SXSW Diary: Day Four
Published March 22, 2010
The final day of South by Southwest was brisk and blustery. In the heat the festival can seem like a mirage, when the temperature plunges the cold hard facts set in: You drank too much and slept too little, and missed bands you counted on seeing. To Grass Widow, The Low Anthem, and The xx, we say: there’s a future for us yet. Even in the chill, however, 6th Street remained active—a man held a sign offering free hugs, another willing to give bad advice. By the end of SXSW it’s hard to tell what counsel is worth taking—even if you manage to hear it.
YellowFever, an Austin duo, played their version of stripped down rock at the Mohawk. On her site, Monitor Mix, Carrie Brownstein described their sound as “haunted house surf music,” and it does have a shady low-fi appeal. Their single, “Hellfire,” has a simple stirring beat, and gave those of us on our last legs the motivation to make it through the final frigid night.
SXSW was full of earnest bands opposed to grand gestures. The antidote to the understated was provided by Class Actress, the Brooklyn band that reveled in pop decadence of the highest order. Led by Elizabeth Harper, in red high hells, the set, combined winning synth hooks with vamping vocals that fairly declared: “Glamour c’est moi.”
LAST DAYS OF APRIL
One last chance for impressions: Last Days of April, via Stockholm, played an endearing set of bittersweet roots rock. Best Coast, the LA surf band, playing their last of ten shows at SXSW, a short engaging set of muscular songs layered with feedback. She Keeps Bees, a Brooklyn duo, plays an amplified version of the signer-songwriter genre, with defiant vocals and not a bit of folk sensitivity: a lot of wailing and no whining.
The last show at SXSW is strangely intimate—you share a feeling of survival with the band and hope you still have your dignity intact. An Horse, a favorite from Brisbane, plays vigorous songs with bracing guitar hooks. Their amp had broken so they borrowed another—everybody made accommodations to get over the finish line. Their songs have an emotional clarity that felt urgent and kept exhaustion at bay.
And yet it never ends. On Sunday, the day of recovery, the sun was out and bands played shows in outdoor venues for more local crowds. Just when you thought you couldn’t listen any longer there’s Eleanor Whitmore playing the fiddle and singing an alt-country set that was completely enchanting. You can’t resist and why should you? Here, music is, as it should be, a basic currency. It’s elementary, my dear Austin.
Day Three of David Coggins’s SXSW diary is here.