Last night, Stereogum took over the Bud Light Factory at Austin’s Brazos Hall for our official showcase of SXSW 2016. The six-artist lineup represented the spectrum of what we’re into here: Bands To Watch Lower Dens and Twin Peaks, Cover Story stars Into It. Over It. and A$AP Ferg, as well as KING and Chairlift, both of whom have new albums we’ve been hooked on these past few months.
Lower Dens and KING were the first two on the bill. Both are artists who have a very specific atmosphere to their records, and both are artists who recreate that atmosphere with exacting precision onstage. Lower Dens’ moody dream-rock was perfect for the curtain rise at the beginning of the night. The layers of standouts like “I Get Nervous” or “Sucker’s Shangri-La” had a sweltering immersion appropriate for the humidity in- and outside of the venue.
Though they operate in entirely different genres, KING wound up being a solid follow-up act to Lower Dens; a similarity between the two artists is that they play groove-oriented music with just the right degree of lushness doled out in the right places. The highlight here was, inevitably, “The Greatest” — one of the best songs of this young year. KING’s full-length debut has only been out in the world since early February, but the song already sounds like a total classic when they play it.
The middle of the set was held down by bands that, again, traffic in different traditions, but share some DNA. Twin Peaks and Into It. Over It. are both bands that deliver very sweaty, very loud, very guitar-driven sets. Twin Peaks are the kind of band who seem to always be around on festival bills and SXSW showcases. They’re constantly churning out new music, and they’ve been on the road behind it relentlessly. All of which is to say: This band is growing up and becoming better very much in real time, which you’ll notice if you happen to be catching them a few times a year in various places. I’ll admit that in the past the boozy garage-rock car-crash of their sets was an enjoyable experience that didn’t necessarily send me home with songs stuck in my head. But they’re developing into a bratty, ramshackle take on classic rock that’s appealing in its own weird way. “Walk To The One You Love,” the lead single and opener from their forthcoming album, Down In Heaven, is a mid-tempo strut in the studio, adding to the band’s range; live, it morphs into more of a full-blown swagger, like the Stones filtered through a few decades worth of drunken punks.
Emo-revivalists Into It. Over It. took the stage afterward and were no less intense, but with a different pathos. Twin Peaks sound like a party, and Into It. Over It. travel through a different version of emotional intensity. It’s hard to bleed on a stage this way in certain contexts — like a SXSW showcase where you have to win new fans — but Into It. Over It. went all-out as if it had been a headlining homecoming set.
At this point, it was starting to get late and it was easy to feel a little fried from being out in Austin’s heat all day. Thankfully, Chairlift and A$AP Ferg both offered up stunning headline sets if you were in need of a second wind. Chairlift is a band I’ve always liked but never seen, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect regarding how their sound would translate live. The answer to that turned out to be: they are stunning and impressive onstage. Bathed in smoke and ambient lights, and opening with ethereal synth and sax drones, the band flit between intricate rhythms and synth patterns throughout the night, liberally mixing all the best, catchiest jams from their past with highlights from their new album Moth. The whole thing was pristine, but with impact; it was enveloping.
Ferg came out for his set close to 1:30 in the morning, and that was enveloping in its own way, too. This was Ferg’s only SXSW show, following his song performance that opened MTV Woodies’ 10 For ’16 earlier in the night, so catching him was one of the more special moments at a festival where you usually wind up seeing certain artists a few times by happenstance. He treated it like it was the only set in town last night, and delivered a fittingly take-no-prisoners set that climaxed, appropriately, with intense performances of “Shabba Ranks” and “New Level.” Hypeman Marty Baller joined him halfway through. It was over way too soon, leaving the feeling like there had to be more from Ferg, or something else to do somewhere that night. But everything was shutting down by that point, and at any rate, there probably wasn’t anything that could follow the wreckage Ferg joyously left in his wake.