Austin, Texas – the interactive, film, music, and comedy festival better known as South by Southwest (or SxSW) is well underway here in the Texas state capitol. Although the festival has been going on for a few days, the music portion is just getting started. And for Atwood, that started at an outdoor bar venue, the Mohawk.
The setup in itself was cool. There’s four different tiers, not including the standing room right in front of the stage, so attendees could find a space that suit their viewing preference, and then enjoy the show. Of course, a bar was never far either, which seems to be a trend so far at this festival. Another interesting factor with the Mohawk is the floating flamingos that hung from the top tier all the way down to the top of the stage. As the sun was setting, and the evening was slowly starting to settle in, the flamingos lit up and seemed to chime with the music.
Har Mar Superstar and his band took the stage, entering in funky printed leggings, a tank top which had a print of what looked like an almost-nude photo of himself, and a classic ‘80s-jacket to a funky beat produced by the drummer. The show opened with “Prisoner of Love” and an introduction to some simple, synchronized dance moves that went far in general effect and audience appreciation. Har Mar Superstar, (also known as Sean Tillmann) is an R&B/soul act and a Minnesota native. Which explains why the second song of his set was a wonderful, fun rendition of Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” including a trumpet addition, and the Har Mar flair that is impossible to miss.
It was also nice to have some interaction between songs, and the flawless transition from the Prince cover, to talking about “The Bachelor” and how the idea of finding love in that situation seems impossible, (especially since the current bachelor is sleeping around?) and transitioned into “Restless Leg,” a song about fighting the urge to give into desire when your loved one is away. While it seemed that most of the crowd wasn’t familiar with his music (he was filling in for Lizzo, after all), murmurs of appreciation and admiration rang throughout the venue.
Listen: “Restless Leg” – Har Mar Superstar
Another thing to take note of was the costuming transitions Har Mar went through during his set – already noted above is the funky printed leggings, interesting shirt, and fun jacket, but he also threw a blanket over his head at one point and was dancing around swimming in the blanket. After the blanket performance, he donned on a shimmery purple cardigan for “Youth Without Love” and “We Don’t Sleep.” He also went totally minimal and stripped off his shirt, performing for the last handful of songs without a shirt on, laid on the ground and performed with just his legs up in the air. Which, of course, the crowd ate up.
Overall, Har Mar Superstar and his band performed their hearts out at the Mohawk, and seemed extremely grateful for the time they got to spend with us that night. During his final number, “Lady, You Shot Me,” he paused for a minute, cued the crowd to applaud even louder, silenced the venue, said a simple thank you, and went straight back to belting his soul out. Who would have thought that a short, stocky man could produce such a moving, belting soul-rock performance?
The rest of the night was spent discovering new things and getting more of a lay of the land. After grabbing some tacos from a food truck (which are abound in Austin), and wandering sixth street for about a half hour, we wound up at the Library Bar watching the four-piece band Unwed Fathers. What was attention-grabbing was the inclusion of a flute, which isn’t an instrument you typically see in harder “blues-rock” bands. Their set kicked off with the four of them standing together in a circle, and the drummer cuing them all off.
Listen: “The Bottle Always Knows” – Unwed Fathers
Maybe it was because it felt like just another night playing another bar for them, (since they’re based in Austin), but one thing that stuck out was the interactions they had with individual audience members. Some comments were thanks to their friends who had traveled from Illinois to see them, and some were some offhand borderline sexual remarks to other dudes at the bar, but it gave the showcase a much different feeling.
Although Unwed Fathers didn’t put on the most spectacular show ever, it was clear that there was something there. What that something is, is still pretty unclear – not only from an audience perspective, but probably in their own eyes as well. They had a very Dream Version-feel to them. Meaning, they all probably have other jobs to pay the bills, and therefore, can’t really spend the time they need to developing their music. Hopefully they’ll get a chance to figure it out sometime soon, though. The idea of a hard blues-rock band with a flute? Sounds pretty good.
The last discovery of the night was much more satisfying, and takes the cheese of “bar show you stumble on by chance.” Held at the Chugging Monkey, four-piece band City Under Siege played a set of their soft-punk rock music for a surprisingly (considerably) uncrowded bar. We were only able to catch a few songs, but the few that were caught (“Little Live That,” “Shake,” and “Believe”), were undeniably fun.
Listen: “Shake” – City Under Siege
City Under Siege put on one of the most genuine displays of passion and talent that is a first for a relatively unknown band to be playing a “random” bar at one of the United States’ largest music festivals seen yet. The small stage simultaneously seemed perfect for them, and easy to see that they could easily play something larger. The smiles from all four of the performers was contagious to the rest of the bar’s crowd, and they were rewarded at the end of their set with applause, whoops, and hollers – very similar to Har Mar Superstar’s response earlier that evening.
Since day one was already full of fulfillment and discovery, it’s exciting to think of what’s in store for the rest of the festival – especially now that more daytime shows will be present in the mix.