SxSW Day 5: You Just Can't Resist Parquet Courts - Or The Food Trucks

18 March 2013 | 9:52 am | at SxSW

Perez Hilton in a tartan suit. Some Sailor Moon impersonators. Parquet Courts killed it. But no christian witches. Yep, we ended SxSW in interesting fashion.

With all the rushing about and queuing for bands, it's very easy to miss the non-gig elements of SXSW. But the Flatstock 38 is not to be missed. Housed in the Convention Centre, and presented by non-profit organisation American Poster Institute, Flatstock features gig posters from around the world. Featured artists also sell their wares from stalls. Despite the wide variety of artists represented (they had designed for everyone from Phish to Aretha Franklin), it would seem you ain't worth nuthin' til you've designed Jack White posters (there seems to be a lot). But props to the guy who does metal redesigns of artist logos, ranging from Celine Dion to Mumford & Sons. Suffice to say that money was spent. Impressive too to see Aus artist Ken Taylor almost sold out by Saturday afternoon - in fact, his stall looked more cleaned out than anyone else's.

Heading across to Rainey Street, there's one more distraction before hitting the live gig trail for one last day. Food trucks. The food truck boom has hit Austin in a big way. Every vacant block downtown has been converted into mobile food courts. The Rainey Street food truck court is too much to resist.

Hyped-up UK shoegazers TOY are guests of today's Dickies gathering at Lustre Pearl. Looking like they met at a Horrors fan convention, the set starts badly (with minimal soundcheck time at SXSW, acts often use their first track to get the mix right, meaning there are a lot of shaky first songs throughout the week). But by set's end, TOY have built a might wall of gaze. And one thing becomes blatantly obvious that wasn't as apparent on TOY recordings, the singer sounds EXACTLY like Steve Kilbey - this is a good thing.

And so to the Perez Hilton party at the Austin Music Hall. With Hilton himself bedecked in a hideous tartan suit, and celebrating the arrival of his new child, the crowd is full of tween girls dressed as Sailor Moon. Huh? Maybe it has something to do with the appalling excuse for music onstage, something called Brooke Candy who is screeching her way through the lowest common denominator EDM available. Thankfully it's not a long wait for the reason to be here. Angel Haze. This Virginian rapper is hotter than the Austin sun but this is maybe not the best environment to witness her. Haze raps over her own recorded vocals and some bottom end is missing in the mix. Worse still, Haze's in-between song banter is pure schmaltz. However when she gets down to business, she owns the stage. Her rhymes are fierce and her swag is confident. When she previews a new track, we are treated to just a brief minute of it, Haze cutting it short with: "that's just a snippet, the rest is on iTunes." But she rolls out the hand-clap hit New York, it's easy to believe that she really does "run New York".

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At the Moody Theatre the timetable has been re-jigged and instead of country soul legend Bobby Bare Sr, we get country double-neck guitarist Junior Brown. To watch Brown work his guitar, which rests on a podium, is beyond a treat and his cheeky lyrics seem quaintly old-fashioned until he hits us with Hang Up And Drive.

It's a long hike across the highway and down to the east end of 6th Street to Hotel Vegas for Fletcher C Johnson. But this is well worth the sore feet. The Brooklyn trio's melodic garage translates into a sweaty stage show (it does help that the room is rammed and air-condition-less). When they drop their cover of Spirit In The Sky, the room goes nuts. Let's hope they are aware of the Spirit In The Sky curse (it's believed to be a career ender) - this may be the last we hear of Fletcher C Johnson so make the most of them while you can.

Also from New York is Empress Of. She attracts a small but very enthusiastic crowd to her "only official showcase" at Mohawk (this is the only time I have ever seen the outdoor room not overflowing). That might be because her music can be difficult. It's wonky yet spacious, almost alt.R&B but not quite. And although we get a sample of exactly how powerful her voice is during soundcheck, Empress Of's voice swims in ethereal effects to achieve the sound that tracks like Champagne have in their recorded form. Her onstage self is so honest and awkward though, it has hard not to fall for her a little bit more with each song performed.

On to Red 7 and a long queue means only getting to see the last song of buzz-band Merchandise. What is witnessed is far more intense than the new wave pop of their Listen Up 'hit'. But there's no chance of seeing them later in the night at another showcase (they had been performing twice a day here) as they announce, "That's it for us, that's all for this mess." The only band more talked about than Merchandise this week is Parquet Courts and they are up next. If you are not across these guys yet, start clicking around now. This Brooklyn punk group are the real shit. It's stripped back, no nonsense stuff but they don't forget the catchy riffs - you hear Master Of My Craft once and the "forget about it" refrain is stuck in your head for good. The band move so quickly between songs that sometimes it's hard to tell if it's a false ending to the previous song or not - it doesn't matter to tonight's crowd, whenever there's just a second of dead air they are screaming and clapping approval. The night's highlight.

On a buzz roll, it's time to hit one of the other most-discussed acts of the week. However Canadian Mac DeMarco's slacker rock isn't cutting it live. The humour and off-kilter arrangements of his studio output is sounding like run-of-the-mill college rock at The Parish. Or perhaps it's just post-Parquet Courts blues kicking in.

Back out on 6th Street it is almost impossible to move. Yet there at one intersection is the annual anti-SXSW protest. The determined christian party-poopers are under the impression that SXSW is a gathering of homosexuals and witches (that's what the sign says) but tonight are surrounded by a group of gay christians determined to drown out the anti-gay message. No christian witches have gathered though.

It takes about 15 minutes just to shuffle down to the Aussie BBQ, a block away at Maggie Mae's. Once again, all the talk here is about Gold Fields. But with Flume, Seth Sentry and 360 headlining it is now impossible to get near the rooftop stage (and the line outside is still way long).

Another slow shuffle along 6th Street ends at Velveeta Room. Empty upon entrance, once The Casket Girls hit the stage, the room has filled up. The punters behind me note, "must be some buzz on this band, let's go up front." Hailing from Georgia, the Girls are said to be the project of Ryan Graveface of Black Moth Super Rainbow and Dreamend infamy, with sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene up front. But who knows for sure with most of the band hidden behind masks, sunglasses and matching blonde wigs. Together though the have concocted a trippy mix of '60s girl group pop (there's even choreography) and escaped-from-the-Valley Of The Dolls psyrock.

That's it, no more. Not even rumours of a second Prince show can keep a punter going. Determined to end the SXSW experience on a high, this is the end.