Freestyle: Twelve bands, 24 hours at SXSW

Mar. 21, 2015 | 4 Comments


Sweet success: To discover a band when simply walking down the street. Swedish band Amason’s dreamy, seductive sound drew me in.


This post is later than the rest. I couldn’t write it overnight because I didn’t get home from South by Southwest Music showcase performances in Austin until almost 3 a.m. By that time, I was toast!

freestyle sxsw header 2015


TGIF Editor Elizabeth Kieszkowski will be blogging from Austin, Tex. during the 2015 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival. Read more SXSW posts at

I’m still recovering from the 12-band marathon. I need coffee, vitamins and maybe some barbecue – but the fest and its long days stretching into night have been worth it.

Friday started out great and ended up great — pretty much the way you want your SXSW to be.

It started with a sweet discovery: Swedish band Amason. I’d seen the band hyped throughout the fest, but wasn’t familiar with them.

I was walking down the street from my bus stop, heading toward the Austin Convention Center, when I heard a siren voice and the sound of this dreamy music. It drew me in.

Crossing the road to check it out, I found this band, who cast a spell on those who showed up by noon to catch them.

NPR praised singer Amanda Bergman for her voice, saying it “feels simple, honest and devoid of phony romanticism,” and the lyrics as “strong and poetic.” I’d second that. The five band members wove a powerful web of music in performance that day.

Gang of Four, one of the original post-punk acts out of England, has reconfigured around original guitarist Andy Gill, pictured center.

Gang of Four, one of the original post-punk acts out of England, has reconfigured around original guitarist Andy Gill, pictured center.

After the detour to hear Amason, I hurried on to the Convention Center just in time to catch Gang of Four, a post-punk originator from 1980s England that has regrouped around guitarist Andy Gill.

The band did not disappoint. With Gill’s jabbing, pointed guitar notes, and the band continuing to display the “gaunt cynicism,” as Melody Maker dubbed it, of its ’80s first run, the show was a wake-up call to all of us there to catch it.

I CAN’T show you pics of everything I caught. Some acts were so popular that I couldn’t get up close.

That category included Australian fest favorite Courtney Barnett, who’s been championed by NPR and many other critics. She was charming and self-deprecating, and rocked the stage at the Austin Convention Center during her live showcase.

Ryan Bingham played an intimate midday show at Austin Convention Center on Friday.

Ryan Bingham played an intimate midday show at Austin Convention Center on Friday.

Ryan Bingham came on earlier, and I was lucky enough to be up front for his warm, intriguing set.

Two days earlier, he’d played a raucous show for a capacity crowd in the tented parking lot for Austin’s best-known record store, Waterloo.

His band was seated for this midday show, and he kept his performance more intimate. What a treat! I’m a big fan of Bingham, who bucked his record label to go the independent route.

He makes clear his feelings about big-moneyed interests in the song, “Diamond in the Rough”: “For all of your suffering / No one gives a good goddamn / It’s all about the money, son / We doubt you understand. …” (Watch video of Bingham performing the song solo, below.)

A FLOOD WATCH was issued for Austin on Friday and the temperature started to drop. But I ventured out in the rain to hear female-fronted, Brooklyn indie-rock band Torres at the Doc Martens party in a converted house near the Convention Center, then power-walked back.

After the daytime showcases wrapped up, I treated myself with a fancy piece of chocolate cake from Austin’s historic Driskill Hotel. I needed the sugar to last through the rest of my night.

Fortified by chocolate, I wrapped up in my raincoat and ventured over to Red River Street, at the east end of downtown Austin. Good thing it was raining: At Stubbs, which is often mobbed during SXSW, I was able to get in to see The Ting Tings, of “That’s Not My Name” fame.

The band warmed me up, and singer Katie White got us all dancing. She even brought out a cowbell — because you can always use more cowbell.

“We don’t care — we’re from Manchester (England), where it always rains,” White said.

Ceremony capped a marathon day of music with a showcase at Austin's Red 7.

Ceremony capped a marathon day of music with a showcase at Austin’s Red 7.

An hour in the rain was enough, so I went over to Red 7, a black-box dive that’s all about the music. There, I caught a lineup including reunited U.K. shoegaze outfit Swervedriver and California post-punk/garage-rock/punk act Ceremony.

As for the bar, Red 7 is my kind of place; warm, dry and dark, a haven for live bands and distorted guitars.

Ceremony closed out the night with a mosh-pit-inducing blaze of noise. I took a lot of pictures, but they’re almost all blurry, since the band was always in motion.

At one point, I had the camera knocked out of my hand by a flying body — but no harm done. It’s still in one piece, and so am I, I think!

I’LL WIND UP up the fest on Saturday with another Texas-forward tribute concert, this time connected to a documentary about San Antonio-born Doug Sahm, “Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove.”

The debut film was written and directed by Texas music writer Joe Patoski, who organized “A Gathering of the Tribes” to celebrate Sahm and the iconoclastic, rockin’, sometimes psychedelic music that followed in his wake.

The musical party is billed to include San Antonio son Steve Earle, who recently worked on “Treme” with HBO, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and his band, Chingon — with special guest Stevie Van Zandt — Austin roots rocker Rosie Flores and Louisiana’s C.C. Adcock, who produced music for vampire series “True Blood,” along with many others.

It will be a good way to get a final dose of this region’s rebel music before I return to Hawaii.
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.


  • ElizabethKieszkowski

    I made it to the Doug Sahm tribute / “Gathering of the Tribes”: It was especially sweet to see son Shawn and the Texas Tornadoes cover “Mendocino,” with — I didn’t know this! — Meat Puppet drummer Shandon Sahm, Shawn’s brother, on drums . Quite a night in the red-velvet Paramount Theatre!

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  • ElizabethKieszkowski

    Still buzzing from the fest. And made a discovery: You can watch Radio Day Stage performances and more from public radio station WFUV at