Look, there are simply far too many bands at SXSW for one man to cover but damned if I didn’t try. It’s been said that Austin is uniquely situated to host a festival like SX and it shows – it’s a sprawling sonic smorgasbord of musical delights where every nook and cranny of the town becomes a stage. I’ve seen a lot of bands throughout this week but here are a handful of the standout artists that truly rocked my soul.
You know, it might be hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt but I’m pretty sure New York emo-duo Diet Cig are figuring it out just fine. Easily one of the most exciting acts I saw at SXSW, this is one of those bands that you hear and just won’t leave your head – and, it turns out, they’re one of those acts you wish didn’t have to leave the stage too. In all fairness, they only have an album’s worth of tunes but, still. With high kicking energy and endearingly earnest teenage lyrics, lead singer Alex Luciano rocked a beautiful wooden façade guitar covered in cosmic stickers and, quite honestly, that about sums up how amazingly delightful these guys are. Can’t wait for the record.
This is one of those acts whose name kept coming up again and again throughout the week – and with good reason. An alternative hip-hop songstress out of Minneapolis, Lizzo feels primed to fully blow up any day now. With massive radio friendly hooks, endlessly positive energy, and a stage presence designed to get you moving right along with her plethora of backup dancers, Lizzo has the sort of contagious care free vibe that will easily, and rightfully, win her over countless fans.
Thee Oh Sees
San Francisco garage punk rockers Thee Oh Sees are a name I’ve heard floating around forever but, for one reason or another, never really crossed paths with. Luckily that all changed on Tuesday when their hyper-psychedelia live set nearly drove me into the mud with joy. I guess the only records I’d heard gave me a false sense of tranquility from this band because what I saw that day was anything but tranquil. Fast, raw, garage rawk power the Thee Oh Sees sent me flying joyously into the pit and, despite my not-so-teenage body, I don’t regret a thing.
Either this genre is making a big come back or it’s just a matter of where my tastes lie these days but dream pop in some form or another seemed to be literally everywhere this week. Although I’ll take all that I can get of dreamy rock chillness, I won’t lie and say that the competition made it hard for some artists to stick out. This was not a problem for Philadelphia band Suburban Living who were able to bring to stage everything that made their 2016 record Almost Paradise so rewarding. Hazy, hypnotic textures and chugging danceable rhythms, Suburban Living had me at once bouncing along with the crowd and yet lost in my own thoughts – just like good dream gaze should.
I was expecting some unique acts at SXSW but, I mean, I really wasn’t expecting this. From the couple tracks I’d heard before the show, Cincinnati folk duo sounded like a mostly straight forward rustic roots rock band. Sure, one of the guitars had a unique twang that almost like a sitar but, surely, that was just an effect…oh no, that’s really a sitar. What’s so remarkable about this, and really remarkable about their live performance, is that it’s not played to invoke the Eastern aesthetic of the 60’s meditations so much as the southern musical affectation of Appalachia. It really is a sight to behold to see an instrument so naturally transformed with skill and ease that you almost forget how ridiculous it is in context (I mean, he even created a capo for it out of lamp shade pieces and a coat hanger in order to get the right sound). Even without the sitar they’d be an incredibly tight duo but damn if that sitar isn’t something to behold.
Hey, speaking of dream pop –Austin based Moving Panoramas are my absolute favorite band in the genre and one of the best local Austin acts around. They appeared on my radar a couple years ago with the inescapable earworm “Radar” when they were just a three piece outfit led by band leader Leslie Sisson. At this year’s SXSW, however, it seems she’s expanded the band to five members and has considerably fleshed out the original tunes. With the larger sound in tow, she debuted numerous new tracks that go above and beyond their once satisfyingly simplistic vibes and, from the sound of it, the new record is going to be all the better for it.