Usher with Afghan Whigs at Fader Fort for SXSW.
The latest edition of SXSW closed Sunday in Austin, leaving behind massive mounds of Lone Star empties, sleepless nights for thousands of music fans, chance encounters with greatness and missed opportunities.
It’s a festival that’s a blessing and curse. There’s no other place in the world where you can find as many people involved with music in one place—from icons to no-name bands camping out in their van just for a chance to perform—but it’s also impossible for one person to see every act on their wish list. There is just too much going on and too many people trying to get into venues much to small for the talent inside.
A short list of the numerous icons to touch down in Austin over the weekend: Prince played for about 300 people to close the festival, Depeche Mode debuted new songs and Iggy Pop nearly had to be pulled from the stage after his set with the Stooges. Rap superstars Snoop Dogg, T.I., 50 Cent, P. Diddy and Kendrick Lamar also performed. A rumored Daft Punk show never materialized, but DeadMau5, Flying Lotus, Baauer and Skream were among the many electronic artists.
Below are highlights from the big-ticket acts we caught and bands we’re looking out for in 2013 and beyond:
Sound City Players
After delivering an 11 a.m. keynote speech (early morning in SXSW hours) Dave Grohl kept the party going late into the night at Stubb’s with his own little music festival featuring a cast of characters mostly from his new Sound City documentary. It was essentially a soundtrack that you might hear at a dive bar on any given night, but only played live in front of a few thousand fans. Stevie Nicks started the all-star lineup, followed by Lee Ving of Fear and Rick Springfield with Grohl and the Foo Fighters backing.
Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen made an appearance with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor belting out “Surrender.” The set ended with Bay Area icon John Fogerty running through Creedence Clearwater Revival, including “Born on the Bayou” and “Proud Mary,” before closing with Grohl swapping versus on “Fortunate Son.”
T.I., Usher and the Afghan Whigs
With stylists giving out free mohawks and an open bar with Whiskey-laced lemonade and beer, Fader Fort drew huge crowds and a 100-yard line of hopefuls looking for access to the party. The pop-up venue lived up to its reputation for surprises on Friday starting with an unannounced performance by Houston rapper Trae The Truth. The venue was packed early with mostly Texas locals rapping with him word-for-word before the place went nuts with a surprise appearance by T.I., who plowed through a few of his hits with Pharrell and B.o.B among the performers crowding the stage.
After more than two hours of hip hop (Future performed after Trae), the scene flipped to the opposite side of the musical spectrum with indie rock vets the Afghan Whigs. The band played tracks of their own before working into a verse of Usher’s Diplo-produced track “Climax.” The crowd erupted again as the R&B vocalist stepped out from backstage to finish the song and the rest of the set with the band. Brooklyn artist Sinkane also made a cameo and traded vocals with Usher on his afrobeat-influenced track “Runnin’.”
Legendary Houston rap crew the Geto Boys brought a night of twisted hip hop nostalgia to a few hundred people lucky enough to get into an exclusive show hosted by Red Bull. The gangsta rap OGs came out of semi-retirement and brought classics to the stage like “Mind Playing Tricks Me” and “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” along with deeper tracks from their catalog. Potential good news for Bay Area fans: At the end of the show Willie D announced the group will go on tour later this year.
Finding the Funk Panel
With live shows going from noon into the early-morning hours every day during SXSW, it’s easy to overlook some of the panel discussions and performances planned at Austin’s convention center. We caught what is probably the funkiest panel in SXSW history with George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell discussing the origins of funk and their music, along with VH1 producer Nelson George, Soul Rebels drummer Lumar LeBlanc and Sly Stone’s daughter Novena Carmel.
The exchange between Clinton and Collins during a Q&A session that ended the panel was full of laughs as the two cracked jokes with each other and shared war stories about taking acid, groupie love and buying the Mothership (it’s now parked at the Smithsonian) for the Mothership Connection tour in the 1970s.
Never short on one-liners, Collins offered this nugget when asked about what he thinks about modern funk musicians: “Every generation will have their own angle on the dangle.” Will Clinton, Collins and Worrell share the stage again for a show? “I’m horny for that,” Clinton replied.
Bands to Watch this year:
Thee Oh Sees
It’s already been a big year for Thee Oh Sees, the San Francisco band with the most momentum going into SXSW. They’ve mastered the art of throwing a blazing rock ’n’ roll party, and the crowd that arrived in Austin to see them clogged the bar patio and stage area where they played a late afternoon set on Saturday. Fans closest to the action onstage were covered in sweat, beer and crowd surfers while the band worked through its set with few pauses. Thee Oh Sees are off to Coachella next before heading to Europe.
Chelsea Light Moving
With Sonic Youth on indefinite hiatus after his marital split with bandmate Kim Gordon in 2011, Thurston Moore introduced his new band, Chelsea Light Moving, at SXSW to a few hundred people at Thrasher’s Texas Style Death Match party. Sonic Youth probably won’t get back together anytime soon, but this is the closest of the group’s various solo projects to the Sonic Youth sound—heavy riffs from Moore that channel the early punk energy of the band with references to mellower more recent releases.
The Limousines always draw big crowds in San Jose, but it was also great to see a large following show up for their final show in Austin this year. After a break from SXSW last year, they were back with three shows and finished with a short Saturday night set that forced a line outside to stretch down the street from the full venue. It should also be a big year for the South Bay favorites, who left their label and are working independently on a new album due out this summer after raising $75,000 on Kickstarter. Expect darker undertones on the new release and enhanced production visuals at the band’s next Bay Area shows.
Metro Executive Editor Dan Pulcrano contributed to this report.