“What are you seeing?” is the go-to question in Austin, an answer seemingly a gauge of enthusiasm and status within the roving SXSW community.
When I heard Stone Temple Pilots were playing South By Southwest, I already knew I”d be busy Thursday night. That being said, the range of reactions I got when I reported that I was seeing this veteran, mostly ’90s band reunion was limited: folks either shot the Are You Kidding eye-roll, or were, like, that”s f***ing awesome.
And, y”know, it was f***ing awesome. Stone Temple Pilots, as much as they represent post-Nirvana hard rock in America, an era bygone, they were also showmen, professional but still feral in origin. While 1,500 bands will graces stages across Austin this week, there are very, very few of which I will reference and hum the melodies of five years from now, even out of irony or nostalgia (both, frankly, influenced my review of the show).
It”s that feeling of discovery and re-discovery that every attendee craves here, like trying to find Christmas in your heart again, or that humming, happy buzz at the bottom of a Shiner Bock every night.
Frightened Rabbit does that to me. The Scottish rockers are only two albums into their career, really, but from the rooftop of the Mohawk, dusk-bound audiences were singing along. Their material is perfect for most anybody who”s had a break up, which is everybody here except for sparing teenagers with giant X-es on their hands to indicate they can”t drink.
The delivery was sunnier than on slow-roving “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” and lead singer Scott Hutchison is well-practiced enough on the road by now to skirt the brokenness and vulnerability of “The Midnight Organ Fight.” Which was missed, but what can you do with a sunburned crowd of hundreds, smilingly reporting lyrics back to you? The comfort of a club, with the dark and dark corners, allows for that exposure, like crying in a dark movie theater. Here, you can just smile, which is what they all did.
The Merge showcase at the gorgeous, enclosed Ceder Street Courtyard was a treat in the dextrous lineup, but also in the “surprise guest” Superchunk. The band is slated for a few other shows around these parts, but it was a joy to walk in expecting a baby band and instead getting what Allmusic calls “the spirit of American indie rock.” Since the ’90s here seems to be a running theme (I”m looking at you, Courtney Love), it was yet another pleasant revisit.
The venue appropriately played Pavement between them and British band Let”s Wrestle, the members of which appear to be 14-years-old and have the spirit of a true garage act. Wesley Patrick Gonzalez simultaneously wanted to rock out, and be the audience that was receiving said rock, which is to say, he looked like he was having a great time and made it sound that way too. “In the Court of Wrestling Let”s” is in the stack somewhere at home, and I will now gladly dig it out.
I caught the tail end of Bowerbirds, a group I worship and have gladly seen several times. For a noon show, it was a quiet, affecting start, which will likely ruin whatever”s next on the itinerary if it involves an electric guitar (90% of the groups here).
After, I ventured down to see New Orleans buzz-makers the Generationals. It reminded me of Harlem Shakes with fewer instruments, although elementally this four-piece should be a three-piece if the drummer could only allow herself to multi-task more. They”re on their way, but not there yet.
Two vastly differing acts come to mind, however, that are “there”: post-hardcore rockers The Bronx and Sub Pop”s island-loving Ruby Suns. A least a couple metalheads told me they regretted not taking the time to cross the highway to the former”s outdoor Mess With Texas showcase, further buttressed by heavy crews Brazos, Whoa Hunx and OFF! (featuring members of, no joke, Redd Kross and Circle Jerks, totally, totally dope). Ruby Suns, on the other hand, were perfect for that 1:30 a.m. slot, relaxing into well-practiced breezy indie-pop as people experienced the loss of their legs due to alcohol consumption and for standing too long.
Too, at the latter”s Sub Pop showcase, was Golden Triangle, which boasted a boy in a dress, some nasty lady-singers and rock ‘n” roll gymnastics involving a tambourine. Highly recommended live set.
Nathaniel Rateliff and his backers, from Denver, snuck south of the river for a delicate set; newly signed to Rounder, the word is finally getting out about this singer, of The Wheel and modern rock troupe Born In The Flood. Folks nursing their Micheladas and Frito Pies on the fringes eventually stepped into the light (literally and figuratively) just to get closer to these thoughtfully narrative songs.
Glint, bless them, played to an audience of 20, some culled by the siren call of free whiskey. But they might as well have had an arena; the whiskey should have been rail sludge at Madison Square Garden sold for $10; and they should be opening for Muse, who are featured later tonight. Can somebody give phenomenal frontman Jase Blankfort a record deal, already? And maybe a silver spacesuit to match his shiny shoes?
Follow HitFix”s Katie Hasty on Twitter for more SXSW news at /katieaprincess.