My day began with waiting. Despite arriving at the Mohawk venue an hour early, I found myself at the tail end of a seemingly endless line that looped around an entire block. Things were not looking promising after a string of badge-holders flooded the entrance as doors opened.
That’s one of the most unnerving things about SXSW: even after waiting upwards of hours for a single show, there’s really no guarantee that patience will be rewarded and even the most dedicated fans can get turned away at the door.
Thankfully the line moved swiftly and soon I found myself at the outdoor stage. Torres - the project of 24-year-old Mackenzie Scott - kicked off the afternoon showcase. Accompanied by a band, her powerful vocals alternated between a husky moan and an intense snarl, reminiscent of PJ Harvey.
Up next was Speedy Ortiz, a young quartet based out of Massachusetts. Since I saw them previously at the 2013 Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, the group had clearly matured and blazed through their setlist with a self-assured bravado. Hinting at a surprise “special guest” throughout their performance, the group revealed that they wanted Hannibal Buress to come on stage and play drums.
Apparently, the comedian had offered his services of playing drums (badly) to SXSW bands via Twitter and they insisted he live up to his promise. To Buress’ credit, he obliged the crowd and appeared on stage, pounding arrhythmically to their final song and later apologized for “ruining their set.” A concertgoer next to me lauded his “Velvet Underground-esque” talents.
Calgary quartet Viet Cong performed shortly afterward, featuring two members of the now-defunct band Women. Lead singer Matt Flegel’s vocals have drawn comparisons to Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade but on-stage he seemed to channel the raw growl of Mark Lanegan. Remarkably, their drummer managed to bring the same booming percussion found on their self-titled debut literally singlehandedly, suffering from a broken left hand wrapped in a sling.
From the Mohawk I spent some time at the 512 for the Colorado Music Party and watched Publicist UK perform post-punk inflected rock. I also caught local band Strawberry Runners play to a packed house. Recently featured in NPR’s “Austin 100” SXSW playlist, the group charmed the crowd with their brand infectious jangle pop.
The rest of the night was spent at the NPR Music-sponsored stage at Stubb’s. Rising Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett rocked out with songs off her upcoming album "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit."
Belgian performer Stromae was also on the bill, energizing the audience with his unique blend of electronica, old-timey swing and soul. He also cribbed a few notes from the James Brown handbook, carried away off-stage by band members due to “weariness” only to appear back onstage moments later. Obviously a fan of theatrics, several more of these false endings would occur throughout his breezy set.
TV on the Radio closed out the set, and despite going on close to 1 a.m. they commanded the crowd instantly, launching into a noisy, apocalyptic version of “Young Liars.”
Shows and rumors abound for Day Three - stay tuned!