In classic Texas form, the grey skies roll over Austin for our second day at SXSW 2017. The gloom and doom does threaten a possible weather issue for the day. Warmth and humidity spare the scare and we return to the thick of it for another round of madness; business as usual for this ever evolving festival. Embarking on a journey of musical discovery becomes the mission of the day. Some hits, some misses, but all in all, the potential to find some truly ripe music makes the juice worth the squeeze. The best part of seeing an unassuming artist play is the pleasant surprise of finding some truly exceptional new music live.
The first action of the day is to check out young singer songwriter Matt Maeson at Stubhub’s day party at Banger’s. The Virginia Beach native tugs at the heartstrings of onlookers with his truthful ballads and soulful approach. His lyrics speak to all the heartbroken souls out there who have a tough time getting it right in the world of love. He is an unapologetically honest and expresses universal relationship stories in the most melodic of ways. Maeson’s left forearm tattoo “Die A. Marter” is his punny way of showing that although he is willing to wear his heart on his sleeve and sing about the darker points of romance, he does not take anything in life too seriously. Considering the impact of the likes of fellow young male singer songwriters such as Jake Bugg and Hozier in previous years, Maeson rises to the the challenge to meet up where these predecessors set the bar. He also announces that his EP will officially be released later this month which will definitely be worth the wait.
The next stop is at Cedar Street Courtyard for the annual Floodfest. The house is packed for English psych rockers Temples. Upon first glance, the most notable feature are the mop tops each member sports. There is a lesson to be learned here as it is better to not judge books by their covers. After peeling back the first few layers of songs, the band takes the audience on a mystically delightful escape. Their poppy sound billowing out of the courtyard is so enticing that it attracts a thick crowd and the front door gets cut off from allowing further entries. Singer James Bagshaw stops between songs to acknowledge the “nice people” standing outside at the back of the venue and pleads with security to let those good people in. The Beatles-esque foursome does not disappoint.
We stick around for rising stars Frenship’s set. James Sunderland and Brett Hite backed here by a full band insight a flurry of dancing and bouncing throughout the space. Having come from humble retail backgrounds and then breaking through to the mainstream with their big hit “Capsize” featuring Emily Warren, the duo is really making its mark on the SXSW music scene this year as they play three official events as well as several unofficial showcases. They literally pound the pavement not only with their dancing feet, but also by spreading their sound throughout Austin as much as possible during this crucial week. Frendship stands strong as one of the best breakout bands of this year’s festival to date.
In hopes of finding even more new music to fall in love with, a quick jaunt down 6th St. to the East side of town can land a fan right in the sweet spot. Raunchy as it may be, Hotel Vegas has hosted some of the best rock bands to come out of SXSW in recent years. Closeness, the heavy rock-infused electronic musical brainchild of Todd (singer and frogman of The Faint) and his wife Orenda Fink (Azure Ray) take the stage inside the Volstead Lounge. Due to the venue’s unfortunate timing, the lounge is running behind schedule and Closeness is only able to play four songs. The set wets the whistle just enough to make the audience curious to see what else they have to offer. One crowd member yells out before their last song whether their new album was released and Orenda eagerly replies that not only is it already out, but she will also give it to anyone who approaches her after the show.
Across town back on Rainey St., the best way to wrap up the day is where it all had started – the Stubhub/Culture Collide nighttime event at Banger’s. With Sofi Tukker, Electric Guest, and Banks listed to play, only good things can be expected. Newcomers Sofi Tukker waste no time diving deep into heavy beats and livening up the crowd. The fresh faces who have only one EP To their name may be extremely new on the music scene as a pair, but their reputation precedes them. Their scintillating hit song “Drinkee” which was nominated this year for the Grammy for Best Dance Recording takes things up a notch, inciting a riotous dance frenzy.
Not to be entirely outdone, Electric Guest soon takes over and keeps the party rolling. The indie popsters (Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton) fill out their sound in the live setting by adding brothers Todd and Tory Dahlhoff to their lineup. They now have six years, two EPs, and two albums under their belts. A good serving of their new album Plural, released last month, assures that they not only have stayed on the straightened hour and tightened up their sound, but they have managed to make a great thing even better.
Sultry songstress Jillian Rose Banks, better known exclusively as BANKS follows up with a long set, rounding out the night with even more entertainment. Somewhere between the wild choreographed interpretive dancing and her peculiar shiny black feathered corset, her music peeks through and brightens the dark night.
One of the best things about SXSW is how easy it is to go to just about any showcase and know that each band or artist playing will be worth seeing. Often times, even the least assuming artist can deliver a mind blowing set that will leave a fan musically high for days on end. Perhaps the lack of some of the usual suspect showcases allows for the artist selection process to be more specific? That way there are fewer spaces to fill and the priority is truly to only books bands that are noteworthy. Here’s hoping the music discovery forecast for Friday is as warm as today’s.
File photo by Sharon Alagna