The music portion of South By Southwest is the most unpredictable aspect of the festival. Unlike traditional music festivals such as Austin City Limits or Fun Fun Fun Fest, where schedules are solidified months in advance and seldom change, the schedule given out by SXSW is more of a general guide. There’s no telling when and where Kanye West, Lady Gaga or De La Soul might show up, and half the fun of the music festival is being in the right place at the right time when a surprise guest appears.
This year’s festival had its share of surprise performances and hyper-exclusive sets that SXSW has become known for in recent years. For the lucky Samsung Galaxy owners and winners of a ticket lottery, Kanye West performed with Jay-Z at Austin Music Hall. Those who made it to The Mobile Movement showcase caught a glimpse of Lady Gaga running the light show.
The Daily Texan made a list of the best shows of each day of SXSW.
AT&T Interactive Music Showcase at The Mobile Movement
Arguably one of the most rumor-filled nights of SXSW, AT&T hosted DJ Shadow, Machinedrum and Reggie Watts. The venue featured several nights of music in the interactive warehouse on Cesar Chavez Street, all leading up to Monday’s rumors of a secret Lady Gaga or Kanye performance, both of which were just that: infamous SXSW rumors. The lineup kicked off with the always innovative comedian-musician Reggie Watts beat boxing his way through a lively set, leaving room for one-liners between each song. DJ Travis Stewart, performing under the name Machinedrum, followed Watts in what felt like the longest but most cohesive set at SXSW as Twitter was flooded with pictures of Lady Gaga in the building. The rumors were dissuaded altogether just before DJ Shadow’s energetic set, leaving the audience dancing through an impressively artistic, beat-heavy performance.
Pitchfork Show No Mercy Showcase at Mohawk
Mohawk hosted a showcase that displayed the full potential of what SXSW can be. Highlights included the slow-churning Indian from Chicago and Los Angeles’ Youth Code, a dark electronic act that put on a highly energetic set that resembled a much better version of Sleigh Bells. The best of the night were Brooklyn’s Sannhet, who won over a small crowd with striking visuals and grand and sweeping instrumental black metal, and Texas’s own Power Trip, who delivered the most intense set of the entire week. Vocalist Riley Gale opened the set by announcing that he had just found out a close friend passed away, but that the band was just going to play through it and try not to think about it and, in turn, delivered an extremely heavy and emotional set that easily had the most energetic pit that’s taken place at an official showcase.
Kanye West and Jay-Z at Austin Music Hall
The first joint performance in two years from rap’s biggest stars made for one of the biggest sets of the week, but, because of poor planning, it was almost a disaster. Samsung, which put on the show, gave out wristbands that “guaranteed entry” to more people than the venue could hold. Hundreds outside left in anger when the fire marshal announced a “one in, one out” policy before half of the people in line with wristbands had entered. Kanye and Jay-Z essentially played greatest hits sets. At one point, each stood on large installations on opposite sides of the venue and went back and forth, playing hits such as “Runaway” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” The two reunited onstage together at the end for fan favorites such as “Gold Digger” before launching into “Niggas In Paris” three times in a row. The fans that made it in were treated to an incredible, rare show from Kanye and Jay-Z.
Future Islands at the 4AD Showcase at Cheer Up Charlie’s
Like most bands at SXSW, Future Islands played several sets throughout the week. Their show as part of 4AD’s showcase at Cheer Up Charlie’s was their last for this year’s festival, and lead singer Sam Herring announced that it would be their “most punk-rock fucking set” yet. This prompted the audience at Cheer Up Charlie’s to launch into a thrashing mosh-pit that lasted the entirety of the performance. Herring’s on stage energy was not only matched, but maybe even topped, by the vivacious crowd. The band played songs off of early albums as well as their newly released single, “Seasons (Waiting On You).” Future Islands’ set at Cheer Up Charlie’s was quite possibly their best set of the entire festival.
Pitchfork Official Showcase at Central Presbyterian Church
Friday at SXSW hosted one of the biggest showcases in the world of independent music. Pitchfork’s 2014 SXSW showcase at Central Presbyterian Church started with an up and down set from synth rockers EMA. Angel Olsen followed, delivering a powerful performance with songs off of her newly acclaimed album, Burn Your Fire for no Witness. The surprise of the night was a wonderful set from Hundred Waters, combining beats and synth lines with piano and soaring vocals from frontwoman Nicole Miglis. The electronic beats and raw emotion of Mas Ysa and the ethereal textures of Forest Swords complimented each other well, setting the stage for an impactful set from Sun Kil Moon frontman, Mark Kozelek. The ringing guitars of Real Estate closed out the night as they combined hits from their previous works as well as tracks from their newly released Atlas.
Phantogram at the Guitar Center Rooftop Sessions
Phantogram’s Saturday rooftop jam session was easily one of the most authentic acts of all the official SXSW showcases, but due to some technical difficulties and a lack of audience participation, it was also vastly underappreciated. The duo owned the stage with a killer vocal presence, despite a microphone malfunction midway through their set, after which vocalist Sarah Barthel yelled offstage, “I guess we’ll just take care of it, all by ourselves.” The noticeable lack of energy from the audience could be blamed on the performance being taped for television. The looming TV cameras and restrictive boundaries around the stage made any sort of excitement, outside of an occasional cheer, almost impossible. Regardless, Phantogram delivered with a powerful, punchy set heard across the rooftops of downtown Austin.
For the rest of the Daily Texan’s SXSW music review, see the Daily Texan Life & Arts website.