The Best Music We Saw at SXSW on Saturday
Ukraine's KAZKA, Fuck Money, Shawn Mendes, Beck, and more
By Rachel Rascoe, Julian Towers, Morgan-Taylor Thomas, Christina Garcia, Kevin Curtin, and Robert Penson,
12:05PM, Sun. Mar. 20, 2022
The first in-person South by Southwest since 2019 came to a close with a busy Saturday that, for many, started with day parties and ended after midnight. Most of those people are probably still asleep.
But not our writers, who’ve been chronicling their daily highlights of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Here are our favorite performances of the final 24.
Ukrainian Pop Star KAZKA Leads Community Catharsis
ACL Radio’s Andy Langer asked the Speakeasy audience, as much as possible on Saturday of SXSW, to quiet down for Ukrainian artist Oleksandra “Sasha” Zaritska to share her harrowing story. Alternatively, the singer emerged onstage at Speakeasy twirling her national flag, prompting the crowd to amplify with an “I can’t hear you.” Having overcome so many barriers to get to the fest and spread the word on the tragic killing of Ukrainians by Russia’s military – the magnetic natural performer was eager to do what she does best.
The sleek, splashy pop sounds of Ukrainian band KAZKA planned to debut at SXSW 2020. This year, front person Zaritska chose to come alone, as her bandmates Dmytro Mazuriak and Mykyta Budash have been drafted into mandatory military service. Further, she missed a performance this week due to travel delays – leading to the quickly-planned "Austin Stands with Ukraine" showcase. To an excited crowd, including many Ukrainians draped in blue and yellow, speakers and evening MC Christian Ray Flores encouraged the audience to spread the word about the invasion, write to their government officials, donate to funds like Flores’ Ukraine Relief Network, and attend local rallies.
Alongside performances by the Azerbaijani Qarabagh Ensemble and Austin’s Chief Cleopatra, Ghost Wolves, and Jackie Venson, Zaritska debuted her room-filling, dynamic vocals with a beautiful rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem in a moving crowd chorus. “Russia is so big, and Ukraine is like a little one,” she said. “But, we have people, and we have [bravery]. There are boys, girls, mothers, children, old men and women – all standing for Ukraine. I think we will make it. I think everything will be alright.”
Switching to her native tongue, she spoke between songs to a reception of peace signs and raised fists. Seamlessly mixing fun and sincerity, she doused fans with a water bottle during her short performance, including breakout 2018 single “Plakala.” An impressive number of fans sang along throughout the set. Austin musicians Bryan Ray (guitar), Ryan Hagler (bass), and Charlie Harper (drums) served as Zaritska’s backing band, later joined by Austin-favorite special guest Charlie Sexton for a finale edition of “Masters of War.” Introducing the song, Zaritska said, “I have a message to Putin… It’s a song by Bob Dylan.” As the only Ukrainian performer at SXSW, KAZKA delivered its message, as well as an opportunity for community catharsis. – Rachel Rascoe
Fuck Money Mints New Currency
Local vendors, a warning to heed: After Saturday night’s Fuck Money show – the highlight of SXSW’s Punk Black showcase – Austin’s cash economy has been infused with some serious hostility. That is, assuming any of my fellow audience members actually spend the many real-deal dollar bills emblazoned with the band’s name that vocalist TaSzlin Muerte fired at us from a money gun (watching the crowd who have consciously attended your anti-capitalist hardcore show scamper hungrily to the ground for monetary peanuts is compensation enough, I suppose). After the show a couple of us debated the most ethical deployment for our abrasive new fuck-money-bucks. To pass the currency off to the homeless would send an unintentionally condescending message, and using it to tip the Swan Dive bartenders seemed like an expression of scornful laziness (“you couldn’t give us any of your real money?”). Instead, we determined the only real tenable option was to keep returning to Fuck Money shows to one day collect enough to buy their merch. Cause this band fucks.
Fuck Money’s otherworldly spin on pile-driving noise-rock is something I’ve long been eager to see replicated live (especially after Omicron scuppered their Austin Free Week show in January). Like the menacing ghillie suit Muerte arrived on stage wearing, the band’s churning feedback swirl is equal parts imposing and obfuscating – curiously serene in its refusal to give its sonic-aggression a clear human face. (Indeed, the band left stage without uttering a single word besides a departing “That’s all.”) Perhaps I make it sound a little one-note; to untrained ears, maybe it is. But even more than their most obvious peers in noise-dense scatter-punk, Lightning Bolt, Fuck Money mask a great deal of compositional smarts in pursuit of sheer noise. Like the skewed economic systems they rage against, there’s an ominous design lurking beneath their outwardly impartial abstraction. Listen and pay that shit forward.
Judging by crowd reaction alone, the night’s other big highlight was a Pleasure Venom. In a festival overflowing with lazy, head-bob post-punk shipped in from abroad, these locals proved that sleek rhythmic dexterity, militant drumming, and a singer who likes standing still in one place thankyouverymuch can still be a formula for life-affirming mosh-pit madness. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to Bondbreaker – a delightful Eighties throwback, but one whose precise point of inspiration took some time for me to place. The group’s majestically long-flowing hair suggested something thrash adjacent, but close attention to the relentless riffage evinced only trace heavy metal lineage. When I asked the drummer if D-beat pioneers Discharge might be an influence, he confirmed: “Yes, English Eighties anarcho-punk is all I listen to. Wow, you’re the first one to notice that. People compare us to Bad Brains for some reason.” Reader, never have I been more proud to be a pathetic, smelly hardcore nerd. – Julian Towers
Shawn Mendes Delights in First Concert of 2022
Time turns to molasses when you stand in a venue entry line for an hour, especially in the Texas heat. By the time Moody Amphitheater unlocks the gates, I've already aggressively exchanged words with 10 entitled SXSW line cutters. I go through security – a turned-off metal detector – and am greeted by packs of girls squealing like hyenas, sprinting to the barricade. Strollingl to the middle of the freshly opened Waterloo Park, I sit on the cement wall separating the GA lawn from the “VIP” (since when do green lawn chairs mean VIP?).
Fast forward two hours through openers Sebastian Yatra and DJ VRWVY, and I’m patiently waiting for Shawn Mendes with the rest of the Austin melting pot: affluent millennials complaining about their Golden Goose delivery delays, a family of three glued to Facebook, etc. Silence falls on the 5,000-capacity lot, and the 23-year-old heartthrob takes the stage to the choir intro of 2020 single “Wonder.”
The Toronto native maintains high-octane energy and an infectious smile throughout the performance. Heartbreak anthems “If I Can’t Have You” and the unreleased “It’ll Be Okay” show off the former Vine star’s multi-instrumental talent, switching from angelic piano acoustics to surprisingly hefty rock renditions on a black and red Fender. Paired with a classic Gen-Z-hot-boy fit (an opened white button down and black jeans), Mendes’ Steven Tyler-like vocal range evidences pop abilities that are beyond basic – all of that further encouraging the fangirl craze happening six feet in front of him and adding to the overall playful and elated feeling of the night. Rarely can artists command the attention of a crowd so wide in age range like he did on Saturday. When the park lights turned on eight minutes early, I couldn’t help but want an encore and walked out a fan. – Morgan-Taylor Thomas
Pissed Jeans Does It for the “Olds”
After a week of bouncing over potholes in luxury-priced pedicabs, trying to figure out what the hell you did to your stomach and throwing back Rolaids by the convenience store sleeve-full, the answer might have come to you in a rationalizing flash of insight: It was surely the absolute bowel-shaking tremors coming from the Hotel Vegas patio to blame, as a throng of balding and black-shirted men in dusty shoes stood ass-to-nuts for the return of Pissed Jeans, whose frontman is “so far ahead of not shaving your armpits, I shave my armpits.” And then Matt Korvette showed us his slick little underarms and said “you’re not gonna see this much hairless skin the rest of the time you’re here.” The banter alone was worth it and, Goddamn it, you’re right, Korvette. We should pave our sidewalks. We do all trip over things lying there. It is a matter of honor and pride. Regardless, from a sea of baby-faced UK post-punk bands leading the official SXSW rock band fray, Pissed Jeans emerged in a punk/noise/sludge bolt of mature testosterone funk. “This one is for the olds,” said Korvette, fully self-aware, as his Philadelphia quartet ravaged the outside stage like a mosh pit symphony if symphonies were never tedious.
“These guys never tour,” said one attendee. “They all have day jobs.” The price has to be right, it is rumored, making this appearance a great white buffalo for rockers who might need to get their prostate checked. Indeed, Korvette taunted, “If we told you what we were making up here, you’d shit your pants. I know I did.” He seems like the kind of guy who might actually have done that before. – Christina Garcia
Meet Casual Beck, He’s Cool
The announcement of a solo acoustic concert from SXSW keynoter Beck made many of us expect a set of material from the “Sad Beck” canon of Sea Change and Morning Phase. He indicated as much upon his arrival to stage: “Alright so let’s have some fun… actually, disclaimer on that, I’m going to play some really sad, slow songs.” The ensuing performance turned out to be a remarkably loose, playful, and bravely unprepared two hours of Beck in a way we’d never seen him before. Material ranged from extreme rarities (“Canceled Check”), to an unreleased new song, to never-played-before covers (Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whistle”) all interspersed with legitimately hilarious storytelling and thought bubbles. For much of the set, he was backed on pedal steel by Austin’s Jesse Ebaugh, who Beck had recruited off Mohawk’s indoor stage the previous night at 2am. The Californian’s voice sounded incredible throughout the show, which was often lovably shambolic with forgotten lyrics, restarted songs, and impromptu stage gags like deciding to “explore the space” by moving his mic to the other side of the stage, then immediately moving back. “Jesus I just looked at the clock,” he said, returning for a satisfying double encore of “Debra,” “One Foot in the Grave,” and Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End.” “I’ve been playing for two hours!” Time flies. – Kevin Curtin
A Heavy Day at Fiesta Destructo
Saturday, Hotel Vegas hosted Fiesta Destructo, a 20-year-running day party to rival any other from the week. It had the feeling of SXSW from years gone by, a free show with national acts that you’ve heard of and been meaning to check out. High On Fire’s stoner thrash got the crowd high. Pissed Jeans’ acid punk was trippy with rock ‘n’ roll energy, while the Spits’ good ol’ fashioned punk reminded everyone why they liked the genre in the first place. The surprise of the day was Black Mercy, hardcore punk locals with an intensity that was reminiscent of Rollins-era Black Flag. – Robert Penson
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Kevin Curtin, March 25, 2022
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SXSW Music 2022, KAZKA, Fuck Money, Shawn Mendes, Beck, Pissed Jeans, Fiesta Destructo