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SXSW 2015 | Fear and Tacos in Austin, Texas

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After my first day at SXSW 2015, the first thing I say to myself in the morning: “I need some tacos.”

Breakfast tacos that is. And I’m going to need something to survive my second day of one of the landmark music events in the nation. Austin is known for its love of the rolled-up dreamboats, so I make a pact with myself that every time I see a taco truck, I have to get one.

I’m experiencing some trepidation about another day at the festival, due to the all-day rain and the long hours, but I’m too excited to miss anything. The rain doesn’t deter fans — if anything, crowds and lines are bigger than on Thursday.

Luckily, you don’t have go far in Austin to find good music, and I happen upon Daniel Romano at the Flatstock Stage. Named one of the SXSW country acts you must see, Romano’s quiet, George Jones-inspired sound is western enough for Austin and folk enough for the Midwest, with an authentic style and traditional country songwriting voice. He recently played the Stage at KDHX studios and is set to return to the Sheldon Concert Hall on May 3. The Ontario native may be a long way from home, but his vintage tone is much appreciated here.

On that same stage, L.A. native Sam Outlaw takes the front and center with a full band. He’s another country voice on the radar, having opened for Sheryl Crow and Clint Black, among other greats. This is California-style country that is more aligned with Tex-Mex and The Eagles, taking many of its cues from south of the border. I stop at SouthBites, the foodie version of SXSW. I grab breakfast tacos from VeraCruz that are so good, I buy one more.


Recharged at Palm Park, where K.Flay is performing, swaying in the rain above a small but dedicated group fans, decked out in rain slickers and galoshes. Her sound is hi-tech and heavy, with trip-hop beats that draw slowly on the tongue, typically staying in the dark territory of minor keys while she slow chants hooks or speed raps. Her song “Hail Mary” featuring rapper Danny Brown needs to be heard by everyone.

Later, it was Chicago rockers Twin Peaks. Guitarist/singer Cadien James breaks a strap during the first song, and pulls a shoelace from his boot to wrap around the guitar, while guitarist Clay Frankel clings to a cigarette with his teeth and puffs out luminous clouds of smoke. This is a band of young heathens full of trouble who might go out and commit petty theft after the show — you want to party with them. But I’ll have to settle for listening to their latest album, “Wild Onion.” And another round of tacos.


Bee Caves set up shop with plenty of electronics on stage. In “Running Home to You,” there’s a hint of folksiness, with synth orchestration backing singer Reed Calhoun’s low-lying falsetto. He stands and waves his hands in front of him, as though he’s a maestro conducting a symphony in his head. They’re a stunning revelation of folk-inspired rock that is turbulent and self-realizing, at times, otherworldly.

Gateway Drugs relive the sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s basis is dark and dirty folk-rock that morphs into drug-pop of the highest order. The beautiful Liv Niles moodily hangs and strums guitar alongside Noa Niles, who plays a replica Vox teardrop-shaped guitar, a psych-rock lover’s wet dream, as this guitar was a favorite of Anton Newcombe, erratic drug-rock prophet of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. When the show ends, I can hear the Districts playing their hit “4th and Roebling” across the street.

Hip-hop artist Joey Bada$$ is about to take the stage at Scoot Inn, but the rain is putting timelines behind and all I can hear is Kevin Gates rapping, “I want them dead presidents,” with bass dropped so low, it could set off car alarms. Up the street, the line is so long and unmoving, I think there’s no way I can see Guy Blakeslee perform. However, I find that the back door is guarded yet wide open and inside I can see the stage perfectly. I sit and watch as Blakeslee bends minds with his spiritualized and enigmatic eastern blues. I am at peace.

The boys of Wild Party abuse their instruments in a most profound manner. This is indie pop at it’s finest, with a Killers-aesthetic and a gold-colored, perpetual heartbeat that doesn’t stop. It echoes to the front bar, where a cowboy is surfing atop a mechanical bull.

Fictionist takes the stage late, but it’s worth the wait. This is a band full of surprises, that are a perfect mix of rock and eclecticism. It’s robotic, but fluid, programmed with nothing but perpetual astonishment. Bassist Stuart Maxfield and Guitarist Robbie Connolly share a continuous flow of voices, from one song to the next, taking lead, the other taking harmony. You’d have to unplug yourself to pull away from them.

The final act of my evening belongs to Songhoy Blues, a young band from Mali. The quartet play trance-inspired African rock that is epic in scope and precedent — they’ve also just signed a deal with Atlantic Records. “This is our first time in America!” singer Aliou Garba yells out. You’d never know it. Guitarist Garba Toure is on fire — an African Jimi Hendrix, playing with such control that his wrist barely moves, allowing him to make the most complex and smooth guitar solos during the the up-tempo beats. Aliou is the most energetic of front men; he has the crowd doing his bidding before the 30-minute set is over.

For Songhoy Blues’ final song, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner comes on stage to join them. The crowd gives off so much energy that the band is about to explode with delight. I make one last stop for brisket tacos and fall into a satisfied slumber.

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