This week, thousands of bands, journalists, publicists, record label reps and hungry music fans are in Austin, Texas for South By Southwest. Soundcheck producer Michael Katzif is there, too, bringing you a taste of the festival each day with blog posts, photos and more.
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Wednesday at South By Southwest was my first day for day parties -- the events thrown by labels and PR firms, blogs and magazines, and mega-companies trying to sell you a new flavor of chips or energy drink. While not officially part of the SXSW lineup, day parties are a great way to bounce around to multiple venues and see a bunch of young bands perform, and/or make do with shoddy PA systems in spaces not meant to be music venues.
With a well-mapped out schedule, it's possible to squeeze in 2-3 bands into an hour, especially when some parties have multiple stages of simultaneous music. If you are someone who comes prepared with a wish list of artists, daytime shows are one of best ways to try something new -- such as brash punkers Paws, the theatrical Parenthetical Girls, or the dreamlike electronic pop of Braids -- before heading to a major showcase with bigger headliner-type acts.
It's always interesting to look at the small, more workmanlike venues of day parties -- bars and clubs, bike shops and pizza joints -- and the large-scale showcases as an excellent window into the trajectory of some bands. Here's a couple highlights from the shows I saw on Wednesday at SXSW:
Wildcat! Wildcat! performs Wednesday at Side Bar in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest 2013. (Photo by Michael Katzif/WNYC)
Wildcat! Wildcat! @ Side Bar
Despite having some gear stolen -- which let's be honest, is a horrible way to begin any gig -- and starting its impossibly early noon set late as a result, Wildcat! Wildcat still managed to impress. On its original songs, the Los Angeles-based band's soaring vocal harmonies were set atop layers of synths creating a solid indie-pop sound. And yet it was a superbly chosen cover of Tears For Fears’ hit “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” that won over fans.
Lucius performs Wednesday at Side Bar in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest 2013. (Photo by Michael Katzif/WNYC)
Lucius @ Side Bar
Coincidentally, another new favorite, band called Lucius, performed at the same venue right after Wildcat! Wildcat!. Lucius is instantly joy-making, even before you hear them play, thanks to the band's matching black shirts and yellow pants or leggings. But as soon as you hear the band's catchy songs -- such as "Don't Just Sit There", it's impossible not to get caught up in the band's charming pop songwriting. With the vibrant, almost '60s girl group vocal harmonies from Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig and the guitars and thundering floor toms and backing vocals of Danny Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri, Lucius delivered a short but endearing set that will have me seeking the band out again soon.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs at the NPR Music 2013 SXSW Showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday March 13, 2013. (Photo by Adam Kissick for NPR)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ NPR Music Showcase at Stubb's B-B-Q
In a night full of excellent music -- from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' sinister and stunning set to Le1f's stripped down hip hop to the majesty of Alt-J's pop -- it was Yeah Yeah Yeahs' powerful performance at NPR Music's showcase at Stubb's that appeared to be the biggest shows of the night. Platinum blonde and decked out in a colorful and sparkly yellow outfit, and wearing an oversized headlamp, it's impossible to deny the stage presence of Karen O. She's a true rockstar whom you simply cannot take your eyes off of as she writhes on the floor, gazes out to the front of the stage and twirls the microphone way above her head in the air. And in a set that pulled heavily from its back catalog, and the new song "Sacrilege," this was one of the best and most commanding performances I've seen in a long time. It's not hyperbole to say this was truly an all-time top ten show for me.
To see more photos from last night, be sure to go to Soundcheck's Tumblr page.