SXSW Day 4: New Favourite Friends

18 March 2012 | 2:32 pm | Cambell Klose

Although Cambell Klose struggles with the Austin bus timetables, he has no trouble working out band timetables to catch Friends (twice), Busby Marou, Of Montreal, Delta Spirit and A$AP Rocky.

This morning due to some unfortunate bus timetabling issues (during SXSW there is such disruption to the public transport that the buses don't seem to adhere to any form of schedule at all, so make sure you allow plenty of time to get to downtown Austin) I miss Alpine's early set at the Brew Bar. Arriving sweaty and puffed at the bar I learn they cancelled anyway…

Another Australian act that I wanted to see this morning, Big Scary, are also unable to play at the Whole Foods stage. To fill in, Joe Robinson, an ex Australia's Got Talent winner (so I'm told) takes the stage. He plays a decidedly pleasant acoustic set and is an exceptionally skilled guitarist. The relaxed Whole Foods stage is the perfect backdrop for his country/folk set and many in the crowd want to know who this dynamo is. One person standing behind me even exclaimed that he sings like Prince and starts humming Purple Rain. Which though strange is also complimentary… I think.

Busby Marou playing the Whole Foods Market

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The feast of Australian music continues as Rockhampton four-piece Busby Marou come on stage. Singer Tom Busby is absolutely hilarious and their free-flowing banter throughout the gig is definitely a highlight. While it gets many of the Aussies laughing, many of the Texans struggle to understand his self-deprecating sense of humour. The loudest laughs come as he introduces their replacement bassist for SXSW because their usual bassist was too afraid of flying to make it. Their sound is quintessential Australian folk. A little like Angus & Julia Stone but with more percussive. If any music was going to represent Australia this definitely does a good job of it.

Friends are another band that have been creating a fair amount of buzz. [Speaking of buzz, the news about DZ Deathrays being unplugged at the Trade Show because they were too loud, is now seeping through the rest of the festival and it has garnered them quite a cult following.] The eclectic Brooklyn hipster five-piece take the stage at the packed-out Mohawk. Riotous singer Samantha Urbani, who is an absolute livewire, is definitely the heart of their bizarre live shows. Complete with a golden mic, she switches between seductively sauntering around the stage, flicking her hair and running her hands over other bandmates and dancing in a fiercely sexual manner. Occasionally she'll just jump off the stage and make brief forays into the crowd to dance with/grind up against anyone and everyone. Their set is electric. Judging by the bands who are doing well at SXSW so far, disco and funk are making a comeback and it's bands like Friends and Kindness who are leading that charge. Friends' rhythm-driven music is perfectly complimented by a range of percussion instruments, which the band members fluidly swap between. Their air of nonchalance makes it look too easy, but they are good. Very good. I am not going to lie, these guys are my favourite act so far at SXSW and are so much fun it is ridiculous. Urbani's whimsical antics throughout the set get the rest of the crowd, and band, laughing. Even though they play an extra three songs the eager crowd are baying for more. Unfortunately the tight-scheduling won't allow for it and the next band need to come on, so Friends are quickly moved on.

Invigorated after discovering a new favourite band, the walk down 6th Street further added to my satisfaction with SXSW. I have never been to a festival this lively before. People are smiling and doing crazy things, selling bizarre objects, giving out all sorts of freebies and pulling some exceptional stunts at all hours of the day. And everyone is just so happy to be a part of it that the festival has the most amazing vibe. I overheard a person in the bus lamenting that everyone is too happy at the festival and he couldn't start a fight even if he tried.

Of Montreal play a dandy SXSW set

Of Montreal are next. It looks as though it will be a good show as singer, Kevin Barnes, leads his quirky eight-piece onto the stage. It is hard to choose which band member to look at as they are all dressed in such a strange manner. Barnes looks like a crazed, or maybe just eccentric, 18th century fop with a bright red pleated shirt and jacket with puffy sleazes and a beret. Opening with Suffer For Fashion they tear through a set full of their older songs. It feels less like they are playing, and more like there are just eight anarchists up on stage randomly strumming instruments and hitting things.

With the sun beginning to set I bustle across town, battling crowds and horrible blisters. Never bring new shoes to a festival where you are on your feet 14 hours a day. The bassist from Friends said they had another gig later in the day and they were so good this morning I decide to go see them again. Besides, the group following them at the FILTER Magazine showcase, Delta Spirit are another act worth catching. Friends are even better the second time. All the band members have swapped instruments and Urbani seems even more lively if that is possible. They rip through their set, hauling people up on stage to dance with them and basically having a good time.

Delta Spirit really appreciate y'all being here

While waiting for Delta Spirit to warm-up, Urbani takes a fan aside and gives him a tattoo while sitting on a milk crate. Delta Spirit come on and power through one of the most commanding displays of sheer rock I've seen. Although hailing from San Diego, you would never pick it. They talk like Southerners, calling the crowd “Y'all” and there is a distinct drawl in their accents. Their music reflects this leaning and is quintessentially Americana. It can only be compared to the iconic sound of Bruce Springstein. Their music is all about the yearning for a country where anything is possible. It is powerful, patriotic and compelling American rock. Fortunately, it is done well enough that you can't help but love them.

As the night falls A$AP Rocky is entertaining a huge crowd. The Harlem backpack hip hopper is not really my thing but it's obvious he is a brilliant entertainer and seems to have acquired a large and zealous following. But having forgotten to eat all day I bail to go and get food, and three days with barely any sleep is catching up. Instead I use the free internet at Starbucks and download Friends' EP to feed my growing obsession.