With literally thousands of bands playing at this year’s South by Southwest it would be somewhat unfair to award a “Best of South by Southwest.” A team of writers could spend every moment running from show to show nonstop and still miss some of the best Austin has to offer. Nonetheless, the army of music witnessed still merits accolades and glowing praise. So here we will break down mxdwn’s Picks of South by Southwest, one for each day of shows and then one for our overall pick of the whole conference. South by Southwest Day 1: Wednesday, March 15th
The 18th Floor at Capitol Place â€šÃ„Ã¬ Curt Kirkwood
On the first day the most eye-opening performance with without a doubt was former Meat Puppets member Curt Kirkwood’s solo-acoustic set. Playing to a small dimly lit room on the 18th floor the Capitol Place hotel Kirkwood’s set of new tunes and Meat Puppets’ classics elicited a distinct feeling of excitement in the room. Kirkwood’s new songs sounded vibrant and whimsical while the Puppets’ songs were fresh subdued takes that brought delight to the lucky ones in attendance. “Backwater” and “Plateau” were chord-y renditions that flourished into what felt like once-in-a-lifetime performances. Almost like having Curt Kirkwood play a personal set for you in your living room.
South by Southwest Day 2: Thursday, March 16th
Antone’s â€šÃ„Ã¬ Hank Williams III
Hank III’s shows typically consist of roughly an hour and a half of outlaw country, four songs of Hank’s signature “Hellbilly” music (punk rock country) and about thirty minutes of straight heavy metal. With a later timeslot at SXSW and a predictably late start time the set obviously had to be compressed. Truthfully it benefited from it. III and his Damn Band (and their almost instantaneous shift into Assjack late set) paced their show almost perfectly. The country/metal equivalent of a freight train barreling into the night, each successive song added like a mile-marker just a bit more momentum. By the time “Gravel Pit” was played the crowd’s energy rumbled into frenzy. To call it breathtaking would be an understatement.
South by Southwest Day 3: Friday, March 17th
Dirty Dog Bar â€šÃ„Ã¬ Witch
Dave Sweetapple, J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Kyle Thomas and Asa Irons (both from Feathers) delivered vintage metal thunder as Witch to a sparse crowd in the headlining slot at Dirty Dog Bar. With Mascis making the drums pop like gunshots and Thomas and Irons methodically crafting dueling melodies even skeptical Mascis fans found themselves banging heads along. The secret to Witch is simple; it’s the same trick most stoner rock bands milk in every song. Make the backbone of each song one foolproof riff-y melody, slowly intersperse musical counterpoint and then parabolically increase tempo until the mix becomes infectious. Witch more than any other group at South by Southwest shows real promise to craft a fan base and sound for years to come.
South by Southwest Day 4: Saturday, March 18th
The Parish â€šÃ„Ã¬ Sia
Frequent Zero 7 collaborator Sia Furler sang with passion and finesse at an early evening show at The Parish on the last full day of the conference. Sia’s between song crowd interplay was sweet and cute in an endearing way. Her giggles and smooth smile made for an utterly believable display of a growing success showing amazement at her own popularity. A full band in tow, Sia’s greatest weapon was the ability to trigger a voluminous vocal onslaught. She could effortlessly hold notes at precision moments, implying experience and struggle beyond years or what her appearances suggests. So much so that the song that brought her into the public consciousness “Breathe Me,” famously used during the finale of the last episode of HBO’s Six Feet Under, was far from the most impressive moment.
mxdwn Pick of South by Southwest
Antone’s â€šÃ„Ã¬ Hank Williams III â€šÃ„Ã¬ Thursday, March 16th
Hank Williams III’s late evening set at Antone’s made something painfully clear. This is one of the most fresh, thrilling and unique experiences in modern music. Many bands simply repurpose existing genres or the technology that powers them. Much of what can be heard in prevalent musical genres today (be it indie rock, hip-hop or electronica) offers little in comparison. Hank’s unapologetic dichotomy of outlaw country and heavy metal is an extraordinary experience. Just a glance at the crowd he draws (metal heads, neo-cowboys, greaser punks) shows the barrier breaking affect he has. It defies convention and nomenclature. He sings the country material with searing fervor and the heavy metal with overwhelming aggressive fury. Hank’s voice illuminates joy even in the darker ends of life. It demands respect and freedom while simultaneously denouncing mediocrity. In a time of recursively rehashed styles there is nothing quite like Hank III.