After the sprinting pace that SXSW was going, we decided to start things off a little slower and stop in for a bite to eat at the MTV Garage. The thing about taking it easy at SXSW is it’s never just a mellow experience. A day of food and beer quickly turns into a great way to discover new music and what better way to do it than while eating great food around fantastic people. Even as I write this in the middle of day three I have to confess that MTV has remained on the top of my best day parties list. The food, bbq of course, was great, the beer and vodka were cold, and the bands were full of energy. We did arrive a little late to the show just missing Foster the People, luckily I had seen them the day before and I highly suggest everyone check them out. We made it into the make shift venue just as Tinie Tempah had taken the stage. Though I am in no way a fan of rap it was hard to ignore the energy of Tinie Tempah. Tempah’s fast moving beats and lyrics fit nicely against The MTV Garage’s party atmosphere. Just think Black Eyed Peas, minus Fergie. As the bass moved the crowd, I was quickly in search of shade. It was nice to listen the music as I huddled with others hiding from the heat. This new nook of UV protection provided a new kind of party, where the deep fried snickers were the headliners of the show.
Just as friendly conversations started up, it was time for the Friendly Fires, a band that made it to my list of bands to see and their electronic dance rock vibe was felt strongly through out the crowd. As the band played the people began to jump and dance in unison, letting the music take control. The power of music was alive as the floor of the parking garage we were all standing on top of began to move with every beat. The Friendly Fires were putting on one of those shows that their environment is one you just can’t help but get into. With beer in hand I was left with nothing to do but watch in awe of the performance I was witnessing. It was at this point that the band ripped into their song “Skeleton Boy” the dance happy groove sent a new energy through out the crowd and turned the parking garage into a trampoline. This treat of structural collapse gave the show a new kind of edge, nothing like seeing a band as you could become part of a disaster. The beer was good though so not too much worry was flowing through the impromptu venue.
In search of a less life-threatening experience, it was off to The Fader Fort for The Chain Gang of 1974, but not before a quick hair cut. That’s right, this year at The Fader Fort they had everything. Free booze, live bands, and fucking hair cuts. After crossing the highway we soon realized this was the place to be. In it’s own little world The Fader Fort screamed it’s resistance to the festival across the bridge and it was doing so extremely well. It was no secret to the hundreds of attendees that if you needed your daily fill of live music that this was the place for you.
After some much needed grooming it was off to the main reason we were here, the music. No better way to start the day than with the welcoming sounds of The Chain Gang of 1974. High atop my list of bands to see The Chain Gang of 1974 did not disappoint. Their throw back 80’s electronic sounds were only highlighted by the band’s overall energy. The band’s front man and only official member, Kamtin Mohager screamed to the eager crowd to get off their feet and with their dance worthy sound it wasn’t hard to participate. Songs like “Matter of Time” show the band’s full potential and bring on the excitement for more. I look forward to hearing what’s next for The Chain Gang of 1974 and I look forward to seeing the band live again.
It wasn’t long before the band we made the long journey to see took the stage, Esben and the Witch. There is just something to this three piece that I can’t put my finger on. The sound is like an electronic version of Jefferson Airplane with a twist of The Cure. Their stage presence is leaning towards an eerie cool that you just want to hang out with. Their video for “Marching Song” is what brought me to the show. The images of the band being beaten to death by an unknown enforcer is nothing less than intriguing. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that I may be more attracted to the style of the video than the band itself. This thought was quickly dismissed as the band pushed through the set. The pounding of the lone floor tom rang though my body and pushed me to move. The band is much more than a gimmicky video and they have the talent and the songs to prove it.
Rachel Davies has more than enough charisma to attract a crowd behind her flowing hair, she hides her face making the curiosity that much more intriguing. You could tell that the crowd was confused at what to make of the band, their darker tones were echoing though the venue of the shocked audience. This creative coma would soon disperse allowing the crowd to scream for the band. If you get the chance I highly suggest checking out Esben and The Witch, just listening to the band’s debut album just doesn’t hold up to what the band can do live. I will definitely jump at any chance to see them again.
Next up on the agenda was a return to the night time fun that is SXSW. Nothing could bring on more excitement on my second day of music than to see the Suuns. The four piece from Canada lead by the vocals of Shemi Ben brought the kind of mellow vibe I was looking for. After moments of writing in a hotel lobby you never want to jump straight into a hard rock scene. You need a little room to stretch your legs, Suuns provided this room helping my mind get ready for the night at hand. To say the Suuns were high on my list of bands to see would be an understatement. The band’s mellow electronic sounds have been invading my head phones since I started my SXSW research. It was obvious that I wasn’t alone as the empty bar started to fill right before the band’s set.
I hate to slap the moniker of Radiohead on any band but it was hard to deny that there was some resemblance in their sound. The band powered through their set barely coming up for air between songs. This could have been due to the reoccurring vocal mic problems. This reoccurring annoyance is the plague of many sets at SXSW and in a way adds to their flavor. It’s all in how a band reacts and Suuns recovered like no other. When sound problems would occur they could adapt. This adaptation would be short lived and once everything came together, the band was eagerly ready to explode. During the band’s final song keyboardist Henry Marx just looked to the sound guy and proclaimed to turn it up with raised fingers. The mix certainly obliged him cranking the bass to ten and giving the set an explosive ending.
A quick look at my SXSW schedule only had one thing to say: walk. It would be a long hike to my next show, but the trip to Emo’s would be well worth it to see The Kills. After a day of typically unknown bands it was time to see a bigger name and in the presence of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince is exactly where I wanted to be. The duo took the stage and with one click of the drum machine, the show was on. Alison floated across the stage slowly moving to the beat. Her hair became another part of the show as it revealed her face like a rising theater curtain. The band was on the top of their game in the small crowded bar. The mixture of mellow rock to click track mixes flows well together giving The Kills their unique sound. Having never seen the duo live before I couldn’t help but to follow the show as closely as possible watching the robotic dance moves of Jamie Hince set to the tune of a rock guitar. With the rise of Mac Book bands it’s always refreshing to find one that does it right. It’s easy to create something unique with all of this new technology, but the possibilities of recreating this sound live is rarely achieved. This is where The Kills have the upper hand, and their sound was alive and well tonight. The band’s intriguing sound was abruptly disrupted by a crowd stirring with rumors. It was hard to not pay close attention to the whispers of “Radiohead”. The whispers quickly filled the bar and had everyone buzzing and inquiring about the possibilities.
The rumors that the band would play had been running around the festival for days now. Would tonight be the night that it would finally happen? My first thought was no. The whispers moved from the crowd to my phone as I received up to date intel on the bar that this monumental show was to take place. If I had only seen a picture of the stage the next part of my night would have never taken place. The lack of knowledge or reliable intel be damned, we were off.
My old friend and a new British acquaintance were quickly waving down cabs to rush across town to the site of the show. This would prove to be the most intriguing part of my night as the cab whipped in and out of traffic to quickly get us to the venue. When we arrived and saw the small crowed bar I scanned the area in search of some reminisce of a stage. This is when I knew we had been the victims of another Twitter scam. The stage barely big enough to hold the three piece band that was performing wasn’t even large enough to hold Radiohead’s merch booth let alone give the band room for any sort of performance. None the less it laid way for a great story and the meeting of new friends. While not the best way to end the night I can’t say that I was disappointed in chasing the dreams of fake plastic trees.
by Ryan Davis
photos by Angela Davis