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.
I would argue that SXSW is *ideally* a celebration and it really wouldn’t be worth much without bands like Caroline Rose that embody this ethos. Sure, bands want to be noticed and the industry wants to be productive – but, if the music isn’t moving ya, then what’s the point? On a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon, Caroline Rose stood in the Texas heat and celebrated – sweeping up the crowd along with her. Exceedingly grateful to be playing music for a living, you could genuinely feel her passion through her playful banter and polished live performance. A little bit of shoe gaze a little bit of rock and roll – well, a little bit of whatever – Caroline proved through the bite of her sarcasm and loads of sincerity why her sophomore album is so lauded: she’s just overjoyed to be here and it’s a blast to spend time with her.
On a completely different note, let’s consider Polish psychedelic noise rockers Trupa Trupa. SXSW attendees tend to find out what locals have long since known – 6th Street is an utter mess. It’s a beautiful, boisterous mess but a mess all the same. During the festival, there are times where the street is just a cacophonous clutter, barely walkable. There are moments, however, of relative peace – often at the edges – where you can witness a holiness to the absurdity. This is where I stumbled upon Trupa Trupa. At times a frantic thrash of cascading noise, at others, the soft echoing coo of desperate longing, listening to Trupa Trupa while the masses ebbed and flowed before me was a genuinely moving experience. The raw emotionality, unfiltered and burgeoning on incoherency yet balanced by a poeticism that shoots straight through the static, Trupa Trupa truly left me speechless there in the streets, a perfect match for the mayhem around them.
Abhi the Nomad
I didn’t mean to catch Abhi the Nomad – I just happened to show up early. As in years past, this seems to be the best strategy. Sure, plan for your favorite acts but don’t get too beholden to your schedule. Linger after sets, come early, or just randomly pop in and you’re bound to discover your new favorite band. Sitting there on my phone, I barely noticed that the room had filled up. I was interrupted by Abhi – dressed down in a white t-shirt, bespectacled, and nervous in posture – as he launched into his introduction. He had the cadence of a stand up comedian, anxious and goofy, leading me to believe he might be the MC for the night but then he noted that this was the band’s first ever showcase. Before this could register, the beat dropped and the show was OFF. Not a trace of that hesitancy was to be found as Abhi immediately commanded the room to get into the groove. Backed by the beaming and bombastic Poopie Sanchez on drums as well as singer/hype man Harrison Sands on backing vocals, Abhi the Nomad was a force of pure infectious joy. Bouncing endlessly without missing a single beat, it was clear that Abhi had every bit of charm and talent to bring the whole house down. In the vein of Chance the Rapper, Abhi’s music isn’t shy about getting intimately introspective just as long as its got a good beat that you can dance your pain away to. A world traveler with an incredible immigration story, Abhi is a unique and necessary voice in this generation. It is all the better that he presents his story, his struggles, through a sincerity that is down right undeniable. When you get the chance – and I have a feeling you will definitely be getting a chance in the future – so see Abhi live and have yourself a damn good time.
Like, Abhi, I didn’t mean to actually catch Lime Cordiale. Standing out on the street, catching some fresh air, I ran into a group of musicians who were excited for the show. After collectively celebrating the SXSW experience for a bit, the group convinced me that Lime was a ‘can’t miss’ sort of band. And so, for the second time that night, I discovered a new favorite. The Australian trio are a bit like that first beer at your inaugural spring time cookout – refreshing and exhilarating, holding the promise of the days to come. They’re the sort of pop band that basks in the sunshine, and carries it over into the night – big choruses and even bigger heart. Unassuming, and even a bit goofy, on stage – it was quite startling to hear how big their sound was. But, once they got going, they were undeniable and an absolute blast to watch live. One of the struggles with festivals like SX is that it’s easy to fall in love with bands that might never make it back stateside but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Lime Cordiale come back around – and I can’t wait because I know their album will be stuck in my head for the rest of spring.
Portland, Oregon’s Mimicking Birds are at once cosmically ethereal and esoterically contained. A band that works with layers upon layers of surreal sonic textures and yet retains an atmosphere of intimacy that makes their live shows almost feel like you’re being pulled into a private world, invited into something secret and sacred. Swinging from spaced out folky meditations to swirling psychedelic rock, Mimicking Birds might not provide an energetic live show but they surely craft an absolutely enthralling one. On a relatively small stage, the band filled every available inch with instruments and equipment. They sadly didn’t have a terribly long set (to my dismay) but they certainly refused to waste even a single note of it. Offering tracks from their recent release – the stunning Layers of Us – as well as a couple older cuts, the band built a beautifully sumptuous set. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my time at SXSW than with a band that reminds me so succinctly of why I love music in the first place. There is an affective, even mystical, quality to music that can stir your spirit and set you aright. Leaving the show, I felt grounded and elated – grateful for another great SXSW.