SXSW 2023: Not Just For Newcomers

David Schultz shares five of his top performances from this year’s conference in Austin, Texas.

By David Schultz Mar 22, 2023 12:23 pm PDT

Just over three years ago, SXSW, LLC canceled the 2020 South By Southwest festival, a foreboding harbinger of announcements that would soon bring the live music industry to a standstill. Concerts and festivals may have resumed but, SXSW, an event that attracts people from all over the world, has made slow strides in returning the music portion to its previous glory.

Even before the pandemic, SXSW and the City of Austin had started to scale down the scope of the event. While there surely was no dearth of music, the excessiveness and overindulgence that typifies SXSW felt noticeably absent.

A number of traditional events returned, notably THEMM!s Jump Start and the Hipster Robots day party, which both took place at The Side Bar, their customary home, as well as Brooklyn Vegan’s Lost Weekend and Brooklyn Bowl’s Family Reunion, which featured spectacular lineups for their multi-day events. Nonetheless, SXSW 2023 lacked the scope and breadth of past years and the attendance failed to replicate the feel of the arachnid attacks from Starship Troopers.

Despite many of the usual venues along 6th Street and Red River remaining empty, drastically diminishing the number of showcases, there were no long lines – or really any lines – to get into the official events or, for that matter, the unofficial ones. Even when a torrential downpour put every outdoor stage down for the count, it was quite easy to gain access to one of the indoor venues.

From a music lover’s perspective, SXSW has always been about discovery. For the most part, SXSW focuses its attention on the future and the significant majority of the artists performing on its multitude of stages are highlighting their current or upcoming albums. In the pre-internet era, it would be fair to call a healthy number of bands “underground sensations.” Today, the majority of them have their niche and are looking to expand their reach. However, this does not mean that you needed a graduate degree in up-and-coming acts to recognize some of the performers playing this year’s SXSW.

Robby Krieger (The Belmont)

Unsurprisingly, The Doors’ legendary guitarist Robby Krieger was not in Austin hawking new material. Rather, Krieger’s performance at The Belmont was the centerpiece of the Artist for Artist showcase to raise awareness and money for the Give A Note Foundation, an organization that helps fund and integrate music programs into public schools that would otherwise lack for such resources.

Krieger led a potent band, featuring Steve Molitz (Particle) on keyboards, Paul Rothchild, son of producer Dan Rothchild, on bass and Waylon Krieger, Robbie’s son, on vocals, through a nearly two-hour set that included nearly every highlight from The Doors’ storied catalog. Krieger remains a marvelous guitarist, nimbly replicating his classic solos that are the staples of classic rock radio while deftly working “Eleanor Rigby” and “My Favorite Things” into his iconic “Light My Fire” solo. Actor Dennis Quaid, who portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1987 film Great Balls of Fire!, proved he can also do a remarkable Jim Morrison. Taking lead vocals for “Riders On The Storm” and “Roadhouse Blues,” Quaid was simply stupendous and would have blown the roof off The Belmont if it weren’t an open courtyard.

Paul Dominy (See 2 videos)
Robby Krieger (See 2 videos) and Dennis Quaid

Tangerine Dream (The Parish)

Who?? Well, if you ever went to a movie in the 1980s, you’ve heard Tangerine Dream, whose music was featured in Legend, Firestarter, Thief and, most famously, Risky Business. The current version of the band, whose history dates back to 1967, consists of musical director Thorsten Quaeschning, keyboardist Paul Frick and violinist Hoshiko Yamane.

Headlining the GEMA (Germany’s copyright organization) showcase at The Parish, the trio became one of the unlikeliest bands to blow past the traditional curfew, playing until nearly 3 a.m. In light of the fact that the Stranger Things theme song is a straight-up homage to the suave electronic Tangerine Dream oeuvre, they incorporated it seamlessly into their atmospheric set. Oh, and for those of the right age, yes – they played a lengthy, extended version of “Love On A Train.”

Greg Ackerman
Tangerine Dream (See 3 videos)

Be Your Own Pet (The 13th Floor)

In the mid-aughts, Be Your Own Pet were one of the more hyped SXSW bands to make the rounds. Then teenagers, the “shouty” band from Nashville, which, for a time, included Jamin Orral, who went on to form Jeff The Brotherhood with his brother Jake, seemed poised to make a gigantic leap to the pinnacle of punk rock. However, they succumbed to the intense pressures placed upon them and vanished as quickly as they appeared.

Now in their mid-30s, Be Your Own Pet is reuniting for an opening slot in the upcoming Jack White tour and potentially a comeback album. When you add in the fact that lead singer Jemina Pearl is married to Ben Swank, White’s business partner in Third Man Records, it was not a coincidence that the reunited garage rockers closed the two-day Third Man Records day party at The 13th Floor (nee Beerland). Although the band has aged gracefully, they can still crank out their adrenalized riffs and Pearl can still shout and flail about with the best of them. Any worries as to whether they might still be hardcore were surely alleviated when Pearl paused to puke at the back of the stage before unleashing fury on the final couple of songs.

steven thomson
Be Your Own Pet

White Denim (Empire Garage)

A longtime staple at SXSW, White Denim closed out the first night of the two-day Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion at Empire Garage. Taking the stage without longtime bassist Steven Terebecki, the first part of their set was uneven and atypically measured. Normally, White Denim’s live shows have a palpable energy as they urgently rifle through their catalog as if there is a premium for getting to the next song as quickly as possible. Playing “Pretty Green” and “Anvil Everything” at a Dead & Co. pace, it seemed, at times, as if guitarist and lead vocalist James Petralli was on a different page from the rest of the band.

However, the second half, which kicked off with the always magnificent “It’s Him/At The Farm,” during which Petralli sparred with fellow guitarist Cat Clemons, simply hummed. Playing with a fury that even felt like anger on “Had 2 Know (Personal),” Petralli blazed through “Fine Slime” and “Holda You (I’m Psycho),” finishing in a blaze of feedback. White Denim remains one of the best bands going. Hopefully, Petralli’s offhand comments from the stage about “final shows” are idle chatter.

The Nude Party (Empire Garage; Mohawk)

Since their formation on the campus of Appalachian State University, The Nude Party has grown into one of the most enjoyable and fun rock bands currently making the rounds. One of the most active bands at this year’s SXSW, The Nude Party embodied different eras over the course of their sets that closed the Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion day party and the New West Records official showcase.

Their Empire Garage set featured a whole host of laid-back Let It Bleed-style rock ‘n’ roll while their extended Mohawk set leaned more into their 1960s-style, “96 Tears” garage rock side and featured covers of Doug Sahm’s “Is Anybody Going To San Antone” and Dr. John’s “Somebody Tryin’ To Hoodoo Me,” which is featured on their recently released album, Rides On. In a perfect world, The Nude Party should be the next great rock band, and ideally, their admonition on “Chevrolet Van” to get a real job never becomes a self-fulfilling premonition.


Keep an eye out for more coverage from SXSW 2023.

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