Rule number one of this list is that we had to see the band live while we were at SXSW. It was an insane week of bouncing between shows, guessing which ones would or wouldn’t have lines and which shows would be running on time. Even though some cancellations derailed our schedule, we still managed to see about 40 bands.
This list isn’t for the likes of Future Islands, Washed Out and Real Estate, coverage of those bands is everywhere, but I will tell you this. Washed Out with their current lineup that includes three South Carolinians in Chris and Cameron Gardner on bass and drums and Dylan Lee on guitar is the best they’ve ever been. Future Islands are one of the most entertaining bands I’ve had the chance to watch in my life. I’ll admit that I wasn’t a fan of theirs after seeing their set at New Brookland Tavern years ago, but I had a huge change of heart after I heard the band’s hardy frontman Samuel Herring speak on a panel about being in a touring band at Hopscotch 2013. His passion for performance and confidence is something that changed my perspective on music in many ways. Later that day Future Islands performed on the main stage in downtown Raleigh and played their asses off to a crowd of fans who knew them well before they were a Letterman dancing meme. People haven’t gone that crazy when someone slapped the floor of the stage since Steve Wojciechowski slapped Coach K court a couple of miles down the road in Durham. As for Real Estate, what a snooze fest! It’s your first time back at SXSW in years, lighten up guys. Don’t expect the sound to be perfect, just have a little fun. Don’t call out the crowd for not having enough energy when you have none yourself. Good thing your songs are good. Now, onto the real reason we went to South by.
Bleeding Rainbow was high on my list of bands to see this year at SXSW and it almost didn’t happen. Their show Thursday afternoon at Cheer Up Charlie’s was cancelled along with all of the other day shows there, so my last shot was an unofficial showcase at Hole in the Wall (click the link you can actually see inside the bar from Google Street view), a solid hour walk from the center of activity at South by. Their set at 1:40 on Friday was my first show of the day, so I thought I had plenty of time for Torchey’s tacos and then Bleeding Rainbow, but what I didn’t count on is the most horrendous traffic in South Austin. I drove like a madman full of tacos, ditched the car in a Jack in the Box parking lot and sprinted in while they were playing “Images” halfway through their set. The crowd wasn’t large, but the dedicated few were into it. Bleeding Rainbow were just as gritty live as I had hoped. Coming from a Philadelphia scene that is the best punk scene in America right now, their new album Interrupt takes advantage of that boost in national recognition. Bleeding Rainbow aren’t one thing, but the sum of several rock and roll sub-genres and it works. But you don’t have to take my word for it, take a listen yourself.
Bully played in the middle of the Nashville showcase on Friday night where the crowd consisted mostly of people waiting to crowd surf for the next band on this list Diarrhea Planet. One time I was in Nashville at a random show that happened to be headlined by Nashville band Richie who played after Bully this year at SXSW. After seeing them in Nashville, I talked to the singer after the show and mentioned how much I enjoyed all the bands that night and how good they were. He responded with “Welcome to Nashville.” What I admire most about Nashville is the diversity in their music scene and the high level of talent that comes with it. Bully is fronted by the talented Alicia Bognanno. Her voice can go from silky smooth as heard on her previous project King Arthur to the grittiness of Bully. Bully is more fun, with its chunky guitar driven garage rock and clever lyrics.
Most of my post SXSW conversations have been centered around D Planet. Some people get it, and some people don’t and I get that. Their music isn’t for everyone, but one thing we can all agree on is the entertainment value of their live show. The first night we saw them they had all kinds of people diving off a monitor into the crowd. The second time we saw them they almost brought down a tent, had just performed a song with Melissa Etheridge and The Midgetmen, and then used wireless guitar technology to shred from the back of the crowd. People did all that stage diving and crowd surfing to win a shirt that said “Diarrhea is the New Fuck”. Limited SXSW 2014 edition. The music industry is the game you make it, and they’re having fun. Hate on that if you want, but I’d bet you’re a bitter, jaded person.
As a long time Madi Diaz fan her shows at SXSW were different from what I imagined and that’s both good and bad. She seems to have moved on from the “Let’s Go” days to a more electro pop sound. She still has the ability to write catchy emotional hooks, but they’re supported more by keys and electronic drums and not guitars and the more country Hammond style keys. She was moving that direction before she left Nashville, but now that she’s in LA she’s more cemented in that sound and seems to have left the past behind. Hopefully this road leads a little farther than the last.
The Districts are the number one new band we saw at SXSW. I made a spreadsheet of all the bands I wanted to see before we left and rated each 1/5 stars. The Districts were a two star on my sheet and I’m happy to admit I was wrong. They swept me away with raw energy and a crazed live performance that was the most honest and refreshing I’ve seen in years. Their recorded material has yet to match that raw emotion, but it’s only a matter of time until that happens. An upcoming tour with Dr. Dog should put them on everyone’s map. How do I rate the band now? I’d travel 2-3 hours to see them again. Their new EP is and was the soundtrack to our SXSW 2014 experience.
Coming all the way from Ireland to SXSW we made it a point to see Heathers while they were in the States. Their song “Forget Me Knots” is the only song I was familiar with prior to their show and it was good enough to make it a point to see them. Similar to Tegan and Sara, the female duo lean hard on the pop side of music and have everything it takes to become international stars.
We were lucky enough to see Mini Tigs before they cancelled the rest of their shows because the singer came down with Strep Throat. What’s scary about that is when we saw him he was out in the crowd dancing with every guy and girl potentially spreading the virus among The Wild Honey Pie crowd. They flew through new songs with one of the most fun performances we saw all week. Songs like “We Used to Be the Shit” are on the verge of silly, but they come off in a way that makes you smile and sing along. Miniature Tigers have always had a way of toeing that line between goofy and clever. They’re pros at doing it the right way.
On the drive out to Austin we listened to Painted Palms not knowing that South Carolina’s own Patrick Jeffords (Toro y Moi) was playing bass and keys for the San Francisco band. Their new album Forever dropped in the middle of winter, which is a bad match for such a summery album. Luckily when I saw them it was a nice spring afternoon. Their sound aims at Beach Boys back and forth melodies surrounded by walking bass lines and an electronic base. Nothing much special about their live performance, but the tunes are good enough to keep you entertained.
I didn’t see many bands twice, but Potty Mouth was one of them. They’re latest album Hell Bent dropped in 2013 to a warm reception from critics as there seemed to be a boon of great female led indie rock (see Salinas Records). They’re somewhere in between pop punk and indie rock with little concern to what genre you place them in. They’ve got a laid back confidence with their music and live performance that has them eyeing the back of the room with a head tilt at one moment seemingly with disinterest and the next with a head bang and a wry smile to someone in the crowd. It was great to see them live a couple of times after originally finding them through a Fork and Spoon compilation in 2012. Also, Potty Mouth drummer Victoria Mandanas is the former drummer of Columbia band Chemical Peel, who have toured with Potty Mouth in the past.
When we last saw Canadian artist Andy Shauf he was at our house in Columbia, SC lovingly called the House of Softcore because of our acoustic performances. Shauf’s music is delicate and bold, with honest lyrics and a voice that’s soft yet strong. For this show he brought some friends along adding texture to his songs with a full band that included guitar, drums, bass, and horns. Shauf spent 2013 as the touring drummer for Wake Owl, but the cult following of his solo work has only grown. It seems like that cult following is set to spread even more in 2014 and beyond.
South Carolina’s Stagbriar is last on this list only because it’s in alphabetical order. I imagine of all the bands traveling to Austin to play music, Stagbriar had one of the roughest trips. No, nothing was stolen, just one car broken down twice all for one show at SXSW. Maybe this trip wasn’t worth it, but the band led by the McCollum siblings are destined for a bigger audience and this was just a bump in a long road. When singing together Alex and Emily McCollum seem to have fire burning deep inside of them that comes out with every lyric they spit and heats back up with each breath they inhale back in. It’s only a matter of time before more people take notice.