SXSW Music Festival 2012 - Day 1
Thomas Wynn & The Believers [Jump], Joshua James [Jump], Heartless Bastards [Jump], Silverbus [Jump], Calhoun [Jump], Amplified Heat [Jump], Wussy [Jump], Built To Spill [Jump]
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13-March 2012
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Back in 1995 when I first came to Austin for SXSW the Music Festival started on Thursday night. Over time more and more showcases and parties were added on the Wednesday and this year Tuesday night had showcases at about 40 venues. Since 1996 the "Swollen Circus" hosted by had been the traditional Tuesday event to get together with friends before the madness started, but Walter Salas-Humara and Michael Hall decided to take a break this year given the overlap with the festival.

Thomas Wynn & The Believers @ Empire Automotive

“...soulful, gritty tunes, some as sweet as honeysuckle and others ferociously jagged [...] reminiscent of Levon Helm, Neil Young and the Allman Brothers, but they still boldly radiated a sound and southern charm all their own” -- Kalene McCort, Metromix Orlando
Clearly organizers weren't ready at 7:45pm when I arrived at Empire Auto / Club 606, a compound which hosted three venues, fed by a single entrance. However, given the lack of signs there were plenty of people running up and down the sidewalk trying to figure out how to get in. By the time I made it in and found the right venue Thomas Wynn & The Believers had already started their set. Loud, energetic with lots of soul - not a bad way to kick things off. And, as I usually whine about the lack of decent light at SXSW it should be stated for the record that the lights were great at this particular venue.
Audio: Thomas Wynn & The Believers - Brothers & Sisters (SXSW event page)
Video from SXSW 2011

Joshua James @ Club 606

“Though the sound is bigger than a folk record, the dark lyrics are wrapped in familiar Americana. The instrumentation is meticulous—nothing sounds out-of-place, especially the aching pedal steel, which is used with remarkable restraint." - Kate Kiefer, Paste Magazine
The schedule was very convenient - Club 606 was just meters away and clearly was the hottest (as in Sauna-hot) venue this year. I wasn't familiar with Joshua James before hearing his song "Coal War" as part of the SXSW audio Torrent. Nevertheless, a single good song doesn't gurantee a good live performance, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised. If you like AA Bondy, you'll enjoy Joshua James.
Audio: Joshua James - Coal War (SXSW Event Page)
Video: 3 Songs from a show in August 2011

Heartless Bastards @ Club 606

"Arrow is a rock & roll album that hits harder and straighter than The Mountain[...]. From a musical standpoint, this is the most accomplished, ambitious, and well-crafted music the Heartless Bastards have created to date, but while this album sounds more polished than their previous work (it's still far from slick), the heart and the soul of this music still lies in Wennerstrom's powerful vocals and evocative songwriting. [...] Arrow finds the Heartless Bastards working on a broader and more colorful canvas than they have in the past, but the images are still as honest and haunting as ever, and Arrow is a brave and powerful work from an artist who isn't about to give up on her vision, regardless of where it takes her." - Mark Deming,
I had seen the band just a few weeks ago in Toronto, but I wanted to experience them in a more intimate setting. Intimate and hot is what I got. With even more people crammed into the tiny room than during Joshua James' set, the temperature rose even more, and the Bastards did their best to heat things up even more with a tight set that included five songs from Arrow ("Parted Ways", "Got To Have Rock And Roll", "Simple Feeling", "Only For You", "Late In The Night") with "Sway" from The Mountain closing the set.
Audio: Listen to Arrow on the Heartless Bastards website.
Video of "Parted Ways" from this show.

Silverbus @ Headhunters Patio

"Climactic guitar-centric trio from Taiwan, epic and fun, not grand and weighty." - Bob Boilen, NPR
My schedule for this evening wasn't overly busy, leaving time to see some of the bands that had impressed me with the MP3 they had posted on their SXSW listing. I'm usually not a fan of Instrumentals, but "Those Forgotten" sounded intriguing, so I managed to see the last couple of songs of their set. Would've loved to hear more, but this was their one and only performance during the festival.
Audio: Silverbus - Those Forgotten (SXSW Event page)
Video: A short snippet from the show can be found here.

Calhoun @ Treasure Island

"Fans of catchy, nuanced local indie-pop got quite a jolt of bad news last year when Fort Worth's Calhoun announced their impending breakup, or at least a long hiatus, complete with a "farewell show" and everything. But the disappointment was tempered only a few months later with the news that frontman Tim Locke and guitarist Jordan Roberts, the two remaining original members, were heading to the studio with producer Jim Barber (Ryan Adams, Courtney Love)." - Jesse Hughey, Dallas Observer
The 11pm slot was especially bare in my schedule. But thanks to Calhoun it wasn't a complete write-off, despite the crappy venue with the by-the-front-door "stage", and a bar full of confused regulars not interested in Calhoun's pure power-pop.
Audio: Calhoun - Knife Fight (SXSW Event Page)

Amplified Heat @ The Main

"Another trio that knocked me out at SXSW was Amplified Heat - Hispanic-American brothers Jim, Gian and Chris Ortiz on guitar and vocals, bass and vocals, and drums respectively - who destroyed a smaller crowd than they deserved with boogie-war vengeance. Rock dreams that quickly came to mind: Stevie Ray Vaughan fronting the Groundhogs; ZZ Top with Blue Cheer running in their veins." - David Fricke, Rolling Stone
I usually wait until
later in the week to see the heavier, harder-rocking bands for when a certain fatigue sets in, but again my Tuesday schedule had a few holes that needed to be plugged. The Main used to be the Main Room of the legendary Emo's which closed down in this location at the end of last year. The venue was resurrected for a few days during the festival, and it certainly brought back a lot of memories to be back in this room. Not too many people showed for this showcase, but the band delivered a tight and loud set.
Audio on the Amplified Heat webpage
Video from SXSW 2009.

Wussy @ Soho Lounge

"The Cincinnati quartet's brand of punk is raucous, melodic, and leaves a mark. Strawberry's more electronic than previous output – check out the fuzz on "Asteroid" – but there's a taut stateliness to what Wussy does, recalling the Mekons. Chuck Cleaver of Nineties wiseacres the Ass Ponys matches his Jon Langford to Lisa Walker's Sally Timms blow for blow." - Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle
I had seen Wussy during SXSW 2006 and had not been overly impressed. This time they were a bit more focused, so I hung around for a good portion of their set before moving on to my final stop of the night.
Audio: Wussy - Pulverized (SXSW Event Page)
Video: Wussy appearing at the Twangfest at Jovita's during SXSW 2012

Built To Spill @ The Belmont

"Besides connecting the dots between the chugging side of Neil Young and the slightly warped alterna-pop of the Flaming Lips, Built to Spill continue releasing some of the most affecting, beguiling indie rock of the 2000s." - John Bush,
There had been long lines outside the Belmont earlier in the evening, but as the venue was on my way back to the hotel I decided to see whether I might be able to get in. Luckily there was no line, so I got to end my day with a somewhat unexpected treat. The band was in fine form and continued to play until they were told to stop by the club. It was 2:30am when I finally made it back to the hotel - so much for my slow first evening.
Video from this show.

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All pictures (c) Steffen Paulus 2012