There’s no party like a SPIN party, with free BBQ, breakfast and booze at perhaps one of the coolest venues in Austin: the iconic Stubb’s. Openers Radkey approached their set like a playful eight-year-old presented with a fresh can of spray paint. Just about every track was prefaced by frontman Dee Radke saying exactly what the song was about, moving his mouth from mischievous grin to hard-edged lyrics as an ouroboros of a line of folks awaiting free BBQ nodded to the beat. The band of brothers won over a lot of fans with their all-too-brief set, only to be evenly matched straight across Stubb’s by The Orwells.
If anything, SXSW 2014 has proven to be the year of the vocalist, what with Lydia Loveless, John Flanagan and Semi Precious Weapons frontman Justin Tranter regaling fans with impressive singing display. Frontman Mario Cuomo gave his best Jim Morrison croon before launching into a varied set that was slightly polished but matched the gritty spirit of Radkey. When SPIN booked their showcase, they apparently erred to keep it in the family, as The Orwells are comprised of cousins and siblings.
Synthpop heroes Future Islands brought the vocals to a whole new level of bravado. The whole band was animated as can be and with the type of seriousness generally reserved for acts who feel more at ease in the art community than venue-hopping on tour. They’re like Electric Six if Dick Valentine was earnestly finding a place for his people. And, despite the depths of emotion resting on Samuel T. Herring and co., they’re an incredibly fun band in a live setting.
Temples brought the crowd back to the North Stage and shed a bit of light on one of Britain’s biggest buzz bands. They’re a solid outfit with the type of self-effacing stage banter and clean tracks to make the group widely appealing, but there is little magic in the generic.
Against Me!, however, absolutely rocked the spot that Temples had done little with. The band has a strong following and an even stronger energy, with frontwoman Laura Jane Grace exuding the surprising elegance of a beauty queen. Of all the acts coming through Austin, Against Me! look the most grateful to be here. Hits mixed in with cutting tracks off Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
After that, there was Future. Perhaps the only thing keeping Ciara relevant, Future proved that he can get a crowd drunk off free Crispins, moving and thrashing. After seeing a surprisingly deft Odd Future and a mindblowing Grieves, Future stuck out as the weak link of my SXSW hip hop experience.