady Studios and Robot Fondue, in association with John Varvatos. For the attendees (including WXPN Station Manager Roger LaMay) it was a welcome break and musical retreat from the frenzied pace of SXSW.

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Recap: a four-piece Strand of Oaks debuts new music at SXSW

For about a year now, the “members” listing on Strand of Oaks‘ Facebook page has read “Timothy Showalter and growing.” That growth has been a steady process, and a thrilling one to watch unfold. Last summer, Oaks played its first gig as an evocative, synthesizer-heavy three-piece in the Catskill Mountains; this would become the band’s touring lineup for the next six months.

At South by Southwest last weekend, we saw another shift – Stand of Oaks is now a driving rock four-piece, with Deven Craige (also of Little Big League) on bass, Ryan Berg (of Project Object) on drums, and Jonny Ollsin (from Family Band) sitting in on second guitar. The new configuration is impressive, and short of “Sterling” from Pope Killdragon, the set showcased new material that’s taken a turn into uptempo, dare-I-say anthemic songwriting. Which doesn’t mean Showalter has abandoned his introspective lyricism or fits of brooding; he’s still the same thoughtful songwriter, but now with more immediacy. Check out the setlist below – highlights were the pulsing “Dark Shores” (which Oaks played on tour last fall) and “Maureen’s,” where Ollsin cut loose with a jaw-dropping guitar outro that betrayed the time he spent playing in metal bands during the early aughts.

SETLIST
Trapdoor
Last Grains
Dark Shores
Sterling
Diamond
Satellite
Maureen’s

While he was in town, Showalter filmed a Couch By Couchwest session covering “Long Desert Train” by Jason Molina (of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company). You can watch the video below.

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Photo Gallery: SXSW standouts

If you haven’t gathered from our volume of posts about it these past several days, there is no shortage of live music at Austin’s annual South by Southwest conference. Here is a gallery of five performances that stood out to me as I darted back and forth across town: the wild southern-fried rock of Pond (who plays Johnny Brenda’s tonight); quick snaps of Titus Andronicus holding their own in a feisty set just before The Jesus and Mary Chain took the stage; an insane, irreverent performance by Barcelona’s Za! wherein two dudes with various instruments had a bonkers, Trout Mask Replica-inspired freakout; a solid afternoon showing by Brookyn’s White Rabbits; and a breezy evening performance by Creed Bratton, founding member of The Grass Roots, who you might also know as that guy from NBC’s The Office.

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Recap: The War on Drugs makes beer cans dance at SXSW

For their final show in a long weekend making the SXSW rounds, Philly’s The War on Drugs gave a rousing performance on The A.V. Club Showcase at Club De Ville Saturday afternoon. The hour-long set drew largely from the band’s epic 2011 release Slave Ambient, dipping back to their 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues for “Buenos Aires Beach” and “A Needle In Your Eye #16.” Among the highlights were bassist Dave Hartley playing a trumpet through his network of delay pedals; Adam Granduciel’s invigorating vocal performance on “Come to the City”; and a moment during “Your Love is Calling My Name” where the insistent rhythm and pounding bass made empty beer cans left along the P.A. system dance. At least that’s what it looked like in the afternoon heat. Take a look at a short video below and judge for yourselves.

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Recap: Bleeding Rainbow’s appearance at SXSW

If you haven’t caught Philly’s Bleeding Rainbow in concert or online over the past few months, here’s a mindblower for you: the minimal noisepop duo formerly known as Reading Rainbow (who last year expanded into a trio, then changed its name) is now a full-blown, epic-sounding indie punk foursome. In its Friday evening South by Southwest showcase at Austin’s The Iron Bear, Bleeding Rainbow delivered a raging half-hour long set of entirely new material that carried tones of Sonic Youth’s Goo and Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. New drummer Greg Frantz kept a fierce backbeat while founding members Rob Garcia and Sara Everton alternated between guitar and bass, their trademark vocal harmonies floating nicely above the fray. Over on stage right, guitarist Al Creedon wailed on his guitar so intensely, part of its headstock splintered off by set’s end. I was already amped to hear the new record the band just finished working on, but this has sent it into overdrive – check out a slideshow above, read the setlist below, and experience the noise for yourselves when Bleeding Rainbow opens for Cloud Nothings at Johnny Brendas on March 30.

SETLIST
Get Lost
Pink Ruff
Yr Not Alone
Go Ahead
Drift Away
Inside My Head
Shades

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Watch Donovan make a surprise appearance at SXSW

An unexpected addition on the final night of this year’s South by Southwest festival, 60s pop icon (and recent Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductee) Donovan played a surprise set at The Palm Door in downtown Austin on Saturday. Though he was not mentioned in the SXSW itinerary or on its website, an unceremonious listing of his name on the festival calendar in Friday’s Austin Chronicle drew a few hundred fans to the tiny venue: “I didn’t come to South by Southwest this year expecting to perform,” Donovan explained to the crowd. “But somebody dropped out, and they dropped me in.” His hour-long acoustic performance mixed more recent material with Donovan classics; the ecstatic audience sang along loudly to both, and Eric Burdon of The Animals joined Donovan onstage for “Season of the Witch.” Check out a photo gallery above, watch three videos from the performance below.

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SXSW Dispatch: M. Ward, Tommy Stinson and more pay tribute to Big Star’s “Third”

Last night at Austin’s Paramount Theater, an all-star cast of indie / alt-rock luminaries – from M. Ward, to The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, to Wilco’s Pat Sansone and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck – gathered to pay tribute to Big Star‘s Third, arguably the best unfinished record in rock. This was the second time a Big Star tribute has taken place at South by Southwest in recent years; the legendary power-pop / art rock band was set to reunite for the 2010 festival, but band leader Alex Chilton died suddenly just days before, prompting a troupe of his fans in the music community to convene and pay their respects in song. While that performance was spontaneous and emotional – captured in “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me,” a documentary that screened before the performance – this one was celebratory, punctuated by a dazzling orchestra and the elegant surroundings (and acoustics) of the Paramount. The performance of the album was followed by a dip into the Big Star back catalog, including songs from the solo career of Chilton (“Bangkok”) and founding singer-guitarist Chirs Bell (“I Am The Cosmos,” “You and Your Sister”). Check out a slideshow of the tribute above, and a video of “I Am The Cosmos” below.