Austin, Texas – Another day full of wonderful music, new discoveries, and the first sunburn of the festival all were encapsulated in the third day of the week dedicating to helping creatives achieve their goals.
Most of the afternoon was spent at the Lagunitas Bug Out event at the Historic Scoots Inn, kicking off with The Shelters. Hailing from Los Angeles, California, the four-piece rock band self-identified as a surf-rock band… but even if you’re not crazy into surf-rock, don’t worry – they could easily fit into the traditional rock category, too. Having released a self-titled album last year (Warner Bros.), they announced at this show that they would be releasing a seven-inch record on Record Store Day this coming April, with “a surf song.” The title of the track went un-named at this show, but it fit in well with the rest of their repertoire. The Shelters had a very nice presence to them, even in the hot sun. They’re one thing that comes to mind when you might think of “a band that could play an outdoor festival,” and entertained the wide age range that was present early in the afternoon.
Listen: “Rebel Heart” – The Shelters
After a few songs, it became apparent that The Shelters kind of relate to another band that has played SXSW before, Iceland-turned-Austin-based blues-rock band Kaleo. Another nice aspect that The Shelters brought to the stage was their inner-band interactions that happened without words – including cluster-jamming, especially as they wavered more into the longer-form psychedelic realm of rock towards the end of their set.
Next up on the docket was Paul Thorn and The McCrary Sisters, a gospel-funk fusion that took over the venue with a tight grip and didn’t let go. Sometimes, gospel music can seem a little overwhelming. But the way Thorn and his band were able to present their show, it wasn’t as intimidating lyrically, but more welcoming musically. Even if tunes were titled something that came off as a bit religious, such as “Too Blessed to be Stressed,” it was hard to not rock out to the tune because it is true; if we’re lucky enough to be at SxSW in Austin, listening to these bands and enjoying a beverage for the time being, we really are too “blessed to be stressed,” and need to let go and enjoy at least that moment. Another thing to note about Thorn and his group of eight other members, were his flawless transitions from song to song. If they didn’t flow seamlessly together, Thorn would offer up a story to introduce the next jam. Some highlights included a story about his dog, who killed three cats but has since passed away; one time before a show when a woman grabbed his bum; and how we should “Take Love” with us everywhere we go. Even if you don’t claim yourself to be a highly religious person, it was easy to truly enjoy the genuine performance that Thorn and his band put on.
The third band to take the stage that afternoon was Minneapolis-based indie rock band, Hippo Campus. Comprised of Jake Luppen (vocals/guitar), Nathan Stocker (guitar/vocals), Zach Sutton (bass) and Whistler Allen (drum/vocals), the group met at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, where they went to high school. They kicked off their show with a chanting of a previous announcement, (the venue needed people to unlock their bikes from some gate), “Unlock that bike” segued into “Suicide Saturday,” and an introduction to the overwhelming confidence that the band brought to their entire set. Playing a nice blend of their older work and recent releases, Hippo Campus also put a different spin on some of those older tunes, such as “The Halocline.” Littered with longer instrumental bridges, invitations for the crowd to join in on the lyrics, and orchestrated pauses for maximum audience appreciation. In typical Midwestern fashion, the band also made sure the audience heard “thank you” time and time again, which earned them even more cheers of appreciation in response. Luppen flashed a little smile, and then said, “And now… the moment some of us have been waiting for…” before they broke into “Octavia.”
The last show we were able to catch at the Historic Scoot’s Inn was female-dominant pop-punk-rock band Bleached. As far as line-up order goes, it probably would have made more sense to have Bleached perform after The Shelters. Bleached is made up of sisters Jennifer (lead vocals) and Jessica Calvin (lead guitar), Micayla Grace (bass), and Nick Pillot (drums). Jennifer told the crowd about their recently-released EP before fearlessly belting her heart out. The crowd ate it up, pulling their phones out to film snippets of the show and save those nuggets for later.
Listen: “Sour Candy” – Bleached
Later, another Minnesota-based artist, Jeremy Messersmith, took the stage at The Blackheart. The singer-songwriter played a mix of music that will be released “soon-ish” and older favorites. Playing with four other bandmates, Messersmith brought his live show mix of some comedy with the music, and of course, Minnesota niceness. He even asked the crowd at one point if we’d prefer to hear an older song or a new song, and decided to appease both groups of voters by playing both a new song and the classic “Lazy Bones.” Throughout the show he talked about the new record. “It’s about coming off the road and going back to normal, seemingly boring life.” Whatever else that record will hold, it’s clear that it’ll stack up nicely alongside the rest of the great discography he’s already built up for himself. After the show, we swung by to say hello, and overheard a mention of March 31st for the record release – so stay tuned.
The last show we caught for day three was the first band at the NPR Music Showcase at Stubb’s BBQ outdoor. PWR BTTM kicked their set off by asking the crowd to simply be “respectful of space.” Maybe it was because the venue wasn’t totally packed, but it was nice to not be getting bumped every couple minutes. PWR BTTM is made up of Liv Bruce (drums, vocals, guitar) and Ben Hopkins (guitar, vocals, drums) officially, but their touring band also includes Nicholas Cummins (bass guitar, backing vocals), Taliana Katz (bass guitar), and Cameron West (french horn, keyboard, percussion). Decked out in glittery or at least brightly colored shorts/shirts, the band had a lot of positive anecdotes to share. “Look around, you have so many friends you haven’t even met yet. Music is amazing.” Not only were they entertaining from the punk rock music they were playing, but the banter and audience interaction was one of the highlights of their set. They talked about the record they would be releasing soon, and played a song off of it about presidential frustration. At one point, Hopkins and Bruce switched places to play different instruments for a little while, and discussed relatable dating situations which really got the crowd riled up. PWR BTTM played a new song about gender-neutral pronouns and how to use them – so not only was it entertaining music, but it was music “with substance,” since they’re tackling bigger issues and doing what they can to make the world a little bit better of a place.
To close out another day full of good music under the hot Austin sun, it’s a bit overwhelming how much discovery has been happening over the last few days. The whole idea is kind of amazing – just how there’s so much music out there that is actually spectacular, and you might not know about it until you catch a wiff of something while walking down the street, or skipping through a playlist, or you see a band on a roster opening for a band that you already love. Like PWR BTTM said, the power of music is astounding. There’s so many people you can meet and will meet because of the music (or other things) you’re passionate about. Even though it does sound pretty cheesy.
Stay tuned for Day 4.