After somewhat mediocre results on the first day of the festival (and far better output on day two), two artists stood high above the rest. It wasn’t much of a surprise. Whether residual fallout from the deadly accident two year’s back or just the bad luck that more bands than usual avoided the festival this year, there was no really doubt that Chvrches and Deftones would be the sets not to miss on this day. Every year the property once known as SPIN magazine (now absorbed and re-branded by Buzz Media into the conglomerate SPIN Media) throws a massive event at Stubb’s. While for many years it was invite only meant to be targeted to elite of music industry insiders, it has recently been an event general fans could find a way into through RSVPs or contests. With a sloping valley leading down to the main stage, the spot is ideal for a fun afternoon event.
Beyond a few DJ sets, Chvrches played very few full-on shows in their run at SXSW this year. Their set at the convention center was a stripped-down, short affair. Otherwise, Spotify House was one of the few other events where it was possible to see them play in full. Here, they returned to SXSW as if they were conquering champions. The band previously attended back in 2013 when their first full-length album had not even come out yet. Fast-forward three years and now they have two albums, the most recent of which Every Open Eye already one of the best pop albums of this decade. Behind just two singles their status catapulted into superstar levels and their fandom grew exponentially.
The three piece fronted by Lauren Mayberry trigger nearly every piece of their music through synthesizers or samplers. Opening with “Never Ending Circles,” Mayberry might be spritely in size, but she sings the song’s refrain of, “Here’s to never ending circles / and building them on top of me,” like someone brimming with confidence. The trio as a whole, at least as far as one can tell by a performance, all seem like generally amicable people you could imagine in real life. “Clearest Blue,” demonstrated the band’s careful knack for intricately layered melodies, each successive segment interlocking until a final bounding outro.
The real spark that makes them special is the quality of their ideas. Not everyone can capture such lightning in a bottle every time they try, but with their output thus far, they have the magic touch for constructing songs that are memorable beyond compare. Yes, these songs are hits in the most classic sense. Songs that seem warm and familiar, you’re ultimately glad when each chorus comes along. The little sequenced sound effects signaling the intro to “Leave a Trace” and the way the harmonies on the chorus of “Bury It” perfect the melody both cement the incredible rising star of this band.
Just before Chvrches Sacramento’s Deftones rocked the mid-afternoon crowd. The band became a late replacement at the prior day’s Ladybird Lake Stage open-to-the-public show after Ray LaMontagne had to back out. Now playing their originally scheduled show, the band came through with as much ferocity as any regular show they might do. After twenty plus years of cranking out stellar music and beating the road down, the five-piece comes off as seasoned veterans with a deep cannon to pull from.
Lead singer Chino Moreno still shrieks and howls with all the voluminous power when their first album Adrenaline had just come out. A few songs in, they treated to the crowd with a stellar surprise, letting Texas rap legend Bushwick Bill (The Geto Boys) join the group for a freestyle. Each member of the group was all wide smiles for every syllable that he uttered. They morphed that intro perfectly into the alternating atmospherics of White Pony track “Digital Bath.”
That one performance alone would have been worth the entire afternoon waiting in the hot sun. Later, they dusted off another one of their classics in the (almost) romantic “Change (in the House of Flies).” The post-chorus vocal line of “ah AH ah” becoming an epic singalong for the crowd. They ended strong with Around the Fur opener “My Own Summer,” a song deceptively simple in its sonic formulation, but an enrapturing combination of a descending and ascending guitar lick propelling ever more dramatic choruses.
Earlier on in the day another stellar female-fronted L.A. rock group Bleached took to the opposite stage of the SPIN party. Bleached take the best of early 80’s no-frills L.A. punk and melt into the attitude and fun The Runaways made famous. There is just enough spunk to make it edgy and just enough poppy fun to keep anything from devolving into an overly aggressive mess.
Elsewhere on the day, mxdwn favorite The New Regime played to a sparse crowd at the Moody Theatre (at this point in the night nobody knew if all the nights events were canceled amidst the rain). Band leader (and principal member) Ilan Rubin played each song with manic energy.
L.A. newcomers PHASES (comprised of former members of JJAMZ) played to crowded house at the Grammy Museum’s Homegrown showcase. Lead singer Z Berg wasted no time cavorting for the crowd along the front of the stage for their final song.
Far on towards the end of the evening Crystal Castles played a mostly aborted set at Stubb’s. The group managed three songs awash in bass drops and overblown histrionics before one of their keyboards broke. Stagehands frantically tried to fix it. Once it finally seemed resolved, the group’s new lead singer Edith Frances replacing the departed Alice Glass tried to continue singing. When the mic appeared now not turned on main member Ethan Kath literally threw his hands up in the air and walked off the stage. D’oh.
At night’s end rising star Charli XCX took to Stubb’s with her new producer SOPHIE. Earlier material from Charli XCX always had a glossy mega-pop bounce to them, but after an album featuring a full-on punk-y band was aborted, she seems to have ditched that sonic palette entirely in favor of a kind of bombastic dancehall (as indicated by recent single “VROOM VROOM”). There’s no denying Charli XCX is a beautiful woman, but her style in the past seemed to elegantly play off of it, while now her approach almost seemed annoyingly desperate, her ass cheeks hanging out underneath the bottom of her plastic dress. All the way around, curious changes for her.