The best set(s) of SXSW 2016 start at 3:45p, indoors at the small stage of Cheer Up Charlie’s, on the second Thursday of the event. If an initial spin through Austin’s most jam-packed and chaotic two weeks teaches you anything, you learn the unexpected can happen in the blink of the eye. All you can hope for is to be in the right place.
That right place sits squarely in front of Weaves singer Jasmyn Burke. SXSW specializes in hyper sets—20 minutes, maybe 40 minutes max unless you’re one of the five biggest bands in attendance. (Most bands play four or five times in as many days, after all.) Art-rockers like Weaves don’t qualify for headlining treatment yet, so Burke didn’t waste a second of the band’s ~35 minutes, channeling a frenetic energy from the very first notes of “Birds & Bees” (highlighted mid-song with an emphatic cough so perfectly on cue that it had to be intentional, though the recorded version has no such flourish).
Over the course of eight songs (with a crowd that would’ve gladly taken double), Weaves flashes all their eccentricities. Their body motions change in unison with the music both in terms of tempo and dynamics. During “Buttercup,” instrumental solos travel across the band as members simultaneously accompany them with indie rock dance flourishes. And Weaves incorporates technical oddities—elbows to a snare head for muting, vocal slides up and down a scale, bass slapping, etc.—better than nearly any act I’ve encountered. “Coo Coo” proves to be a great showcase for this, between a highly rhythmic drum-solo lead-in and the main vocal melody requiring several multi-note jumps up or down Burke’s alto-ish register.
Through just six songs, the energy and craftsmanship Weaves already displayed would’ve placed their set near the top of many SXSW Best Ofs. Then, the band begins the slow rocking chug of “Two Oceans,” and Burke decides the stage no longer satisfies. She unwraps the mic and steps down into the crowd with guitarist Morgan Waters quickly behind her. They coax one adoring audience member after another to get on mic screaming the chorus’ elongated “toniiiiggghhht” while increasingly encouraging everyone to get tighter, closer to the floor. At one point everyone except drummer Spencer Cole seems to be in on the circle (his instrument doesn’t travel, naturally). It’s the kind of scene SXSW built its reputation on—intimate, organic, riveting; what you used to immediately tell your mates about the next day but now simply fire off insta-tweets instead.
The band closes with “Motorcycle” from their debut LP. Rather than creating a moment for everyone to breath, this single simply pushes the pace and has Cheer Up Charlie’s indoor space shaking. Fitting. Weaves proves they constantly deliver the unexpected, so naturally they accelerate through the finish when nearly all others would hit the brakes.
- Birds & Bees
- Coo Coo
- “New One”
- One More
- Two Oceans
How on Earth does someone follow an artistic hurricane like Weaves? SXSW 2017 may have scaled down overall, but it didn’t skimp on the musical variety on display. There’s beauty in any aftermath’s brief serenity, and Vagabon provided the perfectly composed compliment to Weaves’ fervor.
Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Lætitia Tamko started her post-college career as an engineer by trait; accordingly her work with Vagabon showcases a mix of intricacy and creativity. Her songs contain layers of both lyrical meaning and musical ideas, and this band translates that lose-yourself-in-the-music experience live.
Tamko’s voice jumps out initially, a strong tenor/alto that effortlessly seems to change intensity levels or convey various emotions. Many of the band’s arrangements highlight this through minimal backing. “Fear & Force” offers Tamko nothing more than finger-picking and a drum machine for large swaths of song. “The Embers” takes a similar approach, and even its full band moments rely on long sustained chords and methodical quarter notes which leave plenty of room for Tamko’s voice to play and come to the forefront.
Of course, Vagabon carries a musical edge, too. “Fear & Force”-‘s strongest moment may be a bridge towards the end when the drums kick in underneath driving bass and guitar, providing an up-tempo foil to the song’s more melancholy moments. And the minute or so passage leading up to and including the second verse in “Minneapolis”—as garage rock pulses towards a lengthy general pause where cymbals crash the silence and Tamko’s vocals re-enter with jumps up and down her range in a less melodic, sharp manner—hit as hard as any individual moments throughout the week (sets from Weaves and punk veterans like The Black Lips included).
As Tamko and the band close with “Cleaning House” into “The Embers,” the dynamism of the vocals (especially on the sparse “Cleaning House”) only emphasizes the beauty of what just took place. The platonic ideal of SXSW occurred within a single showcase: here and here alone, two bands with vastly differently approaches to songwriting and performance can equally slay the same crowd.
- Cold Apartment
- Fear & Force
- 100 Years
- Cleaning House
- The Embers