SXSW holds an embarrassment of riches – so rich, in fact, that it’s simply too much to take it all in. Also, it’s impossible. The best way to experience it is to simply wander around and see what might be found. Sure, you can plan and prepare but often the best stuff you’ll discover by simply stumbling into it. Although, to be fair, this is true of life in general. Anyway, this week at SXSW I saw a lot of music – some of it I’ve loved for years and others I’ll now love for years to come. Here’s a small selection of artists that have caught my attention.
Hidden underneath a baggy grey shirt and a tuft of wild blond hair, lead singer Alicia Bognanno steps up to the mic with a hesitant whisper as her band launches into recent album opener “Feel The Same.” But, just as her voice lays seemingly lost beneath the screeching punk fuzz, it quickly rises in ferocity and absolutely commands the rest of the show. Unassuming as she may seem at first, Bognanno possesses the sort of rawk-n-roll swagger that ranges somewhere between Joan Jett and Kim Deal. By the time they made it to their last song, Bognanno had stepped away from her guitar and stood at the edge of the stage – and had the audience ready to burn the whole place down.
Maryland psychedelic dream-pop duo Wye Oak played this year as a trio and sounded all the better for it. Already a densely lush outfit, the added layer really came across this week as they drowned audiences in their mesmerizing sonic waves. Drenched in the rainbow light of the stage, the band poured out cascading melodies of unfolding depth. Like an indie-rock Tycho, the band exists in hypnotic grooves that churn and echo, enveloping the listener and setting them at ease. Although they played mostly tracks form their upcoming LP “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs,” the audience surely didn’t mind – if the album sounds half as good as it did live, it will surely be one of the best of the year.
Sometimes gimmicks are distracting at best but, for some, they simply work. While Kolars is undoubtedly known as that band with the tap dancing drummer, this folkabilly duo has got talent enough to distract from the glaring absurdity of their set up. Having said that, drummer Lauren Brown does look pretty awesome perched up there on an oversized drum head and just giving everything to the rhythm. Come for the tap dancing, stay for the spacey, glittery rock and roll.
English folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner knows how to command a crowd. A consummate rabble rouser, Turner’s made a few stops with just an acoustic guitar and an endless supply of charm. With a impassioned howl and a bit of witty banter, he’s had every crowd enraptured and belting out in echoed passion. Supporting his new more politically leaning album (a definite trend this year…), Turner shared a delightful tune about making America great again “by making racists ashamed again.” Although he nervously introduced it – seems Texas has a reputation – there was no argument from the crowd. And while the new material might be political, it’s seems charged far more by compassion and, let’s be honest, we need artists like Turner these days to help lead us in song.
Austin trio The Lagoons embody their Southern California roots but, really, sound like they’re from Miami in the 80’s. With a day-glo groove that’s equal parts city-pop and indie rock, they are tailor made for those long nights of being carried away by an ocean breeze. Accented by the dulcet groove of the saxophone, the band had the audience wrapped around its finger with confidence and style. With a new EP on the horizon, The Lagoons are definitely a band to look out for for the coming summer daze.