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.


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.

Last Grains
Dark Shores

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.


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.


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.


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.

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


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.


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.


SXSW Dispatch: Let’s dance (or not) with Kimbra, Apparat, Sleep ∞ Over and more

South by Southwest is a good place to find variety in just about any style of music. But variety doesn’t equate to quality across the board, as I found in a Thursday night survey of dance-music acts of various stripes. Things started off decently enough at Austin’s The Iron Monkey as I caught the last few numbers by D.C. art-punk act E.D. Sedgwick. Bandleader Justin Moyer has been dishing out subversive, groove-oriented jams in various acts since the late ’90s, and this one moves in the same dirty disco step. They were tight, the small crowd was moving modestly, but from there, the night took a massive dive at Barbarella with poor showings by two blog darlings: Sleep ? Over and Korallreven. Both had an absurd amount of electronics and delay pedals and seemed not exactly sure how to set them all up, much less use them properly. After 40-odd minute soundchecks for each, the sets were each underwhelming in their own way. Korallreven, despite (ultimately) sounding awesome, had an absolute nadir of stage presence (not good for beat-oriented industrial rock); Sleep ? Over’s Stefanie Franciotti, an Austin native, at least made an effort at dancing, and had a crew of loyalists up front who joined her, though she sounded messy and unstructured, and took to snapping at the sound and stage crew for her failings. (Not cool.)

Escaping the disappointment, I rushed to Deco Lounge to catch a midnight set by Virginia’s Eternal Summers. Their new material sounds great, but the roof deck they were playing at was higher and more removed from the crowd than The Troc stage. It’s behind a fence—whose idea was that? Finally at the Haven nightclub, things came together at the KCRW Showcase. New Zealand soul-rocker Kimbra had the room packed, and threw as much energy into her stage presence as she saw coming from the fans in the front row. She worked the crowd with hand-slaps and spins off the riser, and her band punctuated it with sharp playing. Following her, Germany’s Apparat brought down the mood but kept up the energy with dark, rhythmic, electronic pop reminiscent of Depeche Mode, played pointedly with movement, energy and enthusiasm—something others could sure take a page from.


SXSW Dispatch: Greetings from the BITBY Backyard

Our video-blogger friends at Bands In The Backyard are big supporters of Philadelphia music, even when they’re in Austin. For its inaugural (and unofficial) SXSW showcase—which was presented by WXPN and The Key—BITBY put a half dozen Delaware Valley artists on a backyard stage (more like a back porch) in a quiet neighborhood just outside of Austin’s bustling downtown. The vibe was tremendously positive, from next-door neighbors extending warm welcomes early in the day, to Key favorite Attia Taylor performing her first-ever solo electronic set (which was mesmerizing). South Jersey rockers The Warhawks even stopped by to check out the show and squeezed in an unplanned set at the encouragement of the BITBY crew. Also on the bill were Brooklyn post-rockers The Veda Rays, Denmark indie folkie Dad Rocks!, and Spain experimentalists Za!. Check out a gallery of the afternoon above, and listen to greetings recorded by each of the artists below.








Photo by Kyle Costill