David Monks of Tokyo Police Club performs at Hype Hotel during SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)
More than 30 bands, 1,545 photos, dozens of venues, seven food trucks and countless long lines is the way to describe South by Southwest by the numbers.
Another way to talk about SXSW is with the 22 unforgettable moments, songs, performances and people I enjoyed (and some I’d like to forget) last week in Austin, Texas.
Over my five days covering the festival, I saw a whole lot, and these are the best, and some of the worst, things about the experience.
BEST OF THE FEST
Her new album is good, but St. Vincent’s show was mesmerizing. It was like a switch was flipped and she turned into an rock ‘n’ roll robot that sang pop songs and shredded on her guitar in equal parts. I can’t wait to see her when she comes to Omaha on April 1.
This all-female rock band led by Wild Flag’s Mary Timony doesn’t even have an album out yet, but I was transfixed by the group garage pop sound and their tight jams. Become a fan now so you can tell all your friends that you knew of them before they were a big deal.
The ex-Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman doesn’t have a new album out until June, but the fuzz guitar guru played almost half of it including the sweet guitar melody of “IDKYA” and the melodic hardcore punk “Kid.” And he proved he’s still king of the guitar riff with “War,” a song about being worn down by confrontation. Then he went ahead and closed out the set with the Hüsker’s “Makes No Sense At All.” We freaked out.
You and I and everyone we know is a fan of Kelis’ “Milkshake,” but she blew me away with some big band soul, gospel and old-school rhythm and blues. Her 11-member band created a layered backdrop for the singer’s commanding voice on songs such as “Rumble,” and yes, she did eventually tell us how her “milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” but it was an updated version with jazz trombone solo. Powerful stuff.
The British pop singer takes things in a rock ‘n’ roll direction rather than the arty and electro vibe of Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, and I love her for that. Backed by an all-female rock band, she played new songs such as the grungey singalong “Breaking Up” and the buzzy dance track, “SuperLove.” Then she included a fitting cover of The Strangeloves’ song, “I Want Candy.” I want more.
On an Austin rooftop, electronic pop duo Phantogram got us dancing, singing and rocking. Whatever it is that you wanted to hear, the group brought it in a fun mashup of styles. That’s not to mention Sarah Barthel’s gorgeous voice or Josh Carter’s guitar prowess.
A friend told me to go see this all-female, British rock group. It was an even more lifeless version of the American Dum Dum Girls (a great band, but not one known for its engaging stage presence), and the music was kinda depressing. I’ll pass, thanks.
I have enjoyed some of their songs including “Everything’s Bigger,” but they just didn’t do it for me live. a four member band with guitar, bass and drums, it turns out they have a pretty generic indie rock sound from. I couldn’t help but think they were a female-fronted Pavement.
Again, I enjoyed some of their music prior to the festival, but every song I heard the band play had exactly the same vibe, structure and tempo. Then despite playing one of the biggest indie showcases of the festival, the band was completely bummed out by its performance. It showed.
SO GLAD I SAW
Royal Teeth perform at Cheer Up Charlies. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)
So many female-fronted groups or all-female bands were part of my schedule at SXSW. It’s great to see so many women rocking the festival including the ladies I saw in Against Me!, Ex Hex, Royal Teeth, the Dum Dum Girls, Perfect Pussy, Pins, Speedy Ortiz, Charli XCX, St. Vincent, Kelis, Phantogram, Wye Oak and Hospitality.
BUMMED I MISSED
Coldplay’s Chris Martin performs at the iTunes Festival. (Photo by The Associated Press)
I’m glad I didn’t have to wait in line to see Coldplay and I am happy I saw other bands, but the British rock-pop experts put on an awesome show in front of a very small audience. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with it later online. (You can, too. It’s streaming from the iTunes store on your computer or Apple device.)
BEST SHOW I’M GLAD I DIDN’T SEE
Lady Gaga performs at Stubb’s. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Lady Gaga whose performance sounded like an incoherent mess. Sure, you’d never forget the vomit or the mechanical bull, but does that make a good concert? If she’s gonna keep going down this path, Gaga should forget the music and become a full-on performance artist.
BEST BAND I SAW MORE THAN ONCE
Craig Finn of The Hold Steady performs with the band at the IFC Fairgrounds.
The Hold Steady sounded great with its current lineup, which drops keyboards for a second guitar player live as well as on their upcoming album, “Teeth Dreams.” The Brooklyn bar rock band’s tracks sounded practically immovable with the harmonizing power chords and rock riffs. I caugth two sets from the band (they’re a personal favorite), and I was happy to see that they played different material in each set when most SXSW bands play the same eight songs over and over again.
BEST SONG YOU GOTTA DOWNLOAD, LIKE RIGHT NOW
Phantogram performs on an Austin rooftop. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)
“Howling at the Moon” by Phantogram — Do it now. Thank me later.
BEST BAND NAME
Diarrhea Planet plays the Parish Underground. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)
Diarrhea Planet — Yes, this Nashville sextet knows its name is funny, gross and in-your-face. And that’s the way the band generally operates. Don’t let the band’s name fool you though. Simply put, they’re really, really good.
BEST DRESSED BAND
Cole Becker of Emily’s Army plays Brazos Hall. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)
Emily’s Army, a quartet of young, blond punks that’s produced by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong (and happens to include his son Joe), wore dress shirts, bow ties and brightly-printed shorts. It was a good look that fit their mix of Berkeley pop punk and preppy ‘50s Buddy Holly rock.
BEST BAND PLAYING AS ANOTHER BAND
Foxboro Hot Tubs plays Brazos Hall. (Photo by Kevin Coffey/The World-Herald)
Foxboro Hot Tubs is Green Day. With a three added bandmates, I saw the band play songs from its one album released as Foxboro Hot Tubs to a few hundred people in a tiny venue. Full of confetti, silly string, baloons and spraying beer, it was a total party from start to finish. I’ll never see a big band like that in such a tiny place again.
NICEST ARTIST THAT I MET
Sturgill Simpson was incredibly kind and spoke to me for awhile. He even told me he was bummed that his sole Omaha show last year was canceled and said he’d be back. Whenever that happens, I’ll be there.
BEST NON-MUSIC PERFORMER
Pete Holmes, a comedian and talk show host, brought friends including Jim Breuer and Matt Braugman onstage to talk god, sex and comedy. It was equal parts funny and informative, and I’ll be laughing about it for weeks.
SADDEST PART OF SXSW
Thursday’s unfortunate tragedy where three people were killed and even more injured when a car drove through barricades and crowds. It was a sad part of the festival, but it was amazing to see people step forward and donate time, money and blood (there was a very successful blood drive) to the victims.
BEST NEW VERSION OF AN OLD SONG
I caught old school industrial synth rocker Gary Numan on the last day of the festival. You know Numan for the song “Cars,” and he did play the tune but it was all fuzzed out and heavy. You could feel the song pound in your chest as much as you could hear it.