Austin, Texas – With South by Southwest wrapping up, and most of the performers taking off pretty swiftly after their showcases earlier in the week, it looked for a little bit like there wasn’t going to be much left to see by the time the final day came around. Thankfully, with the well-constructed website, and over-saturation of social media marketing, we figured out the best way to put a pin on the last day.
A band we caught by surprise was Active Bird Community. Stumbling on them accidentally, the accident turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The alternative-punk rock band from Brooklyn released an album this year, Stick Around, [Self-Released, 2017], and that also correlated with most of their setlist that afternoon. And even though they were playing to a relatively small crowd, they still seemed to be highly appreciated by everyone there. After all, it can sometimes be all about the quality of fans you’ve got watching instead of quantity of people watching… right?
Listen: “Stick Around” – Active Bird Community
Another surprise band was hard-rockers Big Jesus from Atlanta, Georgia. Their take on hard-rock was so aggressive and loud that it wasn’t only the type of music you can feel shake your entire body, but it even penetrated through your earplugs if they weren’t adjusted correctly. Even if you’re not a huge fan of hard rock, it was hard not to appreciate the energy coming from the group. A look of bliss came across their faces, even during the first song. They found their groove, and would remain in that groove for the rest of the show. The crowd inside the bar space started to grow bit by bit, until the highlight of their fifth and final show at SxSW came around. “Shrimp,” a softer, original song by the band, was a much more low-key rock song, “about laying on the bottom of the ocean floor.” We finally got to clearly hear the talent our frontman had in his vocals, without being buried in drums, bass, and electric guitar. Overall, a pleasant find.
Aquilo was quite the opposite – the British soft-alternative pop band played Latitude 30 during the British Embassy takeover. The venue was packed with a lot more people than it probably should have been, and accents littered the audience before the band took the stage. But once the opening notes of “Losing You” kicked in, the side conversations dropped off as the soft sounds and soothing vocals of Tom Higham took over. Aside from starting a little late (which is actually a common thing that happens at SXSW), the show fell nothing short of flawless. Some of the musical highlights include a song about “a really nice ex-girlfriend” (“Losing You”), and the title track from their debut album, Silhouettes. As many of the British people around us exclaimed, “Brilliant!”
Listen: “Silhouette” – Aquilo
The National Parks also played a very packed show at The Hideout. Kicking off the show with “Coração” (Portuguese for “heart”), it became clear why the venue was so packed. We were lucky to just be tucked into the corner, but the high energy from the band was addictive. Frontman Brady Parks shared how it felt a little weird for them, since this was the first time they played a crowd that was seated. He encouraged everyone to stand up, but nobody budged until about the third song, “Wind & Anchor.” The studio sound is a bit more relaxed, but in this live rendition they pumped up the energy and tempo, and the audience started singing along about halfway through, and ended up taking over the show by the end of the song. The National Parks are probably most easily described as “a folk-rock band who emphasizes on ‘rock,’” for their live shows, and they do it well. Once the majority was crowded as close to the stage as they could get, Parks gave a smile and said with some sass, “You guys look good standing up.” Rewarded for their efforts with “Ba Ba Ra,” the band wasn’t the only one jumping around having a good time anymore. Along with the already-released music, we also got a glimpse at some new things coming from the band, including the final song of their set, and the soon-to-be title track on a record they started recording recently, “Places.” If that’s any indication as to what’s to come from the band on the rest of the record, expect more of what you’ll already love about the National Parks, and then some. “Places” is one of those songs that’ll easily find its way onto your summer road trip playlist.
Listen: “Wind & Anchor” – The National Parks
But, the highlight of the final day was easily a band we’ve discussed in our SxSW coverage before: the eight-piece New York soul-pop-funk infusion group, Lawrence. Consisting of Clyde & Gracie Lawrence (siblings) on lead vocals and Clyde on keys, Sam Askin (drums), Sumner Becker (alto sax), Jordan Cohen (tenor sax), Michael Karsh (bass), Jonny Koh (guitar), and Marc Langer (trumpet), we were able to catch all three of their final shows sprinkled throughout the day. What was cool was having experienced the group before at a later-night show, and being able to compare it to an early-afternoon show, a mid-afternoon show, and an evening show. The energy simply increased between each performance, and it was especially fun to such a great performance be consistent throughout the day. Even though we heard most of their work three times, it never got “old,” and for being a band that’s yet to blow up (which will happen, so hop on the train to say you “knew them before they were big”), the consistency in their showcase of talent, energy, and showmanship was incredible to see.
Another nice aspect was that they changed their setlist up ever so slightly each time. Some of the variations included “Me & You,” “Wash Away,” and a couple covers (including Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” and Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”). They also played through a few of the quintessential Lawrence songs, “Alibi,” “Superficial,” and of course, “Do You Wanna Do Nothing With Me?” Unreleased song “Friend or Enemy” made an appearance at all three shows, which is from a record that’s “in the works, but consists primarily of demos right now,” Langer told us after the final show. Whatever they have in store, be sure to stay tuned. And if you get a chance, Lawrence is a show to not be missed.
The whole experience that has been South by Southwest can only be described in one way: incredible. Not only because of the overwhelming amount of great things happening, but it served as a nice break from the craziness that has been the state of the world lately. Events such as SxSW remind us that there are good things happening – and that excellent and undiscovered gems are still out there. You just might need to carefully plan, live on granola bars, and sprint from one side of a city to the other in order to catch as much as possible.