Austin – The number of Austin-area music fanatics multiplied this week as SXSW 2016 kicked into high gear. Thrill-seeking audiophiles paraded through the city and bounced between venues to search for the sounds they craved. City streets were blocked off, the lines grew longer by the minute, and coffee was the only thing keeping people going. Saturday, March 19th marked the last day of the festival, and the number of concerts continued to grow. No matter which show the hordes of music lovers ended up catching, however, they all knew there was nowhere else they’d rather be.
SXSW celebrates musicians from all over the world, but it would be remiss to exclude the groups that truly keep Austin weird. Calliope Musicals is a six-piece ball of sonic sunshine that will do everything in their power to keep a smile on your face. Judging from the crowd at Bar 96 on Saturday night, I’d say they were doing their job right. Most of the partiers infiltrating the bar have seen this band play dozens of times, but even during the biggest festival of the year they chose to jam out with them once again. Sparkling waves of tinsel, yellow smiley faces, and pounds of glitter decorated this patio bar. Hair flipped in all directions and dance moves got more creative as the set went on. By the time “Echo of the Woos” kicked up, the whole bar erupted with a unison chorus.
Their next album Time Owes You Nothing comes out on April 15th, just in time for all those spring and summer road trips. Fans of The Mowgli’s and Youngblood Hawke will absolutely devour this carefree, spritely sound.
Vibrating speakers blasted heavy bass lines through the bars on Dirty Sixth Street, but inside Central Presbyterian Church, vulnerable songwriting captivated the listeners along the pews. With nothing but an electric guitar and a haunting voice, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield weaved her heartbreaking stories among the wooden arches and stained glass windows. Unlike most shows occurring during SXSW, Waxahatchee’s set commanded focused attention. As Crutchfield delicately tuned her guitar, only muted whispers and faint rustles filled the silence.
Crutchfield opened with “Catfish,” a melancholy melody from her debut album American Weekend. The chords strummed in a predictable progression, but the lyrics caught everyone off guard. Dripping with raw emotion, her voice straddles the line between folk crooner and punk princess. Every syllable she utters comes pouring out in poetic effortlessness and sounds like a cocktail of sweet southern speech and garage grunge. Even her cover songs are flavored with that signature earthiness. When the lights came up and flooded the chapel in their florescent bliss, the audience didn’t want to accept that the set was over. Even as wild revelers cheered to the electronic noise in the streets, Central Presbyterian Church became deeply absorbed in the music.
Anyone who listens to the radio has probably heard X Ambassador’s “Renegades” spin through the airwaves thousands of times. There’s no doubt that this catchy melody can rev up excitement, but sometimes the FM DJs kill even a great song. The hype whirling around this band at SXSW was deafening. You needed earplugs to escape it. So when the crowd piled in to Stubb’s Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday night, many people felt skeptical about the latest buzz band.
Any and all doubt washed away as soon as this quartet plugged in. It wasn’t just the swirling lights or sheer volume that woke everyone up; it was their energy. Sam Harris’ vocal pyrotechnics could rival any R&B diva, and he never let you forget it. Even after soaring into a piercingly clear falsetto, Harris managed to artfully riff his way back into a gooey, soulful mix. Most people danced to the music in a sheer abandon, but I couldn’t stop focusing on their sound. “Unsteady” grabbed me by the shoulders and yanked me in. This anthem is as emotionally powerful as Journey’s “Faithfully” was back in the 80s, and I have a feeling this band will have a career just as iconic.
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