Shantel Mitchell/NPR Music
Auditorium Shores in Austin, Texas.
Auditorium Shores in Austin, Texas. Shantel Mitchell/NPR Music
I shot 67 one-minute videos of every band I saw at this year's SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Saturday, March 19 was the final day, and though it took me nearly two months to finish this project, here it is: The end of my collection of 2011 SXSW videos. You can see the others here.
On my fourth day, working on less than four hours of sleep, I was fairly disorganized. I knew we had some early-morning video shoots, and thankfully, they were a delight. Below are the Tiny SXSW concerts we shot Saturday morning at the Driskill Hotel. Sea of Bees was wonderful.
As exhausted as everyone was, the performers and yours truly included, the beautiful voices of Austra were so unexpected. I'd seen Austra as a full band and liked it a lot, but was sold on the group's talent when its members sang so beautifully so early in the day.
Scala and Kolacny Brothers were a 25-piece women's choir from Belgium along with the two brothers who arrange and conduct them. There's nothing more magnificent than the power of the human voice. Happy Saturday morning, world!
Then it was off to see some shows. Datarock is a Norwegian electronic rock band. It played an outdoor courtyard on this sunny, warm day. Sometimes, it's best not to play outdoors on a sunny day if you're a certain kind of band. It's a bit like watching a horror festival in a park. Anyway, this didn't work so well for me, though it might not have been the band's fault.
Hollerado had one of my favorite SXSW band names. The group is a foursome from Ontario; two are brothers, but all are friends having grown up on the same block. I heard a few of the band's songs, one of which was a cover of "Surfin' Bird" (which itself is a mash-up of two songs by The Rivingtons from 1963), and in one minute they also threw in "Happy Birthday" for Hollerado's drummer. Big fun.
Then came the ear assault of the day, A Place to Bury Strangers, which makes noise and a lot of it. Somewhere in the wash of guitar overtones there are songs, but really it's about the physical vibration of loud. I liked it, but it did hurt, so I didn't stay long.
There weren't many full sets I felt compelled to stick around for. At SXSW, I love to graze from band to band, but when I stumbled in to the Owen Pallett show that Brooklyn Vegan was putting on, I was there for the whole meal. Pallett is a one-man band. You might know him for his violin playing or string arrangements with Arcade Fire or Beirut. He also used to record as Final Fantasy before retiring a name closely associated with a video-game series. Pallett is a wizard with loops and was just amazing to watch. His songs stick with you and took on new life in his live show.
It was still afternoon and I was off to see Fang Island, a band we'd talked about on our preview show, but a band I'd never seen. The best part of this show was the head-bobbing — you couldn't help it. I felt that "Ramones" feeling, that feeling where the song not only took over my tapping toes, but my entire biorhythm marched to the beat. I also found Fang Island very funny. They did mean to be funny, right?
Then it was off to Auditorium Shores, and for the first time since I arrived in Austin, I stepped out of the grid of clubs and city streets to a small festival in the dusty, grassy field where Bright Eyes was headlining. We have that entire concert for you to see and hear. My scariest moment at SXSW 2011 was going in front of thousands of people to do the stage announcement for Bright Eyes. My nerves were calmed by the shouts of love when I mentioned that I worked for NPR. Very humbling, very sweet, and I'll never forget it. And the show was the best performance I've ever seen from Bright Eyes — and I've seen a lot of shows. Robin Hilton and Mike Katzif from NPR Music both thought it was one of the best shows by anyone ever. Feel free to watch the one-minute video, but do take time to see the entire show.
Despite the show's greatness, the big venue wasn't for me. I wanted to turn some friends on to Typhoon, and the band was playing in a nice, small church. So I walked a few miles back to the heart of downtown and to the Central Presbyterian Church. The acoustics of the church don't always work in a band's favor; sometimes it just turns a big sound into clutter. But for Typhoon, the words cut through and the power and charm felt vibrant and uplifting.
At the same church, Rural Alberta Advantage performed. A talented band that for reasons unknown fail to grab my attention.
Khaira Arby is a powerful female singer from Mali. NPR Music featured her at our Parish show a few days earlier with her band from Mali. Here, she's performing with the New York jazz and world-music group Sway Machinery. This is a wonderful mix of sound and talent — not quite as potent as her traditional band, but still a treat.
Tumbledryer Babies were a sharp contrast to everything I'd seen at SXSW 2011. Small sound, lots of humor; I think they may have played six songs in 10 minutes. The British duo's tunes were small, funny poems set to simple melodies. It was refreshingly simple.
There was nothing simple about Mount Kimbie. Trying to see the duo in a space too small and too loud was nearly impossible. I was literally and willingly yanked through the crowd by a publicist determined to help me get this one-minute video. And when I was done, my ears hurt and I leaned against a wall to chill out and hear the rest of this electronic duo's set. My ears hurt more when I realized that the wall I was leaning on was actually a bass cabinet. Jeez.
Things got a bit anticlimactic after that. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, the pop band from Missouri, seemed very average in this context. I've liked their records, but on this night, with 60 bands behind me and Mount Kimbie in my dulled ears, a guitar pop band wasn't going to do it for me.
And so it was off to a DJ set with Dillon Francis. I was sorry at this point that I didn't have ear plugs. I don't generally like earplugs, but I was trapped in a room way too loud for humans, honestly. Where does the responsibility lie for intense, unsafe volume? The performer? The club? The listener? I'd say it starts with the club, but listeners should come prepared. I wasn't. I did leave pretty quickly.
I marched down the craziness of Sixth Street, a sight that always makes me smile. All those faces, all those people with so many stories, and all that sound coming from all those clubs — and how we're each drawn to different sensations. I love SXSW, and Sixth Street is the center of that love.
And then there was one last band I knew I had to see: Peelander-Z. This is a Japanese cartoon punk band. They dress up in costumes which they claim to be their natural skin. They are from the Z area of Planet Peelander, or they live in New York and were born in Japan, whichever you choose to believe. The club I got to, admittedly late, was a fire trap. I could only get as close as the entrance; they'd have let me in, but there wasn't any "in" to be let in to. Someone heading out of the club said the staircase that held a large part of the crowd was bowing from the weight of the crowd. I don't think I'd want to die seeing Peelander-Z, but that didn't stop me from wanting a video. I turned on the camera and passed it to someone further into the club than I was and asked them to shoot a minute of video. Here's the result — this is where it ended, happily and thankfully.