By the fourth day of SXSW you’re usually moving at a slow crawl. Your feet and legs hurt, and your mind is fried from hangovers, lack of sleep, and overstimulation. But yet you continue, because SXSW is a marathon and dropping out at this point is simply not an option. Plus, there are bands to see! This year has seen fewer mega-acts and smaller crowds, a refreshing change from the overwhelming masses of the previous handful of years, but no shortage of amazing talent. Like always, Friday found plenty of action south of downtown, where numerous parties showcased a variety of acts and genres.
It would be tough to say that any band truly encapsulates the uninhibited spirit and DIY ethos of SXSW more than the Waco Brothers. The Wacos, whose members are all well past the glory days of youth, have been playing the festival since its infancy and can still make any of the much younger “punk” bands look as innocent and tame as a bunch of sleeping babies. Seemingly at their best when three sheets to the wind, the half-punk half-country outfit from Chicago closed out the annual Bloodshot Records shindig at Yard Dog art gallery with a bang. The always unpredictable frontman Jon Langford was in rare form, leaving the stage mid-song and disappearing into the crowd with a female onlooker slung over his shoulder only to have his unattended guitar commandeered by a separate audience member who ripped an impromptu solo becoming an honorary Waco Brother. Masters of the cover tune, the Wacos breathed new life into T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy”, Small Faces’ “All or Nothing”, and a couple Johnny Cash tunes: “Big River” and “Folsom Prison Blues”. By the time the Waco Brothers were done laying waste to the back alley of Yard Dog the beer well had been drank dry and the party was in full swing.
Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg recently revived his Spiral Stairs project for the first time in eight years. Based on their performance in the Hotel San Jose parking lot, you’d hardly know the tight band had ever been away. The group leaned heavily on their new album Doris and the Daggers, impressing the audience with pop-laden rock and roll that exuded a touch of post-punk attitude and bar band glory.
Hurray for the Riff Raff aka Alynda Segarra has always been known for crafting socially conscious songs in an Americana and folk vein. With her new album The Navigator she has amplified the politically aware messaging and also changed her sound into something more poppy. Surprisingly, Segarra was one of the few artists at SXSW this year who chose to make the dangers we face as a country a focal point of her set. Her message resonated with the audience at the San Jose, who cheered her on and seemed to be receptive to the new direction she is taking her band’s sound in.
Original members of The Revolution and heavy-hearted Prince fans convened on Auditorium Shores to dance out their sorrow with a heartfelt funk throw-down in honor of the artist formally known as. Frontman and childhood friend Dre regaled the audience with stories from the early, formative years of the Revolution including the tale of how he bought Prince his first guitar. He would lead the giant group through Prince standards including the teenage lament “When You Were Mine”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Let’s Work”, and a spot on rendition of “Purple Rain” that could have made even an entry-level Prince fan tear up. Although Wyclef Jean was also added to the bill as an extra incentive for audience draw, the ex-Fugee stayed in the background, playing the bongos and leaving the real work to the pros. He would take the spotlight briefly for an unnecessary behind-the-back guitar solo before quickly retreating back to the shadows. Reiterating the lack of substance and soul in pop and dance music of today, Prince’s poignant and socially aware lyrics on standout songs like “Controversy” rang out truer than ever: “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude, I wish there was no black or white, I wish there were no rules”!
Additional reporting by Tim O’Neill.
All photos in gallery shot by Arthur VanRooy.
Neil Ferguson will be hitting the pavement all week at SXSW. For live updates, drunk tweets, and snarky commentary of the madness, make sure you follow him on Twitter: @musicjournzo
Stay tuned to Glide Magazine for more coverage of SXSW 2017!