For a band that melds everything from indie, synth-pop, punk-pop and anthemic rock, the 1975 are easy to get into, and near impossible not to enjoy. So it was no surprise their late-night Saturday set at Stubb's on the last day of SXSW 2014 brought the festival to a joyous, fist-pumping close with singles like "Chocolate," "Sex" and "The City." The immediacy of their sound was the fresh boost a weary SXSW crowd needed as the year's fest came to a close.
It's a good time to be in Future Islands. After a wildly successful performance on The Late Show With David Letterman last week, the Baltimore synth-poppers have attracted attention from the strangest of places, and with good reason -- they've been a band for nearly a decade now. The charisma comes from frontman Samuel Herrings, who's idiosyncratic dance moves inspired children in the audience to crouch and spin just like he was doing. Hunched and smiling, Herrings dedicated the set to young people, saying, "It gets better." If their SXSW sets are any indication, it definitely does.
Baraboo, Wisconsin's biggest claim to fame might not be that it hosts the Circus World Museum for much longer. Phox—an indie folk collective from the town of 12,000—played a stunningly lovely set for Sirius XM radio Friday afternoon during SXSW.
Lead vocalist Monica Martin brings to mind Joni Mitchell with her alternately fragile and soulful voice, and the rest of the group provides soothing harmonies that are a welcome reprieve from the shout-folk of Mumford or Lumineers. What takes Phox to the next level, though, are the band's unique rhythms and quirky banjo/guitar riffs. Keep an eye out for their debut album, recorded in the studio of fellow Wisconsin folkie Justin Vernon, later this year.
— Joe Lynch
Lady Gaga Live at the Doritos #BoldStage was Mother Monster's debut performance at SXSW, and she successfully delivered joy, weirdness and great music. The concert opened with a leather-bikini clad Gaga roasting over an open spit while her dancers rejoiced around her. Performance-wise, the most memorable moment of the evening was undoubtedly when Gaga sat down at the drum set and began pounding away while her NYC friend Millie Brown—a self-described regurgitation painter—drank bright green paint and proceeded to puke it directly onto Gaga.
You can take Gaga out of New York, but you can't take the New York out of Gaga. Check out our full review of the Gaga SXSW set and John Norris' reflections on interviewing Gaga for this year's SXSW keynote address.
— Joe Lynch
In an ideal SXSW fantasy, a curious music lover wanders into a venue and encounters a new band they immediately fall in love with. This very rarely happens, but that's exactly how I discovered London synth-rock act Waylayers. Meandering inside Austin's Swan Dive bar, I caught a set from the UK quartet and was knocked out by two things you rarely see in a pre-album band: 1) Their fully-realized, self-assured sound and 2) the quality of their songcraft. Imagine Cut Copy circa In Ghost Colours fronted by a vocalist with the expansive strength of Bono. It shouldn't work as well as it does, but in a live setting, it's the uplifting dance party you didn’t know you needed.
— Joe Lynch
The SXSW Radio Day Stage certainly has no trouble booking indie heavyweights. Damon Albarn, The Hold Steady and Phantogram were among their Friday lineup. But it's a carpeted ballroom filled with convention hall chairs—hardly what you would consider a rock ‘n roll venue, certainly not one ideally suited to the trippy psych pop of the UK’s Temples. The boys from the small town of Kettering are arguably filling the role played last year by Palma Violets—the British buzz band of SXSW—and they certainly deserve it. In fact, we recently featured them on Fuse News. And even in this sterile ballroom with a crowd that seemed to be a mix of genuine, whooping fans and curious conference attendees, Temples soldiered through a set that let everyone know why they are so talked about: flowery throwback grooves from Sun Structures, one of the debut albums of the year, including the spindly title track, the singalong stomper “Keep in the Dark”, the swirling “Mesmerise”, with its serpentine guitar, and their glorious, jangly signature closer “Shelter Song." With looks that scream 1972—including Marc Bolan doppelganger frontman James Bagwell—Temples calls for lava lamps, incense and maybe a bean bag chair. Those were in short supply on this afternoon, but this is a band I would see anywhere and be thrilled.
The last day of SXSW was bleak: 95% humidity in the air, irregular rain, gray skies. The first few sets of Converse and Thrasher Magazine's Day Parties suffered because of it—attendees opted to sit inside the venue's covered tents instead of standing close to the out door stage. The ridiculously named garage punk band Diarrhea Planet saw this as an opportunity: They would have to earn their audience. After a few silly introductions to songs, "This one is about making out," "This one is about eating MREs," frontman Jordan "Hodan" Dickie won them over. At one point, he enticed the audience to crowd surf by tempting them with shirts that read "New F-ck." It worked. Kids ran outside and began flinging their bodies up, eventually scream-singing along to the band's best known track "Ghost With a Boner." Nothing stops rock 'n' roll.
Following Lady Gaga's stellar SXSW show, New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia dominated the Fuse Box at Stubb's BBQ. Taking the stage flanked by her signature twerk team, the star of Fuse's Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (new season coming in June!) ran through a parade of pounding bounce tracks that shook Fuse's Austin HQ to its core. Also, one twerk team member crawled up the scaffolding surrounding a projection screen and managed to shake her ass from the corner like she was part of the frame. Obviously we're partial, but this was exactly what a late night party should be.
— Joe Lynch
Anyone who hadn’t seen The Pains of Being Pure at Heart recently would be forgiven for doing a double take Friday night at a jam-packed Cedar St. Courtyard. While that was certainly singer/songwriter Kip Berman front and center at the mic, everything else about the band that won—and held—the hearts of so many in Brooklyn and beyond five years ago has been reconstituted. Longtime keyboardist and vocalist Peggy Wang and bassist Alex Naidus were gone, replaced, respectively, by Drew Citron of the duo Beverley and Jacob Sloan, while former live guitarist Christoph Hocheim rejoined the band. “It’s different,” Berman told me after the show, “but it’s still pretty much all our same group of friends.” And it wasn’t just faces that were different. This was a newly rocking Pains, not entirely abandoning their familiar gaze-pop jangle, but definitely adding muscle on songs from the upcoming album Days of Abandon, out April 22nd. Even POBPAH favorites “Young Adult Friction” and closer “This Love Is F-cking Right!” had a new vitality. Seems we’ve got a lot to look forward to from Pains 2.0.
Three years ago Against Me! were just a punk band from Gainesville, FL, best known for writing driving anthems with titles like "I Was a Teenage Anarchist." That all changed when frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out publicly as transgender, shedding her birth name of Tom Gabel and undergoing treatments to transition into living as a woman. Suddenly, the band meant so much more. At Spin Magazine's day showcase at Stubb's on Friday, Against Me! played primarily tracks from 2014's Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Grace fully embracing her roll as the frontwoman of one of the most important rock bands in recent history. If only everyone could be so brave.
Canada's best hardcore punk outfit performed an outdoor set at Austin's oldest house, the French Legation Museum, on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon. The F—ked Up frontman's shirtless screeching and the band's merciless attack was a striking contrast to the gorgeous grassy location, but Pink Eyes' attitude was the perfect mix of hilarious, insane and casual for the lovely setting.
He commented on the tragedy the night before, saying, "We all know what happened, I just want to say that life is so f—king short and so f—king precious." But he still managed to be funny during their 70-minute set, stopping his between-song banter to comment on every airplane banner advertisement in the sky above ("Oh my god! Only a dollar!" he exclaimed when a McDonald's ad flew overhead). Also, he admitted the band's 2013 Zodiac jam—"Year of the Dragon"—was a roundabout homage to Austin's own 13th Floor Elevators. Daytime sets are rarely this fulfilling.
— Joe Lynch
Sure, SXSW is supposed to be about up-and-coming artists, but when you're watching Kanye and Jay Z performing in a venue usually occupied by artists with one-fifth of Jay or 'Ye's fame, you can't help but let your jaw drop and stay open for the full two-hour set.
It's hard to pin down the highlight of a show that covers everything from "Big Pimpin'" to "Tom Ford" and "Jesus Walks" to "Black Skinhead," but watching Kanye bust out a rare smile as he handled the police officer lines in "99 Problems" was a great reminder that even Yeezus gets giddy during "99 Problems."
For Fuse's in-depth take on the knockout Jay/Kanye SXSW set, head here.
— Joe Lynch
If "discordant" and "punishing" aren't words you typically associate with the music you love, Kirin J. Callinan is probably not your thing. But if you're open to finding the fascinating rhythms and unique grooves in the Australian singer's aggressive industrial rock, Callinan is one of the most fascinating new artists on the scene right now.
Traditional logic says Callinan will remain a cult favorite, but back in 1989, who would have expected Trent Reznor would become an Oscar-winning rock elder statesman in the 21st century? Seeing Callinan live in a dingy Austin bar gave me the feeling he might follow the same improbable path.
— Joe Lynch
Arizona psych punks Destruction Unit don't sleep. Or if they do, they don't make it apparent. Their set at Red 7 on Friday night was the band's fourth that day—out of an astounding fifteen shows in five day—and it was nothing but high energy. Now a sextet (more synthesizers in punk, please) the band's set was noisy and meticulous, a sort of organized chaos. Guitars were tossed around effortlessly, mic stands were thrown across the stage. Destruction Unit are the kind of band that should come with a warning.
Perfect Pussy's rise from a "never heard of 'em" band to one of the most-buzzed acts at SXSW 2014 has taken a scant 5 months, but once you've seen them live, you understand why. There aren't too many new punk bands that outlaw pop from the equation without sacrificing songcraft in the process. Perfect Pussy have solid songs, a beautifully muddled sonic assault and a casual command of the stage. Despite singer Meredith Graves' between-song claim that she was "terrified" to play Stubb's on Wednesday night, the band blew the crowd out of their skins.
— Joe Lynch
Leedsian punks Eagulls added a bit of organized chaos to an otherwise tame Wednesday night showcase, becoming the first to effectively inspire a mosh pit. The sand of Austin's Stubb's venue kicked into the eyes of those who stood a little too close. Like the Manchester post-punk bands of yesteryear, frontman George Mitchell left no room for banter: Get in, get out, play hard.
— Maria Sherman
While Kanye was getting into his zone with Jay Z a few blocks away, his G.O.O.D. Music label hosted a showcase packed with some of their best and brightest signees, from up-and-comers Teyana Taylor and Hollywood Holt to cult faves like Travi$ Scott and DJ Been Trill, who spun G.O.O.D. Friday faves between sets. Honorary affiliate King Louie also showed up and enlisted fellow Chicagoans Katie Got Bandz and Chance the Rapper for a Chi-Town celebration and one of the most turnt-up sets of the night. Big Sean closed out the evening with a lengthy set of jams (while fianceé Naya Rivera watched/danced along,) the peak of which was explosive Cruel Summer favorite "Don't Like" with help from fellow G.O.O.D. star Pusha T. To see what it was like, check out our full photo gallery from the event.
— Ariel Lebeau
With a subtle Scandinavian nod to the crowd, the young Norwegian electro whiz Magnus August Hølberg, aka Cashmere Cat, launched into a thrill ride of a half hour, by turns blissed-out, grimy and wacky. The Cat revels in contrasts: the grind and bleats of trap or rumbling droning bass lines, topped with synth trills and especially tinkling piano and vocal samples both soulful and weird. Hølberg has already worked with Ludacris and Wiz Khalifa—and given his flair for the eccentric, he should not be surprised if Yeezus soon comes calling. Swooping and swirling, a pretty midsection gave way to a harder edged jam, and eventually a loony hip-hop tinged finale. Then he flashed a peace sign and cat’s paws and slinked away. =^.^=
— John Norris
Caps and hoodies were in full effect on an unusually chilly (50’s) and blustery start to the first day of SXSW Music. So chilly in fact that even at 1:30 pm, Rae Cassidy and Allen Tate, co-vocalists of San Fermin, were pogoing to stay warm before the start of their set. Turns out more than enough warmth for all in attendance was delivered by the Brooklyn baroque poppers, who have been enjoying a well-deserved "moment" in recent months, thanks to their self-titled debut and its resplendent single “Sonsick”, which is one of the great tracks of 2013. The band did not wait long—two songs in—to serve up that gem, as folks in the crowd chimed in. Singing along with San Fermin is not always easy, mind you, given the band’s breaks, changing rhythms, moments both sumptuous and raucous (as on "The Count") and vocal counterplay—from Tate’s moody baritone to Cassidy’s soaring, near-operatic sound. With eight musicians tightly squeezed onto the venue's small stage, including group leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone and horn players who at times waded into the crowd, there are few bands not named Beirut or Arcade Fire who do rousing quite as effectively as San Fermin.
— John Norris
In recent years SXSW Interactive -- the technology portion of the massive conference -- has stepped into music discovery. Talk tumblr over indie rock. Twitter with hip-hop legends. Closing out that portion of the festival, Def Jam Records celebrated its 30th anniversary with stars 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Method Man and a few others from the label's massive roster. Opener Aloe Blacc cited the label as a major influence, the reason behind him writing the words to Avicii's monster hit "Wake Me Up." Meanwhile, Pusha T was in top Clipse form, launching into tracks like "Grindin'." The few attendees that stumbled into the venue hoping for a surprise Kanye set left satisfied and educated.
— Maria Sherman