Early in the week, I had SXSW all planned out. I knew where I wanted to go Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and I went there. I had a plan for Friday, but that went completely out the window. Part of my change in plan was due to waiting in a line to pick up Prince tickets for Saturday that I had earned from participating in a scavenger hunt with my Samsung Galaxy S3. Another reason for the change in plans was that my feet were tired, so I took a few more breaks Friday and ended up choosing venues for convenience. The third and final reason for my change of plans was that I bumped into Fall Out Boy on the street and learned that they were a special guest at a very tiny club that evening. I get that its cool to change opinions when a band becomes super popular, but these guys were a big part of my high school and early college years, so they’ll always have a special place in my heart. So I altered my entire evening plan to be sure that I made it into the Vice bar to see them. Turns out planning ahead for that was smart because that venue filled quickly and people were pretty much standing on top of each other to see the band in the club. Of course, Fall Out Boy was the cap for my Friday, I began my day elsewhere.
I kicked off my day at the Austin Convention Center with what some have deigned a “super group.” Divine Fits was playing the Day Stage and for those unfamiliar, this features members of Wolf Parade and Austin’s very own Spoon. Vocally, its a little edgier than the cleaner pop sounds of Spoon and Wolf Parade, but there are still plenty of similarities. This is a much more straight up rock version of either group. Following Divine Fits was another sort of super act. Emmylou Harris was singing with Texan Rodney Crowell. They sure know how to make musicians right in Texas. The songwriter duo talked to the crowd and played their casual folk music in a very feel good sort of set.
Next I ventured to the SPIN Party over at Stubbs. A lot of people were eagerly awaiting Kendrick Lamar’s set, but I couldn’t wait for Chvrches, a rising Scottish act that had only played their first US show a few days ago. While their stage presence was a little less than stellar, the music itself was stunning. The electropop act’s sound was tight and singer Lauren Mayberry has a powerful voice. Now if the band can just loosen up and do a little more than just stand there, they’ll be perfect.
Next up I ventured to hear two groups that utilize harmonies, acoustic guitars and thoughtful lyrics: City & Colour then Ivan and Alyosha.
From my round with the acoustic singer songerwriters I worked my way back to the convention center to see New York’s Vampire Weekend in a rather unusual setting: a small, intimate stage for an NPR showcase. They debuted new songs such as “Diane Young” next to classics such as A-Punk and had the packed room dancing and shaking the third floor of the convention center. For being one of this year’s bigger and more well known SXSW acts, they always impress me as appearing very humble and approachable, frequently thanking SXSW for helping launch their careers a few years ago and letting them return to close out the fest with a headlining spot at Stubbs Saturday night.
Speaking of Stubbs, it was to that venue that I wandered next for some groups that featured multiple lead vocalists in a “community/collective” sort of style. The Mowgli’s had some technical troubles during their set up, that disgruntled a few with the wait, but once the act started in on their feel good harmonies about love and good times, all was quickly forgiven by those in the audience. Walk Off the Earth kept these good feelings going and the group that gained fame for their YouTube covers impressed with their live cover renditions and some original material as well.
Not wanting to risk getting shut out of the intimate Fall Out Boy performance, I headed over to Vice Bar early to get in before capacity. Butch Walker had just begun playing and as pleased as I was to catch songs from the legendary songwriter and producer, I was a bit dismayed by how few people seemed to know his songs. Nonetheless, he played a rocking and catchy set and shared some witty banter in between songs, earning him plenty of cheers and new fans. After the high energy of Butch Walker, Matt Nathanson seemed a little too chill for my taste, but the crowd seemed to enjoy the songwriter’s more poppier numbers. Fortunately for me, New Politics amped things back up and got the packed crowd dancing, moshing and revved up for the final act of the night: Fall Out Boy.
I had forgotten how much I loved Fall Out Boy live and it was like returning home to see them on stage. My only complaint was that their set was too brief, but I was happy to hear new songs such as, “Light Em Up” fit in well next to older numbers such as “Sugar We’re Going Down.” When it came time for the set to draw to a close, the band pointed out the late hour had carried us into “Saturday,” and they ended on that classic early tune.
With this day, I was once again reminded just how cool it is to see SXSW launch so many bands, but also see some of SXSW’s bigger success stories–like Fall Out Boy and Vampire Weekend–return to the festival and acknowledge their roots.