1. Nick Cave stepping on my hand & offending a thousand NPR listeners
Right off the plane, I got an email informing me that I had won a ticket lottery to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, which meant the first thing I did was one of the big moments of the week for me… I was a little surprised he was playing the NPR showcase, and was afraid he might be toned down… however, I shouldn’t have worried. He did not disappoint, performing bawdy, offensive tunes like Stagger Lee (featuring frequent discussion of various types of sodomy), which seemed to surprise most of the crowd at Stubbs. He performed the “hits” as well though, including his well-known track Red Right Hand, which caused even the most random of crowd members to raise a fist, and he did a rousing performance of the somber track Mercy Seat.
Oh, and he stepped on my hand. How about that?
2. John Baizley from Baroness solo
After the horrific tour bus accident that critically injured most of Baroness – Baizley, the singer & guitarist received serious arm damage, drummer Allen broke several vertebrae – the future of the band seemed uncertain. But on stage at the North Door during SXSW, Baizely confirmed both that their future is sound and that he is committed to moving himself in a new, more personal direction. He brought out a set of stripped down, yet spaced-out songs with introspective, personal lyrics, including at least one interesting choice of a cover tune (Townes Van Zandt? Wow!) More than anything, though, it was good to see the man on stage, in one piece, playing guitar again.
3. Mutilation Rites at the Invisible Oranges showcase
After a long, brutally hot day of walking, this was the perfect release – the Grim four-piece, without any pomp or circumstance, simply walked on stage and cut loose – delivering an hour of blackened thrash metal. While they have none of the pretensions of some other modern NYC black metal bands, their set was legitimately transcendental.
4. Roomrunner at the Palm Door
Baltimore’s own Roomrunner briefly sparked life in what was otherwise a sleepy stage area as they delivered a great set of their grunge-tinged rock. Singer/guitarist Denny cracked wise about the increasingly corporate nature of SXSW from the stage, but this crowd was all music fans, excited to simply see a great band cut loose.
5. Thee Oh Sees outside of Beerland
The very last set I caught, but one of the best. Beerland is among the best places to see a SXSW show in Austin – partially because they are no frills, and don’t care if you have a wristband or a badge, a fact spelled out on the sign at the door. Thee Oh Sees didn’t even bother with the stage, instead setting up on the sidewalk patio outside and played for the street, various onlookers crowding around to get a peek, and when 2am rolled around, they just kept going! A great high point to end the long week on.
6. Diarrhea Planet at the Palm Door
The largest band in terms of number of members that I saw at SXSW, also the one that played the most shows, probably. This six piece band from Nashville seemed to have six people on guitar alone, all constantly soloing in triumphant rock god poses and generally exhorting the crowd to cut loose and have a great time… which they did.
7. Merchandise at the bridge party
Every year at SXSW, there is a punk show hosted illegally on a pedestrian bridge that spans Colorado River, and it’s always been one of the highlights of the trip. This year was no different, with Tampa’s Merchandise playing along with one of the heavily buzzed bands of SXSW, Parquet Courts. Merchandise really impressed me at this show, though like most good live shows, the crowd was as much an important part of the moment- exploding around them, dancing, making out, moshing, throwing fireworks. This year, the cops didn’t even come.
8. The Sparring at the Jackalope
Simple, pure, SoCal punk with a metal tinge – this band ripped into a set of short, brutal anthems, including a sloppy cover of Ace of Spades. The singer dominated the space – doing laps on top of the bar, scattering people (but hopefully not their drinks), shoving the mic into surprised onloookers faces, and general creating a time that was surprisingly fun and raucous for 2pm. We stumbled into this place simply to get out of the heat, but it ended up being one of the more fun moments of the week.
9. Spider Bags at a random bar
These North Carolina country & garage tinged psych rockers impressed me at Hopscotch Festival last year when I walked into a random bar and they were playing, and I was stoked to completely randomly catch them again under similar circumstances – this band deserves to be more well known than they are.
10. Boy (on a boat)
A bit of a departure from the other bands on this list, Boy delivered a quiet, earnest set of Americana-tinged indie pop… even though they are Swiss-German! Bonus entertainment was found when the singer Valeska Steiner spoke between songs, not in the Southern twang of her songs, but in her native Swiss accent. This was a fun break… watching Austin’s skyline roll by and enjoying the cool Colorado River breeze.
11. Destruction Unit at Beerland
This band was a fresh discovery for me, even though the late Jay Reatard was once a member., They played several shows at SXSW but their set closing down the last night of the Beerland stage, was their best I saw – great onstage antics, fast, catchy (yet dark) songs, and they managed to whip a crowd exhausted from days of partying into a frenzy, including yours truly.
12. Mac DeMarco hanging out
I watched from my vantage point on the side stage as Mac DeMarco, full of energy, bounced around above the crowd, eventually performing most of one of his songs hanging upside down from the lighting above the stage, people’s hands and cameras outstretched all around him.