We’re just past the midway point of the 2013 SXSW, and amidst a seeming unending run of 85 degree days, the city is abuzz over some major performances, with the rumor mill continuing to churn through some intriguing possibilities. The first two days and evenings have emphasized valedictory appearances by major stars, including the return of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after a hiatus (Karen O. had a yellow suit to match her gold locks), David Grohl’s keynote and all-star Sound City jam featuring Ricks from Nielsen to Springfield, an edition of the mtvU woodies which cemented Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ status as major stars, and an all-star hip-hop lineup curated by LL Cool J at the giant Dorito machine, with appearances by Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and Doug E. Fresh. Over the next two days, appearances by Depeche Mode, Prince, Green Day and Justin Timberlake will dominate attention, and while the special events generate a lot of excitement, there is some concern that the major events distract attention for those who still see SXSW as a proving ground for emerging and indie artists.
To help guide you through the final 48 hours of SXSW, when an already conference swells to unheard of levels with weekend visitors, we highlight some of the remaining opportunities to catch artists who may be on the last legs of their SXSW gauntlet, or are expected to use SXSW as a springboard for shows this spring.
1. The Specials
The Specials are in the midst of playing four shows in Austin before a West Coast leg prior to a spring UK tour. The buzz has strangely quiet, perhaps the public still hasn’t grasped the concept that these are the SPECIALS, who are returning to the States for pretty much the first time in 30 years. I saw pretty much because a handful of the members did reunite to play a song or two at a major festival, before the original band as a whole (with the notable exception of co-founder Jerry Dammers) reunited in 2009. There was talk of a full blown tour of the US, but their touring has largely been limited to special shows on the coasts. Their show at New York’s Highline Ballroom, their first since the ‘80s, was at turns riotous and packed with drama, as one wondered, when Terry Hall would saunter off stage right, whether he might keep walking and not return. To this day, the refrain from “Ghost Town” retains its ghastly effect. It will be curious to see if a Message to You speaks to a new generation of boys and girls when the lads hit the US, starting with the West coast. In the meantime, one can see them close out the night at Stubbs on Friday. (12:30 am).
2. The Joy Formidable
The affable Welsh trio of Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt have been a joy, something fierce, since arriving stateside in 2010. Their debut album, The Big Roar, did just that and the Joy ran the gauntlet of shows at SXSW in 2011. Despite playing major festivals, and catching the eye of David Grohl, who plugged the plucky trio into a slew of arena opening slots for the Foo Fighters, the Joy Formidable press on in support of their quite lovely sophomore release, Wolf’s Law, with an ambitious SXSW schedule which has them playing somewhere every 20 minutes. Oops, there they go, playing again. Check them out now, in an hour, or on their upcoming spring tour. And don’t forget the earplugs. (Lustre Pearl, Friday, 11pm).
Expectations are running high for Olympia, the band’s followup to one of the most acclaimed albums of 2011, Feel It Break. Katie Stelmanis’ vocals soar over beautiful harmonies, pulsating rhythms and an intoxiacting blend of electronica and dark wave. It’s a delight to see the band live, as the band expands to a sextet to include backup singers. Check out Austra this weekend (Elysium, Saturday, 1am).
4. Sleigh Bells, Flying Lotus, Justin Timberlake, Theophilus London (and more TBA) at My Space
My Space is back and they’re bringing their friends with them. At least that’s the inspired vehicle behind the MySpace secret shows that kicked off yesterday with Diplo and Kid Cudi. Tonight, Sleigh Bells and Flying Lotus are the mystery guests at the MySpace secret show, at the warehouse space on 5th. While not achieving quite the alliteration you would get from Friday with Freddie Fender at Friendster, for at least the next few nights, MySpace will really matter. The only catch, you have to be a MySpace member, or be able to retrieve information. I found one, and with it a lot of lost Roller Derby footage from the stone age of social media. So start searching for those MySpace passwords and get your RSVP stat.
5. The Palma Violets
The British are coming. Actually, they’re already here. Once again, the British Music Embassy (Latitude, 502 San Jancinto) has served as the Austin home for a bevy of British artists who are striking gold this year, the next step in a pipeline that at previous SXSW festivals, involved a gauntlet of sets that helped the likes of We Were Promised Jetpacks, Frightened Rabbit, the Kaiser Chiefs, and Bloc Party find their footing. The week has seen Alt-J building upon their commercial and critical acclaim with a show at Stubbs, while Bastille electrified a rapt audience, buoyed by the announcement that the band’s debut album had entered the UK Charts at #1. The Palma Violets have been anointed best new band by tastemaker NME, and conjure up comparisons to Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Libertines. Their single “Best of Friends” was a breakout 2012 hit. Their spanking new 2013 release 180 continues to spin on the platter. (Club De Ville, Friday, 1am).
Yet another British buzz band, the girls and boys of Savages made quite the impression at CMJ last fall, and are poised to leap into the festival circuit. But not before making the rounds of SXSW showcases. To get a flavor of the intensity of the band’s live act, take a look at this clip from their Brooklyn Vegan show at CMJ, and then make plans to catch them tonight or on tour this spring. (Club De Ville, Friday, 11pm).