By Mark Rowan
Wow, so this is like a week late, huh? This list would have been put together the Tuesday after SXSW wrapped up, but you don’t realize the toll six days of binging on music, BBQ and free drinks takes on you until you wake up Monday morning for a 6 am cab ride to the airport. We made it though, so here’s the top 10 performances I still remember from Austin that week.
10. China Rats @ The British Music Embassy, Thursday
While it seems like there was only one garage band from the UK excessively buzzed about these past months, China Rats rightfully deserves their own excitement from us in the States. They played a relatively empty bar in the weird 5-6pm no-man’s land of SXSW, but they played it well. This young band from Leeds is one I’ll be watching for new music as the year progresses.
9. Fat Tony @ Panache Hangover Party, Sunday
During one of the last unofficial showcases of the weekend and as most out-of-towners were, well, heading out of town, Fat Tony and Tom Cruz absolutely took over the small stage at Beerland. He played a couple of tracks off his new full-length out in June and I can assure you that you’re going to want to keep you eyes peeled for that one.
8. Parquet Courts @ The Pitchfork Day Party, Thursday and SPIN at Stubb’s, Friday
Despite the band currently being based out of NYC, I had to travel all the way to Texas to see Parquet Courts live for the first time, and now I’m even more jealous of the music video for “Borrowed Time” shot at Death By Audio. It was not hard to figure out why they were on the bill for every big party of the week.
7. Trinidad Jame$ @ SPIN at Stubb’s, Friday
Trinidad Jame$ closed down the SPIN day party in epic fashion. Please take fashion literally. Guy rocked a gold backpack. Stubb’s cleared out after Kendrick Lamar and Trinidad and his crew could give zero fucks. He started off his set in full acapella before going off and closing out with “All Gold Everything.” Those who stuck around were rewarded. No, really, he threw the gold backpack into the crowd.
6. Rhye @ The Pitchfork Day Party, Thursday
Rhye was a bit of a surprise for a couple of reasons. 1. The singer is a dude and 2. Who would have thought all these soul-pop slow jams off of Woman would work so damn well in a too-bright indoor stage as people were still filing in and figuring out where the free beer was. I’d go as far to say they were better live than on record.
5. CHVRCHES @ SPIN at Stubb’s, Friday
CHVRCHES was one of those bands I heard of going into SXSW and quickly fell in love with over the course of their set. The unassuming Lauren Mayberry was the perfect lead for their brand of electropop, but Martin Doherty, one of their synth players, took over the lead vocals for a song and showed off the group’s potential range.
4. Waxahatchee @ The Pitchfork Day Party, Thursday
Katie Crutchfield has an unfair advantage here because I’m totally in love with her latest album Cerulean Salt (and maybe her?) and that began right before I left for Austin. While I would probably prefer to see her in a low lit club, her mostly heartbreaking songs were a great contrast to the bright and beautiful day as she played the outdoor stage Thursday.
3. Diamond Rugs @ Partisan Records Showcase, Wednesday
It certainly didn’t hurt that John McCauley warmed up the stage with a solo set with various friends (yes, Deer Tick for a couple), but Diamond Rugs remarkably ripped through most of their self-titled album from last year. The horn section lead by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin utterly (for the lack of a better phrase) killed it. I rarely to never use that term, but I’m making an exception here. They alone made this set one of the best of the week.
2. MØ @ All Things Go/Indie Shuffle Showcase, Saturday and Hype Hotel, Saturday
Yup, I caught MØ, the Danish singer twice in one day. Like a lot of things at SXSW, this was a complete but happy accident. Karen Marie Ørsted gets my vote for best stage performance/presence at SXSW. She owned every inch of the stage as she put everything she had into each song. Dancing, jumping, crawling, whatever. The crowd specifically at Club Deville ate it up, but MØ would give the humblest of thank yous after each song.
1. alt-J @ Stubb’s, Wednesday
Alt-J was the only show I paid for and what ended up being the best $10 (tacos, aside) I spent all week. I really had no idea how An Awesome Wave would translate live, but alt-J exceeded whatever expectations I had. The NPR video of the performance gives you a good idea on how good they were, but it does Thom Green’s drumming no justice. He was the highlight of the set.