SXSW 2017 | Saturday 03.18

Monterrey’s Miami Miami was a four-piece that partied like there were 10 or 12 of them on stage.

SXSW Saturday feels like a wake for the week that was, a final, glorious day where shows take on a new urgency before the amassed hordes of artists, industry professionals, journalists, and spring breakers return to some semblance of real life. Friday seemed to have a critical mass of shows this year, with Saturday offering a few banner events sandwiched between well-earned encore performances. The Roots hosted a jam with Method Man & Redman, T.I., Jidenna, Rae Sremmurd, and Shakey Graves that turned into an impromptu tribute to the late Chuck Berry. The news of Berry’s passing sent ripples through the festival, and it’s likely everyone will remember the artist performing when they heard the news break from the stage. In my case, it was, appropriately, frenetic garage rockers The Mystery Lights.

Before the Berry news, the other piece of ubiquitous SXSW chatter concerned the surprise announcement of an outdoor concert by Garth Brooks. Rumors had been circulating all week, and seemed to be confirmed by Brooks’ Friday appearance at the historic dance hall the Broken Spoke. Country stars of Brooks’ stature don’t typically have SXSW on their radars—the genre’s elder statesmen and its Americana wing tend to dominate here, although Lady Antebellum was around this year—so Garth was a coup. Here’s hoping it’s a harbinger of even more country outreach in the future, as SXSW’s big tent philosophy might only be helped by it. Until a few years ago, hip-hop was notably underrepresented at the festival, but organizers have since made it an integral part of the event’s identity, as shown by that Roots jam lineup. I don’t count myself much of a pop country fan, but that part of me that digs the spinning-plates, three-ring-circus aspects of the festival wouldn’t mind having yet another wing of the music industry at the table.

All that said, most of my choices Saturday did not lean toward country nor hip-hop. Instead, the Burger Records showcase brought me back for another riotous round of rock ‘n’ roll. Chuck Berry would have wanted it that way. At Hotel Vegas, the beglittered and sunglassed Crocodiles swam through the muck of retro garage, drawing people out of week-long hangovers into a final evening of music ahead. Inside the Volstead Lounge, the Warbly Jets may have been the band to finally blow my eardrums, and I loved it. Walls of sound would be the Spector-esque theme tonight, a style that’s typically healthier out of doors, but I’ll take it.

John Wesley Coleman III is a prolific and inventive Austin songwriter with a wild range that veers from the plain weird on the border of Daniel Johnston to the soulful, textured depths of Townes Van Zandt. He’s among our best, in other words, but has way more fun than either of those two in performance. His Saturday afternoon set was leisurely, that of an artist on home turf rather than one fronting at a festival. Songs from recent album Microwave Dreams such as “Mama I’m a Big Boy Now” showed up, as did crowd favorites like “Oh, Basketball.”

Montreal punks Duchess Says hardly took the leisurely route, employing their self-styled “moog rock” to whip the sunbaked crowd into a frenzy. Lead singer Annie-Claude Deschenes used the crowd itself as an instrument, diving in and getting everyone to sit on the ground before swirling them into a mosh pit, riding on their shoulders, and just basically showing herself to be a force of nature.

We broke from Vegas for a bit, heading into downtown proper via the Brooklyn Country Cantina at Licha’s. This annual all-day affair brings together national and local alt-honky-tonkers into an event with an Old Austin, laid-back michelada sort of feel. The city’s Texas two-step dance scene was well-represented on the premises, as evidenced by the dance floor breaking out in front of local favorites Croy and the Boys and Leo Rondeau.

Reggae hub Flamingo Cantina hosted a night of Latin funk and cumbia Saturday kicked off by Monterrey’s Miami Miami, a four-piece that partied like there were 10 or 12 of them on stage. This was obvious from the opening bars of their anthem “Miami Mami” and continued through their interesting use of vocoder choruses to Chic’s “Good Times” and Daft Punk’s “Around the World,” accompanied by original rapped verses in Spanish. The idea was to keep this international vibe going with a run over to the Russian House’s eclectic world showcase, but the imposing line there shifted my course back into East Austin and the Burgermania SX showcase.

The Quebecois Duchess Says had been playing when I’d left, and the Parisian Laure Briard had taken the stage upon my return. It’s fair to say that the Francophone women rockers were some of the best finds of the evening. Briard’s band plays Sixties continental ye-ye psych, reminiscent of Jacco Gardner’s dreamy soundscapes from the Netherlands. Next came the back-to-back-to-back encore performances of some of the best bands I’d seen earlier in the festival. I’d been chasing novelty all week, so I figured I earned the reward of seeing things I’d loved again. Brazil’s Boogarins were, if anything, wilder and even more experimental here at week’s end. The Death Valley Girls somehow, someway, made it through the entire festival with spirits and voices intact, likely due to a deal they made at the crossroads. “I had a dream, and it’s coming true in real life,” shouted the irascible singer Bonnie Bloomgarden. True enough, the Saturday of SXSW becomes somewhat ludic, with a sense that this march from bar to bar, from band to band, will never end, that we live in this space where music moves moods to fever pitch, forevermore. In that vein, The Parrots played the small room of the Volstead Lounge, again, a room made even tinier and more anarchic in this later set with an old school oil-and-food-coloring light show that crowded the audience into closer intimacy with the Spanish rockers. Musically, this set wasn’t much different than their earlier one I caught yesterday, but the crowd danced faster, and harder, and that energy reflected back on the band itself.

Ears ringing, heart pumping, I looked to the end of the night, the end of the festival, and saw in it Lift to Experience, performing in the soaring sanctuary of the Central Presbyterian Church. Church gigs at SXSW are prestige events meant for acts whose music would benefit from the acoustics and grandeur of such a space. Lift to Experience was a perfect fit. “Denton, Texas cult act” might be laying it on a bit thick as a description, but this trio of Josh Pearson, Josh Browning, and Andy Young formed in the late ’90s, performed some, and issued one epic concept album, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, in 2001. The record is about a band of Texas boys approached by an archangel in the moment of the Second Coming. The music echoes with hope alternating with world-ending swells of guitar and drums. In the altar of the church, beneath a huge cross, with a bleached cow skull sitting center stage, the band performed the album nearly in its entirety to commemorate its being newly remastered and rereleased. Pearson built up to the closing track, “Into the Storm,” with its lyrical nod to the place we sat: “Follow me over the Jordan, across the desert sand/ Follow me into Texas, into the promised land.” The audience erupted from the pews in a standing ovation. I managed to peek in on the party-hearty diehards Har Mar Superstar and Diet Cig on the way home, but the communion of Lift to Experience seemed in itself like a fitting festival end. | Jason Mellard

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