The 1100 Warehouse is a music venue by conversion only. The sweltering venue which seemed devoid of any meaningful air circulation after hustling my way over to it down Austin’s legendary, and during SXSW busy and closed sixth street and under the I-35 bridge, makes one feel like they’ve left downtown Austin. The venue sits directly across from now iconic and legendarily associated with SXSW The Fader Fort. The 1100 Warehouse, which as best I can tell via its exterior used to be an office furniture warehouse had a line stretching half a block long for a showcase that was due to feature (at least according to the schedule) something else that has become a SXSW mainstay in the three years I’ve now been attending Andrew W.K. Andrew was scheduled to host the evening of music as MC between acts. He was nowhere in sight as I was one of the first into the venue. The scarcity of crowd would change after Blondfire was finishing their setup which was followed by what seemed to be a couple of teases of starting their set. Rather atypical for a SXSW showcase the band started about 15 minutes late by my count. As the venue filled when the line was finally let into the large-sized venue by SXSW standards it filled to an anxious crowd that had no clue who they were about to see as several around me asked who the band was.
That band was Blondfire, what is typically a brother and sister duo of Bruce and Erica Driscoll based out of LA. The group brings a live drummer to the fold live but still require a synth track likely from a Macbook hidden somewhere which I couldn’t see about ten or so people back from the stage. SXSW is for me about seeing and discovering something new, while also mixing in favorites I’ve not had a chance to see. SXSW is truly unique in that it allows one to wonder down a street and follow your ears to hear something good. I discovered Bear in Heaven at SX back in 2010 doing just that. This year I actually spent some decent time researching what bands would be playing the fest. Blondfire hit my radar with the sample song included on their SXSW info page, “Where the Kids Are”. Speaking of the SX info page… Pro Tip to bands. I’m not sure if you’re responsible for providing the picture, bio and any possible video/mp3 sample to the SX folks but do yourself a favor and make sure you do these things. Far too many times this year I was greeted by pages with little to no information. Most of the times I encountered this I wrote your band off. Me and my editor and chief came to calling it “you just failed SX” *RANT OFF*
Back to Blondfire, one of the acts smart enough to get info to SXSW to be included on the schedule. Their picture made it look like they were Bowie fans by way of the Ziggy Stardust style and colors of some face paint the very pretty Bruce and Erica had put on themselves for the video for “Where the Kids Are”. The video for “Where the Kids Are” also hooked me as the video seemed to hint toward darker material. Further the tune harkens back to an MGMT style of pop that is airy, accessible and quite frankly fun and dance worthy.
The band live looks a little different, but are rest assured still very pretty. Don’t hold that against them however as appearances aside Blondfire has talent and pulls off their layered sound very well for a three-piece. It’s catchy and has a good enough hook that I found myself humming and signing the lyrics to “Where the Kids Are” a day after the showcase. An impressive feat for the third band of the fest I had seen. I enjoyed Blondfire’s set enough that I’d like to seek out some of their tunes. Blondfire is far from being completely new but hasn’t had any material since 2008’s My Someday It looks like SXSW was a primer for a new album due sometime this spring. Info on that however seems spares on their website so hopefully some additional info is forthcoming on that release.
Try hard not to get caught up in this ear candy…
After Blondfire I hustled my way about 10 or so blocks west to Haven which is typically a dance club. Haven featured all the dance club trappings, bottle service “VIP” tables, a mirror ball, laser machine and countless spinning lighted representations of their logo/name reminding you were you are in the event you get to drunk to recall and have to text friends or check in on Foursquare. If SXSW 2012 is any indicator, lasers as part of a lightning rig are back in a big way. Every night of music for the fest had sixth street and Red River lit up like a scene from the first Terminator flick. Lots of dense fog and eerie green lasers. ahhhh the future…
Haven was an odd venue to see Ki:Theory in, hell it was an odd venue for ANY of the bands on the lineup. As I made my way up the stairs to the second level space I caught the trail end of Oberhofer’s set which indicated the fifteen minute delay to the evening hadn’t hampered my tightly packed schedule. The lineup at this odd venue choice was easily one that I could have planted at and likely been happy with for the evening. Both Band of Skulls and Kimbra were on the bill following Ki:Theory. A solid very buzz worthy showcase from one of the hottest public radio stations in the country, KCRW. Unlike Oberhofer who performed with the dance club lighting system oddly clashing with their purely indie rock sound Ki:Theory completed setup and smartly, asked that all the house lights be shut out to utilize their simple three backing/shadow inducing bright spotlights with the live incarnations two members, officially Ki:Theory has one member, one Joel Burleson. Live Joel is joined by a drummer. Both were illuminated by work lights with red bulbs with Joel being surrounded with various effects machines and synth/midi controllers which he would occasionally make his way out from behind.
The sparse lighting arrangement matched the mood and tempo of Ki:Theory’s set. The mostly electronic sound reminded me at times of Stabbing Westward and Nine Inch Nails, mixed with a bit of more contemporary works of Sonoio or Big Black Delta. It was raw, loud, and I was loving every moment of it. So far my early SX research had gone two for two. Alas my exploratory mood for the night was mostly at a close. After Ki:Theory’s brief 30 minute set, which is usually the norm for early bands on bills at SX, I had to shuffle back another ten or so blocks nearly over by 1100 Warehouse to the Lustre Pearl for what was mostly a hip-hop bill that featured Wavves on it.
Before Wavves I made my way into the house sized venue, it’s literally a house, the stage is in the back yard, where Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire was finishing his set with so many hype man/an entourage large enough to overwhelm the stage. At a point the crowd who didn’t seem to into eXquire’s set were jolted once he jumped into the crowd. As I was tweeting I looked up to suddenly realize I had come front row center to the show as eXquire was now standing right in front of me with several of his entourage in toe. This was the trail end of his set which hadn’t seemed to go over to well with a mixed crowd. Surprising as eXquire was one of the bands I seemed to see mentioned more often than not as one of the must see acts of SXSW 2012.
Wavves “Bug” from Life Sux
The set change was quick for one of two rock bands on this showcase which was predominately a hip hop showcase. Wavves is a band I’ve been trying to see since the release of 2009 self titled debut. 2009 was also the last time Wavves played SXSW. The band whom, is pretty much Nathan Williams, though he has kept a pretty stable lineup that has now recorded both the critically lauded 2010 release King of the Beach and the release of last years EP Life Sux which hit my favorite albums of 2011 year-end list.
The crowd for Wavves was pretty rambunctious compared to the previous set. Mixing parts of surf, pop and punk I wasn’t surprised to see a worked up crowd. I didn’t however expect the pretty violent pit that erupted pretty quickly into Wavves set. How crazy was said pit? It included a blind person, several females and some who were very obviously intoxicated beyond the limits of comprehension to those around them. The band was tight and very focused, which would be a departure from when I’d see them three days later closing out SXSW at the Hype Hotel. Wavves sounded as good live as they did recorded and I walked away satisfied finally getting a chance to see one of my favorite upcoming bands.
From here I had reached a point where I was bumping into long lines into venues, and or coming in half way into, or toward the end of sets. I headed over to Red 7 in an attempt to change-up the evening and catch Alberta Cross. The delays my evening was met with early on however had caught up with me and I walked end to catch the final minute of the groups set. I was able to catch Bomba Estereo closing out the Carson Daily showcase on the Red 7 patio however. The group out of Columbia puts a modern synth and electronic spin on traditional Colombian music. It’s fun, catchy, highly energetic music that compels one to move. This is a group I believe is used to a larger stage than which they played this evening. The group’s energetic lead singer Liliana Saumet was back and forth all over the stage with tons of energy.
I bounced over to Red Eyed Fly to close out my night catching the trail end of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set. I wanted to catch Unknown Mortal Orchestra last year when they passed through Kansas City but couldn’t due to other commitments. By the time the three-piece was finishing their set I was cursing myself for not having caught the group when they came through town. The sounds coming from this three-piece were capable of filling a room many times the size of the one in which they were performing.
By John Coovert