Last year when the tragedy outside famed Austin venue The Mohawk happened, it sent a shudder through the otherwise explosively ever-more popular music festival South by Southwest. SXSW as we know it, grew without an inkling of a ceiling was possible. Each passing year brought larger, more name-brand headliners, more out of control events, and of course, larger and larger multitudes of people. The tragedy that transpired shook everything up. This year, there are decidedly less monstrous surprise names (at least announced as of yet). In prior years, the semi-opening night of the music festival Tuesday was as packed with big events as any from the festival proper (Wednesday through Saturday). This year though, you could—for the most part—actually maneuver through the streets. Many venues were possible to get into (some like the Stub Hub event at Clive Bar where Future Islands were playing were not). A few events did mark the beginning of this year’s festival well, showing enthusiasm generally can win the day.
Early on at the Rolling Stone party at Mellow Johnny’s, TV on the Radio played to a relatively modest crowd given their stature. The crowd crammed in the small floor plan and ate up what TVOTR put forth. The band opened strong on the atmospheric crescendo of “Young Liars,” before heading into fan favorites “Lazerray” and “Golden Age.” Predictably, early career anthem “Wolf Like Me” packed the most punch brining the majority of the audience to a fist-pumping frenzy. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe dove into the crowd on “New Cannonball Blues” and sang most of the song nose-to-nose with fans. Most importantly, the band seemed legitimately excited to be performing, almost elated. They ended strong on “DLZ,” Adebimpe howling, “This is beginning to feel / Like the dawn of the loser forever.”
Later, at the opening party of illustrious Fader Fort by Converse, Passion Pit came out to an ecstatic, but not wall-to-wall packed audience. The band opened with their staple “Little Secrets,” replete with its somewhat canned (somewhat sang by the audience) refrain of “Higher and higher.” Lead singer Michael Angelakos stomped in manic circles from one side of the stage to the other, alternating between more standard vocals and his trademark, ultra-high-pitch falsetto. “The Reeling” brought more of the same, it’s call of “Oh, no” punctuating the band’s danceable melodies. Similarly, “Lifted Up (1985),” “Cry Like a Ghost” and “Sleepyhead” all had the pitter-patter of lively fun that kept the crowd dancing. The audience truly enjoyed it, but Passion Pit goes to the well a little too much and reuses similar song styles. It’s fun, but it lacks the variation it needs to really make it jump off the page.