Austin, Texas — On the second full-on day of the South by Southwest Music Festival, fans and industry alike were finding their gait.
On Thursday, their eyes seemed less frantic, and their hangovers seemed more significant. So why not have a more laid back day, whether it involved a road trip to Willie Nelson’s ranch for a buzzy community festival or holing up at a single venue for the entire evening’s lineup?
Our Thursday was significantly more chill than our Wednesday, primarily because we made the trek to Nelson’s ranch/event space, a good 45 minutes from downtown Austin, for the annual Heartbreaker Banquet party. The lineup was worth it, yes, with headliner Jim James and others filling out the bill with long (for SXSW) sets.
We walked in, got some crazy Filipino fried rice (bacon!) and made our way to the main stage in time for Diamond Rugs’ first song. The group is best known as John McCauley’s side project to Deer Tick, but as anyone who’s seen the band knows, they’re so much more than that. Deer Tick is the raucous, could-care-less country rock outfit to Diamond Rugs’ soulful, horn-filled R&B group. Between the group’s three horns and three guitars, not to mention the melodies that make McCauley’s music so instantly likable, it’s easy to fall for Diamond Rugs. It helps that their attitude is as fun as their playing is solid. After playing for more than 45 minutes – this event’s extended sets were a breath of fresh air to the rest of SXSW’s mini-sets – they announced that the Black Lips and Dead Confederate had other gigs they had to get to. (The Black Lips’ Ian Saint Pe and Dead Confederate’s Hardy Morris also moonlight in the band.) And so part of the band departed, but McCauley stayed and finished strong.
In more ways than the lengths of sets, the Heartbreaker Banquet party was like the anti-SXSW. People traversed the dusty space, catching barn-raiser shows in the church and the big acts on the outdoor festival stage. Folks relaxed on front porches and in the shade of the nearby scrub. Colorado’s own Left Hand Brewing Company was on hand with a very busy beer tent, curing some of us Coloradans’ homesickness. We also caught partial sets from Elle King and Phosphorescent, and we connected more with King’s affable charm than Phosphorescent’s ambient approach.
Other memorable moments from the day:
The line outside Hotel Vegas was pure, frustrating comedy. We were there to see the Blank Tapes play a little later, but instead we were treated to an over-the-fence view of a slap-happy Thee Oh Sees. We’ve said it before in these pages, that Thee Oh Sees are one of the best live bands in the game, and it’s still true. They’re wild and crazy guys, even when seen from outside the venue from a line that just wouldn’t move along. (Also, a combined badge/wristband line? Weak.)
Later that night, we caught buzzy English songwriter Jake Bugg, who seems to be the single most ubiquitous name at the festival. Bugg was playing the final slot at the Hype Hotel, which is hilariously sponsored by Taco Bell (with buckets of Doritos Locos Tacos being given away). Impressively, Bugg’s songwriting is completely there – sophisticated and savvy, his melodies are earworms looking to dig. He sounded like a younger, more approachable Joe Pug – and not only because their last names rhyme. And you couldn’t help but notice the way he plays across the whole body of the guitar. It was mesmerizing. But at the end of his set, he said a brief “Thank you” and walked directly off the stage, handing his guitar to a tech and storming off. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he hated the chatty venue, smelling of tacos and … tacos. Either way, he didn’t seem happy.
We were lucky enough to be tugged into Latitude 30 for a half hour of Australian DJ/producer Flume’s set. The young DJ owned the late-night crowd with beats that started out on the periphery of dubstep but quickly reverted to brighter, happier territories. There’s definitely some hip-hop influence in Flume’s music, and you can’t not hear the occasional dips into hard house. But wherever he went, he had the packed house moving their feet.
Wisconsin act Phox charmed us earlier in the day at the Paste party at the Stage on Sixth. The affable seven-piece is fronted by stylish brunette Monica Martin, whose beguiling presence invited the audience into her world. You couldn’t help but adore her honesty as she admitted to the crowd, “We all graduated from the same high school.” The group’s disarming chamber pop straddled the lines of Feist’s more upbeat music, and their use of the banjo (as a seasoning and not a dominating ingredient) was thankfully subtle.
British pop act the 1975’s had the unenviable task of being the first band of the day at the Asos Music Lounge at the Cedar Door. But they succeeded in winning over the sleepy crowd. Sometimes their music reeked of the ’90s, but even then it left me wanting to hear more.