I Want to Live at SXSW

Charles Bradley performs at Stubb's on 03.17. Photo: Joseph Llanes.com

Every March, musicians, journalists, photographers and industry types descend upon the city of Austin for nearly a week of non-stop music. Sixth Street is closed to any through traffic and as the week progresses, people mob the streets like a rabid horde. Music of every genre spills out of every orifice of the city. It begins around noon and doesn’t let up until close to three in the morning. Everything is bigger in Texas, and although Austin isn’t anything like the rest of the state, the slogan still rings true. In a mere five days, we easily saw upwards of 60 performers. When music oozes out of everywhere, it’s hard to find something that you don’t like. Mediocre performances are forgotten in the sea of awesome. When something isn’t that great you just move on to something better. This list only covers the top ten performances that we witnessed in Austin. For full coverage from SXSW, visit slugmag.com.

Black Lips

Although I’d never seen Black Lips before this performance, I’d heard rumors of the rowdy stage antics that might occur. I didn’t notice anything as over-the-top as partial nudity, but there was a healthy amount of guitar players touching tongues, beers being dropkicked and spit around the stage. At one point, I think guitar player Cole Alexander might have vomited a bit before diving into the chorus of one of their songs. About half of the band’s set list was made up of songs off the upcoming album, Arabia Mountain, but the older material (mostly pulled from Good Bad Not Evil) are what saw the crowd and band acting the wildest. My favorite moments were when Black Lips played “Bad Kids,” “Cold Hands” and “O Katrina.” The performance makes it that much harder to wait for Arabia Mountain to drop on June 7 (Urban Lounge, 06.18). –Jeanette D. Moses

The Kills
Alison Mosshart is the kind of woman that inspires me to want to pick up a guitar. Mosshart commanded the stage at Emo’s with a voice that was equal parts sex bomb and dirty grit. Accompanied on stage by her partner in crime, guitarist Jamie Hince, I found it awe-inspiring that this two-piece created such a huge sound. Hince and Mosshart had great chemistry on stage, shooting each other glances as they belted out a slew of material from their upcoming album, Blood Pressures. Their usual bare-bones sound received a giant punch in the chest during their performance at SXSW. Everything seemed louder, heavier and a lot heartier than it does recorded. The highlight came when they played “No Wow,” which found the first few rows screaming along with Mosshart. –Jeanette D. Moses

The Black Angels
I caught The Black Angels twice at SXSW—the first during a more stripped down day-time set at The Austin Convention Center, without their drummer Stephanie Bailey, and the second, eight hours later at The Orchard Showcase. The Black Angels can do no wrong with their reverb-heavy psych rock n’ roll. Although the two performances held a very different energy, both were unforgettable. The evening showcase was, hands down, my favorite thing I saw at SXSW. The Black Angels sounded tighter than ever and I wished their 9-song set had never ended. A blissful smile returns to my face every time I look back on the showcase. I knew The Black Angels would blow my mind, but their performance exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. (Urban Lounge, 05.06) –Jeanette D. Moses

Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band
Charles Bradley is the kind of performer that music journalists have wet dreams about. This 62-year-old soul man, backed by the Menahan Street Band, was one of the happiest musical surprises I’ve had in a long time. Bradley busted onto the stage with more energy and pizzazz than performers half his age. He crooned to the crowd, blew kisses to the ladies and dropped to his knees, all while never missing a note. His effusive stage presence was as intoxicating as his tormented soulful voice. Anything Dap Tone Records touches seems to turn to gold—Charles Bradley is no exception. –Jeanette D. Moses

At approximately 5 p.m. on a Friday, Gaza destroyed Austin. The Salt Lake City based grindcore band blew the fucking roof off of Lovejoys. Lead singer Jon Parkin paced in front of the shoe-box-sized stage like some sort of wild animal, taunting members of the crowd as he passed them by, the rest of the band playing their instruments at break-neck speed. As the band broke into “He is Never Coming Back,” the crowd surged forward like a pack of wild hyenas to scream the lyrics in unison with Parkin. The performance was precise, brutal and very powerful. Gaza’s music was an overdue assault to the psyche. –Jeanette D. Moses

Beats Antique
Some bands throw concerts to create a mood. Other bands make moods. Beats Antique brought a literal party to their at-capacity, Beauty Bar backyard showcase. The drum-playing Zoe Jakes added to the set by dancing some cross of belly and folk dancing as the rest of the band blasted a fusion of electro and hip hop. That was fantastic enough, but then Oakland’s Extra Action Marching Band swelled onto the stage for the last song before parading from the venue’s block down an alley in Trinity street’s center. It was the first show I’ve ever been to that ended in a physically different place than where it began (The Depot, 04.05). –JP

Datarock is everything your too-cool sister hates: They’re a catchy, Norwegian-accented funk group with pop sentiments. They also wear matching jumpsuits and released “The Most Extravagant Single In History,” in March (featuring 105 bonus tracks). She would hate it just like she would hate how half the band disrobed mid-set and revealed less-than rock star, two-pack bodies. If you throw a bizarre, cool nerd-vibe out, you get great crowd response: Datarock proved this with their synchronized jumping, dancing and drumming. If you’re lucky enough to get within a few hundred miles of a Datarock show, go. –JP

Childish Gambino
Out of all the “hip hop” groups I saw at SXSW, the guy keeping it the most real was a self-identifying “rapper on a TV show.” Turns out Gambino, a.k.a. Community’s Donald Glover, can perform and really rap. His delivery, a live video cameo beat from Reggie Watts, and some really cogent, thought-provoking rhymes made for an amazing night. Compared to other rappers I saw, who all played their tracks off laptops (barring Kosha Dillz’s set with SLC DJ Street Jesus), Gambino had a real band playing his loops live with finesse. Gambino has a free EP download available. Go get it, I have it playing non-stop: iamdonald.com (Vertigo at The Complex, 04.19) –JP

Kill It Kid
Latitude 30 was presenting British music and they brought it hard with showcases like “Best of the Northwest,” which is where I discovered a small band with growing potential. Liverpool’s Kill it Kid have a uniquely American classic-rock attack laced with unmistakable Liverpudlian-accented guitaritry and timing. The group’s female/male dual vocals inspire awe that begins in your head and descends to a thigh clap and foot stomp. Stephanie Ward’s cutting, Joplin-esque stylings are my new favorite neo-psych vocals and have overtaken Sleepy Sun and Black Mountain. Her youth and virtuosity with her vocal chords and keyboard chords combined into enchanting and electrical congruency. Good show, you Brits. –JP

Warm Ghost
I recently received Warm Ghost’s debut EP like a magical present in my SLUG box and I jumped when I heard they were showcasing at SXSW this year. Their EP is quietly beautiful—built with layers of tremulous vocals and carefully parsed silences and swells. The live experience was the same as the recorded layers of chillwave and electronic textures and was created with only two guys—very impressive. Lead singer/composer Paul Duncan was a genuinely nice guy and is a very talented multi-instrumentalist. This is a new favorite group of mine and I crave more than the EP-length release and their too-short showcase. More, more, more. –JP

Charles Bradley  performs at Stubb's on 03.17. Photo: Joseph Llanes.com Zoe Jakes of Beats Antique  at Beauty Bar Backyard on 03.16. Photo: JP Data Rock at The Parrish on 03.17. Photo: JP The Extra Action Marching Band at  Beauty Bar Backyard on 03.16. Photo: JP