By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
There was quite the time to be had at the Double Wide on Sunday night for Parade of Flesh's annual post-South by Southwest bash, the recently branded Bro Fest (nee South by South Flesh), which featured among its 17-band bill SXSW stand-outs The Soft Pack, Those Darlins and Dum Dum Girls. If nothing else, it was a nice respite from the madness that had been so prevalent just down Interstate 35 that same weekend—and just a little bit north the same stretch of highway the weekend prior, thanks to Denton's successful second foray into its North by 35 Conferette.
But back to the Double Wide's Sunday-night show for a minute: It was quite the relaxed affair—maybe because so few locals took advantage of the daylong festival's offerings, sure, but also because there was decidedly less pressure on the bands that performed there. No label execs in sight, no bloggers (present company excluded) breathing down these bands' necks for scoops and exclusives, no interviews to be conducted with deadline-facing publications (hey, we were just trying to chill out a bit ourselves). Yeah, for many of these bands, it was just a stop on the road back home—or maybe an easy gig to pick up while getting out of Austin and back out onto the road—but, in the wake of SXSW madness, an environment like this one just felt so jarringly and refreshingly different. Bands weren't scurrying out of the joint to move on to their next showcase or to catch a much-needed rest. Rather, many of them hung around, soaking in the environment, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the crowd and cheering on the other acts, which, like them, had made the stop. It was a night filled with moments that seemed to make the weekend as a whole worthwhile.
Not that the rest of the weekend was a bust. Hardly. It was, far as this four-year festival vet could tell by eye, the busiest SXSW yet, boasting a few too many badge-holders, a whole cavalcade of wristband-bearers (among the most senseless purchases around, no doubt) and by far the most savvy crew of credential-less showgoers seen since '06, and likely even longer than that.
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And, OK, maybe it was just the senseless goal I'd set heading into the thing—to catch 50 bands I'd never yet seen in person—but it also seemed one of the most talent-rich deals yet. Craptacular displays abounded, of course, but we caught some real treats.
Among the good ones? Fucked Up's festival-closing show on Saturday night at Red 7 Patio was among the fieriest hard-core displays we've ever seen—frontman Damian Abraham was down to nothing but his britches by show's end as revelers hopped on- and, naturally, immediately off-stage around him, all scored to his backing band's fierce, but surprisingly catchy and accessible, offerings. Buzzing rapper Wiz Khalifa from Pittsburgh proved himself worthy of his recent accolades also on Saturday night, offering up a veritable verbal assault during his show at Emo's, with a bevy of electronic beats and undeniable hooks backing his confident demeanor. Brooklyn's Bear in Heaven wowed with its heavy and memorable dream-pop, proving itself a band well worth keeping tabs on in the coming months. Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus put the fest's other DJs to shame by offering up a lesson on how to properly run a live DJ set—turns out it's as easy as asking friend and collaborator Kid Sister to show up and act as your hypewoman. Justin Townes Earle—Steve's son, named for Townes Van Zandt—served as proof that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree during his set of traditional yet modern country ditties. Meanwhile, England's The xx and Band of Skulls, although existing in different genres, further convinced that audiences will never tire of shared, male-female vocals.
And there were others, still, that wowed: Los Angeles' Local Natives impressed with its Yeasayer-meets-Fleet Foxes brand of tribal folk-rock; Scotland's We Were Promised Jetpacks conjured up memories of our angry youth, with a sound that recalled the punk-influenced score to which those years in our life were set; so, too, did Frightened Rabbit, with its raw, emotional, crescendo-laden indie rock offerings. Even Bro Fest performers Those Darlins and The Soft Pack earned their fair share of adoration at SXSW, the former impressing with its raucous retro-country and barely-on-the-rails live show, the latter scoring with its infectious, winning and bouncy surf-rock scuzz.
But what of the locals? Oh yeah, them. There were fewer—29—DFW acts on the bill than the last two years, but the three locals we caught at SXSW sure seemed to make the most of the time. Alan Palomo, the esteemed DFW-bred pop guru who's not yet 25 years old, had quite the palpable buzz following both his Neon Indian and VEGA outfits—the former of which was quite literally the talk of the town, if the conversations we overheard while standing in show lines serves as a fair indicator. Oh, it doesn't? Then surely this does: We didn't see the daytime party hub of the Fader Fort any more packed than it was during Neon Indian's dancetastic Friday set. Similarly, the back-to-back official showcases for Dallas' Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights and Tyler's Eisley each drew big crowds, the former completely filling up an empty room with eager fans and the latter drawing them upstairs afterward for its rooftop show. And both scored big time: Tyler and his gang had its crowd whooping it up in approval of its gospel-infused blues and Southern rock output; and Eisley, even in the wake of its split from Warner Bros. Records, proved itself as hauntingly gorgeous an indie rock outfit as we saw at the fest—surely a positive sign as the band prepares the new full-length it promised to release later this year.