Every year I’ve attended SXSW music, I’ve produced a list of my favorite shows in some sort of rank order. This year, it was evident that shows flowed more into categories than into any nice list.
My bias is to try and see smaller bands that may not come through San Francisco any time soon, and to avoid bigger shows.
By the Numbers
Before leaving for Austin, I listened to 345 bands. (My average is generally about 500 – 600, so super behind this year.) There’s always some from the first release of bands that don’t show, so it can be tricky. From this initial list, there were about 45 I said “these would be really good to see” and another hundred or so that I would be somewhat interested in seeing. I try to find bands known for live shows and my penchant is to focus on bands that will have energy and performance rather than just music I enjoy.
I saw 36 bands this year across day shows, shows at ACC (when your feet are tired and your body is too, these can be a good relief, even if they are a weird venue), and evening shows.
Two bands that I saw twice: Best Coast and Spring King
We were there Tuesday – Friday, so four days of music!
Overrated bands: Gengahr, Viet Cong, Hinds, The Cribs, Public Access TV. While I’ve enjoyed listening to all of them before a show, there just wasn’t a lot going on in the performances themselves. These are bands that have great singles, but just not a lot of energy or differentiation from recorded music to their live shows. That doesn’t mean I won’t listen to them again, merely that I wouldn’t go out of my way to see them live.
Best match of band and venue: Best Coast, outdoors at the Palm Door on 6th. This is a band who is entirely enjoyable outdoors, while you are drinking beer and singing along with them. Their lyrics aren’t particularly deep, but the songs are fun, and you’ll be humming them for days.
Best new discovery: Spring King, they are just tight.
Bringing the energy: No doubt about it, the Flatstock stage is always tough. People show up and are extremely tired or hungover, or both. People tend to sit and not dance or crowd the space — but it’s always a good place with a small crowd when you need a bit of a respite and want to pay lots of attention to the music. We managed to see two great bands who managed to still bring energy and performance despite the venue: Skinny Lister and Whiskey Shivers. Both made me want to dance and had my toes tapping and head bobbing, even seated :)
Way better than expected: Wardell, Lazyeyes, Michael Rault. I love the vibe in Wardell, a brother and sister group. You could see the sibling in-jokes. They have a touch of sweet goofiness that made their show really fun. Lazyeyes have modernized shoegaze and am downloading their EP to listen on repeat. Michael Rault was just really solid, really good. I regretfully left his show a few minutes early to head to the next thing and regretted it as soon as I got there.
Holy cow, how am I just seeing them?: Deerhoof
Best lyrics: Mike Posner – he only played 3 or 4 songs, but his lyrics were definitely deep and meaningful. Guess he’s putting all that hit writing to use for himself again.
Funniest banter: I went to see Girl Band (who have no decent online presence – I only managed to find mention of two band members here), and found it was a four piece all female punk band from SF (not the one from Dublin previously noted). The lead singer admitted that the entire band was slightly drunk. Each song was your classic 1:45 or 2:00 number with typical punk yowls. After each song, in a breathy voice that was mismatched with her vocals, the lead singer sweetly said “Thanks guys!”
Best show: Screaming Females. Hands down, this was a great show. The set was energetic and frenetic. The rest of the band is great, but lead singer Marissa Paternoster is clearly the heart of the band. She showed up onstage in a sweet little black dress and completely subverted the Junior League-y-ness of it by shredding on the guitar and singing up a storm. Normally it wouldn’t be something to mention, but on the other hand, every outfit a band wears says something. The subversion of putting on this performance in a 50s style LBD made it much more of a statement about what we expect of women, particularly in music. Thank you Marissa.
One final question for all the bands: Where are your newsletters? Your messages get lost in social media but if you have a newsletter that is just about you, I’m way more able to keep in touch.