SxSW Day 1: This Used To Be A Quiet Night...

14 March 2013 | 9:21 am | at SxSW

"Holy fuck... this wasn't even meant to be a gig-going night"

Tuesday night at the annual SxSW event in Austin, used to be a quiet night. As the international folk touched down, they maybe grabbed a meal at a favoured local eatery, finalised the next few day's list of showcases to get to and then got an early night. But this year finds Austin's streets already over-flowing as the likes of HypeM, Vice, Vevo and Pitchfork battle it out for first night party rights. With LA pop princesses Haim as the only band on their bill, and all they need to garner one of the night's biggest crowds, Vevo's queues started at 8pm for the band's 10pm start. As 10pm neared, the lines had barely shrunk - it was time to give up and join another queue.

So to one of the biggest Aus bands in the US at the moment - one that no one in Australia seems to know about. The lines outside of The Main ahead of Adelaide's Atlas Genius is longer than the Haim queue. Gulp. This too is going to be impossible to get into. This band are so big in the US that the I Heart Radio party at The Main has them billed between performances by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Tegan & Sara. Back home they'd be lucky to score fifth on the bill to a Bardot reunion. But these guys obviously don't need 'back home' approval.

The line into Pitchfork's party is much more manageable. And, speaking of monkey's pissing into their own mouths... things are running a little behind here. It's rare to even see an act running five minutes late at SxSW, but somewhere along the way, things at this showcase, run out of Mohawk, have gotten more than 30 minutes behind schedule. So for half an hour we get to witness Canadian house outfit Azari & lll set up the stage and soundcheck. The crowd are getting pissy and some take it out on the band. It's smarter just to leave. But hey, Azari & lll do good soundcheck.


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Three hours in and still no live action to report. It's time to resort to something tried and true. The highlight of SxSW 2011 was young Chilean indie folkster Gepe. Two years on and he's back. Whereas last time he played to a roomful of Chilean expats, this time those expat fans battle for space amongst adoring hipster hoardes at Friends - maybe everyone had read the recent LA Times article praising the Chile pop scene. With a new band in tow, one that includes two female keyboard players who also provide sweet backing vocals, Gepe raises the roof with his joyous mixture of traditional-meets-indie sound. By the time he gets to fan favourite Por La Ventana, the crowd is bouncing, fists are punching the air and one female is wilding waving a flower at her idol. This is nuts and as he leaves the stage, the room is as one in screaming for what I hope is Spanish for "encore".

Polyphonic Spree

To keep in the uplifted frame of mind nothing could be more perfect than a spot of Polyphonic Spree. Indeed the band are playing a headlining set at Red 7, where the Texan troupe unveil new material, new line-up and, most importantly, new uniforms. When last we saw the Spree in Australia, they had mutated into a polyphonic rock tribute act. A few years away and they are rejuvenated, ney 'reborn'. The all-female backing choir seems even more cult-y than before (you half expect them to be introduced as Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene, etc), especially resplendent in their new hippy-commune inspired kaftans. Leader Tim DeLaughter is at his messianic best, conducting the ensemble with his entire body as he lunges around the stage. Old songs are re-arranged and still inspire mass-singalongs and group hugs. New material is inspiring. DeLaughter has embraced spacious electronic backings and even a hint of glam-influence. The new songs, lifted from from the May 28-planned album, push the band's sound even closer to a musical meltdown then ever before. New, re-invigorated Spree finds a strangely alluring balance between anthemic religious mania and out-of-control orchestral arrangements and leave us realising that we desperately need them back in our lives.

Holy fuck... this wasn't even meant to be a gig-going night.

Hipster scum

- Andrew Mast