SXSW 2012 Highlights Day 3

A day show at SXSW has the potential to be the great equalizer.  If the sponsor chooses not to offer special access to badge holders or wristband wearers, adopting an equal opportunity stance, even members of the press can find it difficult to get in.

Such was the case for the Magnetic Fields’ only day show this year, hosted by NPR and held at the Parish.  We got a spot in line over an hour before Stephin Merritt & co. were due on stage, hoping to catch Jana Hunter’s Lower Dens at 3:15.  Lower Dens time slot came & went, leaving us still a couple dozen people from the door in the one-in-one-out line.  We finally gained admittance two songs into the Magnetic Fields’ set.  As expected, the band played a good number of songs from their acclaimed new album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, as well as a range of selections from their extensive discography, including crowd favorite, “The Book of Love.”  The set was recorded live by NPR, making for a quiet and intimate performance with jokes by Merritt that exploited the radio format.  A few songs into the set, following audience laughter, Merritt quipped that the reason for the laughter was that the band members were all dressed in outrageous costumes.  As always, Merritt’s dry delivery sent the fans into fits of giggles. Even though our whole Thursday afternoon ended up being dominated by the Magnetic Fields, it was worth it.

Though unplanned, we spotted the insane line outside of Urban Outfitters, and remembered that Best Coast had a late-in-the-day performance.  We pulled a U-turn and parked behind the store.  Opting to forego attempting to wait in line at all, since the band was already starting, we just hung around outside the chain-link fence behind the store’s back parking lot where the temporary stage had been erected.  Best Coast sounded killer as they delivered songs from their debut record as well as some from their upcoming release.  “Here we are in…hell,” commented singer Bethany Cosentino, referring to the Texas heat.  After some slight protest from the crowd, she shot back, “Oh, fuck you, you know I love you Austin.”  The honest refusal to pander rang true, making the band more likable than would any old “so happy to be here” speech.  After their short set, it was time to grab food.

For the evening, we again decided to dedicate ourselves to a single showcase, this time at Club Deville.  We only caught one of local favorite Sarah Jaffe’s songs before her set ended right on time, despite crowd protests for “one more song.”

Fanfarlo followed with their upbeat brass and danceable rhythms, holding the audience’s attention adeptly.  As perhaps the most unknown act on the bill the band seemed to inspire pleasant surprise with their willing viewers.

Though the decision to see Tennis again came out of our unabashed affinity for them, it proved a wise decision, illustrating the benefit to catching a band’s official showcase.  Lead singer Alaina Moore thanked the sound guy for the best quality they had received at the festival so far, and rightfully so.  Tennis’s sound came through much truer to their aim than the day before.  The husband and wife duo still omitted the popular “Marathon” from their setlist, so to hear it, we’ll have to show up for their return to Austin on May 8th.

White Rabbits, whose last album was produced by Austin mainstay Britt Daniel and most recent was produced by Spoon’s once produce Mike McCarthy, elicited tremendous energy from the crowd.  The cacophonous and forceful rock outfit thundered through their songs to a rowdy group of fans.  So effective and sought after was White Rabbits’ set that the crowd thinned some when their set ended, despite that the wildly acclaimed Youth Lagoon was still set to headline the bill.

Having recently landed a spot opening for mega stars Death Cab for Cutie, Trevor Powers’ Youth Lagoon continues to take indie-rockdom by storm with a meager number of phenomenal tracks.  Youth Lagoon’s ephemeral and haunting keys and vocals produced some of the most original and elegant songs of last year.  Grounding these reverb laden, floating elements are Powers’ driving beat hooks.  The band’s video for “Montana” singularly caused us to reconsider our position on writing about music videos.  Did we mention that we’d been looking forward to this?

During sound check, Powers had to ask for more reverb: “A little more… check…little more…check…uh…a little more.”  Again, the sound booth at Club Deville delivered.  When Youth Lagoon began, the crowd was engrossed from the first note.  Though not as physically mobile on stage as SXSW headliners often are, Powers’ blatantly emotive delivery of his poetic lyrics captivated us with its rarity.  Youth Lagoon delivered basically every song in their limited repertoire, but it proved plenty to satisfy the appetite of SXSW attendees on the third night of the festival.


About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.
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