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SXSW 2015 Reviews: Screaming Females, Julianna Barwick, The Stone Foxes, and The Skull

on March 22, 2015, 4:30pm
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cos quiznosThe tents were running out of giveaways and the rain was still coming down, but hundreds of artists still showed up in great spirits to play out the last day of the fest. Some bands were on their 15th or 16th set of the week; others had just gotten in for a single flash appearance. Most of us were exhausted in a way that only seems to happen down in Austin around this time, but we soldiered through — we’d come down for this, after all. From Swedish punk imports Makthaverskan to San Francisco’s bluesy Stone Foxes, day five smoldered down to a triumphant finish. We did it, you guys.

–Sasha Geffen
Associate Editor

Click here to see our full coverage from SXSW and listen to an exclusive playlist. Also visit Toasty.TV to check out Quizno’s curated entertainment hub.

The Stone Foxes — Dogfish Head/Blurt Magazine party at The Ginger Man — 3:00 p.m.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

As exhaustion settled in on Saturday, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from The Stone Foxes mid-afternoon set — their final of nearly a dozen — and neither did they. “I don’t know how it’s going to be following a bluegrass band,” frontman Shannon Koehler told me beforehand. “But we figure we’ll just go for it.” And go for it they did; I don’t think I saw anyone the whole week as hyped up and enjoying themselves as these SF barroom blues rockers.

While his band wailed behind him, Koehler revealed himself to be one of the most personable frontmen around, making the crowd his friends as he beckoned them to come closer to the stage. When they didn’t (and even after they did), he went to them, climbing on picnic tables amongst the audience and bringing one lady up with him during “Stomp”. While keyboardist Elliott Peltzman banged his own tambourine on a separate bench, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Vince Dewald handed the game woman another. Ben Andrews joined in with his violin (before later switching to cigar-box guitar), and the whole place erupted for the bar-stomp jam.

After getting everyone in attendance to crouch down low for bombastic finisher “Mr. Hangman”, they realized they had more time and went into a soulful cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — because why not? Near the end, Koehler sat on a table and told a tale about how he once dumped a Mennonite woman at a John Mayer concert. It was just that kind of show: fun, energetic, and communal. The now-six-piece has come a long way since their origin almost a decade ago, and their live show is simply better than ever. –Ben Kaye

Screaming Females — Brooklyn Vegan day party at Red 7 — 3:15 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Screaming Females already have a reputation as a rock band you must see live, and they lived up to it during Brooklyn Vegan’s drizzly afternoon showcase. On the band’s records, Marissa Paternoster’s idiosyncratic singing style stands out as the most distinctive thing about her. On the stage, her voice was given second seat to her guitar playing. There’s a reason you keep hearing about just how good she is on the frets. Paternoster didn’t just show off her speed as she made her way around the fretboard of an all maple G&L frat. She played with color and flair as well as dexterity. Songs like “Rotten Apple”, from 2012’s Ugly, and “Empty Head”, from this year’s Rose Mountain, rang with her lithe, supple solos. It’s a treat to watch her fingers move, and an even bigger gift to hear what comes out of the amps as a result. She’s a rare bandleader whose skill we’re lucky to share in. –Sasha Geffen

Sweat Lodge — Burgermania IV at Hotel Vegas — 3:30 p.m.

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

After all the rain the past two days, Hotel Vegas’ outdoor patio was a mud pool, so more folks moved inside to see bands on the smaller stages. This meant a nice-sized crowd for Sweat Lodge, yet another stellar, heavy Austin band. It’s metal with a cool, bluesy groove. Charismatic frontman Cody Lee Johnston already has immense stage presence, but donning a Jordan jersey he appears even more monolithic. He’s got a soulful voice and the demeanor of a punk singer, crooning the opening verses of “Slow Burn” before jumping into the crowd for a mosh. They’ll be dropping their debut album, Talismana, on Ripple Music this summer, and hopefully taking this show to other cities soon. –Jon Hadusek

Sheer Mag — Blundertown + Chaos in Tejas party at Beerland — 4:35 p.m.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

What’s instantly kind of great about Sheer Mag is their unapologetic love for Thin Lizzy-style rock being osmosed by their simultaneous unapologetic youth. Lyrically, the year-old Philly rockers hit upon the tropes of embitterment common to the disenchanted: wasted days, wayward love, and whiskey. Musically, they mine the depth of ’70s stadium and thrash rockers, but coat it all in a fun sheen of power-pop. Frontwoman Christina Halladay may have delivered her high, forceful yells with a growl-face intensity, but there was a good-times vibe pulsing through much of the show. It came through especially on a new song with the lyrics “Stand up and break the chains.” The band is very clearly trying to embody the legacy of their favorite artists — right down to the the sharp-angled logo adorning the cover of their 7-inch EP — while putting their own playful twist on things. It’s not simply harping on the classics, though, as their live show made it equally evident that it was that sort of music that got them through the tough times, that it runs right through their veins. There’s real love there, and it makes for a wickedly fun performance that you want to love in return. –Ben Kaye

Hinds — Burgermania IV at Hotel Vegas — 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Hinds played their 15th show of SXSW at Burger Records’ Burgermania yesterday, and it wasn’t even their last one of the week. The young Spanish four-piece had been busy in a way most of us who are well past our teens can’t handle anymore. But 15 sets down, and the band performed with energy and humor like they had just touched down from Madrid. They had a birthday in the band: Bassist Ade Martin was turning a year older and celebrating with her bandmates, who excitedly pointed out the occasion. Hinds played a short, loud set of their candy-sweet and totally sincere guitar pop, plugging cassettes in patchy English and inviting their friends in the crowd to come onstage to dance. They sang songs about heartbreak, but their band is more about friendship — about the electric bond between co-frontwomen Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote, and their comfortable rapport with Martin and drummer Amber Grimbergen. They’re there to have fun, but mostly they’re there for each other. –Sasha Geffen

Om — Converse + Thrasher Magazine: Death Match at Gypsy Lounge — 5:00 p.m.

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Photo by Adam Kivel

In assisting the setup for stoner metal heavies, Om, the stage manager dutifully reported the following to the sound tech: “To quote the drummer, everything in the monitors should be very loud.” That didn’t just go for the monitors either. The trio of bassist Al Cisneros, drummer Emil Amos, and multi-instrumentalist Robert A. A. Lowe built their massive, spiritual drone pillars tall, Lowe providing high harmonies to Cisneros’ bass chant. Whether taking from their most recent LP, 2012’s Advaitic Songs, or digging into the far back catalog for an extended take on “Gebel Barkal”, Om’s smoky ritualism melded perfectly with the overcast, rainy afternoon — though, that didn’t mean Cisneros was content to have his dedicated fans standing in the rain, offering the space between the stage and the front rail to the drenched onlookers standing off to the side without cover of the tent. It’s exactly that sort of inclusive spirit that marks the trio’s music, bringing listeners into a communal metal ecstasy. –Adam Kivel

Ruby the Hatchet — American Icon’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot II at The Lost Well — 6:00 p.m.

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

Ruby the Hatchet bombed their official showcase on Thursday at the North Door, but had a chance to redeem themselves the following night at American Icon’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot II. And did they ever. No technical issues this time, and the band sounded much better in this dive than on the big stage, with a wall of Worshipper cabinets behind them. Sean Hur’s vintage AceTone organ sounded immense through this backline, and Jillian Taylor was in control, her voice projecting much better last night than at the North Door show. This was the real Ruby the Hatchet. –Jon Hadusek

Click ahead for the rest of Saturday’s coverage plus an exclusive photo gallery.

Honeyblood — NME and PRS For Music at The British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 — 8:00 p.m.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Scottish duo Honeyblood delivered crisp performance to kick off the final showcase at The British Music Embassy venue. As is typical in the garage rock scene, the pair of Stina Tweeddale and Shona McVicar split duties on guitar and drums. Thus, it was easy to expect the lo-fi blast of their early Thrift Store EP, but instead they reveled in the pop twist they’ve put on the genre. “(I’d Rather Be) Anywhere but Here” rang out with hints of Best Coast, while “Bud” took a folkier route. “Super Rat”, meanwhile, came out far rockier than its recorded counterpart, in no small part due to McVicar’s drumming. With her high-set symbols and lanky strike, she hit quick and ferociously, a fun one to watch. Tweeddale came off as a tender vocalist, one you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be screaming out “I will hate you forever”, but that’s why the genre blending worked so well. There was a breezy pop vibe wound tightly around a more biting edge, leading to a show that was at once bop-able and rock-able. And it brought in a packed house, so who can argue with that? –Ben Kaye

Julianna Barwick — Manage This! at Parish — 8:00 p.m.

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Photo by Adam Kivel

Julianna Barwick’s voice can transform any situation. When she begins to layer hushed whispers and gentle coos over and over each other until they become a majestic, soaring flock of birds, the room opens up, and the sky shines in. When she repeats the words “saw the morning light,” the spiraling spotlight becomes the sun there for a moment, and the darkness out the venue windows is obliterated by her shining presence. Working with sampled and looped vocals on their own, and sometimes with snippets of piano, guitar, and storm front bass, Barwick’s expressive countenance displayed every bit of emotion wrung from those pieces. Though there were only a few handfuls of words to pick out of the entire set — and those were repeated and looped several times over — Barwick told detailed stories in those beautiful moments. –Adam Kivel

Self Defense Family — Run for Cover Records showcase at Holy Mountain — 10:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

Apparently, the “family” in Self Defense Family is silent. Vocalist Patrick Kindlon introduced the group a few times simply as “Self Defense”, which is a shortening and also kind of a mission statement: the family is implied, a given. The band is known for its extensive collaborations with musicians across the globe, and a fair number of them were onstage at Holy Mountain during Run for Cover’s official showcase. Self Defense built a wall of sound by having lots of bodies in the same place. They didn’t really need two drummers, but two drummers comfortably sat side by side rattling off solid post-punk patterns. They probably could have gotten by with fewer than three guitarists, but why not pile on the strings? All the crowding only went to support Kindlon’s ragged and heavy vocalizing, which was lyrically unintelligible but still packed tight with feeling. He’s a friendly, funny presence, and he punctuated songs with anecdotes about touring life and banter about SXSW’s aggressive branding. Yeah, we’ve all heard the lines about selling out and stressing out a hundred times this week, but as the fest wound down to a close, it was nice to hear them booming out over a PA in between fits of cast iron punk. –Sasha Geffen

Makthaverskan — Run for Cover Records showcase @ Holy Mountain — 10:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

For a long time, the tones of new wave have seemed kind of sterile, moody and difficult at best, but never very dangerous. Swedish outfit Makthaverskan bring the danger back to new wave. While that’s definitively true of the music itself — the biting bits of feedback, the charging rhythms, the blunt lyrics full of pain — their performance at Holy Mountain was far more likable than intimidating. Frontwoman Maja Millner, beer in hand, kept giggling over struggles with the monitors. She dragged a friend up from the crowd to play tambourine and sing occasional backup on “Antabus”, and his middle fingers during the chorus (“And I don’t know what to say/ Fuck you, fuck you”) caused some delighted laughter as well. Another friend was handed the mic to lead the crowd in a round of “Happy Birthday” for drummer Andreas Wettmark. That said, even a ton of giggles and sound issues couldn’t sink the undeniable intensity of songs like “No Mercy”, making the band’s final SXSW set a true success. –Adam Kivel

The Skull — American Icon’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot II at The Lost Well — 11:30 p.m.

the skull hadusekBy this point, the Lost Well was packed. This was the best heavy metal party of SXSW, and it wasn’t official. It was put on entirely by one man, Jonathan Galyon of American Icon Presents, with Weedeater and The Skull headlining. The latter is formed of original Trouble members Eric Wagner and Jeff Olson, and the set was comprised of new material and Trouble songs (“Psychotic Reaction”, “At the End of My Days”). Wagner asked for a cigarette. When a doom metal legend asks for a cig, you provide. A dude in front me of gave him one that had weed in it, and Wagner thanked him with a double-hand shake before returning to the mic. It was a highlight set of what was my favorite Southby party and a thunderous closure of one of the most intense weeks of my life. –Jon Hadusek

The Lemons — Burgermania at The Volstead at Hotel Vegas — 11:45 p.m.

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Photo by Adam Kivel

Someone wandering into the Volstead room of Hotel Vegas late during the Burgermania showcase might think there are approximately four dozen members of The Lemons. And, in a way, they wouldn’t be wrong. They do have an album called Everybuddy’s a Lemon, after all. The overwhelming number of friends and fans crowding onto the stage — some holding instruments, others cameras, others smiling and shout-singing into the night — came close to matching the number of onlookers. The Chicago garage pop outfit’s songs are so approachable and ready for sing-alongs, and their live show is so joyous and welcoming, that anybody in the room is basically a Lemon by proxy. Whether dancing along to a song about the “Ice Cream Shop”, or how it was the “Best Day” I ever had, or bopping along to a gleefully loose cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, it was a real pleasure to be a Lemon for the evening. –Adam Kivel

Saturday Gallery:

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