My final day at SXSW was one of the best, if not the penultimate of the 4 days I'd spend at the fest. The final day was a combination of every good element I had heard about SXSW, all bundled nicely into one eventful day.
I started out by waiting in an incredibly long line at Stubb's BBQ on 7th, joining hundreds while waiting to get a wristband for the party that night which included HAIM and Vampire Weekend. This was my last chance to see VW for the weekend, and I ultimately gave up after reading a tweet saying I wouldn't get in for a few hours at least. Since I was waiting in line by myself, I opted out of this ridiculous idea of waiting for hours for a concert I might not even get in to.
So instead, I walked a few blocks up the street and walked right to the front of a small crowd waiting for Wild Belle at Mohawk's House of Vans. I am resisting every urge to confess my desire (romance novel style) for the lead singer, Natalie Bergmann. Yes, Natalie is absolutely gorgeous, but Wild Belle's music is incredibly enjoyable. One part reggae dub, one part funk, one part soul, and one part sex appeal, the music from the brother-sister duo (and backing band) is difficult to resist.
Even though this was the band's final showcase performance for the weekend, Wild Belle was far from rusty. Natalie's voice was still brilliantly soulful, and the band was completely on point and cohesive as ever, Elliot Bergmann (Natalie's brother and WB's keyboardist/saxophonist) even threw in a little bump for the group's new album Isles, which is out now. The group even brought out a pair of backup singers, which was a new element added since I had last seen them in December.
After the Wild Belle show, I met with my friend and co-photographer and headed over to Hype Hotel, where we would remain until 6 p.m. because, well, with this lineup and the ever-tempting "Free Booze, Free Taco Bell" tagline that came with it, it was difficult to resist. We were able to catch the entirety of Blue Hawaii's set at 3, and after hearing mixed reviews, I found myself feeling mixed on the group myself; not bad, but not entirely selling me of their sound, which was like a Crystal Castles but without the edge of Alice Glass. A simple, male/female duo, with the male lead creating the beats and backing music, while the female "sings" - I just left their set feeling unimpressed, like I'd seen it before. A follow through must be done with Blue Hawaii, because I'm not entirely convinced they're ready to be written off.
Following taco number 7, FIDLAR was up next to perform, a band that has previously eluded me. I recently had the chance to see them open for JEFF the Brotherhood and Delta Spirit in November, but missed their set looking for parking in downtown Chicago. The raucous foursome from California are another emerging band coming from the lo-fi punk scene from Cali, but are a little more on the aggressive side compared to the other acts I'd seen in the genre over the past few days. To sum it up vaguely, they had more balls than Bleached, and more beer (less weed) than Wavves. Each of these elements bring out the best in their respective bands, and FIDLAR is no different, their in-your-face approach to their music is incredibly enjoyable.
Again, this was another eclectic (if not weird) lineup. Filled with electronic music to start and a loud punk band in the middle, leading up to the headliner for the day: Toro y Moi.
One of the 2013's best releases (Anything in Return) was followed through with a brilliant, 35-minute-long set that featured favorites like "Rose Quartz" "Harm in Change" and "Say That" frontman Chaz Bundick puts together quite an amazing set, one of my favorites of the weekend.
The key is Bundick's insistence on performing with a live band, fully equipped with a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, all of which were talented and worked well together. It's becoming a trend to see a band like Toro Y Moi perform with simply a beat machine, looper/sampler, and computer set up in front of them, and that's it. But bands like The xx, Superhumanoids, and Toro Y Moi seem to be working against the grain, and it works wonderfully to their advantage. Performing music like Toro Y Moi's with a live band delivers depth and demonstrates keen musical talent, as well as (seemingly) deliver more of a spectacle and connection for the live audience.
We stopped for some coffee and a recharge at a nearby hotel patio, and debated where to head next. My friend and I admitted that Kendrick Lamar was on the top of our respective "MUST SEE" lists, and although we figured that Viceland's closing party would be tough to get in to, we decided to give it a try. I was delighted when we were able to walk right in to the party, and enjoy a DJ set by Erykah Badu (!) with a couple of the cast members of The Wire enjoying the set behind her (even Omar [played by: Michael Kenneth Williams], whom when I saw I nearly lost my mind - Top 5 TV Character of all time, but that's a different story). She wasn't the best at mixing, but it was still cool to see one of the best soul artists over the past 20 years so close and in such an intimate setting.
Not only this, but we found a free taco stand, run by the amazing guys over at CoalaTree Organics, we stopped for a quick chat with the leaders of the collective, and a few amazing free tacos which really put the Cool Ranch Doritos Taco I ate earlier to shame.
We headed in to catch Parquet Courts, yet another punk band I'd heard a lot of good things about before heading to Austin. Mixing elements of punk with a dark and unenthused attitude, I'm extremely excited to see what these guys have to offer in the future. The song "Stoned and Starving" is one of my favorite alternative songs of the year thus far, and I'm excited I got to see the song performed live.
There was some drama getting in and out of the venue to use the restroom, bar and charging station though. Apparently our early arrival was key Saturday night, because right before Action Bronson came on, someone came on to the house microphone and said that people could no longer get in to the main room, enforcing a "one-in, one-out" rule as per the Austin Fire Marshall's request. This left me stuck outside of the venue room during a heavy portion of Action Bronson's set, until I was finally dragged through the crowd by a 300-pound security guard into the concert. It was the first time I'd been dragged INTO a show by a security employee.
But it was all worth it, after Action Bronson's set, which was pretty awesome from what I saw, we scooted our way up front for Baauer's set. The trap DJ specialist who created "The Harlem Shake"
craze a while back, put out a great mix that would've been filled with "bangers" in any given club, but the crowd behind me seemed tired, and anxious for Kendrick to come out.
After about a half hour set, the time had come for Kendrick to make his way to the stage. There were rumors of Jay Z's presence in the building, due to the newly released remix to "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" - the rumors were unfortunately misinformed, but that didn't take away anything from Lamar's set.
After seeing Kendrick on television, performing on Letterman, Fallon and SNL with a full band behind him, I was kind of hoping I'd at least get a drummer and a bassist. But instead he came out with a sole DJ behind him.
That was the only disappointment I had in the entire set. Kendrick played my favorites, "Poetic Justice" "Swimming Pools (Drank)" "Money Trees" and even did his verse from the A$AP Rocky track "F*ckin' Problems". The crowd ate it all up, and I've never seen such a harmonious atmosphere in a hip-hop show. Instinct tells me it was all the devil's lettuce in the air, but I have reason to believe that everyone there was thoroughly enjoying themselves, witnessing a prolific name in a venue they'd probably never see him perform in again, much less to a crowd so small.
This concluded my time at SXSW; a festival so massive that it's impossible to even tell you about what I wish I'd have seen, and equally impossible to tell you my favorite part. I look forward to many more South By's to come, as Austin quickly became one of my favorite cities, and hosts one hell of a party.