South By Southwest

SXSW 2023 Recap: The Good, The Bad and The Inclement Weather

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Dream Wife

While 2022 saw the return of SXSW as an in-person event after 2020’s cancellation and 2021’s pivot to online, last year’s edition still felt a bit weird with the spectre of COVID still hanging over our heads. This year, however, felt a little more normal, though the festival seemed to continue its trend over the last few years of feeling a little bit lighter than it did in the past.

This year also saw cooler than expected temperatures as well as the arrival of a big storm on the Thursday night, which definitely put a bit of a damper on the proceedings for that evening. And though the weather didn’t always cooperate, we still found a lot to like about this year’s SouthBy, as well as a couple of things to complain about. Here, then, is our rundown of how the week went for us.


Best Act

Gary: It should be Sports Team for sheer rockstar drama, but Thao takes the cake.

Ricky: it’s hard to go against New Order playing a set of their greatest hits and being only five feet from the stage but a non-New Order act would probably be Dream Wife.

Paul: There were many acts who could potentially vie for the title of “best thing I saw all week,” including a few old faves like Voxtrot, Superchunk and New Order, but I think I’m going to have to give it to Dream Wife. Killer show.

Steam Down

Best New Discovery

Paul: I’ll pick two. Steam Down put on an incredible show, bringing exactly the right energy to keep me going late into the night on a day when I’d already been up and on the go for way too long. And Brandt Brauer Frick were also great – they definitely made it worth my while to brave the rain and the cold on Thursday night.

Gary: The Orielles.

Ricky: For me, it’s either LÜCY and her charms or Dream Wife and their absolutely most fun show.

Biggest Disappointment

Gary: Didn’t have time to do homework and lacked anticipation… fixed that quickly after a few shows.

Paul: Missing out on Tangerine Dream. And missing out on Max Cooper. And also missing out on Jeff Tweedy. But is it really even a music festival if you don’t miss out on something you wanted to see?

Ricky: Honestly, the weather – I had read it was gonna be 24 degrees and brought 3 tank tops that I could not wear throughout the week.

be your own PET

Most Memorable Moment

Gary: “Your Yalla burger is ready… nah, it’s gonna be 15 minutes.” Seriously, how a food-truck vendor can piss off so many while trying to give away a burger is beyond me.

Ricky: Probably the SXSW comedy show hosted by Nick Thune with Christina Martinez, for all the right or wrong reasons. Also the Manchester mayor saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ because Manchester refused to work with cotton from America during the time of slavery was quite the proclamation.

Paul: I will second Ricky’s nomination of Christina Catherine Martinez’s performance as most memorable. Her appearances at that Sunday night comedy show and as part of the “silent clown ballet” Swan Leak are both moments that will stick with me for a while.

“This Could Only Happen at SouthBy”

Paul: Tuesday night. I’m sitting at the back of Flamingo Cantina, watching Philly ska/punk outfit Catbite play their midnight set when a guy leans in and asks, “You like this shit?”

“Yeah, they’re not bad.”

He eyes me suspiciously and continues his line of inquiry. “Did you like No Doubt back in the day, then?”

I guess he was hoping I would be a similarly grizzled veteran of the rock ‘n roll life who would agree with him that The Clash were better (and yeah, maybe they were, but what’s that really got to do with anything?) but I think he mostly just wanted to tell someone that he played Flamingo Cantina with Daniel Johnston back in the day. Fair enough. I guess I’d be telling random folks about that too if I was him.

Gary: Listening to a Taiwanese band yet still having space to move my arms.

Ricky: We’ve been here so many times it’s kind of hard to process what’s normal, but anytime you can see 10 shows in one day with bands from all over the world from Taiwan to Europe to New York with music ranging from pop to electro to folk to hard rock, it’s pretty special.

SXSW Review: The Orielles, March 18, The Courtyard

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The Orielles

Connecting instrumentals with lyrical singing is not always simple. The Orielles are an interesting band in their apparent lack of attempt to blend these two components. The instrumental aspect, particularly the synth, is the mainstay, but the singing is dosed in and used as an instrument. There is a free-wheeling carefreeness to the way the vocals are delivered.

Since the voice does not need to hold up a melody, there’s no need to be pitch perfect nor sustain long lyrical meanings. And with that restriction gone, segments of seemingly unrelated music can be organically stitched to flow into each other.

The Orielles’ previous LP La Vita Olistica had encased this style in an indie capsule. The latest full length album, Tableau, released in October 2022, has taken a more multi-directional approach. Seeing them at the BBC Introducing showcase at The Courtyard at night was also a plus. Their music lends itself well to a laid-back mysterious vibe, and with the fog machines working overtime, you were hard pressed to get a clear shot of the trio anyway.

Clearly not the energetic and ostentatious type, they let the music do most of the merrymaking. But they love to change up tempo and style mid-way through – songs like “Beam/s” have interludes that are more aggressive and memorable than the 4 minutes preceding, and others like “Airtight” or “The Room” are so different that your brain figures it must be simple beneath it all – something like applying one recipe to ingredients from different genres. Regardless, the results are far from the typical connotation of “experimental” – refreshingly good across the spectrum and hard to pin down.

Or maybe that’s the secret? Who said only rabbits can be stewed, and not eggnog, turkey, chocolate, and candy canes? And why not together?

SXSW Review: Thao, March 14, Central Presbyterian Church

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Thao & The Get Down Stay Down were an alternative rock band that had been around since the early 2000s. While they put out an album, Temple, during the early months of the pandemic, even making quite a splash with a Zoom-based official music video for the single “Phenom”, they decided to dissolve and go their separate ways in 2021.

Fast forward to 2023, this night at the Central Presbyterian, Thao played a selection from that album for a select but discerning crowd. In hindsight, this was the better venue at which to see them, as opposed to the Thursday night show at the Austin Convention Center. Which in turn was still a bit better than that show’s original location – a Lady Bird Lake Community Concert that was beset by lightning and torrential rain.

Thao was everything that a veteran performer should be – energetic yet gracious, sharing the stage very generously with not only her bandmates but also some guests. But that belies the fact that the performance itself was ferocious and thoroughly enjoyable even if one discounts the unavoidable moments of catharsis from the very act of playing a three year old album after being so suppressed by the pandemic.

To be honest, I am reaching for the digital album for a re-listen as I write – not so I can reminisce to compose a proper review, but to delight in discovering something that I wouldn’t have thought was my cup-of-tea. Frankly, you should too.

SXSW Review: Ron Gallo, March 17, Cheer Up Charlies

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By the way – how are there so many t-shirts on earth?
I mean, let’s say on average everyone has 15
You times that by billions of people
How is there enough raw materials?
I wear the same 3 of them
I’ve got 124 too many
And they just keep coming

The words above, taken from the title track of Ron Gallo’s latest album Foreground Music, stuck out to me during his set at Cheer Up Charlies as part of the Kill Rock Stars showcase. Coming near the end of a week where massive amounts of free swag, including many, many t-shirts, were being given out to SXSW attendees, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, how are there enough raw materials? What am I supposed to do with all these t-shirts? And do I really need this Raising Cane’s keychain?” No, no I do not.

It turns out that what I did need, however, was to take in a Ron Gallo show. While I was familiar with his music, I had never seen Gallo live before, but after seeing him live, I now consider myself a fan. Gallo impressed with his clever lyrics and a garage meets art-rock sound, with tunes like “Entitled Man” and the aforementioned “Foreground Music” standing out as highlights.

The absolute standout of Gallo’s set though was the Jonathan Richman-eque “I Love Someone Buried Deep Inside Of You,” a moving portrait of someone who sees that a person they love is too far gone and no longer the person they once were, but the love for them is still there. Check it out below.