The Best Music We Saw at SXSW on Thursday
Young Thug in the park, icy French experimentalism, and more
By Derek Udensi, Abby Johnston, Dan Gentile, Rachel Rascoe, Morgan-Taylor Thomas, Mars Salazar, Christina Garcia, and Raoul Hernandez,
12:13PM, Fri. Mar. 18, 2022
Every year during South by Southwest, there’s a point in which you see gaggles of staggering normies in goofy green clothes and realize, “Oh, it’s St. Patrick’s Day.” In Austin, the March music extravaganza supplants the Catholic-rooted day-drinking holiday.
That was yesterday and our music team’s highlights run below. If you missed them, click back to find the top music moments from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, plus Doug Freeman's report from Willie Nelson's annual Luck Reunion in Spicewood.
Young Thug Understanding the Premise of SXSW
A dismissive cynic may say Billboard and Samsung’s The Stage at SXSW concert series continues the corporate bastardization of SXSW. Chart-topping rappers Gunna and Young Thug kicked off the star-studded three-day event on Thursday evening at the relatively new Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park. Attendees lacking official SXSW registration could either pay $95 per ticket per show or purchase a three-day pass for the series. A portion of ticket sales will benefit the Waterloo Greenway Conservancy.
DJ Rosegold brought bundles of energy for a boisterous crowd full of anticipation for the Atlanta trap star currently moving at a white hot pace. Such steep pricing of tickets perhaps ensured only true supporters of the Young Stoner Life Records duo made their way in – the ratio of badged attendees to non-badged attendees at first glance swayed towards a surprising side. In true SXSW scheduling fashion, Gunna finally made his way onstage at around 9:15pm, some 30 minutes after his listed start time on the borderline useless SXSW website.
The fashionable emcee ran through cuts from the Weeknd defeating DS4Ever as well as expected hit tracks such as “Drip Too Hard” for a tick under 30 minutes. “Lemonade” and its otherworldly Don Toliver hook especially drew massive engagement from a congregation easily surpassing 85 percent of the outdoor venue’s 5,000 person capacity.
“Surf,” an infectious track from Young Thug’s So Much Fun LP that features Gunna, acted as the perfect segue to introduce the YSL Records founder. The tall vocal chameleon began with “Ecstasy” and largely refrained from performing his hits. Barter 6 favorite “With That” received a drop three songs in with assistance from YSL Records signee Duke. Young Thug, ever the selfless figure whose influence spans an entire rap class, used most of his set time to spotlight other artists on his record label as he watched on. A bold move for a general admission show priced at a premium, but one can argue the daring decision falls in line with the festival’s spirit of showcasing new artists. And some even knew the lyrics to Unfoonk’s verses from the YSL Records collaborative album Slime Language 2.
Gunna returned to help perform collaborative Billboard smashes “Pushin’ P,” “Hot,” and set closer “Ski.” Thousands joyfully shouted “yah, yah” with the enthusiastic tenor of a karate class until the pair ended the unofficial YSL Records SXSW showcase at just under an hour. – Derek Udensi
…Trail of Dead Play for the Hometown
There was an egalitarian notion to the Auditorium Shores showcase, even more so this year. In the snaking line for bag check to the free show, open to the public, one brave soul (not me, seriously!) inquired if SXSW badges had an express entrance. The derision on the security guard's face was clear: Your badge means nothing here.
Welcome to the free show, where the locals, and the proletariat, reign.
The Auditorium Shores SXSW show is typically a Billboard bombast with mega pop acts spurring prohibitively long queues. 2022 welcomed the locals, instead, and the crowd reflected that relaxed posture. But it was bolstered by prog-metal-pop anomalies ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, who gathered local throngs around the Lady Bird Lake-shore stage.
After debuting a new song 10 minutes into the showcase, set for release on a full Charles Godfrey-produced album this summer, the six-piece stuck to the classic bangers. Halfway through the allotted 50 minutes, lead singer Conrad Keely acknowledged the 20-year anniversary of their sophomore release, Source Tags & Codes, to roaring recognition. Keely led the band through ruminating guitar freak outs like “Another Morning Stoner” and revelatory metal-tinged frenzies like “Homage.” All the while, he kept the hometown crowd in mind. “This is a little song about Austin, Texas!” he cried before launching into proggy anthem “It Was There That I Saw You.” And there was a feeling that, from the stage, we were all in his eyesight. – Abby Johnston
Ural Thomas: Old Soul, Fresh Legs
This week’s buzz bands have already reached the point of perpetually hungover, so the freshest legs I saw on Thursday belonged to an 81-year-old. Ural Thomas, a soul singer from Portland who played in the shadows of Stevie Wonder and James Brown, beamed as he shuffled around Mohawk’s outdoor stage like there was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be.
The easiest comparison is to the late Charles Bradley, who was only 62-years-young when he played Cedar Street Courtyard for the first time at SXSW 2011. But Thomas is less Godfather of Soul, more Stevie, giving off an almost spiritual level of positivity despite the dark name of his backing band. Speaking of the Pain, the six-piece unit wore matching sports jackets and played like it, pivoting from precise blue-eyed soul to stomping Memphis blues.
If you're looking for this year's most life-affirming vocalist, you've found him. They have two more shows on deck, Half Step tonight at midnight and Hotel San Jose on Saturday. – Dan Gentile
Marina Herlop’s Cool Syllabic Precision
Striking combinations began Qobuz’s avant-garde Thursday evening showcase at Central Presbyterian Church. Vocals with a vaguely ancient, folkloric purity aligned with crunchy, glitchy, computerized production during first artist Marina Herlop’s uninterrupted run. Both elements shared absolute crystalline clarity under the Barcelona-based experimentalist’s careful control. Solo and standing, she commanded the crisp, cool, constantly-tantalizing sounds with wooden drum sticks on an electronic sampling pad. Above, she displayed a quizzically satisfying use of syllables beyond a particular language in pursuit of otherworldly effect – inspired by the Southern Indian Konnakol art form of percussive singing. The complex variation of tone and structure reached full force on her latest release “miu.” And during a seated keyboard interlude, Herlop revisited her earlier work’s integration of insane classically-trained piano chops. Unadorned vocals completed the seamless set, then silence, then a bow. Matching the theatrically icy energy, the singer-composer appeared in all bright white, with a puffy hood tied under her chin and a matching sculptural set. Something like futuristic apocalyptic snow bunny – an unplaceable outfit for innovatively unplaceable music. – Rachel Rascoe
Joseph’s Authentic Comeback
“Have you ever seen them before?” asks the guy standing two inches to my left. I’m pressed firmly against the Continental Club soundbooth – not by choice.
“Yes sir, I saw them last night at St. David’s.”
“How was it?”
“Pretty good. I think performing in a church made them a little stiff, so I’m interested to see what will happen tonight.”
The trio stands on stage sound checking into silent mics while event staff run around me, plugging and unplugging chords. Townies and tourists alike get louder and louder, trying to talk over the person glued next to them. I can barely hear myself think. Finally, guitarist Natalie Closner Schepman commands the room with the strike of her brunette Rockbridge acoustic. Silence.
The Eighth Street sanctuary created an ethereal aura. Multi-colored lighting backed the band while viewers sat unmoving in pews, spiritual and somewhat limiting for everyone involved. But it was the 67-year-old stage rooted in the Congress pavement that inveigled a performance like no other. Why? Because the Oregon natives finally seemed comfortable on a SXSW stage.
Without reverberating acoustics (no matter how majestic they may seem) twins Meegan and Allison Closner joined their older sister in belting out every scaled run and astounding high note, forcing their vocals to levels never before heard on their records. Deliberate consonant clippings and vowel elongations fed into the kid-like wave swallowing the stage. Proof that a sibling bond overpowers any pre-show nerves, the sisters ricocheted, singing each other’s parts and laughing with the audience, almost as if they too stood in the cramped corridors waiting for a cosmic music release.
Fan favorites such as “Green Eyes” and closer “White Flag” showcased the posse’s ability to authentically recount moments in life without falling victim to the heartbreak plague currently overrunning the modern sub-pop/rock scenes. “Those green eyes are my green light/ I’m giving up on control/ You see red lights/ I see me blowing straight through to you.” Their authentic wordplay entrances listeners through relatability, quirky reassignments of everyday items, and shocking crescendos.
Unapologetically themselves, Joseph redefines “family band,” forging a community of tight-knit kinships and breathtaking beats, both plucky and frank. Already taking North America by storm on their current tour, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the lot back in Austin on a Zilker Park main stage sometime soon. – Morgan-Taylor Thomas
Venus Twins and FIT at Sahara Lounge
As my body screamed on day five of being fueled by gas station chips and margaritas, I craved a soul-food type sound that would mend my fatigue and heartburn instantly – hard rock so heavy that your brain feels like it’s melting out of your ears. Sahara Lounge proved an isolated and unsuspecting haven, hosting noise rock band Venus Twins on the cusp of their move back to Brooklyn. The two-piece hosted only drums and bass that expelled an unhinged rhythm pounding so low you could trip over it. Apart from trying to decipher the logistics of a metal scene in their hometown of Denton, my mind burned on one question throughout the set. “Are you guys twins?” I hollered to the bass-swinging gentleman rocking a bright red mullet. “Yeah, we’re identical twins.” The four-piece FIT from Dallas gave my world a second grand reckoning with polished compositions and pleading vocals for a fresh, post-punk sound in their songs “Modern Lovers” and “Cool Kids” cleansing my soul a proper baptism. Venus Twins grind out doom and gloom from the womb. FIT eases out velvet doom and gloom from the tomb. Amen, and thank you for the serotonin. - Mars Salazar
Brazil’s Tuyo Enrapture With the Songs of Life
I can’t tell you what the Portuguese lyrics of Tuyo’s Brazilian indie pop translate to, but they knew that about many in attendance and they were still moved to tears on Thursday night in St. David’s Historic Sanctuary. “Even if you can’t understand, you can feel it,” said the sprightly lead singer, Lio, rubbing her cheeks and slapping her forehead as if to say “I can’t believe this is real,” in the moments between tracks. Lio attacked the songs with her face, telling stories with expressions as much as through her rich voice or the hip-hop and electronic sounds gently setting a scene full of emotion and warmth. “These are the songs of my life,” she said, whacking a drum and then tossing the sticks off behind her in an almost waggish gesture. She and her sister, Lay Soares sang like they were laying down a burden, or carefully sharing an oral history. “What a funny story,” said Lio, having concluded a song, as Lay raised the sleeve of her t-shirt to rub the tattoo on her arm almost lovingly, as if it was related. When Lio announced the final song, her Portuguese-speaking audience let out a collective groan and then swarmed the front pews, enraptured by the big pop moments from this small band that seems tailor-made for the kind of uplifting electronic festival stage programming seen at Zilker Park. – Christina Garcia
SXSW’s Annual Poster Show: Flatstock 77
For a decade or more, I stared at those teddy bears, tumbling around a SXSW logo, more Radiohead than Toy Story’s Lotso or some Kozik perversion. Chronicle conference room poster art always locked my gaze. ATX’s annual March Madness feels like that even today: thrown into a dryer and spun ’til your dizzy, fuzzy – high on breaking art in real-time.
Noontime in and around the Austin Convention Center on Thursday populated an infinitesimal fraction of peak SX, but inside a ground floor cavern bloomed light in a darkness abating. More intimate than summit years, three dozen artists opened the ocular equinox yesterday as Dutch shoegazers Donna Blue cast a Technicolor wooze on the makeshift gallery. Flatstock’s anti-day stage – that’s one dark, plush corner in there – stacks a full line-up through Saturday’s Austin special: We Don’t Ride Lamas, JM Stevens, Caleb de Casper, and more.
Nearby, Denver’s Add Noise Studios repped its host city with Gary Clark Jr. and Black Pumas, while Epic Problems (aka Oregon’s Neal Williams) backdrops trad naturalism (Avett Bros., Eric Church, Phil Lesh). Atlanta’s Methane Studios did brisk business with a postmodern Americana aesthetic just around the corner. And Austin brand Billy Perkins held court in his bursting central booth, front and center with black-n-red Pumas commemoratives from Austin City Limits and the national bonafides’ five-night run at Stubb’s last year.
Deep blues double bill ZZ Top and Jeff Beck, a Mayan Foo Fighters, Judas Priest screaming for vengeance still for a show this coming Sunday up the road at the Cedar Park Center: Perkins’ pride of placement spot in Flatstock befitted a survivor detailing recent health emergencies in his pajama bottoms.
Barry Blanketship’s futuristic levitations, Rad Link’s refracting chromaticism (and “Let’s Make a Deal” notice), and Badmoon Studios’ saturated malevolence all glowed in the artificial light. Fort Worth’s Creative Situation cranked out souvenir tees on demand. As inked owls and a dayglow Joe Strummer looked on, a distinct lack of SXSW 2022 memorabilia meant no teddy bears for the obvious taking, but maybe it bears another looksee after today’s Geezer Butler panel. – Raoul Hernandez