SXSW | 03.20.10 | Austin, TX - Day 4

Words by: Sarah Hagerman

The Packway Handle Band at 40 Watt/JamBase Party
03.20.10 by Hagerman
Saturday came down upon us, bitterly cold and gray. It was definitely a shock to the system after three days of gorgeous sun and mild nights. The weather seemed to cause many folks to stay indoors on the last day, which meant noticeably sparser attendance at a lot of shows, plus a fair number of cancellations and outdoor stages running late. But as the sign I spied at Green Mesquite BBQ later that day said, "It's called Texas weather." Texas weather means extremes that smack you in the face. So, I bundled up and rolled with the punches.

Packway Handle Band

Those in attendance at the 40 Watt Day Party (co-sponsored by JamBase) seemed to have the right idea – grab a Bloody Mary at Side Bar and huddle in the warmth of conversation. As the crowd swapped stories about the previous nights' revelries, Athens, Georgia five-piece string outfit Packway Handle Band stepped up to their dual head mic stand, set up on the Jon Guthrie Stage inside the bar. Without so much as an introduction, they launched into a set that made a believer out of everyone by the end. Packway have a fierce stage presence, with more than a touch of dramatic brimstone. Fiddle player Andrew Heaton was especially infused with hellfire, frequently leaping from the mic huddle to run around at the front of the crowd while thrusting his bow into the air like a baton. They were just a joy to watch. I adore the single mic stand set-up for bluegrass bands – it adds an element of theater, and Packway had it down to a snappy science. The four – Heaton, Michael Paynter (mandolin), Josh Erwin (guitar), and Tom Baker (banjo) would smoothly weave in and out (bassist Zach McCoy stood coolly to the side, until the end that is), leaning in close and singing, stepping out for the solo passes and even acting out the lyrics. When they sang, "Times a-comin' when the sinner must die," Paynter fell to his knees and Heaton mimed shooting him in the head. With his eyes menacingly wide, Heaton drew his finger across his throat, grimacing on the word "die." From an amped-up version of "Tell It To Me," which kicks the shit out of OCMS's version about five times over, and a cover of The Tiger Lillies' "Terrible," which featured trumpets and a couple gals on backup vocals, this is a band that knows how to own any song they set their minds to. At the end of the show, they ran into the crowd, furiously picking their instruments. McCoy raised his doghouse bass over his head, sending the bar lights swinging and wildly cheering folks ducking out of their way. They pushed the crowd back and forth, as they ran into the walls of the bar. This is how I like my bluegrass served up – dark and passionate, with a side of blood.


Lumped in with the post-punk disco bands, but drawing equally on robotic electro and banging club pop, WhoMadeWho were ferociously fun at Encore. They laid down rubbery beats and squishy synth, as bassist Tomas Hoffding leapt from the speakers to the crowd and back again and guitarist Jeppe Kjellberg pointed directly at members of the audience, singing, "You! Your thoughts are dirty!" One of the most amusing things to me was that Hoffding and Kjellberg never cracked the glass cool looks on their faces – Kjellberg kept a slightly-sweet, slightly-pervy smile glued on the whole time, and Hoffding was absolutely unflappable, even when Kjellberg bent down and pretended to tickle his balls or reached over and grabbed his nipples. When Hoffding made a trip into the crowd, an audience member tried to get in on the titty twisting action. Unfazed, Hoffding simply ripped open the top of his shirt and let him have it. These are some seriously freaky Danes, and when they closed the set with a crushing cover of "Satisfaction" from Benny Benassi's 2003 album Hypnotica (you know, "Push me/ And then just touch me/ Until I get my/ Satisfaction"), you felt like they really wanted you to push them in some very unseemly ways.

Titus Andronicus

Pretty Lights at La Zona Rosa :: 03.20.10 by Aaron Bach
I'm a total Shakespeare nerd, so I had to see a band named after one of The Bard's more obscure tragedies. I shivered in the cold and darkness of the Red 7 patio, through the end of the utterly unmemorable Crystal Antlers. Titus Andronicus was worth every minute of that wait. You can just tell when a band fervently believes in what they are doing, and lord, does this group write some new gospel. Anthemic punk with definite touches of The Hold Steady, Springsteen and The Pogues, you just want to pump fists to this. Note to self: Get their recorded stuff, so I can scream the lyrics next time. They had bucket loads of energy and are unapologetically brainy. Their latest album, The Monitor, is a loose concept album about the Civil War. They also have an album called The Airing of Grievances, which is a reference to "The Strike" episode of Seinfeld and the holiday Festivus. I'm glad there's a band of fellow pop culture, literature and history geeks out there to freak out with, who also have the balls to write 15-minute punk songs. I think I'm in love.

Pretty Lights

Utterly beaten to a pulp, I ended my SXSW 2010 with Pretty Lights at La Zona Rosa. Although not normally my thing, I got to hand it to him – Pretty Lights is definitely on top of his game. There's a reason he's blown up as of late. He has a seamless sensibility as he layers and melts bits and pieces together. It's real craftsmanship, and I was well impressed. He also had a mind-blowing light show, and drummer Cory Eberhard added a real thrust behind the sonic palette. Glitchy, dubby and heavy, with moments of exuberant flight, it was the perfect way to sweat and dance down the last hours of SXSW 2010 before 2 a.m. fell upon us. SXSW can be a harsh mistress, but, as I looked around at the beaming faces and hands raised in the air, I knew she'd already called me back for 2011.

Continue reading for more pics of SXSW Day 4...

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