Telekinesis performs at the Merge showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2013 | DAY THREE

As South By Southwest continues to trudge on and ramp up heading into the weekend, the main streets already feel packed and difficult to navigate, and the lines — even those for official SXSW badge and wristband attendees — are becoming discouragingly long. At one point around 10 p.m. I ran over to The Belmont, in hopes of getting in to catch The Flaming Lips perform its masterpiece album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in its entirety. Once there, the line just for badge-wearers was an entire block length and showed no signs of moving. Denied! Oh well, it’s not like Yoshimi is one of my all-time favorite records or anything. (Yes it is.)

Instead, I hoofed it back over to Red 7, to see part of Foxygen‘s set, where I was met with another long wait — albeit shorter than if I had stayed in that line for the Lips — followed by a total onstage meltdown from frontman Sam France, which was so frustrating I left early.

There was a good stretch of about two hours between seeing bands just because of walking, waiting in lines, and then of course, a nightmarishly long soundcheck. This bit of logistical planning and taking gambles in hopes of just getting inside to see some music, can be one of the more frustrating aspects of SXSW. Still there were plenty of highlights for me on Thursday at South By Southwest.

Night Beds performs at the Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.
Night Beds performs at the Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

NIGHT BEDS @ Red 7

There’s no shortage of brash punk bands, bass heavy hip hop and electronic music, and metal at South By Southwest. As such It can be hard to find a quiet place, let alone find a quiet band that can hold the attention of a big bar crowd. And yet, the soaring and emotional vocals of Night Beds‘ Winston Yellon has that capacity to enrapture the room into silence. With stunners like “Ramona” and “Even If We Try,” Night Beds’ blend of quiet folk songs that built to a lovely catharsis was a welcome respite of introspection and calm.

Foxygen performs at the Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7 patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.
Foxygen performs at the Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7 patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

FOXYGEN @ Red 7 Patio

South By Southwest is a grueling week, especially for young emerging bands, who sign up for dozens of gigs — often many in one day — and are supposed to play in so many different settings and conditions, for so many types of people who expect something special each and every time. Some concert goers are only passing through for a few songs, are tired and grumpy, dehydrated or drunk, and ultimately difficult to please. It’s not a surprise that as the week goes on, bands are simply exhausted. And it’s no wonder bands begin to fray or feel a little disillusioned by the whole thing.

On Thursday night at the Secretly Canadian\Jagjaguwar\Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7, I witnessed the psychedelic indie band Foxygen have something of a meltdown following an endless, nearly hour-long soundcheck where both fans and the band got testy. It boiled over when, after a song or two, singer Sam France bantered about his road-ravaged voice and a someone in the audience yelled for him to just play a song, which in turn prompted France to lash out at him and threaten to fight. Later, France bizarrely walked off stage, ended the show, only to return to finish out the set. The band later cancelled the rest of its performances at SXSW, disappointing many fans eager to see this band.

It was an unfortunate moment for a talented young band, especially one with a very well-liked record and getting a lot of attention right now. But it does call into question just how much pressure is put on these bands by the fans, the record labels and media to deliver and impress all in the hopes that people will fall in love with their music.

Telekinesis performs at the Merge showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.
Telekinesis performs at the Merge showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

TELEKINESIS @ The Parish

After awhile, it’s easy to feel a little numb from the assault of noisy punk bands on busted PA’s. So it can be comforting to drop by a set from an already-favorite artist that you know is sure to be great. For me, that band was Telekinesis. So I made it a point to make the Merge Records showcase at the Parish — one of my favorite, and best-sounding venues in Austin — one of my last stops on Thursday night, so I could catch this set, and see Michael Benjamin Lerner sing and play drums at the same time. Simply put: This is a band I always love hearing live.

On his third album, Dormarion (produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno), Lerner plays practically every instrument. But for this tour, Telekinesis has a fantastic new lineup that includes keyboardist Rebecca Cole, who’s best known for The Minders and Wild Flag. Her addition is a perfect tonal fit for these new songs, especially the synth-heavy “Ever True,” or the album’s first single “Ghosts And Creatures.” Mixing fuzzed-out power pop with fizzy synth pop, Telekinesis plays these fun, sometimes sentimental songs full of big beefy distortion, memorable guitar hooks, and impossibly catchy, fist-pumping choruses.

And again, it was another perfectly chosen cover song — this time INXS’ “Don’t Change” — that lifted the room to new heights, all before closing with the garage rock banger “Tokyo.” Telekinesis is one of those bands I’ve seen plenty of times, but always delights. Last night was no different.

Here’s a few other photos from the day and night:

Beach Fossils performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Junior during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.
Beach Fossils performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Junior during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Small Black performs at the Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7 patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.
Small Black performs at the Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans showcase at Red 7 patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Bleeding Rainbow performs at Valhalla during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013.
Bleeding Rainbow performs at Valhalla during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Le1f performs at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb's BBQ during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2013 | DAY TWO

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:

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 Waxahatchee‘s stark punk-infused folk songs to the Mexican rock of Cafe Tacvba 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.

Wildcat! Wildcat! performs at Side Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Wildcat! Wildcat! performs at Side Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

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.

Paws performs at the Force Field / Stones Throw day party at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Paws performs at the Force Field / Stones Throw day party at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

PAWS @ Red 7

This year has had no shortage of brash punk bands and grimey hardcore bangers — from returning bands like Cloud Nothings and Wavves to up-and-comers like Parquet Courts and Metz. But the raucous pop punk of Scottish trio Paws has a way with infectious hooks and some cathartically thrashy guitars. These songs are short bursts of energy, wasting little time winning me over.

Lucius performs at Side Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Lucius performs at Side Bar during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

LUCIUS @ Side Bar

Coincidentally, another new favorite band, 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.

Parenthetical Girls performs at the Force Field / Stones Throw day party at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Parenthetical Girls performs at the Force Field / Stones Throw day party at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

PARENTHETICAL GIRLS @ Red 7

Much in the same way Nick Cave or Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O showmanship dominated their stellar sets at Stubb’s, singer Zac Pennington, of the dramatic art rock band Parenthetical Girls, has a charisma you cannot take your eyes off. Pennington is incredibly theatric on stage, flailing arms around, climbing on speakers, staring directly into audience’s eyes. Even on a far smaller stage than Cave played on, Pennington connected with the crowd just like a star.

Waxahatchee performs at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb's BBQ during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Waxahatchee performs at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s BBQ during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

WAXAHATCHEE @ Stubb’s BBQ

Katie Crutchfield’s music is so deeply personal and confessional that you sometimes feel as if you’re intruding. But her songs are also incredibly universal and heartfelt. Playing newer material like “Hollow Bedroom” and the distorted “Coast To Coast” show that Waxahatchee — now a boisterous three-piece — has begun to plug in and rock. And it never sounded better.

Le1f performs at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb's BBQ during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Le1f performs at the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s BBQ during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

LE1F @ Stubb’s BBQ

Watching Le1f perform live at Stubb’s, it’s clear you’re witnessing something unique. The magnetic New York rapper commands the stage with choreographed dance moves and wild body gesticulations, often culminating with Le1f taking down his long hair and whipping it around in a cyclone of braids — all while spitting his idiosyncratic deep-voiced wordplay without skipping a beat. It’s all the more impressive because Le1f (born Khalif Diouf) takes his performance as seriously as his rhymes: he studied ballet and modern dance, earning a degree in dance from Wesleyan University; he’s a fashion icon with a so-called “hoodrat Tumblr aesthetic;” and he’s known in the LGBTQ community for being both out and proudly outspoken.

Now, following the unreal success of his “Wut” music video, and a stellar mixtape — 2013’s Fly Zone (another EP, Tree House is due in Sept.) — the MC and producer seems poised for a major breakout in 2013 and 2014. Le1f’s dance-ready music is edgy and experimental, mixing dark electronic tracks with big beats and rapidfire phrasing. And while the production is always ambitious and borders on the avant garde, these songs will still get you moving on the dance floor in a hurry.

Here’s a few more photos from the day and night:

Ski Lodge performs at Side Bar Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Ski Lodge performs at Side Bar Patio during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Sun Araw performs at the Force Field / Stones Throw day party at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Sun Araw performs at the Force Field / Stones Throw day party at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Braids performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Junior during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
Braids performs at the Brooklyn Vegan day party at The Junior during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
The Besnard Lakes performs at Swan Dive during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013.
The Besnard Lakes performs at Swan Dive during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 13, 2013. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Bleeding Knees Club performs at the Pure Volume House during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST 2012 | DAY FIVE

Bleeding Knees Club performs at the Pure Volume House during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
Bleeding Knees Club performs at the Pure Volume House during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Yellow Ostrich performs at the Baeblemusic day party at Peckerhead’s KnuckleRumbler Lounge during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
Yellow Ostrich performs at the Baeblemusic day party at Peckerhead’s KnuckleRumbler Lounge during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Psychedelic Horseshit performs at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
Psychedelic Horseshit performs at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Ceremony performs at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
Ceremony performs at Red 7 during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Widowspeak performs at the Captured Tracks showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
Widowspeak performs at the Captured Tracks showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
Craft Spells performs at the Captured Tracks showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
Craft Spells performs at the Captured Tracks showcase at The Parish during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)
The Men performs at Beerland during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012.
The Men performs at Beerland during South By Southwest in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2012. (© Michael Katzif – Do not use or republish without prior consent.)

For more photos, visit Flickr.