After a long sprint through SXSW film, I decided to take it easy and hit up a few music showcases. When you allow yourself such freedom here at SXSW you are sure to discover something amazing. For me this discovery was a band from Brooklyn named Bear Hands. Ironically enough I was introduced to the New York band by Carson Daly who was also having a showcase at SXSW.
The four piece band may surprise you with their sound ranging from rock to electronic, all infused with a bit of a reggae flair. The band’s latest album Burning Bush Supper Club is one that shouldn’t be missed. Tracks like “Crime Pays” and “What a Drug” stay planted in your head for days and all of this translates beautifully live. The energy of Dylan Rau inspires you to get off your feet and dance, and while the crowd at Bat Bar wasn’t necessarily swelling to capacity, the band was still having a good time. Bear Hands remains one of my favorites of SX and I’m excited to see them live again.
While Bear Hands caught my eye early it is the band Tennis that caught me by surprise. The band shares a similar sound with bands like Cults and Guards, and in no way is that a bad thing. I also owe this discovery to Carson Daly as Tennis was booked at his (hopefully annual) SXSW Showcase. As a fan of the show, seeing the DSLRs used to capture the Last Call talk show added to the mystique. While the tech nerd in me found intrigue it was the voice of Alaina Moore that made my hair stand on end. If you get a chance to check out Tennis’ album Young & Old I suggest you do and seeing the band live is a must.
The rest of my night was spent catching up with old favorites. First up was Sleepy Sun, a band that while I had seen them before felt new tonight. Their soon to be released album Spine Hits has sent the band in a monumental direction, and as I suspected, that shift in sound was better heard live. There is something to the vibe released by the band’s performance, it’s almost like getting a contact high. The power of Matt Holliman’s guitar matched with the charisma of Bret Constantino’s voice could send you over the edge. Sleepy Sun has always been a band to look out for, but now they have evolved into a whole other animal. Making them a band that can’t be missed.
Last up on my trip through sixth street was Band of Skulls, a band that most know from their additions to the art of televised automobile advertizing. Allowing the use of their songs to the corporate fat cats hasn’t changed a thing for Band of Skulls. The group still remains one of the best sounding bands I’ve seen in all of SXSW. The vocal duo of Russell Marsden (guitar, vocals) and Emma Richardson (bass, vocals) creates a power house of epic proportions, creating a back and forth that is better seen than heard. None of this information was lost on the attendees of SXSW, as the showcase at Haven was packed to near capacity. The usual Vegas-influenced night club was showing signs of stress as the rock band pushed its distorted sounds down the stairs into the streets of Austin. Songs like “I Know What I Am” not only filled the ears of the swelling crowd, but the lyrics were flowing from their lips. This is an honor reserved for only a few bands at SXSW, as most view an artist while contemplating their next move in the musical mash-up that is SXSW.
Before I could even get a gasp of air the show was over. Then the hordes of drunken bar gazers started to pour out into the street. SXSW had fed them all that they needed and yet, they were ready for even more. For me the first full night of music was only a reminder of the fun that SXSW can bring, and the opportunities it can provide you. If you have ever thought about attending the festival, I suggest you stop thinking and do so. You may just find one of the best experiences of your life, well that is until the next night SXSW has to offer.
Photos and story by Ryan Davis