Festival review: Diving into the ‘land of many bands’ at SXSW 2013 with Polyphonic Spree, Ra Ra Riot, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Tracorum, So Many Dynamos, Earl Sweatshirt, Richie Hawtin, Big K.R.I.T., Beach Fossils, A.Dd+, Eagles of Death Metal and more, March 12-13
In Austin, “live music capital of the world,” one will find music and a crowd no matter where he or she goes during SXSW: people line every street and bands wanting an extra show occupy sidewalks. Open bar windows let the sound spill out to make damn sure everybody knows there’s another gig to be enjoyed.
Lines forming a full work day in advance proved a regular sight, keeping even platinum badge-holders out of venues. Best piece of advice is to minimize waiting in line; one can easily walk in and out of bars as he or she pleases, finding gems and new favorites along the way.
Getting underway Tuesday, Hype Hotel provided the destination. Taking the stage a few minutes late, Ra Ra Riot’s baby faces belie that they’ve been inducing the head-nodding since 2006. Despite a low-key guitar throughout, the solos Milo Bonacci hit to wrap the show stole it.
The venue easily made its case for a daily stop; if not for music, then for the Taco Bell sponsored perks – free cool ranch Doritos tacos, anyone?
Afterwards, at Red 7 Patio, the aptly named Tim DeLaughter succinctly dubbed Austin in explaining the uniqueness of his band, “In the land of many bands, there is only one Polyphonic Spree.” Any doubters were persuaded by their cult-like flair, the pushing of the stage fire code capacity – impossible to see, let alone count all the members onstage – and the band’s coordinated muumuus that recycled your parents’ trendy couch patterns from the ’60s. Tim continued to delight, debuting songs off a soon-to-be released album with the help of a three-piece brass section and a six-piece choir, then celebrating the end of each song like a freshman walk-on hitting his first nationally televised three-pointer.
Continuing the trend of debuting new material, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound treated a mid-day Wednesday Barbarella crowd to tracks off of the upcoming third LP from Bloodshot, “Howl.” If reading this and not in the know, cancel any plans and be at Off Broadway on March 24 for the Chicago band’s return to St. Louis.
Lesson learned in an hour lost waiting for Kendrick – would later be told 1100 Warehouse’s Wednesday night had two stages, and most of the already at-capacity crowd turned their back to Youngblood Hawke in anticipation of the Compton prodigy – as showing at 7:50 p.m. only meant being the 200th person in line that wouldn’t get in for the 9 p.m. start.
Sweet southern-style lemonade was made of stumbling into San Francisco’s Tracorum. Lured into HandleBar by the pure energy of the lead guitar, hell-bent on getting the perfect squeal out of his devil-horned Gibson SG, the band would fit in nicely with the twangy side of Bob’s Scratchy Records on 88.1 KDHX. Old enough to appreciate and invoke Jerry Lee Lewis on the keys, the hellbilly foursome manifested youth via metal licks and nonstop roadhouse rock.
So Many Dynamos brought some St. Louis style to the packed and personal Valhalla. The thoroughly sweaty crowd fed off the sweatier band, particularly the nonstop bass bounce giving each genre-shifting jaunt all the cohesion it needed. Black Spade and the brass section having traveled with the band, the appreciation from and for the band manifested in the stage rigging shaking throughout.
Scoot Inn, apparently having sound issues and running late most of the day, plowed through two bands during the time Earl Sweatshirt was billed: Dive, surf rock by way of guys who seem to have been landlocked all their lives, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, an unfortunately garbled and crowded mess blaring throughout the venue’s sound system. No matter, Earl quickly earned “Best of Show”; side note: this award personally given prematurely, again and again. The raspy and mumbled, “So…what’s up?” as inverse a salutation as expected to the crowd’s sudden vibration at seeing him, Earl tore through the first four tracks off his upcoming LP.
Having gone a song over the venue’s request immediately, Earl decided it was time to bring on Domo Genesis for a couple of guest verses. While “Burgundy” and “Chum” already proved highlights, Earl’s simple request to not stand still for the next one proved those gems obsolete. The crowd abided. The pit instantly became a divider – those who wanted to mosh and crowd surf versus those who wanted to wake up the next morning. With the crowd rowdy, the staff pissed, and Earl Sweatshirt having earned every bit of the hype leading up to the week, SXSW officials unplugged his DJ as the song ended.
Richie Hawtin, a day after expressing his grumpy old man syndrome with Deadmau5 at a joint keynote – “The [new] songs sound the same,” said Zimmerman with Hawtin adding “Maybe that’s why [electronic dance music is] so big now. It’s homogenized” – put on an unimaginatively boring EDM show, disappointingly wrapping an otherwise brilliant evening.
Thursday provided an optimal opportunity to manage one’s fury at hearing the words “at capacity.” Regardless, after seeing my big brother and cousin off to Sound City Players – Citicard holders had priority to Dave Grohl’s beyond enticing amalgamation of the Foo Fighters, old bandmates and his personal rock heroes — I made my way to Big K.R.I.T.’s stint at Lustre Pearl. Building a show entirely off of the Mississippi natives pure energy, the emcee came with every bit of flame he had on his seminal mixtape, “Return of 4Eva.” As if he hadn’t already given the crowd a set to remember, the self-proclaimed country boy climbed into the crowd for the closer, “I Got This.” As if I hadn’t already had the time of my life in Austin – with three days to go – K.R.I.T. coincidentally stopped … at me. Personally being part of the response into the mic – a not-to-be printed translation of telling off one’s anonymous adversaries and those innumerable loose women – he effectively baptized a new member of his lifelong fans.
Up next, Beach Fossils proved a worthy choice. With tensions rising between the venue, the drummer and the lead vocalist Dustin Payseur over an already running-behind bill, the frontman completed his Johnny Rotten impression – having already climbed into the crowd to become a one-man mosh and continuously biting the Taco Bell hand promoting him – by tackling his drummer, splaying the drum kit and sending the staff into a furor so as to separate them.
A.Dd+, the stupefyingly underrated Houston rap duo, came onstage to a minimal crowd. Song and a half in, rightfully so, the 512 bar crowd became shoulder-to-shoulder. It cannot be stressed enough that the song “Can’t Come Down” must be given at least one listen. Fan-favorite status was proven as a crowd member stepped up and immaculately nailed the second verse of the stoner theme song. Recognizing how much love the crowd poured out, the guys stepped right into the crowd after the set and drank a few elbow-to-elbow.
Fragile and worn, soldiering on to Old School for the Eagles of Death Metal was simply a must. Sure enough, 15 minutes was all it took for the staff to become so concerned with crowd safety that they asked Jesse Hughes – a frontman you must experience to understand – to shut down early.
True-to-form, “I got 25 hard minutes of rock left, you gon’ have to pry this guitar from my hands” was the only reply given. Plowing through the filthiest of rock, the foursome sent everyone off to bed singing the earworm, three-word, mom-unapproved refrain of the cult classic, “Whorehoppin’.”
Shit, God damn, indeed.