By Lee Moran / Managing Editor / @leetxs
For all the complaining I did about how slim my options were, I actually got the chance to see quite a few bands this week, including two of the massive SXSW headliners. Here are the groups I saw, in approximately the order I saw them:
- Twin Falls
- Diego Garcia
- Mike Scott
- Diamond Rings
- The Enemy
- The Sheepdogs
- Fitz and the Tantrums
- City and Colour
- Tegan and Sara
- Divine Fits
- Jim James
- The Flaming Lips
- Angel Haze
- Charli XCX
- Capital Cities
- Wynter Gordon
- Paloma Faith
- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
- Brooke Candy
- Fall Out Boy
I had never even heard of a vast majority of these prior to the day I saw them, and there were a lot of surprises. But like always, I had my opinions, and here they are.
Hope Springs Eternal: Twin Falls
The decision to go to a church for a live music showcase during SXSW was one borne from desperation and frustration, not any particular desire to see the groups playing there. But at the peak of our under-21 rage, we happened to walk into the beginning of Twin Falls’ set and recognized their singer as Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional. Suzie Zeldin, their mandolinist and backing vocalist, was nice enough to sit down on stage with me for an interview afterward, which strongly re-energized our hopes for SXSW. I’ll be writing a full story on them in this week’s issue.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and trumpet guy
I am the epitome of square classic rock white guy. Most hip-hop actively repulses me, and though I enjoyed Thrift Shop for its catchiness and comedic value, prior to Perez Hilton’s One Night in Austin showcase I had written off Macklemore as a gimmicky one-hit wonder I was obligated to watch just to say I did. But then he made his entrance. He and Ryan Lewis are extremely coordinated onstage, and their guy with the trumpet made the whole show, following Macklemore around with a crash cymbal and ripping on the trumpet at will. The performance was upbeat but emotionally charged, rotating in a new guest singer for every song. Will I buy more Macklemore music? Probably not. But I enjoyed the hell out of his show. And he threw a rag at me.
Runner-up: The Sheepdogs
I didn’t know what to expect from what appeared to be an entire band of Jesus impersonators, but I liked it. These guys are keeping classic rock alive.
Biggest disappointment: The Flaming Lips
Austin the photo guy declared me dead to him after my last blog post, but I really can’t reiterate strongly enough how incredibly bland the Flaming Lips were at Auditorium Shores. Maybe it was the hype that did them in for me. Maybe they were just having a bad night. I hope so. Jim James was cool though.
Best visual effects: Tegan and Sara
For the entire Express Rocks showcase, two giant gray cubes hung above the stage. What I thought was just an odd decoration choice became the centerpiece of Tegan and Sara’s lightshow. They had those cubes glowing, spinning, and pulsing with light the entire time. It was awesome, and didn’t overpower the band the way The Flaming Lips’ over-the-top effects did.
Best Guitar Solo: Eric Sullivan of Lissie
The bluesy finisher to Lissie’s set was lengthy, tightly integrated with the rest of the music, and had just enough improv sprinkled in to keep it fresh. Delicious.
Worst overall: Brooke Candy
What the hell, Perez Hilton? This waste of everyone’s time took up a twenty-minute window between Macklemore and Fall Out Boy. Obviously any set wedged between names like that is going to have a hard time, but this was literally just a stripper shouting vulgarities at people.
Best overall: Fall Out Boy
This is not lip service to my inner ninth grader. His musical tastes are not too far removed from my current ones, and he wasn’t freaking out about seeing Fall Out Boy from the front row - though Taylor’s was, loudly. No, Fall Out Boy occasionally pops up on my Pandora stations, but I wouldn’t have called myself a fan before this show. I do now. I got my hopes up when I saw the roadies setting up cordless guitars, and the band took full advantage, spinning around and running on stage and interacting with each other and putting on a show. There was a definite feeling of reunion in it, which lent another layer of showmanship to the set. They only had time for five songs, which meant they had to play only their most popular tunes, which meant they only played the songs I had heard before, then stopped. Fine by me. They owned it.
I still wish I had gotten an Interactive pass, but that wouldn’t have gotten me front-row spots for Fall Out Boy, Macklemore, the Sheepdogs, or any of the other nice surprises SXSW Music had. Everything worked out, and I’m exhausted but pleased with the experience, at least at the end.