SXSW Superlative Awards
SXSW came back with a vengeance, for better or for worse. Personally, it was for better, but that’s a limited view, I know. So I reckon I’d share some thoughts and hand out a few awards here and there, that way you know where we were and who we loved. …in case that actually matters.
First, let me just talk about the experience as a whole. This was my 24th SXSW, and honestly, it might go down as one of my favorites. Admittedly, I saw some good bands, though nothing life changing, so suffice to say, the festival as an experience was the highlight, perhaps more so than the bands. I did like the bands though!
For starters, the last two years has been a struggle. I’ve got young kids, so I’ve hidden away from the shows, only hitting up the occasional outdoor event. It’s strange, particularly for someone who went to a minimum of two shows a week for the last decade (plus!). So, stepping out into the world (I did wear a mask indoors), it was nice. I saw some familiar faces, and while most of those faces said nothing had changed, what had changed was the excitement of traveling through each other’s lives again. Even the acquaintances were more than happy to share life updates or tell you about their favorite band. I even ran into a few folks from overseas who have become friends through the pandemic, but we’d yet to meet in real life.
All in all, the music had less of a focus, and the spiritual reawakening seem to have taken precedence. Shit, even hanging out for extended periods with Team ATH was nice, as we hadn’t all been in the same spot together in some time, give or take a rare DJ appearance. Looking back, it was like taking mushrooms, I just grinned for an entire week, so much so that my jaw still hurts.
So, here are some of our superlative awards:
Aeon Station (Nathan, bgray)
Before the rupture of patellar tendons, Kevin Whelan and company reminded me what rock n’ roll was all about. Their performances (I caught them 3.1 times) were energetic, involving the crowd, and there was no indifferent posturing on stage, which oddly was the norm. Bonus points for a few Wrens tunes making it into the set. We hope Kevin is okay.
Roller Derby (Nathan)
This German quartet played a remarkable set early in the week. They sounded assured, but also professional, with not a single note going amiss. Fans of classic indiepop likely swooned; this was the charming brand of pop I expected, and they gave it back, tenfold. Fans of Alvvays and the like would be best served hurrying to listen to this group.
Weakened Friends (Nathan)
Fresh off the release of the excellent Quitter, the Maine trio blew into town and just crushed set after set after set. They were energetic, and again, I’m a big fan of bands that sound like they’re well-oiled machines, and you can tell this lot are hitting their stride right now.
Perfect Swedish Pop. Please check out their record Mondays.
Just Mustard (RayRay)
This band was completely unassuming when starting the show, appearing tired and worn out, but these youngsters pack a lot of sound and noise into their small band. For what they may like in movement on stage, they more than make up for with the wall of sound they produce.
Walt Disco (RayRay)
Not sure I can remember a band having this much fun on stage. They dealt with some sound issues like many did, but it did not phase the band. Sort of punk rock at times, sort of dance music, but an all around good time.
We Were Promised Jetpacks (RayRay, bgray)
BGray and I decided to venture over to Cedar Street and see some old friends who we knew would give us a much needed late afternoon boost. The sound was surprisingly full and the band delivered by playing some old favorites “Quiet Little Voices” and “Roll Up Your Sleeves”. BGray and I both felt it was a cathartic performance which brought back some of our earliest memories together at SXSW.
So good. So very good. To be locked in on a fast soundcheck, providing your own lighting? Shimmy. Jams. To have WWPJ and Korine on the same day of SXSW was just what these weary bones needed.
Caught them twice, wanted to give them a chance. Musically, it sounds like a Franz Ferdinand cover band went to watch Fontaines DC, then decided to change directions. RayRay told me it sounds like the poor man’s Kaiser Chiefs. They were flat, performance wise. I’d love if bands would take that sound and do something new. This was not new.
How could they not be overhyped. Every venue, long lines, people waiting to see a band that will be at every festival, I guess to say they were there. And yes, bgray did go see them…and they were fine. Good songs, but dang, even 2pm at the Convention Center can be an epicenter of confirmation bias.
Ceramic Animals (RayRay)
Watched about 2-3 minutes of this band inside at Mohawk and my pal Mike Itch and I both were not impressed. One of many Strokes wannabes that I saw during the week.
SURPRISING BEST SOUND:
I’ve thrown a fair share of shows throughout the years over at Hotel Vegas, and honestly, after a handful of acts, whoever was running sound inside at Volstead deserves their own award. It’s a tough room to make sound great, but be it new PA, or just skilled tech; it sounded better than anything else I caught.
Hotel Vegas (Inside) (RayRay)
Sound was an issue at a lot of venues last week, but I thought inside Vegas sounded much better than usual. Maybe it was our friends in Good Looks who just always sound great? I cannot say the same for the outside stage…
BEST FRONT PERSON:
Across the last year, many folks got to witness Lydia and her band, Gustaf, as they toured with Idles. Best front person award belongs to Lydia based on facial expressions alone, but she also gets points for clever lyrics and stage antics; it’s part punk, part performance.
Kevin Whelan (RayRay)
After watching a whole bunch of bands stand around on stage, it was a wake up call when Whelan immediately starts slinging his bass around and yelling at people in the crowd. I mean the dude put so much into his shows that he destroyed his knee.
SMILEY McSMILESON AWARD:
I’m not sure whether their huge grin is just feeling the feels from Weakened Friends’ sound, or the fact that their partner is five feet away belting out the licks, but Annie’s huge smile is one of the huge reasons that band is so endearing…not to mention how tight they sound as a unit.
BAND I INADVERTENTLY SAW TOO OFTEN:
I want to start off by stating that I intentionally sought out both bands; they were on my list of acts I had to see. But, no matter where I went afterwards, the bands were also playing. SXSW can be a slog, but I don’t think anyone, that I caught, hustled as these two acts…and even still, they always seemed locked in during their sets.
Fake Fruit (RayRay)
I saw this band on purpose once and then on accident for a second time. Honestly wasn’t super impressed bug it may have been related to sound issues at Vegas Outside and the odd new spot Pershing Outside on the east side.
ARTIST THAT DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE ASSIGNMENT:
Straight Razor (bgray)
Y’all know I, Brian R. Gray, am a sucker for the EBM (think Front 242). Straight Razor is the nom de plume of Omar Doom; you may know him as Omar Ulmer, his character from Inglorious Basterds (Dominick Decocco in the theater scene). I caught Curse Mackey prior, analog synths, drum machines, projector, a live show. Omar rocked up, plugged in his laptop and stood there as goth Andy Kaufmann, periodically emphasizing transitions. To be fair, it sounded great as that EP is solid. Was it performance art? We’ll never know. #shrugemoji
BAND I’D HAVE AT MY KID’S BIRTHDAY PARTY:
Not only does Norway’s Pom Poko have songs that I love, but the performance of Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit is so captivating, you just want to watch the group on repeat. So, in planning for a kid’s birthday party, you’d want something rambunctious and fun, but also super hip and cool…and, well, that’s all Ragnhild; I don’t know if anyone could’ve done it better.
Where the Fuck is My Booklet? (Nathan)
I know that we’re in a technological age, and I should be able to manage an app appropriately, but the SXSW app scheduling app was a little less friendly than I might have liked. In comparison to the booklet of past years, I think it was lacking, and sort of crippled my inability to hop around at night as much as I might have liked.
No Shows Start After 12 AM (Nathan)
I hate to be my mother here, but nothing good happens after Midnight, especially when day long exposure to booze and CBD is abundant. Again, there was a late-night shooting, and while it’s hard to prevent that sort of thing in America, the festival could encourage safety by moving up sets an entire hour. Just an idea.
I have to concur with Nathan that the music booklet needs to be brought back. The SXSW app has SO Much information and it can be difficult to wade through everything. Sitting down in the morning with a highlighter and the booklet was a thing I missed this year.