Australia's The Black Ryder impressed the entire SLUG Mag team at Austin's Iron Bear on 03.17. Lead singer and guitarist Aimee Nash was a powerhouse on-stage. Photo: Angela H. Brown
For five days in mid-March, SLUG Magazine invaded Austin, Texas for the 26th annual SXSW music festival. Throughout our week, excessive Lonestar beer and delicious street cart food were consumed and our minds and eardrums will never be the same again after witnessing the array of musical acts. Here are some of our favorites.
The Black Ryder
03.17 at The Iron Bear at 10:15 p.m.
The Black Ryder is a band that I discovered and fell in love with during SXSW. I decided to go to this show on a whim—I’d heard good things from SLUG’s Editor, Angela Brown, who herself had only recently discovered them through the SXSW iPhone app. As we made the trek from Austin’s east side with SLUG’s lead designer, Josh Joye, we joked about how the bar would be the perfect name for a gay bar. When we arrived, both of our suspicions about the night were confirmed—The Iron Bear is a gay bar and The Black Ryder is fucking rad.
Formed in 2007, this Australian band is the brainchild of Aimee Nash, on vocals and guitar, and Scott Von Ryper, also on guitar for this performance, which included a variety of U.S. guest musicians. Nash is a vocal powerhouse—she reminded me of a more psychedelic Alison Mosshart. Accompanying The Black Ryder’s SXSW line up was bass player Jennifer Fraser (who played in Warlocks and currently plays in ZAZA). The dynamic between Nash and Fraser was my favorite aspect of the show. The women often faced each other as they played, creating a cool wall of sound as their instruments’ noise bounced off of each other.
I may have been unacquainted with The Black Ryder when I landed in Austin, but all it took was one steamy, late-night show to convert me into a fan. – Jeanette D. Moses
03.15 at Barbarella at 1 a.m.
I had seen all of the music I wanted to that night, and been told the Cro-Mags put on a good show along with the band that preceded them, Power Trip, so I found myself at the Barbarella around midnight on Thursday … and the Barbarella found itself some trouble.
I made my way to a spot of concrete off to the side, overlooking the pit and the makeshift stage they’d set up on the patio, which was about two feet off the ground and had a ridiculous awning over the top. After Power Trip took the stage (and I do mean TAKE—the first thing that came out of vocalist Riley’s mouth was, “Who here is underage? This venue is now YOURS!” and that’s pretty much when the Barbarella shit itself), I began to re-evaluate my position, ‘cause if a thrash metal band from Dallas could cause this kind of mayhem, the Cro-Mags’ set might kill us all.
After Power Trip decimated the stage (and nearly shut the show down), Cro-Mags vocalist John Joseph got on the mic and told the crowd he’d been asked to relay a message: If anyone climbed onto the stage, the sound guy was going to immediately cut power. “I know that’s not how we do things, but that’s how it’s gotta be,” he said in his thick NYC accent. I knew the set was doomed. Starting off with “We Gotta Know,” the Mags seemed a little subdued after the preceding chaos, but knowing these guys are a major part of hardcore history, I was impressed by the energy on both sides of the security guard wall—and things were getting fucking tense. A few songs in, Joseph introduced the catalyst: a cover of Bad Brains’ “Attitude.” I’m pretty sure the Mayan Calendar actually ended at this exact moment, ‘cause all fucking hell broke loose, and the mic was immediately cut as promised, but it didn’t matter cause everyone was screaming the words too loud to notice.
The show was over at that point, the Mags had played less than half their set, and were clearly as frustrated as the crowd, but I left with more energy than I’d had all week. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see a show like that again, and guess what, boyfriend, neither will you. –Esther Meroño
03.17 at Vegan Hotel at 5 p.m. and Lustre Pearl at 1 a.m.
Diamond Rugs is John McCauley of Deer Tick’s newest project, an indie-rock super group featuring members of Los Lobos, Black Lips and Dead Confederate. During the two sets that I caught on March 17, they performed with 10 members, including three guitarists (Ian Saint Pé of Black Lips, McCauley and Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate), three percussionists (one of whom is Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite), Deer Tick keyboardist Robbie Crowell on bass and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos on saxophone, just to name a few. They were the group I was most excited to see during SXSW.
These professional musicians came together to create music that is killer. When the group went into the studio to record their upcoming self-titled album—which Partisan Records will release on April 24—they had no pre-written songs. Everything that made it on the record was created during the ten-day session. Oddly enough, this was evident when seeing them perform live: The set had an organic feel, flowing naturally but also feeling somewhat spontaneous, as the band members took turns singing different songs featured on the album.
In retrospect, the band looked a bit stiff during their 5 p.m. performance at the Vegan Hotel. McCauley commented more than once that they didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse together, but the daytime show still found the entire front row dancing to the band’s loose rock n’ roll songs that feature obvious blues and country influences. I’ll admit that I was slightly disappointed that Saint Pé had ditched the golden grill he typically rocks for both Diamond Rugs shows.
When Diamond Rugs took the stage at Lustre Pearl at 1 a.m., they had hit their stride and were clearly more lubricated than they’d been earlier in the day. This was quickly confirmed as audience members continuously brought rounds of shots to the stage. For the late night set, the band announced they’d be playing their entire upcoming album in order. This performance easily topped the daytime show. Saint Pé’s banter between songs—although occasionally hard to understand due to his heavy southern drawl and obvious intoxication—was reminiscent of what he does when playing with Black Lips. McCauley dove into the crowd and held his guitar out for audience members to touch and play. Someone in the band threw a tambourine into the crowd—the guy standing next to me snatched it and played along to the remainder of the set. When 2ish a.m. rolled around, neither the crowd nor the band seemed like they were ready to leave—fuck, I would have been happy to hear the entire set one more time, but as the lights flickered on, it was clear that it was time to go. If seeing the Diamond Rugs perform together was a rare treat, I’m stoked I saw it twice. If this super group ever ends up touring, I’ll be elated. – Jeanette D. Moses
Girl in a Coma
03.16 at Easy Tiger Patio at 1 a.m.
My week at SXSW was powered by a slew of guitar slayin’, throat shreddin’, drum bangin’ babes, and the Latina ladies of San Antonio trio Girl in a Coma were no exception. I pushed my way to the front of the packed crowd on the Easy Tiger Patio to stand directly in front of vocalist Nina Diaz and sing along to “Adjust,” the opening track on their most recent album, Exits & All The Rest.
I’d seen these chicas play at Kilby last year (and interviewed drummer Phanie Diaz for SLUG’s November 2011 issue), but that show lacked the crowd energy present at this SXSW showcase.
Nina’s voice is just so fucking flawless. She’s got this rockabilly tremolo thing going on … it’s like Patsy Cline fused with Elvis. Makes sense that they’d cover Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” which they played—to my delight—from their album Adventures in Coverland. Their unique brand of Tejano rock n’ roll is so much fun to watch live.
Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it: Girl in a Coma is gracing Kilby Court on May 7. –Esther Meroño
03.16 at Victorian Room in the Driskill at 12 a.m.
Hailing from Birmingham, England, Lady Leshurr’s first performance off U.K. soil was her SXSW appearance on Friday, March 16. The venue was a converted hotel conference room with a small rented stage, mediocre lighting system and a PA. This set up was not surprising, but typical for SXSW, as almost every inch of Austin is converted into a music venue during the festival.
The band playing was RasItes—four British-Jamaican reggae vets who’ve gigged with legends Black Uhuru and Aswad. They fired a strong, politically charged set to all five audience members, who were skanking on the hotel carpet. After delivering their last song (a cover of Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up”), RasItes remained on stage and a BASS Culture rep emerged at 12 a.m. and introduced the act I’d been waiting for, Melesha O’Garro, aka Lady Leshurr.
Clad in bright pink booty shorts with matching star-shaped earrings, a black bandeau top and a cropped jean jacket, Lady Leshurr unapologetically flaunted her perfect, 21-year-old body as she took the stage. This was BASS Culture’s showcase so before starting the show, Leshurr showed respect by telling us how reggae and dancehall had influenced her songwriting over the years. She laid into her first song with RasItes backing her up, displaying her ability to melodically sing over rock reggae.
Leshurr apologized for being a little tired (jetlag). She hyped up the RasItes and asked them to make a go at a second live collaboration. With warmed-up vocals, she was ready to bring what I came for. Leshurr’s voice buzzed, freestyle rapping at lightning speeds. She was an urban auctioneer, tongue-twisting her life’s story with urgent velocity, yet discharging it with perfect diction. She bounced up and down as she spouted out words—like she was keeping time jumping to an imaginary jump rope. Around her fourth rap, two-dozen people joined the audience and Leshurr’s energy soared. She confessed that she normally doesn’t rap with a live band (she uses a prerecorded track) and stated that after tonight’s show with RasItes, she was unsure she would be able to go back to rhyming over a CD.
She charmed RasItes into staying for “just a few more,” and sang out an improv rhythm for each individual musician to play. RasItes immediately picked up her groove and Leshurr delivered another round of rapid-fire rap. The crowd was in a frenzy, begging for more. After the vocals ended, a drunken member of the crowd tried to clown the RasItes lead vocalist, Jahmel Ellison, by challenging him to rap like Leshurr. Surprising bandmates and the crowd alike, Ellison rose to the challenge, took the mic and began freestyling. Leshurr battled back and forth with Ellison until her 30-minute SXSW time slot was up. Leshurr thanked the audience and invited fans to meet her stage left for autographs and pictures. Watch out MIA … at the rate she’s going, Lady Leshurr is sure to replace you. –Angela H. Brown
03.15 at Esther’s Follies at 9:30 p.m.
I’ve been a fan of Mike Birbiglia since my stint as a cubicle minion a couple of years ago, when all I had to protect me against the life-sucking fluorescent lights and mindless, vending machine banter was Ira Glass and his contributors on This American Life. Birbiglia was one of my favorites, as his stories about Catholic school and sleepwalking disorders were guaranteed to take my mind off the carpal tunnel.
I had the chance to see Birbiglia’s latest project, a movie based on his one-man off-Broadway show and book, Sleepwalk With Me, at Sundance this January. The film was one of my favorites from Sundance, and fortunately it was picked up by IFC so y’all might have a chance to see it, too. This is actually why Birbiglia was in Austin, showing Sleepwalk With Me during the film portion of the festival the week prior to the music. Fortunately, he stuck around and did a short, 20-minute stand-up act as part of the TuneIn StandUp Showcase at Esther’s Follies on Austin’s famous Sixth Street.
Louis Katz and Jessi Klein preceded Birbiglia, and by the time he hit the stage I’d been lubed with laughter and was ready for more. He came out with that shit-eating grin of his, a handful of note cards and immediately mentioned how much younger than him we all looked. Nevertheless, he knew how to cater to us, and immediately started off with some new jokes all relevant to SXSW, a couple I’d already seen that day on his Twitter feed (@birbigs), but were even better in person.
The set was short and familiar, but Birbiglia’s energy was infectious, and he seemed fueled by our “youth.” He only had a few minutes left at the end, and asked what we wanted to hear. A bunch of us yelled “Sleepwalk” ‘cause that story never gets old, but he went with the “rape mattress” joke instead. He paused in the middle and slapped his forehead, exclaiming that he hadn’t told the joke in so long, he’d forgotten it, so we all exuberantly jumped from our seats and tried to fill it in for him (some of us might’ve been slightly intoxicated at this point … ). Overall, his performance was a worthwhile break from the music at SXSW, and I hope it’s a refreshing break from all of our show reviews I know you’ve been sifting through. –Esther Meroño
This Will Destroy You
03.14 at Swan Dive at 1 a.m.
It was 1 a.m. as I walked all doe-eyed to the front of the stage at the Swan Dive for the Suicide Squeeze SXSW Showcase. It’s difficult for me to describe what This Will Destroy You’s music does to me … You know when you were a kid, and there were fireworks going off, and you were with all of your friends on the Fourth of July, and some cheesy “America” country song was playing over the field, but it didn’t matter ‘cause you felt so happy and alive and grateful that you were a fucking American ‘cause you didn’t know any better, so your chest got tighter and your stomach hurt in a good way and you couldn’t stop smiling? That’s where This Will Destroy You takes me.
This show was no different, though their set at Kilby last year was more intimate. The highlight of the evening was their finale. They played “Little Smoke” off their latest album, Tunnel Blanket, starting slow and soft, then pausing for a split second of silence interrupted by a loud “crack!” from one of the guitar pedals and some super loud, heavy beats coming down on you like the wrath of god. The soft noise of feedback and distortion ended the night in standing Shavasana. I know this word is totally over-used, but damn, this band is epic. Rumor has it the band will be back through SLC in June. –Esther Meroño
This only covers a fraction of the music we all saw while in Austin. For SLUG’s daily coverage of performances by Ume, Gossip, Tycho, Bass Drum of Death, Mr. Gnome, The Allah-Las and many more, visit slugmag.com/festivals.php. Also check out our exclusive photo gallery.