Thursday, March 15th, was a day filled with a vast amount of shows to choose from. However, one choice was easy: one of my favorite PR companies, Riot Act Media, was hosting a day party at the Swan Dive.
The Swan Dive is an upscale bar in Austin that hosts 1920s-themed parties, and the bartenders have the know-how to make any kind of cocktail you desire. The stage is set up just beside the venue’s large windows and cream-colored curtains, allowing in the perfect amount of sunlight. For a day show, the place was packed with eager fans.
Follow That Bird played the first set of the showcase. An indie punk trio from Austin, the band plunged straight into their energetic set with wailing guitar distortion and pounding drums. A great way to wake up the daytime crowd — there wasn’t a sleepy-eyed soul in the entire room, which is surprising at noon at SXSW, if you’re awake that all.
Follow That Bird set the perfect atmosphere for the day, as front woman Lauren Green chimed in between songs and won the crowd with her banter.
“The only free thing I’ve gotten so far was something I thought was an energy drink, but it was called ‘Zenify,’ so I’m really chill right now” she cracked before cranking out some grungy riffs. The vocal harmonies between drummer Tiffanie Lammon and Lauren are catchy, melodic, and reminiscent of Vivian Girls.
The Pharmacy, who performed next, had also occupied a spot on my “must-see” list. The Pharmacy are a lo-fi indie rock three-piece that feature your typical guitar and drums, and rotate bass and keys into the mix, depending on the song. The band has existed, in one form or another, for almost 10 years, and even with a rotating cast of members, they are still one of the most solid rock bands currently touring. Their songs are extremely catchy, featuring vocal melodies that urge the listener to sing along, and guitar riffs that intertwine with the keyboards in pop-rock heaven. They played a quick set, but fit in older songs, as well as two from their new EP Dig Your Grave, treating longtime fans to sounds spanning their discography.
Next up, Nick Jaina and his accompanying band slowed things down a bit. Though Nick’s album, The Beanstalks That Have Brought Us Here Are Gone, was recorded with a different female vocalist on each track, today he was the only vocalist. Even though he’s primarily a singer-songwriter, his band added depth to his tunes. It felt as though the band were playing melodies that they had written themselves — each little maraca shake and twist, and each pluck of the bass, whether soft or hard, muted or open, was meant to be there. Nick’s songwriting style features an introspective dissonance that often only comes from a weathered performer like Issac Brock of Modest Mouse.
Brass Bed were up next to kick things back into the realm of high energy rock ‘n roll. Brass Bed is a fully electric four-piece from Louisiana, with a sound that varies from song to song. It isn’t unusual for Brass Bed to start with slow, airy guitars and little to no percussion, and then instantly transform into a staccato pop-rock extravaganza flowing a variety of tempo changes until finally blossoming into an upbeat, poppy orchestra. The band challenges you to rethink what pop music is, because to label Brass Bed as “pop” would gear you to believe that they are a simple three- to four-chord rock band, but they are so much more. There are more changes and shifts in a single Brass Bed song than some bands have in an entire album and they do it in a way that keeps you guessing at every corner and twist.
Rounding out the Riot Act part were Solander, a folk pop trio all the way from Sweden. They make beautiful music utilizing banjos, cello, and complex percussion. Though lyrically some of their songs focus on darker subjects matter, their instrumentals are a mix of a distant melancholy with a bittersweet happiness. Their stage presence is all you could ask for in an experimental folk band, and the way they interact with the crowd makes it a truly personal experience, as lead singer and banjo player Fredrick Karlsson told small stories and anecdotes between the songs: “This weather is so hot…this might be the hottest it would ever get in Sweden for 100 years,” he stated, despite the fact that it was barely above 70 degrees. Then the band easily slipped right into a small riff with the same ease that you may drift into a dream when your head hits the pillow after an exhausting day.