Report: SXSW 2013 – Austin TX

Dates: March 13-17, 2013

Location: Various Venues, Austin TX

Nick Cave

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Steve Earle. The Waterboys. Shoes. Besnard Lakes. Dawes. J-pop noise-rock street theatre. The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman piloting pedi-cabs. Near-naked girls in blue panties and heels strolling down 6th Street. Even a post-SXSW party with Alejandro Escovedo & Friends – among them, the Peter Buck Band. Any questions? (Click on any image to enlarge.)


 Whew. And I thought getting to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in the intimate Moody Theatre – not to mention catching The Boss’ SXSW keynote speech – made last year’s SXSW my ultimate Austin pilgrimage. Well, okay, sure… but 2013, also marking my lucky 13th, and my 4th since BLURT launched in the spring of 2008 following the demise of our predecessor Harp Magazine, just might’ve topped 2012, given the cumulative mojo. What would you say to… Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (pictured, above, by John Boydston) along with the Daptone Soul Revue (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley, etc.), Besnard Lakes, Bernie Worrell, the Waterboys, Dawes, Steve Earle and Robyn Hitchcock (a Blurt-sponsored birthday party, no less), all showcasing across the space of a few days… and maybe (cough) a few more bands, too… sundry day parties… music industry panels at the Austin Convention Center…

Mo’ SXSW 2013 coverage:

Tony Landa

Susan Moll

Michael Passman

 But I digress. What knocked my socks off over the course of the four days?

 The aforementioned Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Wednesday night March 13 at Stubbs as part of the NPR Music showcase. Like Springsteen a year earlier, this was one of the most coveted SXSW events due to the fact that tickets were distributed via lottery. In truth, pretty much everyone I know that wanted to go got in, but there was a certain level of anxiety that played out in the days before confirmations were sent out via email; this year several events, including the NPR party and Green Day’s official tour kickoff at the Moody Theatre March 15, were done as online lotteries, a sensible and equitable process for ticketing that probably should have been instituted years earlier for other high demand shows. This contrasted with the Stooges’ small-club show at the Mohawk (see Michael Passman’s report and photos), also on Wednesday, and the source of a massive line and a ridiculously lengthy wait; and Prince’s initially-rumored/later-confirmed Saturday night 2 ½ hour marathon at the relatively cavernous La Zona Rosa, which caused minor fits of hysteria among fans over the course of the SXSW and major fits of queue fatigue commencing Saturday morning (Prince didn’t even go onstage until about midnight that evening). But again, I digress. Cave’s performance was monumental; in truth, on this evening, the Bad Seeds just might be the most powerful performing band on the planet, with Cave serving as combined conductor, ringmaster and provocateur. A healthy sampling of tracks from the amazing Push The Sky Away album led the set, and a number of Bad Seeds classics closed things out, among them “From Her to Eternity” and the filthiest, most delightfully profane version of “Stagger Lee” ever put forth. You can find the entire show on YouTube, natch, and meanwhile NPR Music has most of the show, minus “Stagger Lee,” archived among its streams (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Live in Austin) along with the following 18-minute video clip:

On one level everything that came after could’ve been viewed as anticlimactic, but then I’ve done Austin enough times to know that being surprised is the name of game for SXSW. To wit: Wednesday night at Swan Dive it was a “Quebec City Festival” heavily loaded with Montreal indie-rockers; Young Galaxy was particularly memorable, boasting striking vocal harmonies, while Besnard Lakes transformed midtempo shoegaze anthems into Beach Boys-meets-My Bloody Valentine noise symphonies.


Thursday at the Moody Theatre the Daptone Soul Revue fulfilled all expectations and then some, from the Menahan Street Band’s seamless set of instro funk to Charles Bradley’s (above, by Susan Moll) explosive, spins-and-knee-drops reincarnation of James Brown (he capped the set by crawling into the crowd in front of the stage and giving out hugs to everyone in the vicinity) to Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ sinewy, shimmying soul struttin’. Later the same evening the funk party continued as the Speakeasy hosted a “Sounds From Colombia” showcase; at one point Puerto Candelaria sent the crowd into a near-frenzy with some of the craziest bi-lingual hip-hop imaginable. And in the wee hours over at the Parish and companion club Parish Undergound it was easy to slide between the Arts & Crafts and Merge Records label showcases and get all psyched-up and shoegaze-y via the former’s Gold & Youth and the latter’s Telekinesis. Friday night highlights included outrageous psychedelic funk (and a dose of Blaxploitation groove) from Ketchy Shuby at Easy Tiger’s Spin showcase; The Revivalists at Holy Mountain; Dawes at the Mohawk; Caitlin Rose at Club DeVille; the Miles Davis-on-funk of Chihiro Yamazaki & Route 14 Band during “Japan Nite” at Elysium; Swear & Shake at 512 (nice cover of The Band’s “Don’t Do It”); and no less than Mr. Steve Earle doing a solo acoustic show at The Parish, a set that found me standing in the bathroom line next to Mr. Buddy Miller, who was more than willing to expound upon Mr. Earle’s musical greatness. Thanks for the man-on-the-street review, Buddy…(Photo by Susan Moll)


And lastly to Saturday night, which for the most part was taken up by BLURT duties at the Ginger Man pub (see below) but still found me being able to break away long enough to see part of the Tucson Music Night around the corner at the Speakeasy, including Tesoro and Gabriel Sullivan & Taraf de Tucson: having lived in Tucson for ten years during the ‘90s, this was part-homecoming and part-revelation for me, with the musicians’ Latin-drenched, Mariachi-fueled, spaghetti western-tinged rock ‘n’ roll. Gabe Sullivan in particular, serving as the de facto master of ceremonies and looking particularly dapper in his black cowboy hat, proved himself to be a natural star and a born performer. (Keep your eyes on him, music industry.) And this was probably the most gratifying show I saw all week long, the perfect companion bookend to the Cave/Bad Seeds set several nights earlier. (Photo by Susan Moll)


Scenes from the street: (1) A pedicab driver painted green and in purple shorts to look like a somewhat thinner but still-muscular Hulk; likewise a busty beauty attired in a Wonder Woman costume as she pedaled her eco-friendly cab. Another day I saw a driver decked out like a Mexican wrestler; do I sense a pattern here? (2) Erstwhile Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic crossing the street late one morning with an unidentified woman en route, presumably, to breakfast, oblivious to the folks following behind them, gawking. (3) Fellow BLURT-er and Austinite Michael Toland happily showing people around the Moody Theatre one morning during an Austin City Limits/Moody meet-and-greet brunch; okay, one of those people he was showing around was yours truly, and it was a gas to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff at the theatre. (See ya next year, Michael!) (4) A theatrical Japanese band, Kao-S, cranking out noisy rock amid flute flourishes, manic dancing and swordplay. (5) An impromptu late-night/early-a.m. street parade forming on 6th Street, complete with a mobile sound system, portable lights and dancers. (6) Another early-a.m. appearance on 6th by a blonde girl dressed in nothing but blue panties and heels, strolling east down the street, and stopping nearly every 30 seconds to pose for a photo with some drunk guy or guys. (7) Lots more… at one point, however, I just stopped taking notes. So much for journalistic integrity.

I should point out, though, that for some reason Austin doesn’t feel quite as nuts this year as it has during the past couple of years, when folks were increasingly accusing SXSW of getting too big and unwieldy. In 2013, you can actually navigate the streets and not collide with folks at every intersection. Nor are the crazy outfits quite as prevalent – the panties gal and the Incredible Hulk notwithstanding – compared to previously, and it is refreshing not to see those stupid furry hats with animal ears everywhere you turn. Perhaps the rise of SXSW Interactive, which takes place the week before SXSW Music and dovetails into it, has stolen a bit of Music’s thunder, lustre and mania?


 And then there was The Blurt & Dogfish Head Industry of Music Showcase at Ginger Man Pub (four days and three nights on the pub’s patio stage; full lineup here: A huge salute to BLURT majordomo Stephen Judge and Dogfish Head beer’s Chris Lausch for busting their asses in the months leading up to SXSW – everyone who attended our party had immense praise for the musical selections that Stephen and Chris lined up. Also thumbs up to the mighty Jon Langford, aka The King Of Austin, who curated our Thursday party. And a big thanks to the bartenders and stage crew at Ginger Man for making it a seamless, thoroughly enjoyable week for us. Photos by John Boydston except as noted.


 The highlights for yours truly were legion, in particular power pop heroes The Shoes (above), who were unquestionably the most talked-about Blurt guests during the week, appearing at our Friday day party; from classic ‘70s material to tunes culled from recent album Ignition, the guys had a capacity crowed at Ginger Man literally weeping with joy. The band’s obvious – and humble – pleasure at meeting fans, shaking hands, signing records, etc. was nearly as inspiring as the music. I’m not kidding.

 Backtracking to Wednesday, the highlights that began to unfold starting midday – and extending throughout the days and nights of the rest of the week – were so frequent that I no doubt risk offending someone by not mentioning everyone (hence the link, above). Regardless: our Raleigh pals in American Aquarium kicked everything off with a suitably twangy Springsteen/Earle flair, followed by a hi-nrg set from Anders & Kendall that conjured images of classic X (or maybe a punk Gram & Emmylou). Then the stomping, charismatic brand of Americana purveyed by Ardent recording artists Star & Micey prompts the first of the week’s “Holy crap!” moments when the band’s guitarist hops up on one of the Ginger Man benches and proceeds to do a perfectly-executed back flip. I turn to my BLURT co-conspirator Stephen Judge and his jaw is just as wide open as mine, so we both turn to Ardent’s Jody Stephens, who matter-of-factly informs us, “He used to be a gymnast.” Ah. That would explain it. Meanwhile, Luke Winslow-King serves up a bluesy-country, Tom Waits-goes-Dixieland kinda vibe, and a 7-piece band fronted by the legendary Bernie Worrell makes with a long, spacey, psychedelic funk jam in which one song flows into the next, P-Funk style. This is a man, by the way, who is very comfortable in a black velvet hat festooned with feathers and Bootsy star, plus a black leather vest over a teeshirt advertising his own Bernie Worrell Orchestra: “He’s a cosmic dude,” notes one appreciative fan who has just slipped in the back entrance of the packed-to-capacity patio.

 On Thursday the crowd arrives early: The Waterboys are making one of only a couple of SXSW appearances, and we are not disappointed as Mike Scott and violinist Steve Wickham weave an anthemic yet hypnotic tapestry of strums and snaky lines. They close with “Fisherman’s Blues” and receive a standing ovation; not unlike my “Holy Crap!” moment the day before, this was my first “pinch me” moment of the week.


The Waco Brothers (above, by Tony Landa) then proceed to rip the joint to pieces with their bawdy, punk-country rock that at one point has Jon Langford & Co. slipping into Status Quo mode with their guitars and fiddle, followed by Rockettes-styled high kicks. Oh my. Now I know why Langford was so keen to curate the afternoon, as he did last year (which featured his band Skull Orchard). White Mystery is an unexpected treat, one caveman on drums, one cavewoman on guitar shaking her thick red mop of hair and cranking up a White Stripes/Black Keys racket.

Besnard Lakes

Friday at Ginger Man proves to be one of those “pinch-me” DAYS for all in attendance, and not merely because Shoes, as outlined above is part of the celebration. Tarheel folk/gospel/avant/blues maestro Hiss Golden Messenger held the audience in awe early in the afternoon, as did the heart-tugging tunes of songstress Melissa Ferrick. Soon enough the club was so packed that a line extended from the front entrance to the end of the block with people trying to get in to see Shoes. And the place filled up all over again for Canada’s Besnard Lakes (above), reprising their cosmic, widescreen wizardry in all their harmony-strewn glory.

Woggles by John Boydston

Then The Woggles (pictured above) simply took things over the top, escalating the garage-rock energy and outrageous stage presence until frontman Mighty Manfred started jumping up on tables, throwing karate chops while simultaneously keeping his guitarist’s cable from getting tangled. Somehow he wound up laying flat on his back beside me and BLURT contributor (and Perfect Sound Forever editor) Jason Gross, still singing his lungs out. Somewhere out there is a photo of MM from SXSW, laying on the ground with a pair of feet beside his head; those are my feet in the photo, in case you are wondering. Meanwhile, if you try hard enough, you might find me somewhere in this video, too.

It would be next to impossible to top the Woggles’ performance, but damned if The Split Squad didn’t at least equal it. The superstar band featuring Eddie Munoz, Clem Burke, Michael Giblin, Keith Streng and Josh Kantor, plus guest Scott McCaughey (playing a paisley guitar, no less), was positively unhinged, kicking out the garage, power pop and R&B jams with the panache of die-hard record geeks and an unfiltered sensibility that celebrates in equal measure glam, twang, and beer. Did someone mention the band was like a cross between The Clash and The Plimsouls? Okay, I just did. Like the Woggles, they also decided to extend the stage to include the Ginger Man tables, with Streng in particular demonstrating a keen ability to hop, stomp and pirouette across the surfaces without kicking over a single beer bottle (and there were many).

Split Squad by John Boydston

Split Squad 2 by John Boydston

Sliding into Saturday, we kicked out some major jams early on with Detroit’s Sights, utterly reborn as hard rockin’ R&B, frontman Eddie Baranek notably channeling the late Steve Marriott and even trying his hand at some Daltrey-esque mic swinging. The pair of female vocalists egging him on didn’t hurt a bit, either. Mid afternoon saw a wonderful array of Yep Roc Records performers including the Bjork-goes-folkie Jesca Hoop, esteemed songsmith Josh Rouse and the oddly endearing Cheyenne Marie Mize. Some NC flavoring followed via a revved-up Old Ceremony and revolving-door (musician-wise) set from Chris Stamey showcasing his new Lovesick Blues album.


Then the 8-piece gospel-funk group The Relatives (above, by Tony Landa) came out and positively killed, with the 5 vocalists swapping lines and trading leads with so much conviction that it did, indeed, feel like we were in church on a Sunday morning. Looking around, I noticed a crowd had gathered – on the roof of the restaurant next door, no less, dancing and swaying as enthusiastically as those of us on the patio. The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow never fails to please when he performs, and for his set he brought along his pals from a little ol’ band called R.E.M., Mike Mills and Scott McCaughey, plus drummer Linda Pitmon (from Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3). The club was nearing capacity once again, and the line snaked down the street once again as well by the time Robyn Hitchcock took the stage.

Robyn Hitchcock by John Boydston

He started out with a brace of solo acoustic tunes, adding little monologues and one-liners, then gradually formed a band featuring Linda Pitmon, Scott McCaughey, Bill Rieflin and others. As it was his birthday, we naturally presented him with a birthday cake that Dogfish Head’s Lausch had quite astutely arranged (pictured below, by Michael Passman) and Hitchcock could reliably return to England knowing that it had been a fine, fine SXSW.

13. CakeBlurt

And for me, getting to see my old pals from Tucson, desert rockers The Sidewinders, made it equally fine for me. “Witchdoctor,” “Bad Crazy Sun” – all my faves, and then some. Thanks for coming, gentlemen. (Sidewinders vocalist Dave Slutes, below, by Susan Moll)



Postscript: The corner lot at 5th and Red River is a hive of activity as workers perch throughout the massive scaffolding maze that is – or was – the Doritos Stage. A fitting metaphor, that disassembly process, for SXSW Sunday. Yet even as I was taking a cab out to the airport early that afternoon, the annual Alejandro Escovedo & Friends party at the Continental Club down on South Congress was kicking into high gear…

Reunion: Closing Night of Sx at the Continental Club


Familiar with the phrase, “You should have been there”? Well, apply it. If the last act is said to be the most important, the unofficial closing show at the Continental the last Sunday of SXSW was the strongest. Fans and survivors of ‘80s college, alternative or underground rock – take your slang term – were treated to the ultimate live reunion of a few of the bands who were most emblematic of that time. And did it rock.

After a day-long music extravaganza conducted by Austin’s master of ceremonies, Alejandro Escovedo, where such artists as Bobby Bare and Willie Nile ripped it up previously in the early evening, the stage was set for the joining of The Peter Buck Band (part R.E.M., part Young Fresh Fellows and Ministry), a resurrected Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’, and The True Believers.



The authentic garage, or college party, atmosphere was set when Mr. Buck took the stage with what can only be described as one filthy fuzzed-out assault. The Man in Black Pinstripe tore through songs off of his solo vinyl record, conjuring visions of what it must have been like to have seen The Gonn, Mojo Men, Chocolate Watchband or any of the sludgier psych bands from the early ‘70s. Buck put his true self into “10 Million B.C.” “So Long, Johnny,” and “It’s Alright,” until a final exclamation of “And I really don’t care about anything at this point,” during “I’m Alive.”

During the set, one in which the ever-self-effacing Buck said he didn’t know if the audience could take more than a half hour, he was joined onstage by Mike Mills and Kevn Kinney for, “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” and absolute dream for those who couldn’t catch R.E.M., or Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin,’ for that matter, in their club and theater days.

When the relatively new Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’ took the stage they wasted no time lighting into the anti-hit that drew fans and musicians alike to their neo-garage sound, “Scarred But Smarter,” a bluesy “Metamorphycycle,” and “Hot Wheel,” before Kinney exclaimed, “This is a public service announcement,” to introduce his tribute song, “R.E.M.” and Buck and Mills joined them for “Straight to Hell.” Mr. Buck tied up the set by proclaiming DNC to be his favorite band. All in all: the best Sx closeout ever.


Mo’ SXSW 2013 coverage:

Tony Landa

Susan Moll

Michael Passman

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