Usually when I head to Austin, I rely on the Cap Metro bus system to get around town. It’s $1 per ride or $2 for a day pass, so it’s an affordable, fast, and reliable way to get around.
Not this year!
Someone told me that this year, a record number of people attended SXSW, which caused Cap Metro to freak the fuck out. Not only did they reroute the buses when they got downtown, sometimes they would just zoom right by busy bus stops and not pick people up. Don’t even get me started on the non-existent after-midnight Night Owl Buses this year.
Anyway, I had planned on going to the SPIN at Stubbs party this year because I had wanted to see just about everyone on the bill––Parquet Courts, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, CHVRCHES, Solange, and Kendrick Lamar, so learning from SX of years past, I knew I had to get there crazy early to make sure I got in.
I arrived at the bus stop about 45 minutes before I needed to head to Stubbs, usually ample time to get downtown. On this day, for some inexplicable reason, three buses just straight up skipped my stop and the crowd waiting there. It was ridiculous! After the third bus skipped me, the New Yorker in me said, “Fuck it. I’m walking to Stubbs.”
The anger at Cap Metro and eagerness to make sure I saw all the bands on the lineup meant I walked about 2.5 miles in 15 minutes. Why did I choose that day to wear all black, I do not know, but when I got to Stubbs, all I wanted was some free beer and good music, but instead they made me stand in line. What the WHAT?
Luckily, I wasn’t in line for long. As soon as I got in, I ran to the first bar and said, “Beer me!” The bartender handed me a can of Miller Lite. At least it wasn’t PBR.
I was pissed I had missed Parquet Courts (curse you, Cap Metro!), and I had seen Unknown Mortal Orchestra before and wasn’t impressed, and this sunny afternoon performance did little to change to my opinion on this band.
I grabbed another Miller Lite and moved as close to the front of the stage as possible for CHVRCHES, who I had been curious to see for weeks. When the band took the stage, my initial thought was, “OH MY GOD! The lead singer is so tiny and adorable and Scottish!” Mini-Amy Pond attributes aside, the band lived up to their hype and brought smiles to the faces of audience members who basked in their joyous electro synth-pop and loveable charm.
Stubbs started filling up as people gathered close to the stage for Solange‘s sure-to-be soulful set. They’d ran out of Miller Lite at this point, so I had to drink the Crispin hard apple cider that was left. It was not terrible, but it definitely tasted more like cider than booze.
When Solange finally took the stage, she wowed everyone with her peach chiffon shirt, hot pants, and crazy heels. Nonetheless, Solange’s set filled with sensual grooves and retro synths got people swaying while she danced in sync with her funky guitar player. Everything just got sexier––on stage and in the crowd––when her hit “Losing You” began and came to a disappointing stop. We craved more, but obviously excitement was building for Kendrick Lamar.
I am not a huge hip hop fan, but as soon as Lamar took the stage, he commanded the outdoor theater like a pro. I did not know any of his songs, but the eager crowd helped me figure out the lyrics so I could chant along. Unfortunately, I had to leave in the middle of his set so I could catch Sky Ferreira at the Hype Hotel, but I definitely want to revisit Kendrick Lamar‘s music after that rousing set.
Unfortunately, when I finally made it to Hype Hotel, I only caught 1.5 Sky Ferreira songs, and I couldn’t really tell if I liked her because she was lost behind bright lights and her messy blonde hair. She apparently lost her voice that week as well, so I had no opinion of her performance, but I did have another maple whiskey (couldn’t resist!).
I was exhausted and uncomfortably hot after spending the whole day in the hot Texas sun. All I wanted to do was sit down at a food truck park and have more Texas delicacies, drink some Shiner, and charge my phone, which is exactly what I did for a few hours.
After recharging my body and my phone, I met up with a college friend at the Doritos stage to see LA band Vintage Trouble, who she had recommended. Doritos sets up this space every year, and they usually have some epic performers like Snoop Dogg on this stage, but this year, I wasn’t familiar with any of them. The band before Vintage Trouble looked like some young British kids trying to be punk but weren’t quite there. Honestly, the most interesting part of their set was the drummer’s amazing giant afro.
When Vintage Trouble took the stage dressed like they had just come from a shoot-out in the Wild West, I knew I was in for a treat. Their lead singer commanded the stage like he was born to rule it. He reminded me of a young James Brown leading a rag tag band that fused blues, rockabilly, and classic soul with exhilarating passion. When the band thew a bunch of giant inflatable balls into the audience, I totally did not mind being elbowed in the head four times during this moment of chaos as the frontman jumped into the crowd to rile them up. I really didn’t think anything could top this show.
Then I stood in line for another hour or so to try to see DIIV at Mohawk at 1am and everything changed. I was ready to call it quits, but something told me I might still be able to catch them despite being told they were “at capacity” over and over. I also didn’t mind listening to Chelsea Light Moving‘s set from the line instead of in the sweaty crowd. Thurston Moore’s new band sounded like classic Sonic Youth, which is never a bad thing.
When all hope seemed lost and I was ready to walk all the way back to my cousins’ apartment, they let me in! I had listened to DIIV’s debut album a few times and acknowledged their talent, but listening to Oshin did not prepare me for their face-melting live show.
Their album lead me to believe this would be another mellow shoegazing dream pop band, but they were the opposite live. The intensity at which they performed was a welcomed, refreshing rock ‘n’ roll slap to the face. Their lead singer channeled a young Kurt Cobain in both appearance and fervor. Why the hell was there so much reverb on their record? It does their actual shows no justice at all. I am pretty sure I lost my earplugs during the moshpit at the end of the show, but this was a most fitting way to end a draining day.
Fresh off a stimulating show high, I walked the 2.5 miles back to the West Campus at 2:30am, still reeling from an evening of breathtaking shows. When I finally got home, I noticed I had an awkward messenger bag tan line on my chest from standing out in the sun for about six hours that day. It still hasn’t faded completely a week later. Battle wounds.
SXSW recap and select photos by Rebecca An and her crappy Android