Empress Of performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Main during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2013 | DAY FIVE

Saturday night at South By Southwest often offers the biggest surprises and blowouts to end the festival that everyone ends up gushing about. This year was no different. There was Justin Timberlake‘s much-rumored not-so-secret secret show for MySpace and the Smashing Pumpkins playing Red Bull’s Sound Select: 120 Hours stage to celebrate frontman Billy Corgan’s birthday. And there was Prince, performing an exclusive show at La Zona Rosa — which also featured A Tribe Called Quest — that lasted until 3 a.m. and ended, predictably with a singalong of “Purple Rain.”

There was also a rumor about a solo performance from The Flaming Lips‘ frontman and spirit guide Wayne Coyne. Until there wasn’t… when that never materialized.

I get the appeal of seeing these megastars in intimate spaces for special one-off shows, but very few actually get a chance to see these. I love Timberlake or Prince’s music as much as most people, but for me, I was just uninterested in committing to staying in one place all night in hopes of catching an up-close glimpse. As cool as it might be to say “Yeah, I was there,” I’d walk away with the same feeling of “Yep, Prince is still pretty awesome.”

Instead, with so much music to hear, I packed in as many shows as I could on Saturday day and night. I started the morning with the noisy rock of Brass Bed, accidentally saw Toronto punk band METZ for a third time, and ended my late afternoon with Telekinesis (again). And all in between, caught sets that included grungy rocker Mac DeMarco; the heavy obliterating feedback of A Place To Bury Strangers; propulsive rock of The Thermals, sparkly dancepop of Empress Of; hazy indie rock of Widowspeak; droning, Indian-tinged psyche rock of Elephant Stone; and Dallas indie band Air Review, who must have drawn an unlucky straw by having to play it’s set in a banging, over-crowded dance club full of people ready to party, rather than see them. Such is the SXSW experience though. Then late Saturday night, Denton, Texas folk band Seryn decided to treat its quiet, attentive audience at St. David’s Episcopal Church to a much more intimate set than normal, to calm the nerves with something serene and almost spiritual.

Still with so much attention going to bigger stars, I actually came away thinking about how much amazing new music I heard from young bands. Ultimately at the end of the whole week, I actually saw about 72 bands — some full sets, some only a single song. But cannot wait to see some of these artists again the next time they roll through town and catch some of the bands I missed, too.

Here are a few other highlights:

Micah P. Hinson performs at Red Eyed Fly during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Micah P. Hinson performs at Red Eyed Fly during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

MICAH P. HINSON @ Red Eyed Fly

I have heard about Abilene, Texas-based singer-songwriter Micah P. Hinson for years, and I’m positive I may have a few of his records thanks to a friend and former colleague, who absolutely adores Hinson. But it wasn’t until his set Saturday night was I won over by his peculiar singing voice — sometimes deadpan like Bill Callahan, or warbling like Vic Chesnutt — and his heartbreaking lyrics. Hinson played his folky country songs mostly solo in a too noisy bar patio, but when he brought his wife up on stage for a duet — sung into the same old-timey microphone like Johnny and June Carter Cash might’ve — the entire place went more-or-less silent. It was a lovely moment for a songwriter that most people still do not know, but really should.

Houses performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Houses performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

HOUSES @ The Mohawk

A few years back I came across and fell in love with the music of Houses — a Chicago-based electronic pop duo Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina — when I heard All Night, a superb, subtle and dreamy record constructed while living briefly in a cabin in Hawaii. But I had never seen the band live. In a set that showcased new songs — such as “Beginnings” from the upcoming album A Quiet Darkness, Houses displayed one of the prettiest and outright earnest sets all week.

Fear Of Men performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Fear Of Men performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

FEAR OF MEN @ The Mohawk

In the new discovery department, Fear Of Men is a band I knew very little about besides wanting to check them out. The London/Brighton band fronted by singer Jessica Weiss makes gauzy, heart-swelling and bittersweet pop music that a friend described as ’60s girl groups meets shoegaze. The show was intimate but as the sound swirled around the small room, it was clear this band was build for a larger hall. It turned out to be a great surprise I’m anxious to hear more of.

Brass Bed performs at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Brass Bed performs at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

BRASS BED @ The Parish

This Louisiana psyche pop band’s powerful and almost romantic sound reminded me of both Wilco and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen, with songs like “Bullet For You” that burst into fantastic noise and gnashing guitar solos.

Empress Of performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Main during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Empress Of performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Main during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

EMPRESS OF @ The Main

On record, Empress Of’s music is a blissful mess of glittery synths, junky electronic drum machines, and echoing vocals. But as she bounced around on stage, her songs like “Champagne” proved far dance-ier and groovier, perfect for filling a giant club.

Merchandise performs at Beerland during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Merchandise performs at Beerland during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

MERCHANDISE @ Beerland

Merchandise, the punky Florida band told a crowd at Beerland “This is show number ten for us. We’re all out of pretty songs.” They then rocketed into an all-out assault of hard bashers and, no doubt, burned off some tired frustrations.

Elephant Stone performs at the Yahoo! showcase at Brazos Hall during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Elephant Stone performs at the Yahoo! showcase at Brazos Hall during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

ELEPHANT STONE @ Brazos Hall

Fronted by Rishi Dhir (formerly of The High Dials), Canadian indie rock band Elephant Stone somehow finds common ground between Elliott Smith, George Harrison and The Stone Roses — while incorporating elements of traditional Indian music including the sitar, tabla, and dilruba. With stirring melodies, droning guitars, and lyrics with tinge of melancholy, this band is has a unique, yet loveably familiar sound.

Air Review performs at Shakespeare's Pub during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Air Review performs at Shakespeare’s Pub during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

AIR REVIEW @ Shakespeare’s Pub

In some ways, this was a hometown show of sorts for Dallas indie pop band Air Review. Too bad the noisy crowd was mostly spillover from the club in the next room, and drown out the subtlety of this band’s emotional and immersive songs. The album, Low Wishes — and the song “America’s Son” — document the rigors of everyday life. Vocalist Douglas Hale’s deeply introspective lyrics are rife with themes of shattered dreams and disillusioned hearts, all amplified by music of piercing beauty.

And more photos from the day and night:

Mac DeMarco performs at the Hype Hotel during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Mac DeMarco performs at the Hype Hotel during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
A Place To Bury Strangers performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Main during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
A Place To Bury Strangers performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Main during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
The Thermals performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
The Thermals performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Baths performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Baths performs at the A.V. Club day party at The Mohawk patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Widowspeak performs at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013.
Widowspeak performs at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Marnie Stern performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2013 | DAY ONE

In previous years at South By Southwest, Tuesday was a somewhat low key affair: The Interactive portion of the festival was winding down, and the Music portion just gearing up, with less music to enjoy. This year, Tuesday felt like SXSW was already in full swing. When I finally made it into downtown Austin, the streets were bustling with music fans, bands and weirdos all shambling from one venue to the next. Sure, compared to what 6th Street will be like on Saturday night, it’s far less stuffed with bodies.

But with some big names already performing, I hit the ground running.

Last night featured many of my new favorites from the past year — Cloud Nothings and DIIV, both playing bone-rattlingly loud sets that made me glad I packed those earplugs. Also: a couple new bands I’m eager to hear more from — Blue Hawaii, Guards and Indians.

But my biggest highlights from last night were actually two vastly different female artists: Marnie Stern and Torres.

Torres performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
Torres performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

TORRES @ Mohawk Indoor

Torres, the Nashville-based 22-year-old Mackenzie Scott writes songs that rip your heart out, but make you feel good about it. In a powerful set at Pitchfork’s opening night showcase, Torres enraptured a crowd with a voice full of raw trembling pain and deep guttural emotion. But this is no wispy folk music, thanks to her band, who helped build songs like “Honey” into these blissful climaxes of guitar noise and pounding drums. It was easily the most beautiful and affecting set I saw all night.

Marnie Stern performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
Marnie Stern performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

MARNIE STERN @ Mohawk Outdoor

The first thing you’d say to describe the music of Marnie Stern is “she can totally shred on the guitar.” And that’s completely true. Armed with thrashy riffs and dexterous finger-tapping skills that mimic the melodies she’s singing, Stern is an impressive guitarist. But she’s also guitarist who understands how to integrate those fiery chops into songwriting that doesn’t just feel like an excuse to jam out. The standout of the set was Stern’s “Year Of The Glad” — the opening track on her superb, and hilariously titled new album, The Chronicles Of Marnia — an energetic blast full of looping voices and noisy textures. In an outdoor venue, it sounded amazing.

Here’s a few other photos from the night:

Sirah performs at the Warner Sound showcast at The Belmont during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
Sirah performs at the Warner Sound showcase at The Belmont during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Indians performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
Indians performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Blue Hawaii performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
Blue Hawaii performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
DIIV performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
DIIV performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Cloud Nothings performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013.
Cloud Nothings performs at the Pitchfork showcase at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Patrick Watson performs at St. David's Episcopal Church during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2012 | DAY THREE

La Vida Boheme performs at the NPR Music day party at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012.
La Vida Boheme performs at the NPR Music day party at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Gardens & Villa performs at the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian/Dead Oceans showcase at Mohawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012.
Gardens & Villa performs at the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian/Dead Oceans showcase at Mohawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Patrick Watson performs at  St. David's Episcopal Church during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012.
Patrick Watson performs at St. David’s Episcopal Church during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 15, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

PATRICK WATSON @ St. David’s Episcopal Church

Patrick Watson’s deeply emotional and joyful midnight performance at St. David’s Episcopal Church has stuck with me more than any at this year’s South By Southwest. This beautiful sanctuary, lit from above by strings of Edison light bulbs, was the perfect setting for Watson’s imaginative and timeless chamber pop from this year’s masterful Adventures In Your Own Backyard. But near the end of the set, the singer and his band gathered in the aisle between church pews to do single mic renditions of “Into Giants” and “Words In The Fire,” — a stirring song about finding happiness living in the present. Sitting next to so many close friends, it was hard not to get caught up in that moment and realize how lucky we were to witness this special show. I still get choked up every time I put on “Words In The Fire.”

For more photos, visit Flickr.

Bear In Heaven performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2012 | DAY ONE

Teengirl Fantasy performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Teengirl Fantasy performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Star Slinger performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Star Slinger performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Bear In Heaven performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Bear In Heaven performs at the Pitchfork Interactive Showcase at Mowhawk Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Silverbus performs at Headhunters during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Silverbus performs at Headhunters during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Caveman performs a Bat Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Caveman performs a Bat Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Caveman performs a Bat Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012.
Caveman performs a Bat Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

For more photos, visit Flickr.

Jack White performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2011 | DAY TWO

Jack White performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.
Jack White performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Jack White performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.
Jack White performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Seasick Steve performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.
Seasick Steve performs at the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Class Actress performs at Lipstick 24 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.
Class Actress performs at Lipstick 24 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Yuck performs at Club de Ville during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.
Yuck performs at Club de Ville during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Big K.R.I.T. performs at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011.
Big K.R.I.T. performs at The Mohawk during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 16, 2011. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

For more photos, visit Flickr.