Not gonna lie: we kinda missed SXSW, traffic, lines, free-flowing human chaos and all. SPIN hosted a number of raging day shows throughout the years, but for SXSW’s return, we had to come back with a real-deal official showcase at Stubb’s. And who could be more official than The Lemonheads?
By the time the band took the stage at midnight, Stubb’s was packed and filled with anticipation. For most of the night, the attendees moved in and out between both stages. Then The Lemonheads, who have appeared on a pair of SPIN cover stories in the past, took the stage.
Evan Dando and company ripped through their classic 1992 album, It’s a Shame About Ray, as the party’s marquee feature, and even if at least half of the audience hadn’t been born by the time they initially broke up, Dando’s youthful warble still filled Stubb’s vast gravely lawn. One could probably hear Dando and the rest of us “Raaaaaay” from the Capitol less than a mile from the venue. Nearly three decades later, the one-two punch of “Bit Part” and “Allison’s Starting to Happen” still goes for the punky, lovelorn heart. Soundtracks and breakups and lineup changes be damned, they still hold up.
Folks were clearly wanting to rock out after a couple of years off, and the reception to Bass Drum of Death and Pom Pom Squad bore this out. For their first show in two years, Bass Drum of Death’s garage rock was the staple of the raging SXSW parties at the fest’s height a decade back. Pom Pom Squad brought the grunge energy and even covered Weezer’s 1994 slacker rock classic “Undone (The Sweater Song),” which of course went over fantastically.
If there was someone who really broke out Thursday night – this fest used to break artists from time to time, strangely enough – it was Brooklyn’s Dead Tooth. A singer with a classic lanky pose singing with modern punk desperation? A saxophone player with leather shorts and a vest with no shirt? All with all killer, no filler rockin’? People ate it up, and you should too.
The night rang in on two different notes: first, YUNGMORPHEUS’ jazzy raps kicked off the night, and had he not admitted he blew his voice out singing Ginuwine’s “Pony” at karaoke the night before, you couldn’t tell he was feeling strained.
Early revelers were forgiving – what is SXSW if not a boozy, smoked-meat-filled endurance test for performers, fans, and everyone in between? In a contrast to the rock that would follow, Cassandra Jenkins – a favorite of SPIN editor Daniel Kohn – delivered a set of drifting, almost ambient folk. Except for some chatty folks in the back, because some things never change, Jenkins gave us the balm we didn’t know we needed. Disparate elements coming together, at least for a week, is the essence of the festival.
In their first live show, Robot Sunrise closed things down on the main stage. The crowd got to witness an uptempo, high energy performance that demonstrated that bright days are ahead for the group.
There was plenty of action in Stubb’s intimate indoor room too. As You Were, hailing from Kentucky, laid down straightforward rock ideal for a sweaty cramped setting; Atlanta’s Mattiel immediately followed in a more soulful, dub-tinged direction. BLACKSTARKIDS’ focused yet joyful pop filled the crowd with their undeniable energy that easily could have spilled outdoors, which made Laundry Day’s set thereafter, reminiscent of rock flirting with the smoother side of Britain’s ’90s electronic explosion, a delightful simmer to close the evening.
Boulevards was easily the highlight of the indoor sets. Jamil Rashad’s soul-laden funk gave him all the license to become one with the crowd by diving in. Those are the moments you’ll talk about at SXSWs 10 years from now.
SXSW is fuckin’ back, y’all.