Most major cities in the U.S. have a distinct feeling that will leave an imprint on your mind. Whether it’s overwhelming height (New York City), seemingly endless sub-cities (Los Angeles), a quaint sense of comfort (Boston) or just a unique sound/smell in the air (Philadelphia) each city will leave an imprint even if it’s on a subconscious level. Austin, deep in the heart of Texas, on the surface might not look radically different than your average metropolis, but something is most certainly not of the ordinary about this town. It all looks like run-of-the-mill city features (bars, gas stations and tall building are in abundance), yet on this day walking through Austin’s cavalcade of bars/venues on 6th street a palpable excitement hung in the air.Room 710 â€šÃ„Ã¬ Coaxial
Up first at Room 710 GSL’s Coaxial took the stage with a sparse crowd of on-lookers. Primary members Beegs Alchemy (vocals, bass) and David K (turntables, sequencing) were here joined by a proper guitarist for a short but sweet set of industrial-strength experimental hip-hop. Musically the band would drift between trip-hop-style atmospherics and industrial beat repetition. Occasionally playing the bassline manually vocalist Alchemy spouted rhymes with a staccato phrasing and a slightly higher vocal pitch that popped nicely in contrast with the instrumentation. The band encountered technical difficulties, as David K’s CD player that queued up certain sections of the music after a few songs couldn’t stop from skipping. After a few frustrated moments of tinkering luckily the PA guy was kind enough to offer to play it from his station and from there the show went on without a hitch.
The Velvet Spade â€šÃ„Ã¬ The Sun
Following Coaxial there was just enough time to catch the last few songs of Columbus Ohio’s The Sun’s set. Playing Blame It On the Youth tracks “Justice,” “Must Be You” and “Valentine” had even at this early time packed the The Velvet Spade. The band seemed to rock harder (in a good way) on stage than one might expect from their debut album. Vocalist Chris Burney screamed the album closer “Valentine” to end the set strong.
Emo’s Jr. â€šÃ„Ã¬ Headlights
Polyvinyl’s Headlights gave an auspicious performance at Emo’s Jr prompting a greatly favorable response for a band with little more than an EP available thus far. Guitarist/vocalist Tristan Wraight and the undeniably cute keyboardist/vocalist Erin Fein had the crowd cheering for a dreamy blend of pop rock somewhere between U2 and 90s alt band Hum. Never straying too heavy and never coming off sappy the band had a vibrant energy. Mostly Wraight and Fein would harmonize their vocals but in certain instances such as “Everybody Needs a Fence To Lean On” Fein’s springy vocals took the forefront. Employing a nice mix of danceable pop and light rock if the band’s full length delivers they might have a bright future ahead of them.
La Zona Rosa â€šÃ„Ã¬ Jean Grae
After a decent march down towards Rio Grande Ave, Jean Grae stormed the stage militantly demanding the crowd wave their hands and two-step dance. Grae even demanded that fans in the front row had to be making the most noise otherwise fall back in the crowd for those who would fill the slot properly. Most of the time Grae rode the beat smoothly with a straight-ahead flow, but periodically the DJ would silence the beat to give her some time to spit spoken-word style. “What Type Of Life Is this?” provided the most jubilant reaction with Grae encouraging “Just keeping living / just keep living.” Grae worked hard to get the crowd energized, which varied greatly from the next performer on the same stage.
La Zona Rosa â€šÃ„Ã¬ Talib Kweli
Before Grae even left the stage Talib Kweli was introduced to an immediate rousing reaction. Grae and Kweli then jumped into a duet “Black Girl Pain” that found both of them singing “In so many ways though we’ve come so far / they just know the name, they don’t know the game.” Later after Grae’s departure Kweli set the crowd rocking with his verse and hook from the Dangerdoom cut “Old School.” With a rolling blast of horns and a confident vocal delivery Kweli effortless commanded the crowd, never once having to direct them to one reaction or another. After a short beat from “The Message” Talib sequed to the crowd’s delight into his part from Black Star’s “Definition.” With strong performances such as “Lonely People” he proved here once again why he’s one of the most revered MCs in rap music.
Eternal â€šÃ„Ã¬ Annie
Once finally back on 6th Street there was only a few songs left in popster Annie’s set. Annie (along with a guitar player and a sequencer/sampler triggerer) bounced joyously to her sugar-y sweet pop electronica. “Come Together” a longer spacey dance number featured an outro with frantic strumming and a cacophonous wall of noise while closer “Heartbeat” had the packed small venue dancing. Speaking with limited English Annie enticed the crowd with “Texas, Texas, Texas! Dance with me!”
The 18th Floor at Capitol Place â€šÃ„Ã¬ Curt Kirkwood
Atop the 18th Floor of the Capitol Place Hotel Curt Kirkwood (formerly of the Meat Puppets fame) played an understated set of folk/country numbers along side classics from his former Nirvana-influencing band. Kirkwood’s voice was slightly frail but the performance was outstanding. Playing beautiful songs from his solo record Snow such as the arpeggio-laden “Beautiful Weapon” delicately singing “What a beautiful weapon you got in your eyes / I love you the rest is a lie” to a dimly lit room where only seat viewing was possible. Kirkwood played a host of classic Meat Puppets numbers including the extraordinary “Plateau,” “Up On the Sun” and “Backwater” â€šÃ„Ã¬ the latter of which including a playful romp through “Sleepy Pee Pee.” Kirkwood deservedly got a standing ovation at the end of this all acoustic set.
Room 710 â€šÃ„Ã¬ The Jai-alai Savant
At Room 710 (GSL Showcase) The Jai-Alai Savant rocked through a solid set of numbers hybridizing ska, new wave and noise-punk. Dressed in all-white clothing the band had just a smidge of delay to their sound a la The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia.” Lead singer/guitar player Ralph Darden’s vocals were pronounced and crisp as the band alternated from downbeat ska and blasting rock. Playing humorously titled tracks such as “Scarlet Johannsen Why Don’t You Love Me?” and “Why Don’t I Cry?” The Jai-Alai Savant brought a fresh approach (rife with pulsating basslines) to punk.
La Zona Rosa â€šÃ„Ã¬ Cut Chemist
All the way back at La Zona Rosa Cut Chemist just began a short but sweet set that could be considered a clinique of turntablism. Using two standard vinyl turntables and a CD turntable Cut Chemist brought hip-hop and exotic percussion together with deft mixing and scratching. The highlights being an endless vocal loop from an old soul song offset against rolling lines of percussion as well as a dual-channel war between a beeping electronic melody. Before the end Chemist also spliced in a portion of Jurassic 5’s awesome “A Day at the Races.”
Exodus â€šÃ„Ã¬ The Go! Team
Finishing out the night at Exodus back on 6th were the UK’s The Go! Team. Eternal was mobbed for this performance and the crowd was in a frenzy dancing to The Go! Team’s distinct combination of indie-rock and electronica. Featuring two drummers, assorted guitar players and sporadic xylaphone and keyboards, the band treated the small club as though it was their own brand of ecstatic pep rally. Lead vocalist Ninja lead the explosive band through Thunder, Lighning, Strike “Huddle Formation” and “Ladyflash” with energy and conviction like life is nothing but a party. A fitting end to a solid night of music at this first night of South by Southwest.