SXSW Dispatch: A whirlwind night out, pt. 1 (Night Beds, Paws, Tegan and Sara, more)

Paws | Photo by John Vettese
Paws | Photo by John Vettese

Here’s something you don’t always hear about South by Southwest – it’s unnatural. Like, the amount of live music concentrated in a relatively contained space for its four days and change would engulf even the peak of the aughties New York scene. It’s beyond saturated; the Philly showcase at Club 1808, for example, was one of three simultaneous shows at the venue. Off of the back porch, a grindcore lineup was raging away, while a third stage was getting started in the back of their back lawn (with a BBQ in the middle, of course). “This is Austin, we have to use every square foot of space for music,” the sound engineer joked to me. “There’s a killer lineup going on in my bathroom right now.”

Cheekiness aside, and sensory overload aside, it makes for some unusual, unexpected and oddly enjoyable juxtapositions of music that you might not experience elsewhere. Here’s a quick rundown of a whirlwind night out, following the path I traced on Thursday the 14th.

8:10 p.m., St. David’s Bethel Hall – Harry Taussig opens the Tompkins Square showcase

Harry Taussig | Photo by John Vettese
Harry Taussig | Photo by John Vettese

In a church hall with serene acoustics, Harry Taussig – a self-taught folk guitarist whose 1965 LP Fate Is Only Once is a cult favorite record among new primitive guitar aficionados – gave his first-ever public performance, alternating between banjo, twelve-string acoustic, lap steel and warm and convivial storytelling. This kicked off the showcase from Tompkins Square Records, for whom Taussig released his first record in 47 years. “It’s a wonderful thing when what’s inside a guitar can surprise you,” he told the crowd. Continue reading →


SXSW Dispatch: Public Radio Rocks! showcase with Charles Bradley, Pickwick, Vampire Weekend and more

Yesterday a stacked, eclectic lineup took the Austin Convention Radio Day Stage for an afternoon-long show thrown by Triple-A public radio stations WFUV in New York, The Current in Minneapolis / St. Paul, KXT in Dallas, KUTX in Austin and WXPN.

The Public Radio Rocks! showcase kicked off with gritty rockers Divine Fits; went into introspective mode in a collaborative set by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and a solo performance by Iron & Wine‘s Sam Beam; spotlighted classic soul showmanship care of Daptone Records all-star Charles Bradley; introduced the crowd to new soul-rock outfit Pickwick, from Seattle; brought perennial favorites Dawes out to regale the room with tunes from their new record; and wrapped up with Vampire Weekend playing to a massively packed house.

Check out scenes from the day in the photo gallery above, and watch videos of Vampire Weekend playing “A Punk” and Iron & Wine playing “Woman King” below.


SXSW Dispatch: A Philly-centric showcase with DRGN King, Dangerous Ponies, Blayer Pointdujour and more

Take a short drive east of Austin’s bustling downtown and you’ll find Club 1808, a scruffy rock and roll venue and site of yesterday’s Philly-centric showcase thrown by MilkBoy and Bonfire Entertainment. The lineup was huge; we caught DRGN King, Dangerous Ponies, Norwegian Arms, The Fleeting Ends and Blayer Pointdujour and The Rockers Galore, but others who played included Katie Frank, Thee Idea Men, Kalob Griffin Band, Lushlife, Nothing and Lantern. Check out a photo recap in the gallery above.


SXSW Dispatch: An NPR Music knockout with Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more

The NPR Music Showcase at Stubb's ( clockwise from left: Waxahatchee, Nick Cave, Cafe Tacvba, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) | Photos by John Vettese
The NPR Music Showcase at Stubb’s ( clockwise from left: Waxahatchee, Nick Cave, Cafe Tacvba, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) | Photos by John Vettese

NPR Music‘s annual showcase at Stubb’s BBQ has become a coveted ticket at South By Southwest, and last night’s bill was a knockout. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gave a stunning, electrified performance of songs from their new Push the Sky Away; Philly’s Waxahatchee played a hushed and intimate indoors set; Mexico five-piece Cafe Tacuba rallied the outdoor crowd with song and dance; and Yeah Yeah Yeahs notched the energy up even further, premiering songs from their new LP Mosquito and taking a deep-digging trip into their back catalog.

The capacity crowd was teeming with excitement for Cave, who’s an expert at constructing a mood. “We’re going to start with a rather long song,” Cave said, pointing to the dusky sky as they took the stage. “Hopefully, by the time we finish, it will be dark.” Continue reading →


SXSW Dispatch: Crashing Palma Violets’ house party at 2 a.m.

Let’s begin with the last thing I remember: it was 2 in the morning and Palma Violets was raging away in a nondescript building on the University of Texas campus. Before leaving London for this year’s South by Southwest festival, the buzzing Brit-rock four piece made a petition to their fans on Facebook: “we like intimacy, as do you if you got any taste. We wanna play a HOUSE PARTY in Austin.” The folks at Pearl Street Co-op took them up for their unofficial SXSW showcase – near as I can figure, this place falls somewhere between a student activity center and a rock n’ roll frat a la Philly’s Pi Lam – and the result was a gloriously sloppy, riotous rock and roll show.

To dispense with the obvious criticism – these guys are a wreck in concert. They play so loudly their vocal mics get caught up in an awful, unstoppable feedback loop with their amplifiers. They put so much energy into jumping around and dancing in a frenzy that they unwittingly unplug their instruments and topple the various parts of their drum kit. Repeatedly. When drummer Will Doyle hit his crash cymbal so loud that half of his drums disappeared off the riser, all he could do was laugh until his road manager set them back up.

But that’s okay. This band isn’t about that brand of rock that’s precisely performed but deficient in personality. Palma Violets is anti-humdrum, it’s about embracing the energy of their songs and tossing it back and forth with the crowd. Dualing vocalists Sam Fryer (guitar) and Chili Jesson (bass) play off of one another as much as they do with the front row, sharing the microphones with the fans, encouraging participation in a vocal and physical sense. “Is it Wednesday?” asked Jesson. “Is it Thursday? Who cares. It’s the new Friday.” And the crowd pogoed along, mouthing words to just about every song – even the ones they didn’t know. It was a free-for-all, a release, a celebration. This is a feeling that would be absent in a more formal setting, with less instrument breakage and more performance precision. And this is why, sloppy or not, this was the environment to see Palma Violets.

Below, watch 44 seconds of both band and crowd freaking out to their single “Best of Friends.” Check back for more SXSW dispatches through Sunday; this afternoon, we’ll recap the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s.