You’re walking briskly through the dark, a slight wind whispering through your hair, as tree roots present themselves like a Disney cartoon, seemingly meant for you to hop from one to the other as crunchy, fallen leaves collect and form a path leading you downtown. You no longer remember what day it is, and time is only meaningful as a marker for where you need to be, and what band you’re about to see. You’re so exhausted that other people and structure are flying past you in big blocks of color, but you just keep walking, determined not to miss that next band that you just really, truly have to see.
This is South by Southwest. It is constantly flitting from one show to the next on an almost-empty stomach, grabbing free breakfast tacos here and there when time permits. It is a creature with such a short lifespan, that you devote yourself, mind, body and spirit to it so that you can get the most enjoyment out of it as is humanly possible. This is what the festival brought me this year, and despite seeing fewer bands than I normally am able to, I feel that it was one of my most successful fests to date.
It always creeps up on me. One minute, my friends and I are lamenting the fact that South by Southwest is over, and we have to wait a whole year before we do it all again. The very next, it’s time for a constant barrage of music, libations, and general merriment. And so, here we are again, poised on the edge of greatness (or a great catastrophe, depending on how organized you are). What’s that, you say? You don’t even know who is playing this year? Worry not, o yon procrastinator! That’s what I’m here for. I’ve scoured the SXSW lineup this year and have come up with the below suggestions of bands you really can’t miss. Per our usual format, you’ll find below the name of an incredible band, a brief description of what they’re like, a video of a song that encapsulates what they’re about, and the venues & showtimes where you can actually find them. Some are new to me, some are old favorites. Either way — buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.Read More...
I think a part of the reason I like to make lists of my favorite albums of the year is selfishness. It helps me take stock of the art that was put out over the course of the year. It helps me remember shows I’ve seen, or moments I shared with new music. It helps me feel fonder about the year that has passed, and more hopeful for the year that is coming. It forces me to examine what this music meant to me, and why it meant that. I tend to favor albums whose tracks I loved, start to finish, that had meaningful lyrics or were soundtracks for important moments. Plus, I always favor risks. If I feel like a band played it safe and made a solid record, I’ll dig it, but for those who try to tackle huge topics through their art, I always admire it and end up loving it more.
For these reasons, I really could just jot down a list to myself, smile smugly, and move on. That said, I do think there is value in sharing lists, because it sparks conversations (or arguments, if you’re into that) and can potentially (and hopefully) help people discover new albums they may not have heard of before. This year, I found myself leaving off albums that contained a handful of unforgettable songs because the rest of the album was weak. I also found myself extending my list to a top-15 instead of top-10, including in my final 5 growers that I still need to spend more time with, but that were so striking in their own way that I had to include them. Without further ado: my 2011 best-of list! Enjoy, be angered, argue and discuss. All is welcomed.Read More...
Growing up adoring live music is a strange thing. All of us have to come to terms with aging, and I am by no means old — I’m only 24, well aware of how much more youth is laid out in front of me. But even though it’s six years until my thirties and that’s even so young in modern times, I feel like every year that passes, my live music experience is tweaked enough to make me notice that I’m growing.
Austin City Limits has so often been the backdrop of my slow and steady coming-of-age, that my experience with the festival, the fans, the weather, the bands and the music itself shifts all the time. I remember my first Austin City Limits festival in 2005, when I was just starting to find out exactly how much I was in love with music. I focused more on meeting my heros, spending a lot of time at the Waterloo tent, getting signatures and goofing around with Tristan Prettyman, Rachael Yamagata and the Blues Travelers — I’ll never forget John Popper spouting off to me in French and kissing my bandaged-from-rowing-tryouts hands. 2006 was a huge turning point, where I totally lost myself during Muse’s set, moshing just a little and sweating like it was detox therapy. My tastes were splintering off in a thousand directions, and ACL catered to that beautifully. I was always the one to camp out for artists, to dance with reckless abandon and spend the whole day in a field with strangers. I’d never care that I was attending the festival alone, because I’d inevitably make new friends sitting around on the grass.
Now here we are, at the festival’s 10-year reunion and what was my sixth time attending (would-be seventh, if it hadn’t been for my broken ankle ’09 debacle), and it’s a completely different ballgame for me. First of all, I’m not a student anymore. This means I had to work for a better part of Friday — I managed to take off three hours and make the shows I was dying to see, but was still a bit bummed not to catch morning gigs and make a day of it. I also find that I don’t enjoy the festival as much when I’m by my lonesome. I can (and will) still go it alone when it means making a performance by my favorites, but if I’m with people I love and they want to move back in the crowd a bit, I’ll tend to oblige. I feel the physical taxation of festivals a lot more now, too. I used to just get sick after a weekend of rocking out, but this year was the first where I felt I was coming close to fainting. Finally, I find myself a little more jaded by my surrounding festival-goers — I’m more easily annoyed, and a little more judgmental of the very young kids I see wandering around the festival grounds. When I catch myself being a grump, I try to remind myself of being that girl or boy, and having that experience. And sometimes, I’ll still meet people who remind me of how awesome festival-goers tend to be.
Of course, it’s not all grouchiness and disillusion. With my age, I have fallen in love with far more bands, and even more genres that allow me to enjoy more bands. I have also fallen in love with more people, and get to see festivals through their eyes, too. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it worse, and even though it’s harder to get the same detox high that I regularly felt when I was younger, when it hits now, it is euphoric.Read More...
I have been excited about this year’s Austin City Limits Festival for a while, but the giddiness just hit me on Sunday. It is indeed that time of year where Zilker Park closes to lazy weekends with your dog to make way for tall white tents, towering stages and tons and tons of your favorite bands. My all-time top two will both be performing this weekend, so I’m more than ready for it all. Mostly, I’m excited to stumble upon some new bands I’ve never heard before – there are quite a few that could fill some empty spaces in my schedule. For now, I will recommend the bands I feel secure in signing off on. Below, you’ll get a song and a snippet about who I think you should see. Drink tons of water, reapply that sunscreen, and rock out with abandon.Read More...
There’s a moment during a festival weekend where you want to give up. As much fun as you’re having, your body aches all over to the point of pinching you awake when you try to fall asleep, and your eyes are puffy and heavy from hard, hard rocking, and your neck feels creaky from head-banging. Somehow, you drag your dead, beaten corpse out of bed, rinse it off, stuff some kind of sustenance in your mouth, zombie-like, put on dirty shoes and slowly walk back into the park for more. It’s the last day. You have to summon any energy you have left, and even some you don’t have, and give it all you’ve got.
There was rain in the early morning on Sunday, so Zack and I took umbrellas with us to look somewhat presentable at a brunch with his friends. Unfortunately, there was no where to drop the umbrellas off after brunch, so we each took one under our arm, grumbling at the annoyance, not knowing that these clumsy, striped white-and-red objects would end up saving the day later on.
We laid out in the shade of a big tree to the side of one of the main Lolla stages, and enjoyed the sounds of The Joy Formidable. The band played big, fast synth rock with strong female vocals from Ritzy Bryan, and simultaneously cooled us off and pumped us up. Noah and the Whale, the band we actually camped out to hear, was less impressive; they were cute, but seemed to be doing a poor impression of Fanfarlo, who we both love. The music was a tad bit too sleepy for the early afternoon, and we wandered over to a different stage before the group’s entire set was up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. had a lot more energy during their performance. Although I figured they’d be some kind of alternative country the first time I saw their name, they surprised me by pumping out twee pop tune after twee pop tune. They make fun, gentle electronic pop that is positive and youthful, with an emphasis on living life and anti-corporate messages. At certain points, their set was a little too “excitable choir kid” for my comfort, but overall, they managed to get a crowd of indies dancing and smiling and having a blast. They covered “I Will Always Love You” non-ironically (I think), and “Bring Me a Higher Love” with some “99 Red Balloons” thrown in for good measure. They also were one of the more theatrical bands I saw during the festival, coordinating in white shirts with thick red lettering that said, “YOUR AD HERE,” in all caps. They also brought on a chorus of friends in creepy bone masks for the song “Skeleton.” My favorite was the song “Simple Girl,” which was perfect for the breezy and warm summer afternoon. Oh, and seeing Cappie (Scott Michael Foster) waltz by near the beginning of their set.
I was on my own for the next chunk of my afternoon, and I made my way slowly over to one of the main stages for my favorite Irish punks, Flogging Molly. I’m glad I did, because this performance was a big highlight of my weekend. Band leader Dave King is always the most pleasant, funny, self-effacing, blue collar-loving frontman, and his idiosyncrasies (e.g. joking about drinking in between almost every song, transitioning from his non sequiturs to song intros with a rousing, tongue-rolling “Right then!”) have become beloved quirks that I look forward to almost as much as the quick paced and political punk songs the seven piece band churns out. They ripped out tons of fan favorites and peppered in a few new tunes, too, and most wonderfully, incited what was probably the friendliest circle pit I have ever seen. A group of about 15 young men all wrapped arms around each others’ shoulders, and one or two would enter the middle of the circle every now and then for a skank solo as the rest twirled around him. There was minimal ramming into one another; it was mostly just a fun-looking synchronized dance that I found myself yearning to join. I remained back for the set, though, jumping up and down in my own little world, clutching the bulky red-and-white umbrella with one hand and throwing my other into the sky for tracks like “What’s Left of the Flag” and “If I Ever Leave This World Alive.”
Just as the group’s set ended, I looked up to see robust, foreboding deep grey clouds hanging above Chicago, and I had a feeling I knew what was on the horizon. Less inclined to dump my umbrella somewhere, I gathered my things and trekked over to try to see some of Cage the Elephant. Unfortunately, their large fanbase had already set up camp by the small Sony stage, and it spilled into the sidewalks and beyond, making it not only impossible to see anything, but also very difficult to navigate around. I still tried to listen in for a hot minute, but after a muddy sandal was thrown vigorously into the air and landed on my head, I decided enough was enough. I pushed through the masses, sensing the dramatic decline in temperature, and rushed to the food court to stuff down some dinner before it got soggy.
As soon as the last bite of Connie’s pizza was swallowed, the skies parted, and a torrential downpour beat down on us heavily. Some Lolla-goers looked annoyed and in a hurry to escape, but most had huge grins on their faces as we all initially felt the refreshing cool of the water. I popped my umbrella up over my head to protect my electronic gear and notepad, and as I peeked out from under it, hordes of kids ran by, singing, cheering and playing in the rain. I was a full hour and twenty minutes early to the side of the field I was supposed to meet Zack on, but figured I’d try to spot his umbrella anyway, in hopes that we could meet up and make a game plan. I wandered over to where the Arctic Monkeys were supposed to play, and watched as crew members tried desperately to protect instruments with big, white plastic canvases. I didn’t see Zack’s umbrella in the crowd, so I turned around to wait at the balloon where we said we’d meet. As I stood there, rain beating down on my back and totally soaking me to the bone, I watched a small group play in the mud, slipping and sliding and generally having a blast in the now-quite-chilly weather. After standing and soaking for twenty minutes, I turned my head to the right to see Zack sitting on the ground, huddled with three friends under his umbrella, and I trudged over to figure out what we would do. Zack was determined to see the Foo Fighters, and although I was momentarily doubtful that they’d play at all, I stuck by him.
Twenty minutes later than their scheduled set time, the rain had let up, a rainbow decorated the sky, and the Arctic Monkeys took the stage. I’d never been a rabid fan of the band, but they pumped through tons of their tunes at lightning speed, dedicating a few to the weather and ending with “When the Sun Goes Down,” as their devoted fans danced around, wet, cold and happy.
I was never a huge Foo Fighters fan, but I tried to keep an open mind going into the band’s set, and they really were dynamite live performers. They filled the festival grounds with ease, and despite the mud and rain, managed to keep a huge audience around for their performance. Just a few songs into their set, the rain started up again, just as strong as before. This time, I just accepted my fate and let it soak me through, and although I was cold, tired, crabby and self-conscious, it all seemed right. I imagined Glastonbury, where muddy conditions seem to be the norm. I imagined the Woodstock festivals of yore, where everyone accepted that they were going to look and feel beat by the end of the experience. I embraced it as just another part of the festival, and it really added to the emotion of the Foo set. Dave Grohl was a strong figure, giving off tons of attitude during the band’s performance. I admired his gusto and guts, as he rushed into the crowd and ripped out impressive, gut-twisting solos from the masses. I was a little turned off when he railed against using computers in live performances, bragging, “This is how music should be performed, with real fucking instruments.” I know he was preaching to his own kind, but it’s part of the reason I’ve had so much trouble latching onto the band — I don’t feel like they consider me a part of their audience, so why should I be? I sometimes like bands that use computers, and I think that these days, electronic instruments have become just another form of expression. Electric guitars are a far cry from mandolins and cellos, but if we had gone along with the norm and said that they weren’t acceptable forms of expression, I think we’d be lacking a lot of important, moving, and rocking art.
Nevertheless, I was totally hooked by a few songs, including “Everlong,” which I only recently figured out was a love song. It was moving and beautiful in the dark, stormy night, and just as My Morning Jacket before them, the Foo raced through their set, packing in as much as possible instead of opting for a fake encore. Grohl was also incredibly thankful of Perry Farrell, insisting that he was the reason we were all there that night.
When the set closed out and we all turned slowly around to trudge through the slippery mud, there was a smile on every face I saw. From the kids who had climbed the speakers to catch a better glimpse of their “Hero” to the older man who slipped and fell in the mud, but still managed to get up and shake it off, the weekend had satisfied that festival itch for us all.