So many bands. So little time. Billboard is roaming Austin this week, checking out as many acts at SXSW as possible — and each day we’ll highlight a selection of our favorites. On Thursday we caught a too-brief set by the dreamy High Highs, a Lyor Cohen-attended show by Chicago upandcomer Chance the Rapper, and a “sweaty, energetic” romp with The Thermals.
SXSW 2013: Photo Highlights From Austin
High Highs @ Homeslice Pizza
The dreamy New York band got romantic at an accidental wedding reception.
With the Austin sun fading into late afternoon gold and a lacy bride fresh from saying “I do” in the audience, the mood couldn’t have been any more romantic for High Highs’ backyard set on Thursday. The New York-via-Australia band’s debut, “Open Season,” recalls the luminous folk of groups such as Grizzly Bear, but for a cover tune, they turned to “A Real Hero,” College and Electric Youth’s “Drive” soundtrack EDM stand-out. Jack Milas’ quivering tenor would’ve given Ryan Gosling chills; their own album title track, the too-brief set’s closer, was certainly worthy of them. (David Greenwald / Twitter, Tumblr)
Chance the Rapper @ 404 Austin
For the concert-goer there are times when a sparse crowd at a show is a disappointment, and others when it can feel almost exhilarating. Those are the rare moments before word has spread of something that seems sure to be special— the calm before the storm. The latter was the case for a performance by rising 19-year-old Chicago emcee Chance The Rapper last night, who took the stage at a little attended showcase at a schmaltzy club in downtown Austin. The crowd for Chance seemed to double that of any previous performer, in any case, as those present packed tightly in front of the stage. And what his audience lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. Seen looming just behind that front row was none other than Lyor Cohen, the former Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group and Island Def Jam who helped mold the careers of countless rappers including Jay-Z.
Chance, who first started to build buzz with his debut mix tape 10day last April, has since signed with Cara Lewis of the Creative Arts Agency in addition to appearing on songs with Childish Gambino and Joey Bada$$. His flow is imaginative and formidable and often wheels from manic to contemplative on a dime. On stage, he was mostly the former, exuding a contagious energy that spread throughout the crowd. But at a certain point, as he spontaneously broke into a series of dance moves during a new, De La Soul-sampling song, the audience became irrelevant — he was in a world of his own. (Reggie Ugwu / Twitter)
The Thermals @ Easy Tiger/Spin
Any sign that this ten-year-plus indie institution is ready to slow down was nowhere to be seen at a sweaty, energetic show at Spin’s day party at SXSW. Mixing oldies with brash new single “Born To Kill,” they roared through a half-hour set with lead man Hutch Harris running into the crowd, writhing on the ground, playing on a top of a speaker and shredding a guitar string, even to the bemusement of his band-mates. Drummer Westin Glass caught the spirit, leading a mosh pit in front for their finale “Here’s Your Future.” After seeing endless cookie cutter versions of indie rock elsewhere here, their punky blast of energy was refreshing indeed. (Jason Gross / Twitter)
Hush @ the Holy Mountain — 3/13
Detroit rapper Hush has become better known these days as an animal rights activist and founder of the nationally recognized Detroit Dog Rescue. But at the Motown Lowdown day party on Wednesday at the Holy Mountain, Hush (real name Dan Carlisle, was back in music guise, weary after a delayed flight from New York to Austin but still bringing the energetic, muscular and intelligent rhymes the early Eminem cohort has been recording for the past dozen years. Hush rolled through his career with tracks such as “Pull Out a Pistol,” “Rise Again,” “Put ‘em Up” and “Evil Minds,” while he previewed what’s to come with “Batter Up,” a song he’s recorded for a new album he plans to release this spring or early summer. His notoriety may be coming from other corners these days, but that hardly means Hush’s career is going to the, er, dogs. (Gary Graff / Twitter)
(Meanwhile, we’ve teamed up with MusicMetric to give readers a real-time view of which SXSW artists people are talking about on Twitter. Check out the list here.)