SXSW Day 3: "The Hipster Capital Of America"

17 March 2012 | 2:31 pm | Cambell Klose

A gig-weary Cambell Klose is enlivened by Kimbra, Chet Faker and more Emma Louise. He also witnesses The Shins and M Ward in arena-mode plus the comeback of Keane.

During SXSW, Austin overtakes New York and San Francisco as the hipster capital of America. Therefore tattoos and moustaches, which seem to be trending at the moment, are everywhere as I walk through the bustling streets. The morning is slightly barmy after rain the night before but the sun is shining and in the Latin-themed bar, The Flamingo Cantini, Com Truise is warming the crowd up. The strangely named musician was picked as someone to watch out for before the festival begun. But the hype around him seems to be dying down rather than picking up as the festival continues. His gentle, synth-infused beats definitely feel at home in the airy and relaxed bar. It is perfect music to have a beer to in the sun, but it doesn't go much further than that and there is nothing about his music that really stands out.

PAPA playing at the Clive Bar

In contrast to Com Truise, the hype surrounding Kimbra keeps building the longer the festival goes. She has taken the festival by storm and every event she plays at immediately fills to capacity. She is playing today at the Clive Bar and in anticipation of a big crowd I make sure I head over with plenty of time to spare. Los Angeles-based band, PAPA, take the stage first. So far all the musical acts I have seen from LA have been phenomenal. They have all been tight, fun and lacking the pretensions that many of the East Coast bands carry around with them. PAPA are absolutely no exception to the rule and their spirited set is honestly one of the best I have seen at the festival. Their music is rooted deeply in soul and folk but has quite a bit of weight and substance behind it as well. Most of this emanates from the charismatic vocalist/drummer, Darren Weiss who's powerful vocals are matched only by his ferocious drumming. Their songs are extraordinarily catchy – so much so that I have had the infectious, Aint It So in my head all day – and their live show is highly entertaining with all the band members laughing and enjoying themselves on stage. Midway through the set Weiss decides to take a break from drumming and singing and runs to the front of the stage and gives everyone in the front row a high five.

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By the end of their set a huge crowd has gathered at the stage, and though PAPA are good there is no doubt the majority are here to see Kimbra. The heat and humidity are oppressive and it is compounded by people being mashed up against you on all sides trying desperately to squeeze to the front and nearest to the stage stage. Kimbra's appearance on the stage elicits both applause from the crowd as well as an unfortunate surge forward to get closer to her. Dressed in a light blue frilly dress she looks like an exotic fairy princess, only with the front of the dress cut short reveal her legs. Opening with Limbo many of the crowd attempt to dance, an activity which causes the already muggy venue to turn into a seething cauldron of passionate, sweaty Americans (there are surprisingly few Australians at this gig – probably because it was so hard to get into). The highlight of her gig is when she manages to accidentally insult the American crowd and then watching her sheepish expression as she tries to cover it up. Her new single, Come Into My Head, was written in America, and when she announces this fact all the Americans in the crowd cheer. Kimbra immediately in a snap reaction sarcastically cheers, “Yay, America”, but fortunately very few seem to notice. She quickly follows this slip with the song Settle Down which again whips the crowd into another sweaty frenzy. It is definitely worth noting that she is one of the most popular artists at SXSW and is mentioned by nearly everyone as a must-see act while at the festival. Due in no small part to her entertaining live shows and self deprecating humour.

Though many of the crowd leave after Kimbra finishes a fair amount stay to see the next Aussie act, Chet Faker. Australian acts tend to fare quite well at SXSW because Americans love Australians and consider Melbourne to be a mecca of music, fashion and culture. This works for artists like Chet Faker because they immediately appeal to the hipsters at the festival (and there are a lot of them). Picked in the Austin Chronicle as an act to watch out for before the festival, Faker is definitely set to live up to the hype. The music is a unique hybrid of jazz, soul, experimental electro (think Sigur Ross crossed with LCD Soundsystem), but what is really unusual is that today's gig is only Faker's band's eighth show together. You would never have guessed it by watching them play. There is real chemistry between the band members and a lot of respect for Faker himself who the bassist describes as a “genius”. Opening with Cigarrettes And Chocolate their sound is striking because it is a synthesis of so many different instruments and genres. It all comes together though and is complimented beautifully by Faker's thoughtful vocals. With an EP out in Australia on March 21, and tours planned, it will be interesting to see what their reception will be like back home. Playing six shows in three days at SXSW they are generating a fair amount of buzz.

Keane playing at Cedar Lane

With SXSW reaching its penultimate stages the number of people in Austin each day seems to grow exponentially from the day before. Unfortunately that means hopping from one gig to the next, like one could do on Tuesday and Wednesday is nearly impossible now. However, walking past Ceder Lane I manage catch UK group, Keane, playing their first ever SXSW gig. Keane play a really entertaining set, interspercing songs from their upcoming album (which seems much more synth and guitar based than previous ones) with their popular piano driven music from earlier albums. Somewhere Only We Know and Bend And Break are definite favourites as people even lean out of windows to catch a glimpse of the band playing down their alley way. Their pale skin seems to have suffered in the Texan sun and they are all looking a little tired and sunburned. And to be honest, though I think a lot of their music is pleasant to listen to, I find Tom Chaplin's lyrics very one dimensional and I leave before their set is over. I end up wandering completely by chance to another captivating show by Emma Louise (and I mean it, everyone in the room is completely enthralled in her performance).

M Ward playing the Auditorium Shore Stage

As the sun slowly makes it's way over the horizon, thousands of people flock to the riverside where the city is putting on a free concert. Called the Auditorium Shore Stage it feels like a generic festival – one of those events with a huge stage and big screens. There must be at least 20,000 people present by the time M Ward begins playing. Last night he played in a Church which would have been heavenly, excuse the pun, but even out in a festival setting he is absolutely sublime. Apart from a few technical glitches the entire set is close to flawless. If M Ward was almost a spiritual experience, then The Shins definitely are. Even though the open air auditorium is overflowing with probably more than 30,000 people, all of whom are jostling each other for the best position, it is still brilliant. As with Keane who played a lot of older music, The Shins (who have an album out on Tuesday) stuck mostly with material from Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World. This is definitely a good thing and it concludes a life dream of mine to see them play live. Hobbling back home with blistered feet from three days of non-stop walking I run into a local who invites me back to a gig at an anarchist co-operative just north of downtown Austin. I am showcased to some rather intense local anarchist punk. After a rather frenetic hour of watching black clad young people crash into one another on the dancefloor I decide it is time to call it a day and leave bemused at the diversity of music I have witnessed today. Only at SXSW.

Pictured at top: Kimbra