Having now learnt from the previous two days of SXSW (fully creamed up for a start) and the seemingly vastly increased numbers from 2009, I headed straight for The Red Eyed Fly determined at the third attempt to get into a Phosphorescent show…only to be greeted by more lines that stretched way, way into the distance.
Having no further wish to baste in the midday sun, I implemented plan B and headed to the House of Spin; the party with free beer and cupcakes and a line up that included Wavves and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. I arrived for the end of So So Glos and what would be (I guess) an absolutely stereotypical set of American skater punk, nonetheless I enjoyed it and it suited the cold can of cider I was given on arrival. The stage was cut into the side of the rock and offered no escape from the sun whatsoever, Wavves rattled through their set in a blur of breakneck guitars and machine gun drumming and it took The Pains of Being Pure At Heart to offer the first subtleties of the day with a polished set of shoegazey rock and jangly guitars that allowed the songs to take centre stage. A fine finish to the party.
And subtleties and grace and pure songwriting beauty is what you get with country legend Emmylou Harris. The long walk up to the packed stage at Waterloo Records was worth every step as she demonstrated exactly why she is one of the queens of her craft. A simply exquisite set that was followed by the finest, and largest, veggie burger and chips that I have ever seen at the diner next door.
I had picked one evening showcase and was determined to stick with it, not least because it looked about as eclectic and diverse as you could get in an evening, which I guess is the whole beauty of “South By” as the locals abbreviate it. Club De Ville has a great name, and for once I was at the head of its queue. First up were the Cheatahs, whose track The Swan made our Best of December mix, I don’t know what it was here though, but the guitar shapes and squalls of noise left me a bit flat and (again) seemed lacking in a touch of subtlety or a change of pace, or maybe I’ve just seen and heard it done better this week.
Up next came Aussies San Cisco who were new to me, but from the outset seemed to be offering more of the tropically tinged indie rock that has followed me around SXSW. This time though, despite all my expectations they completely won me over, not just the sunny guitar lines and bright, catchy hooks, but because of the fantastic tribal percussion offered up by drummer Scarlett Stevens. Tracks like Fred Astaire, Beach, Rocket Ship and finale Awkward were instantly memorable and was perhaps best summed up at the end by the chap next to me who simply said, “that drummer killed it, didn’t she”. Yes she did.
It was another about turn sound wise for it was the turn of new country sensation Caitlin Rose and her six piece band. The last time I saw her, she sang solo in a tiny venue in Coventry and her songs were simple, gently persuasive acoustic numbers. Not tonight, with a band as tight as any I’ve seen all week, her new found confidence was right to the fore with a sassy, smart and enormously entertaining set. New album highlights came in the shape of Only A Clown, Silver Sings, Pink Champagne, a wonderful rendition of her cover of the Felice Brothers’ Dallas and No One To Call, before ramping up the tempo with a cover of Buck Owen And The Buckeroos’ Tiger By The Tail and finishing with a blistering Shanghai Cigarettes. Wonderful stuff.
Next up were all-female Brits The Savages, another band I had tried and failed to see three times this week already (and a firm favourite of our own Middle Sprat). As they came on, the lights went down, and dressed in uniform black, they were illuminated only in monochrome flashes from cameras. It suited them perfectly, haughty, disdainful and intense, it was completely and utterly compelling. Channeling spiky art rock and post punk into a sparse and ferocious set that recalled classic Siouxsie, Joy Division, John Lydon and PJ Harvey, lead singer Jehnny Beth was a hundred times more intimidating and menacing than anything I’d seen at the Spin House party and stalked the stage like a cat cruelly playing with a wounded bird. Behind her, drummer Fay Milton thrashed the skins in a mesmerising blur like the vicious, uncontrollable little sister of the Muppets’ Animal. Give Me A Gun, I Am Here, No Luck, and first single Flying To Berlin were stunning before an incendiary Husbands finished the set to loud acclaim. If there had been one, the roof would have come off.
A change of pace came with Youth Lagoon with a bubbling, squelchy set of electronic indie rock. “Mellow” is how the chap next to me described it, but I actually think the word he was looking for was “dirgelikedronethatsoundedliketheveryworstoftheFlamingLipsbutwithoutanyofthetalent“. The vocals such as they were sounded like they were emanating from a field of sheep being worried by dogs, so perhaps best to leave it there.
And so, finally, to the headline act and Britain’s newest hope to save the future of music in the shape of the Palma Violets. Fresh from a highly acclaimed debut album, a single of the year accolade from the NME for Best Of Friends, and with Step Up For The Cool Cats becoming an office fave, I was looking forward to one of their much talked about live shows. Fair to say it was as watchable as anything I ever seen at a gig as the band stormed the stage, whirling, strutting and posturing and being as provocative and inflammatory as the rules of maximum rock’n'roll demand. The unfortunate thing was that while it was great to watch, the sound was one massive blur of distortion with anything as (that word again) subtle as a tune buried way down beneath the white noise. I briefly made out snatches of the two singles but that, literally, was all. While their flame burns mighty fiercely, I fear it may not burn for very long.
Day three was over, and like our famed Ascot Races, it had been one for the ladies. Emmylou, Scarlett Stevens, Caitlin Rose, and Savages proving themselves to be Austin’s top cats (to steal a Ray Wylie Hubbard phrase) in every way.