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SXSW 2014: The Good, The Great, and The Ugly – Part 1

Let’s address the obvious first, the ugly part of SXSW 2014.

As many of you know, there was an accident outside the Mohawk club in Austin, Texas last Wednesday night. And it was awful.

A driver crashed into a crowd, killing three and injuring over 20 more.

I was present at the time, watching a band called “X” perform and decided to take a peek over the second level balcony looking over the street.

The Mohawk is a popular venue, Red River Street is closed to traffic and there are always pedestrians; I wanted to see how long the line had gotten.

I missed seeing this senseless act by seconds and only know this because of what I saw unfold next.

Looking down I noticed what appeared to be a number of people laying on the street. Trying to make sense of it, my initial thoughts in a few seconds were: “That’s strange.  Why is everyone laying down?  Is this some kind of flash mob stunt?”

Seconds later, a police car, lights flashing, weaved through those on the ground and sped off. Bystanders from both sides of the sidewalk then rushed to those laying on the street. I looked north up the street, the path the squad car took, only to see what seemed to be dozens more laying down.

To my horror, this is the moment that I had realized what had just occurred.

“A fucking car just drove through a crowd of people?”  I say to myself. I was frozen; “This can’t be real,” I thought. But then I noticed one woman with a very critical head injury.

This was all too real.

What I saw I can’t un-see, but I consider myself to be very lucky. I had been walking in the very spot of this horror just an hour before. I had it good. There were many people heavily affected by this far worse then me simply being there.

The injured, the families who lost there loved ones, the people who all rushed to help strangers, these are the people who my thoughts go out to.

Speaking of rushing to help, my hats off to the police, paramedics, and staff of Austin and SXSW who were on the scene within minutes.  As people in the venue were oblivious to the events outside, I ran over to my friend and told him what had just happened.

We then looked out on the street to see all the folks in uniform arrive, and again, this had to be only a couple minutes. This display of fast action was truly amazing in hindsight.

Nothing more to say here about that other then I hope this act does not define SXSW 2014. And I hope those directly affected can heal both physically and emotionally with each day.

Now, let’s lighten things up and talk music. The bands I saw the first couple days and my quick thoughts:

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Slaves – These two lads from the UK who, for a duo, can make as much noise as Bad Religion.

Holy shit, this is the first band I saw and they unfairly set the bar for the rest of my week.

In fact, they are the only act I saw on Day 1 and I went to see them the very next day at 3:00 and they still rocked my face off in the daylight.

Singer/Drummer Isaac (only one snare, one tom, and one cymbal) stands, shouts, sings all while shaking to the rythm he’s pounding out.  Lone guitar man Laurie backs it up on vocals and produces a wall of sound worthy of (really, insert any UK punk band here).  Raw, loud, punk rock with the angst of The Damned or The Clash while still managing to appear as if they are having a blast with the audience and each other.

Currently, back to touring in Europe and they told me they are planning a summer tour of the U.S.

Fingers crossed, go see this band.  The best I saw all week.

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Eagulls – Another UK band that was at the top of my list to see. Listened to them a bunch before I left and was pumped to see them.

Heavy sound likened to Joy Division but with more winy Brit vocals.

The noon time set I checked up was a bit of a let down.  It was loud but zero energy.

I gave them a hall pass and chalked it up to them most likely just rolling out of bed.

Sure enough, when I went to tell the singer I liked his band, he says, “Wellm thanks but it’s quite early in the morning for us.’

They played about six shows in all and I probably should have gave it a second look.

I think for me what I was missing is the energy of the music did not match the totem pole stance of the leading man.

Iggy Pop running around would make this band better.

Here’s a clip from one of their SXSW shows (one I didn’t see):

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The Hold Steady – Indie Rock heroes, greatest bar band.

What can I say, I love this band.  They’ve gone from the ‘not as accessible musically’ first record to an arena rock Bruce Springsteen vibe.  SXSW is supposed to be a bit about discovery of new bands.  That said, I’ve seen them before and I saw them twice this week.

Other then a few new tracks from their forthcoming record Teeth Dreams, out this month, did I get anything new out of them performance-wise?  Nope, but it doesn’t matter.  They are a rock band with no apologies.

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Noah Gundersen – singer-songwriter from Seattle, Wa.

I knew nothing about him and was just along for the walk with some others.

Still nursing the previous night’s hangover, his acoustic sound, slow cadence, and smooth but raspy voice was just what the doctor ordered.

Beautifully written songs that are for moments late in the evening.  Perhaps best listening alone w/ a glass of bourbon.

I’m going to seek out his stuff a bit more now that I’m home.

Also, overheard, one of his tracks appears on the show Sons of Anarchy.

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Tokyo Police Club – Indie rock band from Canada.  This band is pure pop.

Again, I knew nothing about them.  At first they reminded me of the third Jets to Brazil record and then they switched gears on me 8 more times.  Very much a poppy, easy to listen to band but they have some dynamics to them and they surprised me at a couple turns.  Listen for them during a happy montage before the closing credits of a GIRLS episode, that’s the vibe.

Editorial note: Other Japan sounding band name with no Japanese members; Japandroids, Japanther, etc.

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Tweens – Garage band, three piece.

If you like garage, you will like this band.  That is all.

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X – Punk rock legends/pioneers of L.A.

I had never seen X before.  I needed to check this on my punk rock bucket list.

I’m glad I did, they still can bring it.  Nuff said.

 

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More recap coming soon…