There is an overwhelming sense of exhaustion preparing for SXSW. Anticipating where to park, how far you’re going to need to walk, how long you’re going to have to wait in line and how much money you’re going to need to spend can make anybody question why they even want to go, especially if you’re traveling up from San Antonio. As somebody who has been going to the festival for over a decade (nearly half of which as an Austinite) it seems to get more exhausting every year. However, on Thursday March 14, I had a throwback experience that reminded me why I like going to SXSW in the first place.
I arrived in Austin from San Antonio around 2:30, found free parking in roughly ten minutes, walked about a 1/3 of a mile, waited in line for 10-15 minutes and was knee deep in the trenches of the pit for Dr. Marten’s Day Show at the Container Bar. As much as I’d hate to bore you to death with stories of ‘back in my day’ SXSW adventures, this was so reminiscent of those times that I felt like I was in some kind of time warp. Sure back in my dayRainey was full of more houses, less condos and less bars, but the last few years it was damn near impossible to find parking this easy and believe me I tried (finding free parking at SXSW was one of my “skills” on a certain dating site back in the day). It was definitely a sign of even better things to come.
I walked in right as Stef Chura was finishing her set. The Detroit native has a very dreamy sound with tinges of 90s alt rock sprinkled in, then again it could also be said the other way around. Her set was a nice start to the day and put the feelers out for the rest of the lineup.
Following shortly after were New Zealand’s The Beths, a band that just came up on my radar in the last month or so for their single “Future Me Hates Me.” Their sound elicits a 60s girl pop sound with fuzzy guitars. The songs are catchy and the live performance was charmingly awkward as other bands at different venues were blasting over their performance. From where I was standing, it didn’t affect my listening of their performance, but the band threw in a few quick quips about how difficult it was to hear each other jokingly. Lead singer Elizabeth Stokes, at one point, chimes in that she wanted to give us some news but she didn’t have any so just asked how everybody was doing. It was a microcosm of what their live show felt like – endearing, sincere and fun.
Five years ago to the day, I watched The Joy Formidabletear up the stage at the Waterloo Records Free show. Five years was apparently too long as I did very little to prepare for my face to be melted off during their set following The Beths. Guitarist Ritzy Bryan shreds the guitar and brings the most energy I’ve ever seen from a guitarist live. She makes laps around the stage and the energy between the band is unmatched. Drummer Matthew Thomas smiles with every cymbal crash and bassist Rhydian Dafydd jumps back and forth through every post-song jam. The chemistry between the band is something you just can’t force. I overheard a couple of dudes behind me who had never seen the band before say they’d never seen a trio have that much energy on a stage before. They simultaneously reminded me why I liked the band in the first place and ignited a new stock of fans.
The Joy Formidable performance must have left everybody hungover because it took much longer than anticipated to set up for Broken Social Scene. When your lineup includes half of Canada, you kinda expect it to be a long set up. Unfortunately, there were issues getting the monitors working and even after the band started performing there were issues getting the keys working. Nevertheless, the band persisted playing a shortened but still sweet set. Watching everybody take turns playing guitar and bass and then keys and then tambourine was as fun as it was admirable. For a band that has gone through so many lineup changes over the past two and a half decades, their chemistry melded together for such a great show. As somebody who has been wanting to see them for nearly a decade, the short set was just enough to leave me satisfied.