Words by: David Schultz
Read David’s full rundown of SXSW 2017 here.
With singers and bands from all over the world coming to Austin, the main allure of SXSW for any adventurous soul is to broaden one’s musical horizons. Although the venues are cozier, making the trek to see the same artists that routinely appear on your concert schedule simply misses the point of going in the first place.
While sometimes the spirit of discovery results in spending some time with a yodeling country singer or misguided art-rock, other times, it could lead to finding your new favorite band. In all fairness, I didn’t come across anyone flying woefully unrecognized under the jam band radar. However, there were a number of bands from other scenes that merited attention.
The eponymously named Nashville based power trio, was hard to miss during SXSW, being one of the many artists taking a scorched earth approach to SXSW and playing about a dozen sets over the course of the week. At their first, a jam-packed set at Tellers, frontman Ron Gallo greeted everyone with a deadpan introductory speech contrasting SXSW’s independent spirit of encouraging emerging artists with the corporate sponsorship that looms over the entire event. The wry cynicism infuses a good number of Gallo’s songs, most noticeably in “All The Punks Are Domesticated,” which serves as a call to his generation to find its own voice and not adopt one from the age before. Taking a garage rock approach, Gallo dives headstrong into a mélange of guitar-based, hard-driving rock. It comes across as a little Experienced, a little Crazy Horsed, a little White Striped and entirely everything great about rock.
Where To Start: Heavy Meta, released in early February.
Understandable that he might be overlooked in the States with a name that sounds like an off-menu option at the Carnegie Deli, British singer Lookman Adekunle Salami coolly dissertates with a cadence that falls nicely between Subterranean Homesick Dylan and a less manic Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys). Playing with a full band at Latitude 30 as part of the BBC Radio 6 Music showcase, Salami’s songs moved from soulful and acoustic to energetic and electric, hardly rooting itself exclusively in one genre. Salami’s dexterity allowed the music to drift into “Walking On The Moon” Police-driven territory but truly soared when mixing Johnny Cash’s brand of outlaw country with the electric blues.
Where To Start: Dancing With Bad Grammar, his debut album much beloved by NPR’s Bob Boilen.
Lindsey Baker, recording under the Guts Club moniker, introduced herself to the world by letting it know she wanted to give you her guts. In case her intentions were vague, she clarified by singing that she wants you to have her intestines. Such is the depth of her honesty and her desire to bare her soul. Conveying raw-nerve emotion over a barely strummed guitar, Baker could be confused for a waifish version of Mark Kozelek/Sun Kil Moon, only without the lengthy exposition. At Beerland, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Guts Club took the form of a trio with a rhythm section adding heft to Baker’s wavering vocals. Retreating into the songs, Baker rocked back and forth at the microphone. Although the vocals became a little lost in the mix (an all-too-common occurrence at SXSW), the naked emotion and raw talent remained crystal clear.
Where To Start: The Arm Wrestling Tournament and an anti-depressant.
This South Korean power trio Galaxy Express plays like they are shot from a cannon, cycling through hardcore, speed metal, straightforward riff-rock and psychedelic stoner rock, often within the same song. An enormously tight band, it would be tempting to think of them as an eastern version of Rush if they dove more heavily into prog-rock or were prone to discourse about dragons and snow-dogs. On the Barracuda Backyard stage as part of the NME showcase, they most often conjured up the MC5 at their most potent, seamlessly shifting gears and fluently melding styles with Park Jong-hyun’s guitar shredding being nothing short of revelatory.
Where To Start: Noise On Fire, their acclaimed 2008 double album.
Hailing from Texas, Lincoln Durham sounds like he has emerged straight out of the badlands to perform a righteous assault on the non-believers. A one-man onslaught, Durham comes armed with a slew of clearly hand-crafted/modified guitars and accompanies himself on a jerry-rigged drum kit. With thinly-veiled gospel fervor, Durham unleashes unfiltered swampy blues in the same vein as Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, singing with the rawness of Tom Waits and playing with the inventiveness of Jack White. Durham’s 1:00 a.m. showcase at Lambert’s, located well on the outskirts of town, left him playing for the converted. However, any doubting Thomas would have surely seen the light.
Where To Start: “Ballad Of A Prodigal Son” from Exodus Of The Deemed Unrighteous.
A garage punk outfit from Guadalajara Mexico, Le Butcherettes primarily serves as the showcase for Teri Gender Bender, one of the world’s bona fide rock stars. Before even playing a note as part of their set at the Brooklyn Vegan day party, all eyes were on Gender Bender, who had her face painted as if ready for battle and wore a frilly red dress and combat wear. Once the trio lit into their grunge-based set, Gender Bender prowled the Cheer Up Charlies’ stage like an untamed beast. In line with song’s primary message of “I’m staring at you,” Gender Bender glared earnestly at the crowd during “I’m Getting Sick Of You” before descending into the crowd. If she had bit the head off a hipster, no one would have batted an eye. Instead she wandered to the center, laid down and continued belting out the song.
Where To Start: Sin Sin Sin, their 2011 debut album.
The Nude Party
Imagine it’s necessary to conscript a band to soundtrack a bar scene for a film striving to depict the heady mindset of the late-1960s. If you wanted the music to sound authentically groovy, no one would fault you for bringing in The Nude Party. Over the course of their set at Swan Dive’s outdoor patio as part of the Athens In Austin day party, the Boone, North Carolina collective drifted expertly into surf-rock jams, but for the most part played a heady cross between “I’m Waiting For My Man” Velvet Underground and Let It Bleed Rolling Stones.
Where To Start: Hot Tub.
Mail The Horse
The Rolling Stones are the philosophical godfathers to a wide variety of bands. With Mail The Horse, a laid-back kind of band, one of their muses could easily be the honky-tonk, “Dead Flowers” side of The Stones. The Brooklyn group approaches classic rock with an easygoing mindset without venturing into Eagles/Jackson Browne territory. Fans that gravitate towards The Band and Deer Tick will find it very easy to bring Mail The Horse within their orbit.
Where To Start: Planet Gates.
Although this German pair of sweethearts may consider themselves descendants of the riot grrrls, Andreya and Laura Lee are far too upbeat and winsome to fall within the category. At the Old Flame Records showcase at Swan Dive, the two, who play as Gurr, simply lit up the inside stage with their upbeat take on post-punk rock. If Kathleen Hanna made a concerted effort on stage to be liked by the audience, the result may very well end up being Gurr. However, it may be more accurate to declare the Lee sisters as the rightful heirs to the Go-Go’s legacy. In a very un-riot grrrlish move, Gurr played an absolutely delightful set in the Hilton hotel lobby on Sunday morning.
Where To Start: In My Head.
Blackheart on Rainey Street played host to good number of country acts during the Noisetrade/Frye Days day parties. The most notable was Georgian country singer Brent Cobb, whose gift of turning a self-deprecatory phrase like “I should be a gravedigger cause I’m good at digging holes” serves him extremely well. Accompanied by slide guitarist Mike Harris, Cobb played a wonderful set in the same alt-country vein as Steve Earle. In much the same way that Margo Price was the breakout country act of SXSW 2016, Cobb should raise his profile greatly in 2017.
Where To Start: “Diggin’ Holes.”
The Octopus Project
A longtime Austin avant-garde electronic collective, The Octopus Project creates an aural and visual maelstrom that envelops the senses. While most acts at SXSW just plug in and play, the Project’s set at the Mazda Studio inside the Empire Garage featured more lights and video than your typical set. At times, the quartet can be as electronic as Kraftwerk, bash out a Bonham-like drum beat and rock the broken levee blues-rock or swerve into a psychedelic swirl with a driving, propulsive beat that gives you an idea of what “Echoes” would sound like on more acid. At times, they sound like a foreign band imitating what rock music should sound like, capturing all of its touchstones and high points. In the whole, they were one of the most enervating bands at SXSW.
Where To Start: Anywhere.
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires
Formerly a member of longtime Alabama outfit, The Dexateens, Lee Bains & The Glory Fires are not that ideologically different from fellow their Alabama brethren the Drive-By Truckers. Playing supercharged southern garage rock. Bains devotes much mental energy towards coming to terms with the complexities of the southern identity, expressing a desire to reconcile the insensitivity and tone deafness he sees with his own inner sense of compassion. While not the best venue to hear what Bains had to say, their Don Giovanni showcase at Valhalla captured his heart and soul quite well. Those who are simpatico with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley’s take on the south will find common ground with Bains.
Where To Start: Dereconstructed.
Much like Ozzy Osbourne evolved from a bat-chomping monster hiding in the closet into a cuddly reality-show caricature, by working its way into the popular culture, the punk rock and hardcore that seemed so menacing a generation ago has lost its danger. The naked aggression still remains vibrant but the guiding principles seem to be firmly established. At Barracuda, as part of the NME showcase, whatever ground rules existed were unceremoniously torn to pieces by Shame, a startling agro-punk outfit from South London. As far back as The Who, the Brits have always excelled at churning out an innumerable slew of snotty youths willing to thumb their noses (and other body parts) at convention. Lead singer Charlie Steen prowled the stage like a feral beast, generating a true sense of unpredictability and trepidation that heightened over the course of the set. With the bass heavy maelstrom circling behind him, Steen climbed atop the speakers, doused himself with any beverage within reach, hurled the empty containers into the crowd and even stopped to jump into the crowd to pose with a group taking pictures from the front row. Not even an aborted attempt to climb atop a photo booth, that ended with Sheen commenting with a sly grin that not everything works out, could diminish the indelible impression. For the first time in many years, rock felt dangerous again.
Where To Start: For a sense of the band “Gold Hole.” For a sense of their wit, “The Lick.”