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Will's Band of the Week

A weekly podcast featuring indie and alternative rock bands, hosted by aging rockers and founding members Will, Barrett and Chris from Madison, Wisconsin along with bureau chiefs Anurag from Ontario, Canada; Craig from Ipswich, U.K.; Nicholas from Melbourne, Australia; David from New York City; and Jeremiah from Santa Fe, New Mexico; plus contributors Grant and Wilson from Madison, Wisconsin. Contact us by email, Twitter @willsband, or Facebook.

SXSW Report 2024

Mar 20, 2024

I have just completed my fourth visit to the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, accompanied by podcast cohorts David and Jeremiah. I thought I would write up a summary for my own archives and in an attempt not to annoy people by telling them about it incessantly.

This is not your standard music festival where bands play in a huge park with three or four stages and 50,000 people watching each band. Instead, there are over 1,000 bands playing on 100 or more stages throughout the city. Most of the venues have a capacity somewhere between about 50 and 1,000 people. For the bands I tend to like the typical venue probably has a capacity of about 200 people. So it is an opportunity to see bands in smaller venues, far superior to the big festival experience in my opinion. 

The bands that play at SXSW tend to be highly motivated, bands that are actually trying to make a living in the music industry. This eliminates many of the bands I and my cohorts are fans of, all the great music being made by people in their basements, bedrooms, etc. just for the sake of making music. I think there is a place for both. But you only get one side of that coin at SXSW.

As long as you do your research (or have a trusted friend who does the research), it can be a very fun adult music playground.

We saw many great bands, many more good bands, and far fewer so-so bands. We met some cool people. We got tired. Our feet got sore. Our ears rang. And it was all worthwhile. Here's my recap, in the order of the bands I saw.

Tuesday, March 12

I hit the ground running with (1) Tramhaus from Rotterdam, Netherlands. This was at the so-called International Day Stage, and there was just one problem; they wouldn't let me in without a badge (I had the more cost-effective music wristband) so I watched from an opening in the fence. Tramhaus is a good propulsive post-punk band with a singer who sings, shouts, and talks to varying degrees. I found them to be an enjoyable start to my festival experience.

My friends and I decided on a three-song rule. To say you "saw" a band you must have listened to at least three songs. Therefore, Touch Girl Apple Blossom from Austin, of which I caught only a song and a half, does not count. They sounded good, though. I'd like to hear more.

Next was (2) Bodega from New York City, a band I have liked since their brilliant first album released a few years ago. They are still going strong with a new album coming out next month. The stand-up drummer and front and center singer/hi-hat player were especially cool. This was at the patio at Hotel Vegas. Hotel Vegas is essentially three venues in one - there is the Hotel Vegas bar, the Volstead Lounge, and the back patio area. They probably hosted about 100 shows during the week.

On to the Empire Control Room for (3) Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian singer-songwriter now living in Florida. I tend to much prefer full band performances, but she pulled off the solo performance quite well, especially with her commanding opener. The Empire complex includes the Garage, a large space with a tent set up in the back area in case of rain, and the Control Room, a very small and intimate space with an excellent sound system. Speaking of excellent sound systems, they are everywhere at SXSW and many of the spaces are makeshift/temporary setups. I don't know where all the portable sound equipment comes from but somehow the music sounds good almost everywhere.

Next was (4) Alix Fernz from Montreal at the Swan Dive. We joke about Jeremiah always liking bands from Montreal. This was fun, bouncy synth-pop fitting well within the Montreal tradition. The Swan Dive is another "double" venue with the divey bar in front and a cool outdoor patio in the back.

Then we headed next door to the Chess Club to see (5) Bee Bee Sea, a surf-punk band from Castel Goffredo, Italy. The Chess Club is a tiny bar with a small stage that barely has enough space for a band. If you are close to the front you are essentially right next to the band. It can be hot and uncomfortable but being that close to the band is pretty great. Bee Bee Sea played an impressive energetic set.

From there Jeremiah and I headed east to the Low Down Lounge for (6) Library Card from Rotterdam, the second of three excellent Rotterdam bands we would see. This band is right up my alley. Dark post-punk bass lines and guitar progressions, and a talk-singer. All talented people and the songs really hit the sweet spot for me. Winner of day one, in my opinion. After this midnight show it was time to get some sleep.


Wednesday, March 13

Paste Magazine gets the award for the best free unofficial daytime shows. For three days they hosted shows for the entire afternoon on four stages -- bars the High Noon and Coral Snake across the street from each other, each with an indoor and outdoor stage. Over 60 bands in total and the "hit rate" was high. They were sponsored by Ilegal Mezcal, who provided free samples good enough that I think I am going to buy some mezcal for the first time in my life.

We started Wednesday at noon with a set by (7) Friko from Chicago inside at the High Noon. Wow, what a talented band, in particular singer/guitarist Niko Kapetan. It's not just the energy, but the creative songwriting and musicanship. Buy your indie rock stock in this band ASAP. As I was watching Friko I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was Jon, our friend who manages the band Thus Love. It was fun to meet Jon in person and he had some pretty fun band management stories along with engaging indie rock discussions.

After Friko it was outside for (8) Smut, also from Chicago, featuring some '90s alt rock style and top-notch frontwoman Tay Roebuck. Another solid set.

From there it was across the street to see (9) Coach Party from the Isle of Wight, England. Another solid power pop band. And when I say power I mean they bring the power, not just that their instruments are connected to electrical power. My only complaint is that their super catchy track "Be That Girl" somehow didn't make it onto the setlist.

Then it was up to Lazarus Brewing, where the guys from the Music For Listeners radio show in San Antonio have been hosting bands in the afternoons during SXSW for several years. They have excellent taste and there are always numerous bands worth checking out. The setting is great with picnic tables along with good beer, tacos and appetizers. First up here was Jon's band (10) Thus Love from Brattleboro, Vermont, making a SXSW appearance for the second straight year. I missed them last year after their drummer had an accident and was unable to play. They are probably best described as a goth + post punk band but what I think stands out most is the singer, Echo's, commanding voice. Jon tells us the upcoming album is going to be good!

One of those fun "people you meet" experiences happened here. Jon introduced me to a guy from the Netherlands named Marco who is a prominent Instagram personality known as Opposite Marco. (See @oppositemarco, I think.) We had a great time talking with Marco and ran into him a few more times the rest of the week.

Next at Lazarus was (11) Omni from Atlanta. I would describe them as spiky, rhythmic post-punk. I have liked this band for a long time, but there was something about this set that just seemed a little off. Maybe the setting just didn't match their musical style. More on Omni later.

The last show of the afternoon at Lazarus was (12) Corridor from Montreal. They are French Canadians full of energy and musicianship. This was one of the highlights of the festival for me. I love this band.

For Wednesday evening there was an excellent lineup at the Empire Garage and Control Room starting with (13) the Belair Lip Bombs from Melbourne, Australia. This is another band for which I recommend you acquire some indie rock stock. They have a "sounds like they're from Australia" sound and the singer sounds ever so slightly like Courtney Barnett at times but they have their own character and the whole set was consistently good.

Next up in the Empire Control room was Los Angeles synth-punk band (14) Automatic. This was a bizarre gig. Singer/synth player Izzy Glaudini had difficulty getting her equipment set up which caused the set to start about 15 minutes late. At times the set was sloppy, with missed notes, off rhythm, etc. Nevertheless I found it to be an enjoyable set. Kind of a punk attitude with a somewhat uncommon instrumental composition.

After Automatic I fought my way through the crowd to see (15) Dry Cleaning from London at the Control Room next door while David stayed in the Garage to see Bar Italia. I've been enjoying Dry Cleaning's music for a few years now but had not had the chance to see them live. They are led by talk-singer, mostly talker, Florence Shaw surrounded buy some big dudes, one with a big mustache and another with a big beard -- it's a sight to behold. Musically, I'd say they were just OK. With that style you need to figure out how to keep the music interesting. They hinted at that with the last track, which was a long noisy jam.

Then it was back to the Garage for Chicago band (16) Deeper. This was one of the surprises and highlights of the festival for me. On record they play the spiky post-punk but live the whole sound was expanded to the point they sometimes sounded like the Cure. They were dark and intense, building on their recorded sound. This band should be drawing some good crowds on tour.

Deeper's set started at midnight, so afterwards it was getting close to 1:00 a.m. and I was dead tired but there was one more band, to see, (17) Dust from Newcastle, Australia. In the post-punk category. I hit the three-song minimum, but as David commented at some point, my ability to absorb music was compromised. I had to call it a night. I'll need to give Dust another chance.


Thursday, March 14

After a good night's sleep I was ready to rock early in the afternoon, starting with (18) Squirrel Flower aka Ella Williams from Chicago at the Hotel Vegas Volstead Lounge. Squirrel Flower made the news in the days leading up to the festival by initiating a boycott of official SXSW shows based on her opposition to SXSW's inclusion of the U.S. Army as a sponsor, as well as various defense contractors who have supplied weapons supporting the Israeli war on Gaza.  Numerous other bands followed, including most of the Irish bands. Many of the bands who did play official showcases voiced their opposition to the war and in support of the boycotting artists.

Given the publicity, I thought there would be a bigger crowd for Squirrel Flower, but it was the not-uncommon thin early afternoon crowd of about 30. She played solo without her band, which was unfortunate because her most recent album has a pretty heavy full band sound and is my favorite thing she's done. Nevertheless it was a decent solo set.

After Squirrel Flower I caught the last song and half of a Scottish band called Neon Waltz at Lazarus Brewing. It was a good song and a half, but the three-song minimum was not met. Back to the Paste grounds, where I fortuitously encountered (19) Omni for the second time. This time was different. The venue matched their energy much better than their set at Lazarus Brewing and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Then it was across the street in the Coral Snake parking lot where I met David to see Los Angeles band (20) Rocket. This is a band that doesn't really do anything new; all they do is rock. For the guitar geeks out there, they have a dual-Gibson SG arsenal. I've noticed that a lot of bands have one guitarist playing an SG but it's rare that you see two going at once. This totally works for Rocket. It's a wall of rock and roll in your face that you just can't deny. Check out the drummer also. She's giving that kit a beating.

After Rocket it was back across the street for New York City indie rockers (21) Joyer. Another pleasant surprise that I didn't necessarily see coming. Sensitive, but loud. Good songwriting. All good.

The Paste event was just unstoppable. Next up, inside at the High Noon, was Austin band (22) Good Looks. I think this was recommended by David and I have to thank David for recommending so many great bands that I saw this year. There were several bands that I really liked and would not have seen but for David's recommendation. He gets this year's band research reward. I really enjoyed Good Looks. They have an Americana-style sound but there's some great guitar work and just a bit of an edge which to me makes them stand out from the typical Americana band that I might not be able to get too excited about.

Then it was back outside for Indianapolis, Indiana indie rockers (23) Wishy, another pleasant surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed. Great combo of tuneful, loud, good songs, wall of sound, male and female vocals, how can you not like this combination? I'm buying indie rock stock once again.

Are you getting tired like I am? We're barely over half way! OK, the streak had to end at some point, and I'm afraid it did with (24) Worry Club from Chicago. I can't criticize a musician for enthusiasm, and this guy sure had it. For me the music just couldn't quite match the enthusiasm.

On to the Thursday evening agenda, Jeremiah and I went to the British Music Embassy (BME) to see Glasgow, Scotland band (25) Humour. The BME puts on an event every year featuring British bands over the course of several days. In the past they did this at a location called the Cedar Street Courtyard. This year it was moved to the back yard of a Sheraton hotel and it was a great setup with two stages. Humour played on the smaller stage and the setup, lighting and sound quality were all great. They were introduced by legendary British DJ Steve Lamacq. The singer is maybe somewhat of an acquired taste but he is immensely talented and I am on board. Solid band, excellent set.

After Humour I booked it down the Chess Club because how could I miss the encore (second year) performance of (26) La Sécurité? I considered them last year's breakout band but they didn't really break out. It's time for that to happen. What a fun band. I probably annoyed some people by barely making it in and then jostling my way to the front, but I call it old guy privilege. Let the old guys have some fun. Vocalist Éliane Viens-Synnott brings the energy and charisma and the whole band is really talented. Keep on rockin' La Sécurité.

Then it was time for a little change of pace. David had discovered another Rotterdam band, (27) Nagasaki Swim. Turns out the bass player for Library Card, Kat Kalkman, is the keyboard player for Nagasaki Swim. That's an all-star SXSW performance if you ask me. Nagasaki Swim plays a nice easy-going somewhat Americana, but maybe more Netherlanda, style and it's just really nice and enjoyable in the best way. This was at the Driskill Hotel in a seated setting. We met a musician named beccs from Brooklyn there. She had a 1:00 a.m. gig coming up later in the evening/night. I feared for her. I hope it went well. She was nice.

On to Valhalla, dive bar, to see (28) HighSchool from Melbourne, who committed the near-mortal sin of playing live with a drum machine. But they pulled it off! This was a set of consistently good songs in the dark-'80s vein. One of the songs sounded exactly like New Order. The rest had influence from other bands of that era but HIghSchool have forged a sound that isn't too common these days and it's very good. 

At this point I'm getting tired. Have you noticed I've seen quite a few bands already on Thursday? But there are two more bands I'd really like to see. Jeremiah accompanied me to the Swan Dive to see (29) Zoon. I wasn't sure what to expect. Anurag had recommended this Canadian indigenous artist and the album was good but kind of all over the place. I was afraid this could be one of those laptop shows. But it wasn't. Guitar (with about 20 pedals), bass, electric cello (!) and drums. What a talent. I thought it had the emotional power of Sigur Ros with greater dynamic range. It was a crime that there were about 15 people there watching. I hope some of them were influential in the music industry because this band deserves much more attention. I'm buying some more indie rock stock.

Now I am on the verge of expiration but conveniently, on my way back to my hotel the band (30) Ada Oda is playing at a bar called the Marlow. Sleep seems so appealing at this point but Ada Oda was a priority on my list. They are based in Brussels, Belgium and sing in Italian. It does not matter if you can't understand a word they are saying because in this case the music does match the enthusiasm. La Sécuité meets Belle and Sebastian? I don't know. I'm getting tired writing this post so maybe I'm way off. Whatever, it's really good. One of my highlights for sure.


Friday, March 15

Shout out to my hotel, which is not really a shout out because I'm not going to identify the hotel. I don't want you all to know my secret. The hotel was nice, the bed was very comfortable, and the location was great. With my good night's sleep I was ready to rock at noon to see (31) Hinds from Madrid, Spain back at the Paste grounds. There was a line to get in when they opened and this was one of the biggest crowds I have seen for a noon show. It's even more impressive when you consider that Hinds played 14 gigs at SXSW this year. Yes, fourteen. I don't know how they can pull that off but their performance didn't show it, other than they had to limit their set to about 25 minutes in order to make it to the next gig. At this point I would say they are indie rock veterans. Fun band, singing in Spanish, all good.

Next it was inside at the intimate indoor stage at the High Noon to see (32) Shower Curtain. My son Reece had told me about this band from Brooklyn. I had only listened a little but this live performace totally sold me. I talked earlier about Rocket's dual-SG arsenal. Shower Curtain had a triple-Jazzmaster arsenal. That's right, three Jazzmasters with lots of pedals plus bass and drums. It was a total wall of sound and they did it very well. Ear candy for me. Keep on rockin' Shower Curtain!

While we were still at the Paste grounds, it was time to head back outside to see (33) They Are Gutting a Body of Water (aka TAGABOW) from Philadelphia. They were at SXSW last year and Craig had identified them purely by their ridiculous band name. I missed them last year so it was time to see them now. David described them as a very polarizing band. I would agree. They were polarizing in my own head. I think I both loved and hated them. On the negative side, they make absolutely no connection with the audience. The bassist, singer/guitarist and lead guitarist all face the drummer. They play electronic beats between all the songs that to me are just a distraction from what the band does well. And the singer sings with a cigarette handing out of the side of his mouth. To each his own, but I think that's gross. On the positive side, the drummer rocks and they make some intense noise and even some beatiful sounds. 

Time to lighten things up a little. Across the street was (34) Mamalarky from Los Angeles. One of my son Reece's favorite bands. Maybe a little on the light side for me but it was a nice set and had one of those fun SXSW moments when the singer/guitarist had a gear malfunction and asked, "Does anyone have another guitar?" About two songs later she had one. 

At this point Jeremiah had a good idea to head over to the Parish where the Marshall Funhouse event was happening and Being Dead from Austin was due to play. So I booked it over there and Being Dead had been replaced by (35) Kiwi Jr., a podcast favorite from Toronto. This is the third year in a row I've seen Kiwi Jr. at SXSW. Last year in particular was great. But here they were playing the same songs again. Great band but people, you need a refresh. Get some new material and be great again!

Now back to the Hotel Vegas Volstead Lounge to see (36) Holiday Ghosts from Falmouth, UK. It was kind of refreshing to see a band with a true "indie" sound. As I mentioned earlier, most of the bands at SXSW are so highly motivated and yearning to be professional. Maybe that's the case with Holiday Ghosts but they don't come across that way. They just sound like a band that likes to make music they like. And the drummer who sings is great.

Next was (37) Blushing at the small bar at Hotel Vegas next door. They are an Austin shoegaze band. I saw them two years ago at Lazarus Brewing and they just seemed to have an off day. They looked like they really didn't want to be there. But this year was different. They had a renewed confidence and enthusiasm. They have a new album and a big tour coming up. A band to watch.

On my way out of the venue I ran into Marco, who was chatting with the members of Programmique, a Brooklyn post-punk band. We got to talking about (38) Library Card and I informed Marco that their drummer had told me about another gig happening in about half an hour. So off we went to the Side Bar to see Library Card. We met David and Jeremiah there also. This second time around for me did nothing to lessen my love of Library Card.

After Library Card we had a break from the music for a couple hours when Jeremiah's gracious friends, Matt and Georgia, took us to an excellent cajun restaurant.

After dinner we headed for the Creek and the Cave (formerly known as the Barracuda), another venue with both indoor and outdoor spaces, and this one is particularly good. While David stopped in the front indoor room to see LA-based Wilt, I went to the back for (39) Bleach Lab from London. I would say they fall on the lighter side of a shoegaze vibe. Sometimes I prefer music with a little more edge but what makes Bleach Lab stand out is their singer, who has a commanding and "professional" voice, which I mean in a good way.

Next at the same venue, outside at the Creek and the Cave, was Atlanta artist (40) Bathe Alone. Bathe Alone is a solo project of Bailey Crone but for this gig she put together a large band, which was really cool except for the fact that the large band seemed to create problems with the mix, with individual instruments often being inaudible. Maybe it was growing pains. I hope they have a good future.

Finally, we are getting to my closer. I booked it across town to Cooper's BBQ to see (41) Pylon Reenactment Society. Pylon was a legendary underappreciated band from Athens, Georgia who broke up long ago but their singer, Vanessa Briscoe Hay, put together this new band not only to play old Pylon songs but also to write, record and perform new material. They're still good.


At this point, after 41 gigs by 39 bands, it's time to sleep, and dream of SXSW 2025.