I was at the Drakulas show but was not around when, at the climax of the Gamblers’ set, Wiebe dove off the bar and punctured a lung. He finished the final song, because he’s a goddam professional.
To begin with, it appears that buzzworthy Spanish band Hinds has survived their seventeen-show marathon, based on two additional sightings yesterday, once bouncing out of Hotel Vegas, and again as they played Pandora’s downtown stage. I think these kids just might make it, y’all. Still, rock ‘n’ roll is a dangerous game, as evidenced by an artist I mentioned here yesterday. Early Friday, Mike Wiebe delivered his characteristically hyperkinetic performance with new band Drakulas in advance of a time slot later in the day with his core collaborators, the Riverboat Gamblers. I was at the Drakulas show but was not around when, at the climax of the Gamblers’ set, Wiebe dove off the bar and punctured a lung. He finished the final song, because he’s a goddam professional. He’ll be fine, but only after some much deserved bed rest. No one said SXSW was a safe space.
Crowds swelled for Saturday’s day parties, with hours-long lines at many of the more popular venues. I gave up on a lot of those lines in search of something better and easier, but rarely found it. We did have a Questlove sighting on the street, but Fantastic Negrito and Talib Kweli at Vulcan Gas Company and Bloc Party and Santigold at the Brazos Hall proved to be out of our reach (this was also where the star-studded Roots show went on later).
I finally ducked into a crowded British Music Embassy for Liverpool’s Sugarmen. It’s always refreshing to see young lads still taking up the guitar in our EDM and Macbook age. With recent opening slots for Blur and the Who, and the attention of producer Mick Jones of The Clash, things are really lining up for these guys, reminiscent of last year’s performance by Catfish and the Bottlemen on this very same stage. There’s a Northern England heaviness to their sound, but with a buoyant lyrical optimism in songs with choruses like “This Is My Life, and It’s Alright” and “Never Give Up.” (I sort of needed that latter one in light of the afternoon).
Hotel Vegas had inadvertently become my home base by now, largely on the strength of their punk, garage, and psych programming. Saturday was the venue’s annual Burgermania put on by Southern California’s Burger Records. Thee Oh Sees were here, of course, as they were nearly every day, inspiring a spirited set of crowd-surfing and shrieking psych freak-outs. They’re festival icons for a reason. The day and early evening also featured New York trio Sunflower Bean, Austin’s intense and powerful Hundred Visions, and Sydney’s Big White. Hundred Visions frontman Ben Maddox sported a scream, a wail, that may have just won SXSW, beating out the metal falsetto of Victim Mentality’s Krocodile. “Is anyone else out there in psychic turmoil?” he mused between songs, “Just me?” Not just you, Ben. SXSW as a feat of endurance was on everyone’s minds Saturday. Sore feet, hungovers, and still so many bands to go before we sleep. The Tijuana Panthers were the last of the groups I caught here for the week, with retro, surf-accented borderlands rock ‘n’ roll. I dig the midcentury dadcore of the band’s stage presence, too. I feel like Don Draper ran into these guys at one of those bohemian Los Angeles parties he breezed into in Mad Men.
The next phase of the evening involved happy accidents, the bands you catch in transit from one place to another, or instead of the act you set out to see. The first of these was demure country singer Michaela Anne, playing in the streetside courtyard of a Mexican restaurant. It was the kind of perfect alt-country delivery that stops you in your tracks, which is what I did for the length of her set. She played a new song, “Luisa,” that she recently recorded with legendary Texas singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, sealing the deal for this new fan.
I had thought that Michaela Anne was worth being late to my next gig, but it turns out the band I wanted to see at the historic Driskill Hotel hadn’t even started setting up yet. The next band I sought out had already finished, which means that the timing for Grand Rapids hip-hop artist iRAWniQ was just right. She brought the party to the tiny Tap Room, with dancers, inspirational monologues, and even a little theater in the intro. This was also the first time I’d heard “gender fluid” dropped into a hip-hop flow, in a set that was an education in hip-hop’s potential for identity politics. Kanye West, Marvin Gaye, and even John Wayne flitted through the sampling mix, and iRAWniQ preached and danced black and gay pride, and a lyric embrace of being oneself. I hadn’t planned on this one. Hadn’t expected it. But glad it came my way.
I made it back to my scheduled programming with one of Austin’s hottest bands of the moment, Sweet Spirit. This is a sprawling, rocking, swampy nine-piece fronted by Sabrina Ellis, also of indie rockers A Giant Dog. Sweet Spirit feels and sounds like Austin: open, friendly, playful, and a sort of stew of Richard Linklater coming-of-age stories, Matthew McConaughey party bongos, and Janis Joplin brassiness.
I cannot imagine that there was a wilder party going on anywhere in Austin Saturday than the LGBTQ Stargayzer showcase. DJ Big Dipper spun nasty pop between sets. Drag queen Louisiana Purchase vamped and introduced the artists. Curious badgeholders, leather daddies, bears, street gypsies, and freaks of all kinds danced with abandon. And it only got more intense when the Mother of New Orleans bounce music Katey Red hit the stage as a mistress of these debauched ceremonies. New Orleans bounce may be among the last pre-digital American subcultures that was nurtured in a space for years before breaking to wider awareness. You know of its influence, even if you can’t name its stars. It’s where twerking came from, among other things, and those Big Freedia and Messy Mya samples in Beyonce’s recent “Formation.” In a short set, Katey Red rapped, directed her dancers, and invited the crowd on stage to twerk. You don’t see that at an Asleep at the Wheel show.
Performance-pop artist CHRISTEENE followed. I am not quite sure how to describe her: a raunchy, postmodern spectacle of trash and desire. She entered the stage down a flight of stairs, in day-glo netting and sunglasses, with some kind of rabbit ear/fur hat/pharaonic headpiece, and proceeded to confront, embrace, entertain, disgust, and inspire. As she confessed, “I like unsafe spaces.” CHRISTEENE is vital, and funny, and more than a little scary. And very, very vulgar. Like, CHRISTEENE makes Birdcloud from early in the week look like Sunday school teachers, although I would like to see how she’d get along with Thelma and the Sleaze. At SXSW’s outer edge, CHRISTEENE may have also given me one of my mantras for the festival week, “Life is a buffet. Everybody’s got to taste everything.”
The crowds on Sixth Street by this time had become near un-navigable. Things were getting a touch unruly, too, and there were even shots fired outside a club around 1:30. This is all to say that getting from the North Door on Fifth street to Maggie Mae’s on Sixth was much more of an ordeal than it should have been. But absolutely worth it. Chile’s Los Tetas were monsters of funk fronted by rapper Tea Time. They had the crowd dancing with a Spanglish cover of “Give Up the Funk” and tributes to Texas artist Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Here’s hoping they got a chance to catch George Clinton’s SXSW set at Antone’s earlier in the week. Chilean flags flew in the audience through the final numbers with calls for “Otra! Otra!” But encores are generally out of the question in SXSW’s tight set structure.
And Chicano Batman, headlining this final evening of my SXSW, needed to take the stage soon to get the most out of this final hour. Bardo Martinez recounted that the band had met Los Tetas while performing in Chile, and how fortuitous it was that here they are again, on the same bill at SXSW. When the world of festivals can bring such acts together, not just once, but here on the other side of the Americas, “It’s a beautiful thing,” Martinez said as the set began. Chicano Batman catches you first with the name, next with dapper demeanor and matching tuxedos, but finally and forever with rich and tight Latin soul music. The crowd oo-wee-oooed along to “Itotiani,” the first and favorite track from their debut album. The band moved as if they enjoyed it every bit as much as their fans, Martinez nearly dropping to the ground with emotion as he played his keyboard, bassist Eduardo Arenas sliding and bouncing all over center stage. The group tried for an encore, but the witching hour of two had arrived, and Maggie Mae’s ushered us out the door. “I love all of you,” the bartender shouted to the international crowd gathered for Chicano Batman as the lights came up, “but it’s time to go home.” And so we did, SXSW at an end. | Jason Mellard