SX 2019 was as glorious and ridiculous as ever – an absolute smorgasbord of incredible musicians and a borderline shit-show of logistics. Running around from venue to venue all across downtown can be exhilarating but also exhausting, as the endless parade of bemoaning from critics shows. It was a beautiful early spring week, however, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to enjoy musicians from all around the world descend on Austin and keep its weird and wild spirit alive – even if it was a bit more buried beneath corporations, communications think-tanks, and electronic scooters than usual. Despite itself, SXSW is still a treasure, now – on to the music!
Hubert Lenoir – Making not only their SXSW debut but also their American debut in general, Quebec City rockers Hubert Lenoir were absolutely on fire for their set at the Mohawk. The stage name of singer Hubert Chiasson, they were recently a shortlist finalist for the Polaris Music Prize – and their set definitely revealed why. Donning thick mascara and a single garish earring, Chiasson was incredibly charismatic as he strutted across stage and occasionally dangled from the rafters. The band itself was full of energy and classic rock and roll swagger as they boisterously jumped around on stage. Aside from a bit of prolonged PDA between Chiasson and the guitarist (a kiss, sure, but you don’t need to stop a song to make out…), the whole set was a bit of glorious glam rock that started off my day just right. I suspect they’ll be touring quite a bit more in the future and if you see them, get ready to dance.
The Beths – Honestly, what is it about the dry New Zealand sense of humor that lands so perfectly? Whatever it is, The Beths possess all the kiwi charm one could hope for. Amidst a phenomenal set, the band started to remark how excited they were to playing a stage next to a train track, eager that someone might snap a photo of them mid-song while a train passed – only to quickly say it was for a friend and not them because they were in a cool rock and roll band. In a moment of cosmic kismet, a train did end up passing during their last song – with lead singer Elizabeth Stokes excitedly exclaiming “it’s a train!” topping off an incredibly tight and infectiously joyous set culling from their recent, and truly fantastic, debut record.
Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers – As the front woman for Against Me!, Laura Jane Grace should need no introduction – her somewhat recent solo project, The Devouring Mothers, howeverare a whole other beast. While touted as being a more intimate affair, it’s hard to argue that the band is anything but a continuation of Grace’s damn-the-man punk rock ethos. Equal parts invitingly humorous and viciously biting, Grace is easily one of the most engaging stage presences I’ve seen in some time. Joined by the confident bass lines of Marc Jacob Hudson’s Nd the devastating drumming of Atom Willard, the Devouring Mothers absolutely demolished their set and had the crowd clamoring for more.
Tow’rs – Hailing from Flagstaff, Arizona, the gentle folk rockers Tow’rs were either the perfect band for a night set or the worst. Their dulcet harmonies and soft edge acoustics nearly lulled me to sleep – but certainly not from boredom. Playing a conference room that overlooked downtown Austin from the 18th floor, the band blended beautifully into this idyllic setting and soundtracked the quiet city scape high above the din below. Led by husband and wife duo Kyle and Gretta Miller, the band sang of love with a twinkle in their eye and romanticism that would’ve bordered on obnoxious if it weren’t so earnest.
Ellis – As a child of the 90’s, one of the most disorienting experiences of the festival was seeing just how far the 90’s fashion revival had come. From the oversized military jackets to the low rise jeans, I felt a bit like I was in a time warp. I only bring this up to say that it was awfully fitting that the final band of my week was the gazey, grungy goodness of Toronto rockers Ellis – all decked out in devil may care alternative style to match. Spearheaded by songwriter Linnea Siggelkow, the band crushed an intimate late night set bringing a sound that was decidedly bigger than the room it was housed in. While they struck me as decidedly more reserved on album, I was blown away by how big their sound was and hope to catch them on a bigger stage next time around.