Disclaimer: This is by no means an all-encompassing look at the festival. There is far more going on in this one week than one person can cover, so this is just what I happen to have the extreme fortune of experiencing. No press credentials were given, but thanks to my grad program at St. Edward’s University I was able to attend the festival with a Platinum Badge, affording me opportunities the general public may not be able to experience. The photos are just what were captured on my iPhone, so please pardon the low quality images. Also, Prince had a strict no photography policy, so there was no chance to photo the Purple One up close. Otherwise, enjoy the conclusion to my glimpse into South by Southwest 2013!
Unlike most music festivals that only a last a few days and are reasonable hours of the day, SxSW is a week long goes until the wee hours of the morning. For this reason (and all the complimentary beverages) it can be a true test of endurance and mettle. By the time Thursday hit, this music lover was completely exhausted. Instead of hitting the scene, sleep was in order and so was taking a break. So yes, there was a whole day of music that wasn’t seen and can’t be reported on. But it wasn’t for naught; instead there was a journey to Dallas to see the incendiary legends Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Yes they were in Austin, but not even all badges got in to that show, and it wasn’t one I made it into. But suffice to say Cave was incredible in Dallas and perhaps soon that concert will be reviewed on this site. For now, enjoy a recap of Friday and Saturday!
Radio Day Stage @ Austin Convention Center
Fortunately for badge holders there’s tons of great music happening in the convention center just for them, so no need to fight the crowds or wait in lines. One ballroom is set up beautifully as a concert venue and hosted by various independent radio stations across the country. First up for the day was The Divine Fits. In case you couldn’t tell from our coverage on this site, we love this band. They didn’t disappoint, playing a short but sweet set of cuts from their debut album.
For those that don’t know, it’s the project from Spoon main man Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner. One could definitely draw parallels between this band and Spoon thanks to the groove injected into the tracks and Daniel’s vocals, but it definitely has more glam and electronic elements than Spoon. Easily the most moving moment came when they performed “Shivers” as Daniel talks about loneliness and suicide. It was the sort of intense and inspiring set that makes you want to go home and listen to their album again as soon as possible.
From here things got a little more mellow as Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell came out and performed songs from their new album of duets called ‘Old Yellow Moon.’ Unlike Divine Fits who played a little over half an hour, the two came out and played only three songs then graciously thanked the crowd and exited. Their vocals were beautiful together as they played songs from Kris Kristofferson and others though it definitely sounded like Emmylou’s guitar was out of tune. This was sort of anticipated though, since there was a long gap between the two acts where it seemed liked technicians furiously scuttled about trying to fix issues.
Iron and Wine’s “Grace for Saints and Ramblers”
Having only listened to his records and never seen him in concert, Iron and Wine was quite a surprise. Not because he was better or worse than expected, but for a guy that makes such quiet, contemplative music he was an incredibly light-hearted and comical. He joked about finding the right songs to play, to which someone shouted, “they’re all right!” to which he seemed to blush through his beard at and replied, “aww, thank you. That’s really too kind.” Songs from the forthcoming album were played as he joked, “it’s time for me to put on my promotional hat.” He was very laid back, asking what the crowd wanted to hear as those closest shouted their choices and played “Woman King” thanks to a request by a lady in the front row. Everyone either sat in chairs and many more all sat on the floor of the ballroom, staring up in rapt attention, soaking in every moment of his skillful guitar playing and wispy melodies. If the new songs were any indication, the next album should be fantastic. He should also consider starting a music comedy act in the vein of Tenacious D. He seems like he could really pull it off.
Twang Fest @ The Broken Spoke
Knowing it was going to be a long Saturday, it seemed prudent to take it easy with country music at an old Texas bar/dance hall called The Broken Spoke. While my ear caught snippets of other bands, the raison d’être for attending was a special acoustic performance from one my absolute favorite modern bands, Murder By Death. Even the band felt strange about the performance, since they typically perform as a five piece but due to stage space and the acoustic configuration it was only singer/guitarist Adam Turla and cellist Sarah Balliet. Despite this, Adam expressed his excitement about playing the classic dance hall, encouraging everyone to try the fried chicken.
The choice of songs was excellent, each one causing more goosebumps than the last. They stuck to the somber numbers as Adam joked, “what’s next? Oh yeah, more depressing!” Older classics like “Three Men Hanging” and “Until Morale Improves” flowed incredibly well into tracks like “Ghost Fields” and “No Oath, No Spell.” The room was incredibly packed, with people practically spilling out the front door, yet you could hear a pin drop as everyone was entranced by incredible and haunting music being performed. The duo closed with the rowdy number “Brother,” but not before thanking the audience for being so respectful and detailing what a fun but exhausting experience South by Southwest was. This was their final performance of the festival, and it was incredible one that surely gained them a few new fans.
Murder By Death’s “Foxglove”
Samsung Galaxy Experience @ La Zona Rosa
While the ticket lottery was a no-go for Nick Cave, it turned out to be a success for Prince! The email notification said doors opened at 9pm, but we were guaranteed entry, so there was no need to rush or get there early. However, nobody listened as showing up 30 minutes before doors caused me to get at the back of line that wrapped around the block. There were people walking up and down the line waving large sums of money, tempting those with entry wristbands to sell them, but there were no takers; everyone was excited to see this living funk legend. Frustratingly, we didn’t get in until close to 10pm, but once we did it was well worth the wait. To warm up the crowd, the newly reunited A Tribe Called Quest took the stage.
Speaking of the stage, it should be noted that the stage at this venue was completely redesigned for Prince’s performance, the man himself even hiring a feng shui consultant to advise him about the stage setup. The stage was turned in way that made it incredibly long, no doubt to accommodate the rumored 22-piece band Prince had brought with him. A huge screen as long as the stage and at least 15 feet tall filled the background, ready to project trippy visuals. While this made for a great stage experience, when combined with the closed off VIP areas on either side of the stage, there was much less room for the crowd than usual. Everyone was mashed up against each other from the front of the stage to the sound and light booth halfway back. From there the space lessened so it was quite a cramped setting, but made the performances feel much more intimate.
In a move that surprised and disappointed me, the crowd seemed incredibly lukewarm to hip hop greats A Tribe Called Quest. It wasn’t until their fourth song when they played the classic “Can I Kick It” that the majority of the crowd bobbed up and down and participated in call and response with Q-Tip and the other members. Tribe didn’t let this lackluster crowd get them down as they played an energetic set that included “Buggin’ Out,” “Oh My God,” and “Bonita Applebum.” Honestly, seeing these guys spit game as good as they did back then was such a treat I could have left right after them and felt like it was a worthwhile night. If they happen to come to your town, run, don’t walk to catch these amazing MCs.
A Tribe Called Quest’s “Anita Applebum”
After Tribe exited the stage the familiar symbol that became Prince’s name for a while flashed on the large screen and we knew the time was at hand. First his 22-piece band took the stage, all wearing different animal hats. A woman who would remain on stage the whole concert dancing entered wearing a mask, carrying a cane she handed over to the man himself. Then Prince entered, wearing a suite with a bright pink shirt with huge sleeves and collar. From his entrance until he left the stage for the final time a little after 3AM is hard to put into words.
Being mostly familiar with his 80s material only, it wasn’t certain what would be witnessed. What can be said is that there was no way to be prepared for what happened. Yes, he definitely played some of the bigger songs like “1999” (complete with confetti cannons), “Musicology” and an extended “Purple Rain” with plenty of crowd participation, but to an uninitiated person such as myself it felt like a long swirling vortex of funk odyssey. Every song seemed to have an extended jam with multiple solos from his enormous band. There were many covers, such as Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” Curtis Mayfield’s “We’re a Winner,” and Janet Jackson’s “What Have you Done For Me Lately,” but my favorite was Morris Day and The Time’s “Jungle Love” that had so much energy there was hardly a person not on their feet shaking their groove thang. At one point Prince even quipped, “Don’t make me hurt you. You know how many hits I’ve got?”
Prince’s “Purple Rain” (Live from La Zona Rosa)
This show was incredible dance party. This journalist did his best to stay on his feet for most of the show, dancing and enjoying this momentous experience, but after a week of being on my feet and walking all around downtown, there wasn’t much energy left in these worn-out feet. After about his third or fourth encore I had to sit down for couple of songs to rest. Almost as if to make me feel bad he even joked, “you’ve heard of 5 Hour Energy? My middle name is 11 Hour Energy!” Here was this guy, over 50, dancing his butt off at 3am while I sat like an exhausted lump on the ground. You’ve got to give this man the utmost respect for the amount of energy and enthusiasm he has for every performance, even at this point in his career.
My personal favorite moment came when he pulled out my favorite song from the Batman soundtrack, called “Partyman.” Being a huge Batman fan growing up, this was a song I knew quite well so to see it performed live was a real treat. That was the song that opened his (fifth?) and final encore, which then lead into the final song of the evening, “Dancing Machine.” Even until the last song he was a vibrant on-stage personality giving this small, lucky crowd the performance of a lifetime. Everyone left dog-tired, yet immensely satisfied about having witnessed what was easily the best way to conclude this year’s South by Southwest.
Jarad Matula | Senior Writer