South By Southwest 2019: New Discoveries
Words by: David Schultz
If one is willing to be uncritically imaginative, the South By Southwest Festival can rightfully be compared to a spaghetti western. It’s not because of the Texas locale or the sparseness of certain venues, but rather over the course of five days and nights, anyone immersing themselves in the spirit of the occasion will experience the good, the bad and the ugly. With approximately 2,000 acts making their way to Austin for the week, logistics prohibit any single person from covering more than a fraction of the artists that play the thousands of sets that comprise South-By’s official and unofficial components. However, not being able to see everything doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be seen and new artists to discover.
Reignwolf – Empire Garage:
In a just and fair world, the revelation of 2019’s SXSW will no longer be the best-kept secret in rock and roll. The legend of Reignwolf dates back to 2014 when the Jordan Cook-led power trio hit the festival circuit, playing a blistering version of electric blues that could barely be confined by concert convention. By the close of most performances, Cook and bassist Stacey-James Kardash would abandon the stage to play amidst the audience, destroying any illusion of artistic separation from the crowd. Just as the groundswell of recognition started to build, Reignwolf disappeared … for nearly five years.
Returning with a vengeance, as well as with Hear Me Out, a proper debut album, Reignwolf torched the Empire Garage at the Heard Presents day party. Unable to come into the crowd due to the unwieldy barriers, Cook and Kardash climbed on everything to get atop of while unleashing scorching versions of “Over And Over,” “Fool’s Gold” and “Are You Satisfied?”. It’s one thing to hear Cook play, another to see and experience his creativity and dexterousness as a guitarist and a performer. It’s both truly gripping and truly rock and roll. Not since The White Stripes has there been anyone stripping the blues down to its core and reveling majestically in its glory.
Yola – Stubb’s Indoor:
At her early afternoon set on Stubb’s indoor stage as part of Rachael Ray’s annual Feedback day party, YOLA nee Yolanda Quartey was introduced as the “Queen of Country Soul.” Before anyone could question whether “country soul” existed or whether it had royalty, the 35-year old Brit rightfully grabbed the crown. Playing acoustic guitar, while accompanied by electric guitar and bass, Yola performed a selection of songs from her recently released Dan Auerbach-produced debut Walking Through Fire, including an absolutely extraordinaire version of “Rock Me Gently.” Yola has a voice that simply must be heard and in the cozy confines of Stubb’s music room, it was simply stunning. If Yola is country soul royalty, bend the knee.
Video via Relix
Buck Gooter – Beerland:
We live in a world where not many people bought the Velvet Underground’s first album upon its release, but those who did formed bands and now play the music we love and revere. In an alternate universe, where everyone who listened to Lou Reed’s 1975 LP, Metal Machine Music formed their own band, Buck Gooter would be the norm and not a fascinating outlier. At the Post-Trash day party, the Virginia duo eschewed the stage and commandeered the main floor. Wearing a mask and chain mail, guitarist Terry Turtle stoically pounded out power chords while Billy Brat explored the rest of Beerland, scowling at the crowd and gutturally growling out lyrics. In lieu of percussion, Brat periodically threw a pair of cymbals in the air, kicked an assortment of metal debris and hung himself with a string of bells. If it wasn’t music, it was definitely medieval performance art.
Parker Gispert – Antone’s:
Parker Gispert opened the Georgia Theatre’s official showcase by playing selections from his solo debut, Sunlight Tonight, as well as a surprisingly non-anachronistic cover of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” In between songs, the lead singer of The Whigs, an unfairly overlooked trio from Athens, Georgia, amiably conversed with the audience, explaining that he recently followed one his dreams and moved to a farm outside of Nashville with the change in lifestyle serving as the impetus for his latest batch of songs. With Thayer Sarrano offering sparse accompaniment on keyboards, Gispert strummed an acoustic guitar, prompting a close listen to the self-reflective lyrics. Even with the modest arrangements, you could hear the heft in the songs.
The Kraken Quartet – Central Presbyterian Church:
The genesis for the non-traditional arrangements of The Kraken Quartet, an experimental foursome from Austin, can be found in the heady prog-rock proclivities of the 1970’s when artsy bands looked towards classical music and jazz for their inspiration. Playing within the hallowed environs of the Central Presbyterian Church, the Kraken Q’s symphonic aspirations had ample room to breathe. Anyone who fondly recalls the Benevento/Russo Duo’s keyboard and drums approach will appreciate and find much to enjoy in the Kraken’s inventive combination of percussion and electronics.https://www.instagram.com/p/BvFsTg4lQb5/
CHAI – Mohawk Indoor:
Like four Hello Kitty fanatics who also loved The Go-Go’s, Chai, a heavily hyped foursome from Japan, charmed crowds throughout Austin with their relentlessly peppy and upbeat sets. At the core, CHAI brilliantly mirrors back pop music, which by necessity incorporates the brilliant Swedish songmeisters and American culture through a Japanese lens. Performing before a crowd literally packed into the Mohawk’s indoor stage, they playfully romped through a set that included an a capella rendition of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” in Japanese. CHAI succeeded in their goal of being the torchbearers for the New Cute.
Video by Jaymoostop
Strand of Oaks – Scoot Inn:
For the Brooklyn Bowl/Relix showcase, Tim Showalter, who essentially plays under the name Strand of Oaks, teamed up with Band of Heathens, the Austin based powerhouse that helped bring last year’s Jerry Garcia tribute to fruition. The Heathens brought a wonderful heft to Strand of Oaks’ brand of smoky My Morning Jacket-inflected folk rock as Showalter guided them through previews of songs from his recently released Eraserland, selections from Hard Love and a romp through Heal’s “Goshen ’97.” If all is right with the world, this won’t be the last pairing between Showalter and the Heathens.
Video via Relix
Thumpasaurus- B.D. Riley’s:
If Bill Murray formed a funkagalactic, off the rails, possibly unhinged band of misfits and immersed them in all-things Prince, it would probably result in something close to Thumpasaurus. Clad in matching white jumpsuits, as if they had all recently escaped from a nearby funk asylum, the LA-based act turned BD Riley’s into an early evening dance party. Guitarist and frontman Lucas Tamaren is a remarkably entertaining ringleader, not that dissimilar in philosophy from Jack Black in his Tenacious D persona, and riotously promoted the sexiness of evil and the ecstasy of Thumpasaurus’ interplanetary space barn over grooves that would make George Clinton raise an eyebrow out of sheer fascination.
Garcia Peoples – Mohawk Indoor/Scoot Inn:
Garcia Peoples aren’t giving people the wrong impression with their name but they are so much than that name would lead you to believe. Notwithstanding their mini-set of Grateful Dead covers with William Tyler at the Scoot Inn as part of the Brooklyn Bowl/Relix showcase, their guitar interplay is more reminiscent of Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier. For their sets, they touched equally on their upcoming Natural Facts (out on March 29) and their debut Cosmic Cash, stretching the songs out despite rigid time limitations. Regardless of what visions of the past they might conjure, Garcia Peoples may be the next great jamband.
Video via Relix
Death By Unga Bunga – Elysium:
Bursting from backstage and directly into the crowd, lead singer Sebastian Ulstad Olsen angrily stalked through the crowd, ramping himself into a frenzy while the rest of the band launched into Death By Unga Bunga‘s earnest style of garage rock. Much like singer’s inexplicable fury, Unga Bunga rifled through an array of classic rock iconography: Townsend-style windmills, Skynyrd-style guitar assemblages and most delightfully, a segue into Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” that had everyone playing their guitars behind their head. It’s unclear whether the affectations are meant to be an ironic representation of classic rock as presented by a group of Norwegians or whether this group of Norwegians is under the impression that this is how rock and roll works. Regardless, it’s genius: the garage rock is spot-on and the band is immensely entertaining. Oh … by all means, look up the joke from whence they took their name. It’s funny
J.S. Ondara – St. David’s Sanctuary:
The glorious surroundings of St. David’s Sanctuary perfectly suited the beautiful falsetto and soft-spoken folk renderings of the Kenyan born singer-songwriter. J.S. Ondara came to the United States six years ago, moving to Minnesota to live in Bob Dylan’s home state, becoming enamored with the singer-songwriter after learning that he, not Axl Rose, wrote “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” A masterful storyteller, who will be forgiven for doing John Mulaney’s “horse in a hospital” bit a la Joel Maisel doing Newhart, Ondara astonished the rapt assembly with his a capella rendering of “Turkish Bandana.” His debut album, Tales Of America, doesn’t do justice to his astounding voice and mesmerizing songs.
Los Coast – Palm Door on Sixth/Side Bar:
A growing Austin phenomenon, Los Coast is a truly marvelous five-piece that puts their own spin on uplifting psychedelic funk. Lead singer Trey Privott’s soulful exhortations convey the same urgency as the Motown greats of the 70s and lead guitarist John Courtney clearly has some familiarity with the Grateful Dead, often incorporating a squelchy “Shakedown Street” tone. At the Paradigm Presents showcase and the Austin in Athens day party, they offered up a transformative version of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” turning the mournful folk song into a vibrant folk-soul masterpiece. For too long, trying to find recorded evidence of Los Coast has been a Sisyphean effort. That will change on June 14 with the release of Samsara on New West Records.