SXSW 2015 Reviews: DJ Windows 98, Courtney Barnett, Delta Spirit, Hundred Waters, and Shura

Plus, reports on Stromae, Kevin Devine, Dead Sara, and Torres


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Judging by the number of complaints over sore feet and backs and general grumbling overheard walking around Austin, it would seem that we’ve already hit full-swing. I can’t even begin to imagine what the pain relief aisle at the local drugstores look like by the time the week’s over.

But though the complaints were high, everyone soldiered on, and the massive lines remained massive, the loud music remained loud, and the excitement continued to swell to serious highs. We continued our scouring of the city, catching up with familiar faces and stumbling upon new names — achy joints and all.

–Adam Kivel
Managing Editor

Click here to see our full coverage from SXSW and listen to an exclusive playlist. Also visit Toasty.TV to check out Quizno’s curated entertainment hub.

Only Real – Yvynyl + Turntable Kitchen at Hype Hotel – 1:00 p.m.


Photo by Dan Bogosian

Only Real are distinct, if only for their strange mixture of everything: they’re a one-man rap-rock act filled out with supporting players who don’t sound like their nu-whatever brethren. The tunes sound like Joe Strummer’s chants laid peacefully over some English Beat ska, but infusing the guitar with dripping waves of syrupy guitar. When not rapping, Niall Galvin sings with an Eric Burdon-esque croon whose soul creeps on you. He’s more potential than reality at this point; apart from online single “Cadillac Girl”, the set lacked real rallying points, but with his deep voice, tasty blend, and touches of Iggy Pop, there’s something there. –Dan Bogosian

Fantastic Negrito — Lagunitas CouchTrippin’ at Container Bar — 2:00 p.m.


Photo by Ben Kaye

Fantastic Negrito lived up to his moniker on Wednesday. He came out with an old-fashioned soul intro, naming off the band members while they laid down a rolling, building jam. From the minute they went into their first actual song, neither he nor the four-piece behind him let up. There wasn’t a minute of stage time wasted as Xavier Dphrepaulezz rolled his body to the beat, jived, and belted his words. “Don’t give up,” he repeated over and over after finishing standout “It’s a Long Long Road”. He delivered positive, gospel-level banter like that throughout, even when talking about taking flack for writing his song “An Honest Man”. Coupled with the insanely feel-good nature of the songs (and their equally feel-good delivery), Dphrepaulezz connected with a crowd who likely had little idea who he was. (He’d earned his spot on the bill by winning a contest through NPR Little Desk.) That, alongside the lyrics’ relative simplicity and empowering message, allowed him to teach the words to the audience with ease. “Sunshine, let it down on me,” they sang at one point, and on a gorgeous Austin day with the fabulous Fantastic Negrito on stage, it certainly came down bright. –Ben Kaye

Shura — Yvynyl + Turntable Kitchen Day Party at Hype Hotel — 3:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

London-based songwriter Shura played her second show of a busy week to the crowd at Hype Hotel, a repurposed warehouse with a few attached tents across the street from the Fader Fort on 5th. It made a good venue for the young artist; though we haven’t heard much from her besides the sprinkling of solid electronic pop singles she’s loosed in the last year, her songwriting lends itself to high ceilings and open space. Flanked by two fellow multi-instrumentalists, Shura took lead duties on vocals and played a Roland Juno 106, lovingly renamed the “Shuno 106” with a piece of masking tape and some Sharpie. Shura played through a set that included her latest single, “2Shy”, a heartsick ode to longing and introversion, and in the live setting her songs flexed and sprawled. Along with her band, she commanded a chain of powerful, flexible electronics; at one point, her bassist played bass tones with a glowing electronic foot pedal while grinding out riffs on guitar. Like “2Shy” suggests, Shura’s presence is understated and wistful, even as she’s shredding a trigger pad into oblivion. –Sasha Geffen

Kevin Devine and the God Damn Band – Candy Shop Management Showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop — 3:00 p.m.


Photo by Dan Bogosian

For a long time, Kevin Devine was a well-kept secret, but after an insane amount of buzz from a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, he’s … still a well-kept secret of sorts. What stands out most is that, unlike most at SXSW, they seemed not only happy to be there, but acted like performing on a rooftop in Austin was the chance of their lifetimes. Devine lost an earplug from headbanging as artist Rob Pryor did live art on stage, and the power trio routinely hopped around like a rabbit on speed. Maybe a Long Island punk singing songs as woeful as Elliott Smith doesn’t interest you – but there’s nothing uninteresting about his balls-to-the-wall performance. –Dan Bogosian

Hundred Waters — Yvynyl + Turntable Kitchen Day Party at Hype Hotel — 4:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

The last time I saw Hundred Waters play was nearly a year ago to the day. They performed at Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW 2014, just two months before they’d release their stunning sophomore album, The Moon Rang Like a Bell. Compared to yesterday’s set, the church show was a conservative one; Hundred Waters tested the boundaries of their new material before wrapping it up and shipping it out on record. In the last year, they’ve toured extensively, and their confidence onstage has multiplied. Singer Nicole Miglis possessed a subtle, mysterious charisma as she sang out to the audience. And while Moon’s songs might be delicate at points, live, they hardened into weapons. “Down from the Rafters” took on new life as it morphed from gentle, melodic pop to a pure house throb, and Miglis danced along to its quickening beat as if possessed by it. She repeated the song’s chorus, enunciating each consonant sharply until her vocals took on a percussive quality of their own. Last year, Hundred Waters were a promise; this time around, they’re a power all their own. –Sasha Geffen

The Rocketboys – Candy Shop Management Showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop – 4:00 p.m.


Photo by Dan Bogosian

The Rocketboys started off slow, tranquil, and lulled a full house into nearly nodding off. It turned out to be a trap: halfway through the set, they flipped a switch and started singing infectiously catchy songs. By the fourth time “oohs” appeared as a sing-along, it had lost some of its touch, but what they lacked in potent lyricism, they made up for in bold, four-part harmonies. What’s more, for their finale, singer Brandon Kinder pulled the crowd on stage with him before diving into the mix of fans and standbys. He hunted down anyone unconvinced and converted them. Their brand of pop isn’t for everyone, but they close like giants. –Dan Bogosian

Josh Berwanger Band — All Tomorrow’s Tacos Party at The Lost Well — 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Jon Hadusek

Among the endless march of guitar bands at Southby, Josh Berwanger’s sense of style and melody is refreshing in its unpretentiousness, and there’s perhaps no band working harder to earn the eyes and ears of festivalgoers. Just yesterday the band played three sets at three different venues back-to-back-to-back, including an intimate slot at the All Tomorrow’s Tacos party at The Lost Well (and they’ve got four more today). Berwanger is proudly carrying the power-pop flag into the 21st century, channeling the late ’70s sound of 20/20 and The Nerves while adding a distinct glam-metal flare, which can be heard in the fretwork of lead guitarist Ricky Lee Salthouse. For all the soft-spoken romance in the lyrics, these songs rip. Keep an eye out for the band’s forthcoming LP (and Berwanger also just released a 7″ with power pop legend Dwight Twilley). –Jon Hadusek

Dead Sara – Candy Shop Management Showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop – 5:00 p.m.


Photo by Dan Bogosian

Dead Sara’s first album was a combination of classic rock riffs, Janis Joplin vocals, radio songwriting, and a punk energy; the new material live keeps the Joplin and turns what were fast, throbbing rhythms into genuine anger. Any band that attempts the high jump of covering “Dazed and Confused” and actually nails the landing deserves applause, let alone one that does it with guitar leads and soul screeches long buried. What was punk is now raging hard against the machine; what was radio is now mature songwriting. I have no idea what is inside of Emily Armstrong. Something is pissing her off, and she is going to scream it out of her until you feel it, too. The showcase’s MC dubbed them the best rock and roll band of the past 10 years. I was ready to dispute that; now I’m ready to defend it. –Dan Bogosian

Click ahead for the rest of our Wednesday coverage along with an exclusive gallery.

Delta Spirit — Lagunitas CouchTrippin’ at Container Bar — 5:30 p.m.


Photo by Ben Kaye

The worst thing about Delta Spirit’s set is that they had to cut it short. Apparently someone was precious with their soundcheck, and they only had time for six songs in what should’ve been a nearly 45-minute set. But as a good band will do in situations like that, they delivered a completely satisfying performance. Having to strike most of their setlist, the band focused on material off their latest LP, Into the Wide. It was a smart call, as the songs’ live incarnations absolutely soar. After their classic “Bushwick Blues”, it was “From Now On”, “Live On”, and “Language of the Dead”, each song proving again that this San Diego band has truly found its stride and hit upon a sound that works better than ever. Everything hit hard and got bodies in the packed house jumping around as much as lead singer Matt Vasquez or bassist Jon Jameson. Finding new life in their latter work has only bolstered their earlier material’s live delivery, as the penultimate “People C’mon” demonstrated, a rollicking rendition that kicked up as much dust and Vasquez-ian screaming as anything else. Delta Spirit has always been a great live band, but now they’ve found the type of record that allows them to really let loose on stage. –Ben Kaye

Ditch Witch — Good Vibrations Showcase at Hotel Vegas — 8:00 p.m.


Photo by Jon Hadusek

How is this band still unsigned? Austin’s Ditch Witch call themselves “skate metal,” playing a fast-paced mishmash of old-school British metal, stoner groove, and straight-up thrash. Their songcraft is complex, shifting between tempos and riffs with prog-ish proficiency, but not in a convoluted way. No frilly bullshit to kill the vibe. This is metal that makes you feel good, makes you wanna go outside and pop kickflips in the sunshine. Their set at the Good Vibrations showcase at Hotel Vegas felt like a coming-out party: the moment when a band, having championed its scene, elevates itself to national status. The lead guitarist couldn’t contain his joy, cheesing a wide grin the whole time, clearly elated to be playing his songs to so many people in such a major setting — the kind of setting that can change a young band’s fortunes forever. The Austin metal scene is the strongest in North America, thanks in part to Ditch Witch. They deserve a proper release on a proper label. –Jon Hadusek

Courtney Barnett — NPR Music Showcase at Stubb’s — 9:50 p.m.


Photo by Ben Kaye

I think Courtney Barnett has been lying to us. She’s been masquerading as an indie rocker with a rambling, folkish lyricism. On Wednesday at Stubb’s, she revealed herself for what she truly is: a punk rocker. The way she tore through songs like “Joke” and “Pedestrian at Best” certainly implied it. As did the delivery of those trademark witticisms, which were often pushed out in an off-kilter, off-beat speech-yelp. She also displayed the natural self- and crowd-deprivation of any good punk. “No one told me there was going to be so many people here,” she remarked early on, clearly underselling her sudden popularity. Just a few minutes later, however, she took a small slight at the crowd by dedicating “No One Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” to “anybody that couldn’t get into the show.” She even knocked her own material: “That’s ‘Aqua Profunda!’,” she said after finishing the number. “What a stupid song.” Even with closer “Kim’s Caravan”, a relatively slow track from Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, had her building the refrain “Take what you want from me” up into a scream that bled into a wailing rock solo. She may be scheduled to play the Newport Folk Festival, but, yeah, I think she’s a punk. And she rips. –Ben Kaye

Torres — Central Presbyterian Church — 10:00 p.m.

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Photo by Sasha Geffen

“My name is Mackenzie, but I come to you tonight as Torres,” said Mackenzie Scott to a gathering of people seated before her in pews. Her phrasing was unusual; not “I’m playing as Torres” or “I go by Torres,” but “I come to you as Torres.” She had almost finished playing a solo set beneath an enormous wooden cross at the altar of Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. It was just her, an electric guitar, a small amplifier, and the darkness that threatened to swallow them.

Torres’ new songs play heavily on the themes of darkness and light, suffering and joy, faith and disillusion. She played the title track to her forthcoming album, Sprinter, beneath that cross. “The baptist in me chose to run,” she sang, “but if there’s still time to choose the sun/ I’ll choose the sun.” Scott had already played tracks from the record with a full band on Tuesday, but without accompaniment, she was tasked with filling out the songs on the strength of her voice and guitar playing. Good thing she’s up to it. The grain of her voice cracked and wrinkled in time with the heart of each song. She sounded like a singer twice her age made wise with pain and survival. Songs from her debut, like “November Baby”, sidled in neatly next to new, unreleased cuts like “The Harshest Light”, each structurally surprising and emotionally volatile. It felt like a gift from an artist finding her footing on new ground. –Sasha Geffen

Art Acevedo — Beerland — 10:00 p.m.

art acevedo SXSW 2015 Reviews: DJ Windows 98, Courtney Barnett, Delta Spirit, Hundred Waters, and Shura

Photo by Adam Kivel

Ostensibly named after Austin’s Chief of Police, no wave nuts Art Acevedo made their mark with high-skill feats of derring-do. Though I was drawn into Beerland by the siren sounds of squawking saxophone, I stayed for the unmistakable off-kilter intensity. The quartet’s rhythms were impressively propulsive — distorted bass and drums locking in together, tenor saxophone roaring and swooping, lyrics tumbling out in bunches. But then, add in the fact that as the set grew to a climax, all four musicians donned improvised blindfolds without missing a beat, and you’ve got a successfully engaging high-wire act. But rather than circus gimmick, there was something of a firing squad feel to the proceedings, as if they were preparing to be executed and needed to get a few things off their chest first. Frontman Ish Archbold, when the T-shirt wasn’t dangling over his face, bug-eyed and sneered his way through stream of consciousness intensity. “That was improvisational, made up,” Archbold deadpanned after the quartet finished their set. “Don’t ask us about songs. We don’t know what we just did.” Not many people in that room did either, but everyone seemed to enjoy whatever it was. –Adam Kivel

Stromae — NPR Music Showcase at Stubb’s — 11:00 p.m.


Photo by Ben Kaye

“Who the hell is Stromae?” signs were plastered all around Austin, pulling the slogan from a cover of Time Out New York, and I was honestly asking the same question. I had no idea what the Belgian pop star did, but I soon learned. His setup at Stubb’s was the most elaborate yet at South by: left- and right-facing mini electric guitars on holding stands, peddles and pads galore, and angular stage props book ending the set. All of that was used to create a completely bombastic blend of pop, dance, world, hip-hop, and groove sounds presented by a frontman with all the charisma you could want. It didn’t matter that all the lyrics were in French, or that the majority of his banter was short English sentences begging — and receiving — crowd response. (The high-low call for “Men! Ladies! And the men! But the ladies!” was a fun play, and there was that lengthy discussion about how “French fries” should be called “Belgian fries.”)  Even if they had no idea what was being said, the crowd was happy to move along to Stromae’s undeniable flow and his band’s unassailable instrumental revelry. The thin, lanky Belgian popped, wormed, robot-ed, and running-man-ed across the stage, twice feigning illness of feebleness and having to be “helped” to his feet by a band member. He had a presence like a Western European Janelle Monáe.

The set could warrant a full-fledged concert review, one full of raving compliments, but I’ll sum it up: From the people calling out  for songs and singing lyrics they probably were mispronouncing, Stromae clearly had some fans in the crowd who knew indeed who the hell he was. And he left with at least one — and no doubt many, many — more. –Ben Kaye

DJ Windows 98 – Cedar Street Courtyard – 12:10 a.m.


Photo by Heather Kaplan

Win Butler took to the stage adorned like a beatnik anarchists before a tented courtyard Thursday night as the sounds of a struggling dial-up modem screeched in the background. But there was a lot of frustration as the audience waited and hoped for a connection. This was no fault of Butler’s or the funky live band that accompanied his Afro-Caribbean playlist. Chalk it up to a long day of music, too much BBQ, or an oddly positioned turntable slot sandwiched between the grinding noise of Speedy Ortiz and guitar heavy headliner Spoon. Regardless, the tunes were good, even if they didn’t have enough time to breathe during a terse 30-minute set. Butler still managed to pay homage to Arcade Fire forerunner the Talking Heads with cuts off Stop Making Sense while a smattering of Haitian horns and melodies danced their way between the two percussionists who pounded out beats as the crowd gazed on blankly. The night ended as uneventful as it started, like an indecisive party in Bushwick where no one brings any beer or even bothers to show up. –Dan Pfleegor

Wednesday Gallery: