The most indelible musical memory is the ubiquitous SXSW theme music that opened every event. That aside, here are some musical favorites from SXSW 2021
Wild Child’s Kelsey Wilson steped out with a beautifully soulful set that highlighted tracks from her debut EP. Wilson, accompanied by two background vocalists, an electric guitarist and a percussionist, was captivating.
Whereas many artists took advantage of the pre-recorded format to create full band experiences, Aaron Lee Tasjan went in the other direction. He performed solo, first on electric guitar and then on piano. His takes on songs from the recently released Tasjan, Tasjan, Tasjan showcased both his songwriting and musical talent.
Wales’ Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard rocked out with solid pop hooks that they scuffed up with fuzzy electric guitar riffs and glam rock attitude.
Another Wales discovery was the enticing indie pop collective Campfire Social. Glorious pop, a la New Pornographers, with a touch of edginess that was softened by vocal harmonies.
Amsterdam-based Altin Gun bill themselves as an Anatolian rock and Turkish psychedelic folk band. The Turkish influence comes through loud and strong, in part due to the inclusion of native folk instrument bağlama alongside the group’s standard rock band configuration. The extend the sound with shades of modern jazz and a healthy jam band vibe.
Jon Dee Graham at The Continental Club is a MF SXSW tradition. Graham split the set with his son William Harries Graham, a talented songwriter in his own right. Watching father and son trade leads on electric guitar was something special. And, of course, Graham came through with his typical blistering and ornery set.
Indonesia’s Grrl Gang mix some scraggly garage rock into their glorious power pop. I only wish that they got to play a few more songs.
Austin’s Carson McHone and her crack outfit rocked in fine Americana form. Feisty guitars and simmering organ gave McHone’s songs a crackling edge.
If you haven’t seen Greyhounds live, you’ve missed out on some glorious funk and soul. All the better to see them (albeit virtually) on their home Austin turf, which gave them the opportunity to bring in some additional players for an even fuller – and funkier – sound.
Nashville-based Americana band Great Peacock performed in a somewhat stripped down format. They substituted acoustic for electric guitars, accompanied by a standard rhythm section and a heaping dose of wailing pedal steel guitar. Their set highlighted songs from Forever Worse Better, their engagingly brooding 2020 release.
Leeds, UK’s Yard Act are the British version of The Hold Steady. As guitarist Ryan Needham unleashes angular guitar riffs, singer James Smith, clad in a trench coat, spits out lyrics like “I’m an acquired taste and if you’re gonna climb the ladder of success on judgement day take my advice and reinvent the wheel completely, fucking believe me.”
They were introduced as a “laptop” rock band – the laptop providing drums while the live duo let loose with guitar and bass. They called to mind Courtney Barnett with their anxious indie rock and half-spoken, stream of consciousness lyrics.
While there weren’t a lot of covers played by artists during their 2-4 song mini-sets, Atlanta and Athens Georgia indie pop outfit Neighbor Lady staked their claim to ELO’s “It’s a Living Thing”. It was simply sublime.
While I couldn’t find a version of the band playing said song, here’s “Let It Bleed” from their 2018 release Maybe Later.
Note: With the exception of Grrrl Gang, the videos presented here are not from SXSW 2021. They are included so that you can sample the music!
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.