Perfect Pussy & Nothing Bring The Noise To Surprise SXSW Bridge Show

Ryan Leas | March 14, 2014 - 1:48 pm

As the drunken apocalypse that is 6th St. and the heart of SXSW wound down Thursday night, a different show was just getting started off in another corner of Austin. Sometime in the afternoon, retweets had begun to make the rounds, announcing a show called “Above The Bridge” with a poster sardonically emblazoned with a cheesily romantic pink-hued image of Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge” video, like some sort of long-lost 1991 nightmare. Starting at 2:10 AM last night, Ex Cult, Nothing, and Perfect Pussy took to a pedestrian bridge standing above Lady Bird Lake, removed from the typical madness of downtown Austin. In the near distance, the only signs of life were the glowing reddish neon letters of Taco Cabana’s logo, and cars intermittently coasting quietly down the highway that ran alongside the river and below the final stragglers of Austin’s skyscrapers, themselves as silent and immobile as to suggest they’re never populated by humans, ever.

This was intentional. Though bridge shows are a frequent SXSW occurrence and — to some longtime attendees — a hallowed tradition more in touch with the festival’s roots than its current, more corporate-friendly situation, this wasn’t officially sanctioned by the city. So, you had to get just a little off the beaten path, and you had to know where to look. Or get close enough to follow the rumbling noise of Perfect Pussy’s opening set echoing over the water.

Working with a small setup of two speakers and a generator, the bands played in small circles, tightly enclosed by a crowd pressed together in an effort to gain either visibility or warmth in the chillier winds that came off the lake. Perfect Pussy has been making the rounds already at SXSW, blasting through short, no-nonsense sets comprised of songs from their forthcoming, much-hyped debut LP, Say Yes To Love. Frontwoman Meredith Graves thrashed around as usual, wearing a floor-length silver skirt, the shimmery surface of which contrasted with the tattoos lining her bare arms and the veins pulsing in her neck. She was actually barely audible through the mic itself, but due to the close proximity you could still hear her full-throated screams un-amplified, which gave the experience a heightened sense of the fury and intimacy that comes with any Perfect Pussy set. When they finished, Greg Ambler threw his bass over the rail and down into the shadowy water below us.

Philadelphia’s Nothing came on next. True to the shoegaze tradition they draw upon, Nothing’s vocals are often low in the mix — another textural element rather than a lead. After a brief soundcheck where they teased the intro to Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box,” they played a set where those vocals ceded almost entirely to layers of churning, billowy guitar distortion, the occasional punk-inflected drumbeat an underpinning keeping it all from becoming entirely diffuse and floating off altogether. Some fans climbed onto the bridge’s landscaping in order to get a better vantage point, while others broke off into satellite groups where they could talk and have a cigarette without fear of burning those still shoulder to shoulder right in front of Nothing. At times, it took on the feeling of a bunch of people throwing a party more so than a show, Nothing serving as the house band for a temporarily-claimed public space.

Ending my night with the bridge show meant that I saw a few different versions of SXSW on Thursday. Having spent the preceding several hours at the iTunes-curated Soundgarden show, and then seeing Blondie play in front of a Yahoo logo, the simpler, rawer, and more impromptu experience of a bridge show seemed the embodiment of that old SXSW people will tell you about over and over. It seemed truer to the festival’s original spirit. “This is what SXSW is supposed to be about,” one of the show’s organizers said. “Not branded Charmin shit. Just a band playing to people who like them.”

[Photos by Nina Corcoran/Stereogum.]