There was no starter pistol, but Wednesday marked the first official day of music at SXSW, and it started with a bang-bang-bang.
I managed to catch a brilliantly brooding set from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, a dynamite relaunch from embattled emo-punk band Paramore, and a hype-justifying performance from singer-songwriter Waxahatchee. Twitter told me I missed plenty of other killer gigs, too. Like Paramore, Gotham’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs reportedly rebooted their career with gusto on Wednesday night. And while Cave was contorting his body at Stubb’s BBQ shortly after dusk, another great rock-and-roll shaman, Iggy Pop, was doing the same thing mere footsteps up Red River Street.
But as ever, there are scores of unknown rock bands here in Austin spilling blood, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids with a desperation that would make Iggy proud. They’re the ones we should all be sussing out.
The best one I managed to trip over on Wednesday had a brilliant name: Life Stinks. The quartet was brutal and mysterious — they may or may not be from San Francisco, this may or may not be their Tumblr page. And they had something all of the big-name rock acts didn’t: tapes for sale.
Cassettes have enjoyed an unexpected micro-resurgence in the past five-or-so years, with proponents pledging their fidelity to the dormant format’s notoriously low fidelity. But at SXSW, the appeal of a cassette is portability. Slip your new favorite band five dollars of support. Slip the cassette into the back pocket of your jeans. Win, win. (Pity those who buy vinyl at a SXSW gig, the cardboard sleeve slowly warping from their underarm sweat.)
Life Stinks closed out its afternoon set at Beerland — the most reliable rock venue at SXSW, year after year — with a snotty, insistent tune called “My, My, My.” I asked the band’s singer if this song was on the tape. “It’s a live, extended version,” he told me. “So, yeah. You’ll get, like, 15 minutes of it.” Excellent.