During SXSW this last week there were dozens of amazing bands at the headlining shows. I saw absolutely none of them. But don’t worry; SXSW is famous for being accessible by even the lowest of paupers.
While wandering around the east side of town, my friend and I stumbled into Hotel Vegas mid-chorus of The Whiskey Shivers song "Gimme all your lovin’." It was their second to last song, but within three seconds of being in the same room as this blood-pumping bluegrass tune I was in love -- the vocal melodies carried the songs forward. The chord progression itself was solid and clever, but the lead singer’s voice coupled with the rest of the band’s backup vocals made me want to start selling moonshine. As they finished, the audience at Hotel Vegas lost it, there wasn’t a person in the room who doubted the severity of excellence they had just witnessed.
I noticed The Whiskey Shivers was that their musclebound, tattoo brandishing, bluegrass clothes-wearing members were all having a great deal of fun and seemed very genuine and humble about the whole ordeal, while still maintaining a confident presence on stage (humbleness being a thing that is somewhat rare in most indie performances nowadays). I don’t know what the last song was, but it was just as kickass as the song before. The two songs were so well performed that I really didn’t care I had missed the show; I felt accomplished and moved just from the two tracks. Some of the acoustic instruments weren’t mixed very well, but I could still hear the lead singer’s violin solo and the guitarists’ solo pretty decently.
I had scoured the town of Austin with my drummer and his girlfriend for a chance to see The Drums play the day before. After missing Bass Drum of Death we ran across the city to make the Drums concert at five. We were an hour and a half early but found a giant god damned line outside the venue with a one in one out policy. No one was going to be coming out, but we stood there for an hour anyway. Eventually we left and got tacos to try and make ourselves feel better.
The next day I was walking around the east side near Hotel Vegas again, with a different friend. She and I were heading over to see Peelander Z play a free show when we walked by a stage outside. There was a band on the stage but they were tuning. They said they had one more song, so I told my friend we should wait to see what they sounded like. The band started to play "Let’s Go Surfing" by The Drums, my favorite Drums song. They were playing it really well too! I was blown away. Dear goodness, I thought, they sound exactly like The Drums. (Squints as the truth dawns on him). Wait a second.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, I had stumbled upon the last song of a Drums show. They all looked dead tired but that didn’t stop them from having an excellent energy during the song. They even rocked out and put a bit of a distorted twist to the chorus, extended the ending, and changed the melody somewhat (I’ve always enjoyed it when singers deviate from the melodies recorded in studio. Thom Yorke has made a habit of this and for many bands it works out wonderfully -- it certainly did so for The Drums). Yet again I felt happy and accomplished that I had seen a great band play my favorite song of theirs for free.
I’ve been a fan of this shoegazing sad bunch of Scottish men for some time. I even got to catch the tail end of one of their free shows. Well, by catch I mean I stood outside in the street and heard the reverbed echoes of their drums and pedals. And by free I mean you needed a wristband to get in. Which is odd, because the venue had advertised the performance as a free show. Don’t you have to pay for wristbands? Anyways, they sounded alright from outside on the curb.
I arrived at Peelander fest about an hour and a half before Peelander Z went on. I stood in line for half an hour with my friend who had nearly died during a crowd surfing mishap at the free Andrew W.K. show at the Co-op the night before. “They’re animals I tell you!” exclaimed my companion as he recounted seeing some of the Co-opers peeing in the corner during Dan Deacon’s set rather than leave. When we got into the festival (one in one out policy which moved pretty quickly actually) we caught the second half of Austin native Foot Patrol’s show. This group’s funk music will make any fool with two feet start dancing. Their songs primarily focus around the lead singer’s foot fetish. They were all dressed like rejects from Roxy Music’s late-80’s touring band and a Rocky Horror show gone horribly, horribly wrong. The lead singer is also a very short, very blind bald man. I’ve never seen someone own a crowd so well. His voice was golden and his action on the keys had no equal that day. I’m glad I caught anything more than a fleeting glance of this group. It would have been incredibly sad to have missed them.
SXSW has dozens upon dozens of bands like this; bands that you don’t know that you will end up loving and seeing for free. And yes the headlining shows and longer performances cost money but honestly the real experience of SXSW is wandering the streets of Austin with your friends for hours and stumbling across your new favorite band. Going to SXSW is a bit like watching the Oscars, you normally haven’t heard of any of the movies but they all sound amazing; when you finish watching you know what films to go torrent when you get home.