More often than not, attempting to see everything on one’s South by Southwest list will lead to hours upon hours of running around like a freshly beheaded chicken. Who knew that a solution would come in the form of one two-day party held Wednesday and Thursday at a somewhat rough corner in East Austin: Billy Reid’s Shindig at Weather Up.
After a solid first day – featuring standout performances from the likes of Old 97s’ Rhett Miller, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang and newcomer Benjamin Booker – the afternoon bash was mightily appealing as a place to settle down for a few hours during the 28th annual music conference’s third day.
The only downside all day was that the bands got a late start, so an early appearance from the Felice Brothers was cut short. Still, the group gave its all and roused the already sizable audience with their peppy closing number “Penn Station.”
Kudos to those New York boys for making the sacrifice that let the subsequent run of young and old talents play full sets – not a single artist disappointed within a four-hour timespan, and each one brought something slightly different to the table.
Photos: The Billy Reid Shindig
Highlights included Austin local Shakey Graves, who injected his show – typically just a solo guitar act with a makeshift suitcase-kick drum operated by his stomping heel – with some extra zest and charm by bringing up a guest slide guitarist, female backup singer and full-kit drummer. Then, after a brief but raucous set from Nashville fledgling punk outfit Bully – who played plugged in directly to Third Man Records’ Rolling Record Store, on site for the day – Kurt Vile successfully tapped the hippied-out, sit-cross-legged-in-the-grass vibe for his short solo acoustic set.
Following that, it was all fired-up fun. During a 40-minute slot, Texas-bred country legend Billy Joe Shaver proved a 74-year-old can still kick ass with the rest of them. In fact, he literally play-fought with an imaginary opponent on the 2011 Willie Nelson collabo “Wacko From Waco,” and spent the rest of his performance dancing with more agility than some performers 50 years his junior. Still, the next band, Spanish Gold, was the afternoon’s crowning act.
That six-piece outfit – which features My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, ex-Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada and frontman Dante Schwebel of San Antonio’s Hacienda – delivered a solid set of blues-tinged songs that owed at some of their swaggering vibes to Hallahan and Schwebel’s brief stint in Dan Auerbach’s solo band.
Yet, as good as all these acts were, none compared in powerhouse capability to the groups playing at my next stop, Day 3 of the first U.S. iTunes Festival at ACL Live. Here, British rock trio Band of Skulls previewed about half of its upcoming album Himalayan (due March 31), the blistering rock nature of these tunes indicating that the group – as already indicated by seemingly specific selections on its last U.S. tour – that they have pursued an altogether more arena-capable sound.
And then there was the headliner, Soundgarden, playing its 1994 album Superunkown in its entirety or the first time ever to celebrate the disc’s 20th anniversary. It’s difficult to express just how utterly crushing this performance was, but just know that this venue has likely never before experienced anything as monstrously thunderous as these runs through “Mailman,” “Spoonman” and the never-before-played end-of-days anthem, “Limo Wreck.”
It was a fitting performance to end the midpoint day of SXSW Music. While countless pop and upstart groups attempted to assert and establish themselves outside the venue’s walls, Soundgarden – in about 70 minutes with no encore or extra songs – completely overshadowed their very existence and perhaps predicted their doom with a dominance that, even two decades later, remains timeless.
iTunes Festival photos courtesy of iTunes Festival at SXSW