South By Southwest

SXSW Review: Holiday Sidewinder, March 15, Lucille

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One of the fun things about SXSW is seeing artists perform in unusual spaces, often ones that are not quite perfectly suited to their style of performance, and then watching that artist take over that space and totally make it their own. Such was the case with Holiday Sidewinder.

Playing a mid-afternoon set on the tiny front yard stage set up a at Lucille for the Aussie BBQ showcase, Australian pop singer Holiday Sidewinder Carmen-Sparks (yes, that is actually her real name) put her all into that show. She definitely took over that space and could not be contained by the small stage, quickly moving from its confines onto the patio itself and moving about the space, dramatically posing the entire time before finally singing in the midst of the crowd. And the entire time she was throwing down perfect pop songs like “Leo” and “Tra$h Can Love.”

She may have been playing in a small space, but Holiday Sidewinder came on strong with a big, bold, and fun performance.

SXSW Review: The Comet is Coming, Empire Garage (March 14) and Latitude 30 (March 15)

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The Comet is Coming

My most anticipated band coming into SXSW, the trio known as The Comet is Coming did no wrong. In fact, they were so good I had to see them twice. I don’t even know what genre of music they belong to, but you can definitely detect elements of dance, jazz and even hip hop in their sound.

As you would expect with this type of music, the live set blew the album out of the water as the trio – Dan “Danalogue” Leavers, Max “Betamax” Hallett, and King Shabaka skillfully and artfully worked together to create a live sound that gets you moving. Even though they only used three instruments, their music had a range that went all over the place, as they carefully built layers upon layers within each song. And much like popular electronic music these days, they wound you up inside so tightly with their sounds before providing a satisfying payoff. It was good enough that random people passing by in the street stopped during their set to stay and dance – no small feat at SXSW. Catch them if you can.

I mean, listen to this:

SXSW Review: Minke, March 14, Nuevo Leon Lot

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Bud Light Dive Bar Sessions At SXSW 2019, Austin, TX
Photo Credit: Rick Kern

The dive bar is a longstanding American tradition – the somewhat seedy, kind of dingy joints can be found in most cities, acting as the meeting place where locals go for cheap drinks and cheaper atmosphere.

With this in mind, Bud Light, one of the major sponsors of SXSW, set up something known as the Bud Light Dive Bar Sessions, a pop up re-creation of the sort of vibe you might find in a common dive bar. Rather than use one of Austin’s many actual dive bars though, they set up in a parking lot, complete with dive bar style decor and a cigarette machine (that gave out free prizes, not cigarettes – sorry smokers) for a couple of days of performances from the likes of Saint PHNX, Walker Lukens, Sam Fender, Dreezy, Abhi the Nomad, Ivy Sole, Thutmose, and UK alt-rock/R&B singer Minke.

Before we get into Minke’s performance, let’s take a look at how accurately the Dive Bar Sessions space replicated a dive bar. First off, we’ll focus on the positive – the decor and the signage they had were a reasonable facsimile of the real thing and the price of the beer (free) actually surpassed the cheap drink specials one often finds in these types of places, although a shot of the cheapest whiskey you can find to accompany that beer certainly would have added to the effect. On the other hand, here’s what they got wrong – the bright and shiny outdoor setting on a sunny afternoon just can’t match the darkly lit atmosphere of a true dive bar, although to its credit, the parking lot this was set up in was likely cleaner than the average dive.

Setting all that aside, let’s focus on what everyone was here for (besides the free beer) – the music.

Minke originally got her start back when she was just 18 playing something a little more bluesy before settling on her current direction. It’s essentially pop music, but with a chill, moody vibe and a bit of an edge that’s likely a holdover from her blues/rock days. That mellow vibe came across in her live show as she and her band ran through numbers off of the recently released The Tearoom EP like “Bite The Bullet” and “Maybe 25.” It’s not necessarily the type of thing you’d hear at your local dive bar (I feel like a worn down jukebox playing Lynyrd Sykynrd might fit that profile a bit better) but it made for a pleasant discovery on a Thursday afternoon.

SXSW Review: Otoboke Beaver, March 13, Valhalla

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What can you even say? This was an insane show that will be in my memory bank for years.

Otoboke Beaver is a Kyoto-based all girl quartet that plays aggressive punk rock music. I had expected a crazy show as I headed into Valhalla on Wednesday night but their show just blew my expectations out of the water. Dressed in bright colored dresses and taking the stage with polite smiles, I thought, okay, maybe this will be a good, polite rock show. I was totally wrong.

From the get go, the group displayed a manic energy that sent a surge through the crowd. The aggressive stop-start nature of their music, which blended punk rock/hardcore sounds with some rapid firing Japanese lyrics, whipped the crowd into a mosh pit frenzy. The band were willing ringleaders with the batshit crazy guitarist crowd surfing whilst playing guitar multiple times. Near the end, as the lead singer and the guitarist were climbing the speakers, I think the bar decided enough was enough and shut off the lights and the vocals. That didn’t stop either the band or the crowd from rocking out. What a great show.