The Gayer Side of SXSW
By Noah Michelson
After a rather slow start to the day picking up all sorts of press laminates to various parties (thanks for the delicious steak salad, Swagg Lounge, and the killer shoes, Carrerra Escape!) my big goals for the day were three bands I'd seen before but really need to see again. First up was a stop at the PureVolume House for a much-needed massage and then half a set from Vegas band The Cab, who are finally playing new music after spending the last two years touring to support their debut album. I would have stuck around longer but I had to dash to the Steve Madden party to catch Neon Trees, my favorite new discovery of 2010. My love for them is an even split between their awesome, dance-party music and my ultimate crush on their drummer, Elanie Bradley, who is not only hot but one of the best drummers I've seen lately. However, I am pretty sure lead singer Tyler Glenn told the crowd she just got married. My hopes dashed, I still enjoyed the music and performance -- the band gave a set that had Tyler rolling on the ground, strutting and hitting poses and eventually deep-throating his mic. They'll start a tour with 30 Seconds to Mars this spring and are not to be missed.
I closed out the day with my very favorite band for more than two years running now, Empires. The Chicago-based band was playing its first SXSW by doing two nights at an unofficial party. This meant a diverse and mostly badge-less crowd, in a bar that usually has a mechanical bull where they'd set up the bands. There's also a pretty fierce disco ball shaped like a saddle hanging above, so I'm going to bet that bar has at least one gay night. The set was one of the best I've seen from the band, and while I don't tend to find them too stage-queer, lead singer Sean Van Vleet did surprise me by both clutching at their new bassists shirt while singing the lyrics "I want blood from you" and got all up in guitarist Tom Conrad's space while imploring that he better not "find (him) in (his) home" in the track "Intruder" from their most recent release. I left the set sweaty and satisfied, which I think is how you should leave any really good rock show.
Friday marked my busiest musical day, kicking off with a performance from VV Brown. I'll admit I wasn't really aware of her before SXSW, and when she walked out wearing a feather mask with a bullhorn I was nervous that she'd be one big hipster gimmick. I am quite happy to eat my words and report she is a great artist and her support band was having the best time of any band I saw all week. The British singer was full of energy and light and her vocals were spot-on, a wonderful way to start a busy day at the festival.
I'd met up with Shana (and her lovely wife) again that morning and as a group we wandered into Stubbs in time to catch the tail end of Fucked Up's set. The Canadian hardcore band isn't the type I'd normally like, but you can't help but love it when Pink Eye, the bearish lead singer, asked the crowd "Who out there is gay?" When not enough people shouted he replied "Why wouldn't you say you're gay? What are you, homophobic?" Match that with him stripped to his boxers, covered in mud, running around the entire outdoor venue to grab a beer, chug it, and make it back to the stage for the next lyric, and you've got a pretty priceless set. Shana stopped him after for a hug, mud-soaked and all, which resulted in my favorite picture I took all weekend. We took a break from the sun and then came back for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I want to be Sharon Jones when I grow up, but I know I am just not that cool. She serenaded Gym Class Heroes lead singer Travie McCoy during one song (he stayed side stage for the rest of the set looking like a lovesick puppy) and taught all the white hipsters how to dance like it was the '60s in Augusta, GA. The set was so impressive that I was thrilled when I realized I'd be seeing her again in mere hours.
I did a quick stop in to see Empires perform again (just as great as the night before) then headed over to the Crush Management showcase to check out former Panic! At The Disco frontman Ryan Ross's new project (along with bassist Jon Walker). While I knew not to expect the dance-pop or even Beatles-esque music I'd come to expect from Panic, I'm still sad to report that The Young Veins were my one stand-out disappointment of SXSW. Competent California '60s pop-rock, but nothing that had me jumping out of my skin. Maybe I'll like the recorded album better than the live show. But I didn't have long to feel too down about it because Travie McCoy quickly followed, showcasing his new solo material (supported by Gym Class Heroes drummer Matt McGinley). Travie's powers of holding a crowd in the palm of his hand did not dull when he's going it solo; we were all singing the chorus, throwing our hands up and clapping along to his summer-smash-ready pop-rap. I took a break between bands and got ready for one of the most anticipated shows of Friday for me -- Patrick Stump's first solo performance. The Fall Out Boy lead singer has been working on a solo debut while the band takes a break, and from a brief preview on his website where he plays all the instruments on the track, I knew we'd be in for a live treat. Patrick didn't disappoint, looping drums, keyboard, guitar and bass for each song he sang, rocking out with a soulful vibe. While the set wasn't without it's bumps, once Patrick gets a few practice gigs under his belt I expect him to turn out seamless and jaw-dropping performances.
I fled for a quick pedicab across town (and a second set from Sharon Jones, this time with Miss Jones in a pink sequin and fringe number I still covet) and I made it to La Zona Rosa just in time for when I thought Alphabeat would start their set. Unfortunately as many things are at SXSW, the schedule was running behind. Instead I caught the end of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the mass exodus of their crowd (not a huge crossover between the band and Alphabeat fans) and then settled down to wait into the wee hours for Alphabeat to begin. The crowd was sparse (the night was also competiting with Muse across town) but those of us who were there relished in the infections pop set, stunned by Stine B's gorgeous beauty and Anders SG's ability to throw himself into his singing, bongo and tamborine playing with vigor. Although I was too exhausted to stay until the very end, I headed back to my hotel happy.
The weather ruined most of Saturday for me, but I did sneak out in the afternoon to catch a Brooklyn band who I know but had never seen before -- Savoire Adore. Dreamy pop that sometimes just rocks, the boy-girl vocal switches always appeal to me. Now I know to make sure to see them locally instead of traveling all the way to Texas.
My next stop was a full set by Matt Morris at Austin's Beauty Bar. Matt bring such emotion to the stage -- from elation and joy to introspection and sadness, depending on the tune. The stage awkwardly had a beam in the middle of it and Matt made the best of it, leaning up against it when he needed a little extra support. I always enjoy a Matt set and this time I even learned something -- I hadn't known that Matt wrote songs with his husband, specifically "Just Before The Morning." Gay marriage isn't only a civil right, it can also produce great music! At the very end of the set Matt was interrupted by an audience member screaming "Bella!" -- seemingly nonsensical until we realized that Kristen Stewart had walked into the bar. She was there to see the following band, Carney (I caught one song and they were charismatic '60/'70s rock, and styled to match) but did catch a few Matt songs. Hopefully he has a new (famous) fan. By the power of BFF Justin Timberlake and Twilight combined, there's no way Matt can lose.
And, to cap off the entire SXSW experience I went out in the bitter (okay, 40 degree) cold to witness Scissor Sisters play at midnight outside at Stubbs. Although I stood shivering under the only heat-lamp I could find while the stage was set, the moment Jake Shears (pictured above), Ana and the rest of the gang took the stage I instantly forgot that my toes were numb and found myself just "Comfortably Numb" instead, if not downright toasty. People actually started pulling off their jackets to better dance along to a mix of the bands old hits and new material. Usually when a band plays in advance of a release you can gauge a difference in the crowd's reaction, but these fans were just happy to see the Sisters play and poured out enthusiasm for every track. While I'd hoped that Jake might strip down to barely nothing as he is often known to do, I also knew that with the weather it probably wouldn't be the smartest idea. He rocked a very leather-daddy lite ensemble just fine, and Ana's structured, cutout purple number was a stunner. All in all the ideal end to a pretty ideal week in Austin.
To see Rae's exclusive photo diary from SXSW, head here.
-- RAE VOTTA
Previously > Bitch is Back