By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Of the "buzz bands" I caught at this year's SXSW, Blake is by far the one that best lived up to the hype.
Friday was insanely fun, as I spent the afternoon throwing the first ever Gimme Noise day party in Austin in partnership with First Avenue. The party was hopping from the get-go, thanks in part to the free beer offered up by Tiger, and we were thrilled to see a huge contingent of Minnesota natives come out to show their support, including recent L.A. transplant Dan Wilson, Lori Barbero (who spends her winters in Austin and summers in her hometown of Minneapolis), and Twin/Tone founder and former Replacements manager Peter Jesperson.
All of the bands on our bill put on killer shows, too. The Goondas started things off strong by playing like it was their only show at SXSW (which it was), delivering an aggressive and raw set; Marijuana Deathsquads played a scaled-down two-song set without their drummers; Sick of Sarah reminded Jeremy Messersmith how much he loves to RAWK; and Messersmith brought a full string section. Sims of Doomtree (who overtook the festival, gigging as a crew and separately about three times each day) got the crowd dancing, while Solid Gold debuted several new songs. By the time Tapes 'n Tapes took the stage, we were at capacity and the whole room had a sing-along to "Insistor." Success!
701 1st Ave. N.
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Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)
As was to be expected, Saturday was the busiest night of the festival so far, as several unannounced gigs sprouted up amid the already-packed itinerary that included a massive Kanye West show at an abandoned power plant, a reunion show by Death From Above 1979, Yoko Ono, Snoop Dogg, and more.
My first priority for the evening was catching a reunion performance by DeYarmond Edison at hipster compound the Fader Fort, one of those only-at-SXSW moments that unfairly happened about 1,200 miles away from the band's core fan base in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It's hard to say what prompted the quartet to play a one-off reunion show, but all of DeYarmond's members (Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, plus Megafaun's Brad Cook, Phil Cook, and Joe Westerlund) have been gigging and touring together recently in Gayngs, so it wasn't much of a stretch for them to get together for the gig.
"Hi, this is our college band," Vernon said after they finished their first song, a cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Lovers Will." "We haven't played a show in seven years until right now."
For the second song Vernon asked how many Donny Hathaway fans were in the crowd, and explained that they were going to do Hathaway's version of Carole King's hit "You've Got a Friend." Their cover was beautiful, and it didn't take long for the whole place to start singing along to the chorus. And to close it out (yep, they performed only three songs), they played a DeYarmond original, "Set Me Free."
DeYarmond's set was oddly sandwiched between several hip-hop acts, and next up on the bill was the night's headliner, Lil B, who was introduced by surprise guest P. Diddy. Following Lil B's show, Diddy stuck around to play a surprise three-song set. After his performance he brought out Odd Future, who he proclaimed to be the "future of hip hop," and let the crew take over with their hit "Sandwitches."
The crowd was even more amped for Odd Future than they were during Diddy's set, and within the first couple of verses an overexcited crowd member wound up and threw a water bottle on stage, hitting Tyler the Creator squarely in the eye. I had the chance to see two different one-song performances by Odd Future this week, and their energy is incomparable—I've never seen a group of rappers look so pissed off and elated simultaneously.
For the last show of the week, I booked it over to small club Elysium to catch an intimate performance by Yoko Ono. The iconic professor of peace did her best to reach out to the tired audience, peering out over a pair of dark oval sunglasses into the eyes of the people standing in the front rows while smiling a sweet smile.
She was backed by her Plastic Ono Band, which for this show included her son Sean Lennon (who also acted as a sort of ringleader for the evening, emceeing between acts decked out in top hat and long black marching band jacket), guitar player Nels Cline of Wilco, and drummer Greg Saunier of Deerhoof, among others. Ono gave a performance that was raw, primal, and unnerving, yelping and stuttering into the microphone in an abrasive style that clashed sharply with her demure, cute stage presence.
Prior to Ono's set, Lennon invited Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner of tUnE-yArDs to perform a rendition of Ono's "We're All Water," complete with their signature vocal loops and tribal, syncopated drum beats. "I feel incredibly blessed and lucky; this is one of my favorite bands on the planet," Lennon stressed both before and after tUnE-yArDs played, and they surely gained a few new fans with their righteous cover of the song.