SXSW ’17 roundup: the best of
There are thousands of bands to see at SXSW, and it’s impossible to see them all. Whether you plan it all out, or let the night take you where it wants, you’re going to end up seeing some incredible bands. Here are six bands that really impressed me over the past week:
Temples brought a set that was unlike any other. The band looks like something straight out of a vintage magazine with wide legged pants and fringed hair. They have a crisp, experimental pop sound without being too generic. If the Beatles were still around today, they’d probably sound a lot like Temples. The band has the kind of sound that pulls you in and encapsulates you in a dreamy, fizzy world. There wasn’t much interaction between the band and the audience, but Temples has the kind of vibe that doesn’t need talking between to keep the set lively. Aesthetically and musically, Temples had one of the most put together sets of the week.
When she was being announced, the crowd was told that once Kate Nash hit the stage, they would feel hideously underdressed. That statement was absolutely true. The British rocker came out in a sparkly, shimmery skirt. The matching jacket, which she immediately took off, revealed a black gauze top with pink pom-poms adorning the shoulders and chest. That kind of confidence radiated through her performance, as the singer strutted around the stage. She had crisp vocals, even while jumping and dancing all over the stage. Her set was one of the most energetic and exciting of the week, with her pop hits making everyone in the room bounce a little.
Hippo Campus is another band that fits perfectly on the SXSW lineup. The band is no stranger to Austin either, as they played SXSW in 2014. The Minnesota natives served up melodic guitar-driven pop that sounds like something out of a dream. Everything was light and made you want to bounce around. What’s perhaps most impressive is the band’s age. In a festival where bands that have been around since the ‘90s, Hippo Campus sticks out as a young favorite. The band plays with an air of genuine joy and a sense of humility that’s hard to find in many acts their age. What stuck out most was singer Jake Luppen’s utter command of his own voice. It takes most vocalists a long time to be comfortable with all ends of their range, but Luppen navigates his own voice with ease.
Del Paxton played in an intimate space at Cheer Up Charlie’s, but the size of the room didn’t keep the band from putting out their best. The band took their name from the jazz pianist in the movie That Thing You Do!, so they already had a spot in my heart. The band, hailing from New York, brought a little punk to the indie-focused SXSW lineup. It can be difficult playing in small bars, but Del Paxton wasn’t fazed. All the set was missing was a bit of crowd surfing, but all can be forgiven while playing a space that was barely big enough for 100 people to squeeze into.
Naked Giants was the band that impressed me the most at SXSW. The band played a handful of sets during the week, including a set before the 20th-anniversary screening of the film Hype!, which centered on the grunge scene in Seattle in the ‘90s. Although it was a bit odd seeing a band play in the lobby of a theater, surrounded by posters advertising upcoming children’s shows. However, the band made the most of an awkward situation and filled the room with more sound and energy than anyone could’ve expected. The Seattle band has a unique combination of retro, ‘70s sounding vocals juxtaposed against true punk grunge. Often, a three-piece band isn’t enough to create a full, round sound, but Naked Giants leave nothing to be desired. The band has an immensely impressive grasp on their musicality. The sheer level of skill needed to play grunge that actually sounds like a melody and not noise isn’t as easy as one would think. Throughout their performance, I was absolutely impressed by every member of the band. Grant Mullen’s vocals are just the right mix of wild and totally controlled that give him the heir of a rockstar with decades of experience. In addition, Mullen’s guitar solos left reverb, fuzz and admiration in my heart. In an era when guitar solos are few and far to come by, Naked Giants still knows how to get down. Drummer Henry LaVallee puts his entire self into shows, thrashing himself around at moments yet playing with absolute precise. Grunge is dependent on a great backbeat, and LaVallee offers more than the minimum. The band’s show wouldn’t be the same without bassist Gianni Aiello’s smooth moves. His basslines are unique and add to the fuzzy flavor of it all. The band is still up-and-coming, with only around 8,000 monthly Spotify listeners, but I expect that won’t last long. It’s been a long time since a grunge band truly impressed me, but Naked Giants left me wanting more.
Post Animal posted about a show at the Love Goat only hours before, and the band drew a crowd of 30 or so into the little bar. The band was glad to be out of the chilly Chicago for a little bit. Some of the band’s draw is Joe Keery, who plays Steve on Netflix’s tv show, Stranger Things. However, Keery didn’t make the trek with the band. That didn’t keep people from showing up for the experimental psych band. Their sound is much cleaner live than it is recorded, but it’s pretty difficult to recreate such a fuzzy sound in person. The band was still impressive, nonetheless. They have a unique sound that fit in well with the festival, yet they had a pretty small draw. It’s a shame the band is still pretty unknown, but with their SXSW debut and Keery’s popularity, it’s just a matter of time before the band hits the big time.
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