I started out by joining some friends at a showcase based around Madison and Minneapolis, catching one of my old favorite MCs, F. Stokes as well as an up-and-coming band called PHOX that is catching a lot of buzz around the midwest. Both put on great shows; F. Stokes stepping off the stage and joining the crowd for his entire set, eliciting a heavy amount of crowd participation and even starting a dance-off with a couple members of the crowd; PHOX warms your ears with a healthy blend of multi-layered guitars, trumpet (here and there) and Monica Martin's soothing vocals.
Next we headed to Filter's Cedar Street Showdown in the Cedar Street Courtyard, another one of Austin's awe-inspiring venues. Wild Belle had finished playing earlier, and The Neighborhood would play a rousing set after, but we were there for HAIM.
The indie pop band consisting of 3 sisters and their cousin on drums is generating an unhealthy amount of buzz, and that's based solely off of their singles released in the last year. This was the first chance I'd get to see them live, and I was completely floored by their set. The sisters put up a guise of a sensible, laid back 80's-pop-inspired girl group, but play their live shows like they were raised in the 70's, absolutely shredding guitar parts and for lack of a better term "rocking out" more than expected. Ugh, I can't believe I just said "rocking out."
HAIM cruised through all of the favorites and played some new tracks that will be released with their new album coming soon. "Don't Save Me" and "Forever" both glistened, as they should, because they're basically laced with sugar. HAIM drew some celebrity fans as well, as Usher and (my idol) Pharrell could be seen sidestage. After their set, all I could think was "I can not WAIT to see these girls again."
After a brief stint down 6th Street with some friends, and stopping to grab some grub and recharge, I made my way to the Filter party on Rainey where a spectacular showcase was scheduled to go on at 9:30 - Phosphorescent, Metz, King Tuff, and Wavves (this showcase was also the most notably punctual showcase I'd seen all week).
Phosphorescent was the only band I ended up seeing twice at SXSW that week, and both sets were impressive, mainly because . "Song for Zula" was left off this night's setlist, but I was fine with it; frontman Matthew Houck turned to his bandmates and said, "what should we play next" - I took this cue to yell out my favorite song from their latest LP, Muchacho, "Muchacho's Tune" as it had been left off of the previous night's set. Houck turned and said, "There we go, let's play 'Muchacho's Tune'." They upped the tempo a little bit and burned right through the song, making me the happiest little fanboy disguised as a music journalist. Houck shook my hand before leaving the set that night and said "thank you" so that made me even more elated.
Little did I know what was to follow. Metz, a band I'd heard of but never heard, was due up next. The Canadian-based punk band was undoubtedly an interesting choice to have follow Phosphorescent, or maybe it was Phosphorescent that seemed out of place on the mostly-punk showcase. Either way, I was not prepared for the mosh pit behind me, my knees would take a beating during the set as the base of the stage was right above my kneecap.
All complaining aside, Metz really impressed me with their in-your-face approach to a live set. The singer was hard to hear, but it didn't matter, the group never stopped moving, thrashing their instruments and absolutely tearing apart the eardrums of the crowd's inhabitants. Metz's live set was a true embodiment of what a punk show should be. And yes, I even set down the camera and got a few shoves in myself.
King Tuff, from California, was the next band to take the stage. The trio's brand of surf punk was very well calculated and the band was a joy to watch. Especially that bassist (Magic Jake, seen below), who looks like he should be playing in a Styx cover band, if not actually in Styx. Their throwback attitude gave nods to watching videos of Van Halen and other 80's rock groups, and their set was immensely enjoyable. Songs like "Anthem" "Keep On Movin'" and the set closer "Bad Thing" all got the crowd's attention and created at least one new fan - me.
Wavves is a group that I've been meaning to see for a long time, ever since their debut album was released in 2009. But it was King of the Beach that really got me fully into their music, and still is one of my favorite summer listens of all time. With their next album, Afraid of Heights due out in a week, I was really pumped for this show and to hear some of the new material.
Frontman Nathan Williams was hobbling around stage during soundcheck, apparently from a motorcycle accident the previous day. Luckily, it was the group's last show of the festival, and the band's attitude showed it. Bassist Stephen Pope walked to the front of the stage, coming to a stop right in front of me, and then slowly collapsed into the crowd. I held him up by the thighs and then passed him along to the crowd behind me. If you've seen Pope, and much less seen me, you realize this is not the easiest task. Pope probably outweighs me by at least 100 pounds. The encounter still makes me chuckle though.
Some of the new tracks Wavves played had me really excited for the new album. "Sail to the Sun" "Dog" and "Demon To Lean On" were all notable additions to a setlist of old favorites. It was during "Demon.." that the band unraveled a little. Bassist Pope could not get the time signature down, and kept playing the new song's intro incorrectly.
However, the manner in which this was handled by the band really helped clarify the personality of the band: after a few tries, and multiple attempts by the drummer to set the tempo correctly, Williams was clearly frustrated... but still couldn't help but laugh at the situation. I could give a vague recollection of what was said, but it would undoubtedly be misconstrued and make him seem like a prick, and he really wasn't. And even the crowd was just laughing light-heartedly, in a manner that seemed like a collective "it's ok big bear, we forgive you." At least... that's how I understood it.