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It is March. SXSW time. The gift that keeps giving. Two years now since I said I would never go back and no sign of me keeping my word. I am asked all the time if it is different now, if it used to be better. All I can say is that I have never failed to have a spectacular week of music in Austin at every one of my THIRTEEN years there. 2019 was once more quite special.

There for five days and nights, I saw 97 shows, well I actually saw a lot more but if I don’t stay to hear at least two songs I don’t bother counting them as being seen - you have to have rules, standards.

So, 97 sessions from seventeen different countries. 43 acts were from the USA, 12 from England, seven from Australia, six from Canada and four from Scotland (all Glasgow). I saw bands from Germany, Holland, Croatia as well as from Japan, South Korea and Thailand and a bunch of other countries. The most represented cities of the acts that I saw were LA with nine, London with eight, NYC with seven including five from Brooklyn, five from Austin and four from Glasgow!!! I visited 43 different venues, only. Given that there were around 2000 bands here spread across 200 venues, I have to say that's a poor show. Still it made me happy. Here is part one of my review. Stop here if you want thirty minutes of your life back.

Day One: Tuesday

I started in Cedar Street Courtyard and watched Illuminati Hotties. It is 1pm in the afternoon. We are off!! Illuminati Hotties are the one women band of Sarah Tudzin from LA. For the live shows she brought on a band to showcase her “tender punk pioneer” stuff as she describes it. A pleasant start.


Into Barracuda’s dark interior to see the solo show from Murray Lightburn, the lead singer of The Dears. Rolling Stones mag reviewed this show and said “he drew the shortest straw possible when it came to the venue for his solo show - a backyard stage on a noisy alley next to a hip hop club, made even less hospitable by a thick clot of chattering disrespect at the bar” . Well I do not know what he was expecting - this is SXSW, baby!! Too whimsical at this time of the day, I needed some oomph.

So on to another backyard lot, at Side bar to see Bad Bad Hats, a decent little band from Minneapolis. Straightforward nineties indie pop rock. They didn’t mind the rival music sounds nor bar chat!! Professionals!


Tuesday is changeover day at SXSW, the Interactive crowd are wrapping up and leaving as the Music bunch drift in, so there are usually less afternoon parties and they are often empty. I love this quiet build up to the frenzy of Sixth street in a few days time. Into Beerland to see who is playing and the first exploration away from my carefully crafted paper list of shows that I must see. On stage are a rather odd bunch of folk. It is a band called Guts Club whose name conjures up some punk two minutes thrashing or a death metal squealing. It is neither, what it is though is “the cracked and slithering quasi-country act of New Orleans’ Lindsay Baker” says Tiny Mix Tapes blog site.

I was about to leave after three minutes when it just went up several notches and I realized this was something special. Check out this band camp link to hear her lovely meandering geetar and special vocals: https://soundcloud.com/guts-club


This kickstarted a typical SXSW run of great shows one after the other. Into Mohawk, an iconic SXSW venue, to see local band Broken Light Social Hour. This was a band that I noted played SXSW every year. I had always meant to see them but always went somewhere else instead. They were sparkling. Big stage sound and presence, packed venue and obviously a huge local favorite. They were so good that I went to see them again when I got back to Portland one week later. The band describe themselves as mood-punk psychonauts and the description sort of fits. Excellent.

Here is the video to their newest song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZuXe6JHJQI&list=RDNZuXe6JHJQI&start_radio=1&t=15


In to Cheer Up Charlies to see the much talked about Washington DC band, Priests. Led by their wild front woman Katie Alice Greer, they almost lived up to their Buzz Band hype. In days gone by they would have been Transvision Vamp, for you old timers. Enjoyable twenty minutes of power pop.


The same venue has a tiny indoor stage where they seem to have a policy of putting some of the biggest draws to play there and thereby cause the biggest crowd crushes of the week. This year is no different as inside were no other than the legendary Chills from New Zealand. The Chills are really Martin Phillipps own band and they are in SXSW in support of a documentary movie all about him called The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillipps, about how he had the indie music world at his fingertips in the eighties but depression, debt and drugs turned into contacting Hepatitis C and serious illness. Now he is clean and supporting his own movie. The little room was packed. I had one of those moments just before they came on when two promotional people were handing out leaflets announcing the movie and one asked me, have you heard of The Chills before. I smiled and said I owned every release on the Flying Nun record label, The Chills’ label and one of the all time great indie labels, based out of New Zealand where The Chills come from, and of course therefore all The Chills stuff. Yes, I know, but I could not help myself. The show was great if a bit chaotic for the crowd.

Here are The Chills at their peak in 1984!!! 35 years ago…… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjW3MT8D9RY&list=RDpjW3MT8D9RY&start_radio=1


I rounded off the first afternoon with one of the acts of the week. Julie Odell from New Orleans. Her vocals were off the planet. She deserves to be quite big. Psychedelic songs that chop and change all over the place. Here is the song that captured me: https://julieodell.bandcamp.com/track/cardinal-feather


Discipline prevailed this year. So I took a break to have a real meal. Then off into the evening for the first of the official showcases. To Latitude 30 which is always taken over by the BBC showcasing all the acts from GB and Ireland. First band of the week for them was from Glasgow so I had to check them out. They were Lucia who certainly looked like rockstars and their accent was great but the show, not so much. You don’t get a good review just by being Scottish.


Followed that with the first of many great London bands I see during the week, Honey Lungs. Suitably grunge heavy start to up the energy levels at Seven Grand.


It was time to follow a SXSW tradition. The first time I ever attended SXSW, in 2006, the first show I saw was in BD Riley’s Irish Bar. The band’s name escapes me but it had Mud in the title. I just met a friend making his first ever trip to SXSW so for his first show, I took him, Dermott, to the same venue. We saw a great LA old school fun rock n roll band called Spooky Mansion. A perfect band to play one of my house shows I thought.

Apologies for the quality of this photo but it lets you see the squashed in venue that is BDRiley’s.


Then it was time for another of the top shows of the week. London’s Another Sky were sensational on the rooftop at Maggie Maes. Obviously well on the road to great things in the UK, they lived up to all the pre publicity before their stateside arrival. Here is but a small excerpt from the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWP03g5fiFA

But that does not do justice to their sound and especially Catrin Vincent’s beautiful voice, so I insist that you watch this video below all the way through, you will understand once you have done so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJWMV33d2cw


The Women are dominating SXSW again. Next it was to one of Thailand’s best bands, My Life As Ali Thomas who raised Valhalla to the ground. My Life as Ali Thomas is an expression of ‘Pie” Kanyapak Wuttara’s ‘other twin’, a songstress in isolation existing in contrast to her waking life. Her words. If you play SXSW and come all the way from Thailand, you are obviously already recognized as being a bit special. So it is always a safe bet to go and see the furthest travel bands. Pie did not disappoint.

Here is the last 45 seconds of her set: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QinWsvlLQ_k


The night slowed down after that. Caught a decent set by Gold Connections, a Virginia band, then a few Austin bands who also had a decent local following, Sweet Spirit and Go Fever, party rock outfits.

Perhaps the best of the rest of the night was in Las Perlos where I watched another London based act, Eliza Shaddad. Born to Sudanese and Scottish parents, you just knew she was going to be very good. And. She was. Folky Grunge. Is that a thing?

Buy her album: https://elizashaddad.bandcamp.com/track/just-goes-to-show


Then it was final band of the day time as it was already 1am…. Geowolf, a sort of beauty pop troupe from Australia up on Maggie Mae’s rooftop. Pleasant end to a cracking Day One.


Only four more days of this. :(

But also four more reviews.

Band of the day? Another Sky just shaded Julie Odell with My Life As Ali Thomas not far behind.