Live Shots: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, fornicating turtles, and one Dixie Chick at SXSW, Day 2


Photos and words by Bowerbird Photography

Immersing oneself in the SXSW 2013 musical experience feels akin to getting deep fried in a small tub of hot oil, crammed with sundry other dancing meats. The sizzle we hear are our eardrums giving their last scream from last night's who-knows-where-we-are dance party. Austin is hot with things to do and people to do it with.

To try to cool off in the afternoon, we took a stroll along Lady Bird Lake (a beautiful, dammed section of the Colorado River threading through Austin); however, as hard as it may be to get into a show, one can never really escape the festival either. Floating on the water like giant square speakers, cruise ships blare beats and host bacchanals. Even under the water, the party rocks on. Gazing on with a group of varyingly enthused, bewildered, and disgusted bystanders, we watched (what we think were) two huge turtles get it on. Talk about hardcore. It's clear, Energizer picked the wrong mascot for endurance.

Multiple venues abut the lake, including the outdoor World Stage, featuring the bubble pop sensation Won Fu, from Taiwan. It could have stepped out of a '60s children's show with its wholesome good looks, zany sense of humor, and tight retro outfits. The group has the optimism that comes from playing to audiences packed with kids, and the wry wit that comes from playing to too many audiences packed with kids. Its melodies are short, catchy, and pepped with sugar-high beats. Its lyrics are obsessively constrained to myopic motifs, like short skirts and BBQ. With two foxy ladies backing up the lead singer in his squire cut mop, one can't help but smile when he advises us to "have a nice day, have a nice year, have a nice life, yaaaa!!!"

World music sometimes just seems synonymous for random. Following this gigglingly cute act, was Daria, from Angers, France, bringing a whopping fist of furious metal rock.

The Seattle indie radio station, KEXP, hosted a party at Lance Armstrong's bike shop, Mellow Johnny's. We caught a set by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, where the audience packed the floor, listening with quiet appreciation. It's easy to imagine oneself coasting on a cloudy day over the 520 bridge into Seattle with UMO's echoey guitars on the radio before stopping on Capitol Hill for a micro-brew with friends.

The highlight of our night was catching the band, Family of the Year, at the Moody Theater. Its music wraps one with the remembered, condoling comfort of a childhood blankie, and would make the perfect soundtrack to a heartbreaking Sundance film. The band performs like a tight family might, and for the first few songs, it shared the musical load so equally it would have been hard to tell who was the lead singer. This sense of togetherness is one quality that makes its music tender such emotional solace. The build-up of each song is transportive, and after the set, we felt the kind of drained satisfaction that comes after a long cry.

Also at the Moody was Lord Huron, a folk band that parachutes its melodies into vast, open soundscapes, leaving them to explore their way back home.

Many fans also came to hear Natalie Maines, of Dixie Chicks fame, showcase songs from her new album, Mother. Her outspoken directness of yesteryear has found perhaps new stylistic orientation toward introspective candor.  Maines performance, though reserved, was solid, featuring a melancholic cover of Pink Floyd's political anthem, "Mother."