It's a Thursday night and it all seems so sad — a formerly mammoth festival featuring a zillion bands of the heavy ilk has been reduced to a handful of showcases and not much for the unrepentant headbanger to get excited about. Tonight's event is the rare exception, headlined by the venerable one-two K.O. punch of Gatecreeper and Spirit Adrift, but at the end of the day it's just a reminder of what used to be.
SXSW is the fest in question; once a Mecca for riff worshippers, it feels noticeably less so in 2018. The streets are crowded but not mobbed or unmanageable as in the past, the gigs are a bit easier to get into and the attendance by music industry folk and others feel a bit more scarce. The biggest drop-off appears to be in the heavy-music department, save for the well-attended Thrasher x Vans gig with Integrity, Madball, Culture Abuse and more. On the upside, bands that ride the line of darkness, if not through "metal" or "hardcore" per se, were well represented, with buzzy names like Essaie pas, Boy Harsher and Drab Majesty adding something more for those for whom black is their preferred color.
5) JPEGMAFIA at the Official Pigeons and Planes Showcase at Empire Control Room
With the room bouncing and singing along to his impressive, politically charged rap, JPEGMAFIA involved the entire crowd at the Pigeons and Planes showcase. This was no simple M.C., though — with caustic and industrial-tinged beats and a forceful vocal attack that far surpassed Death Grips, JPEGMAFIA was more punk than 95 percent of the bands at the fest. Also, A+ for the lyric "I can't wait to tap dance on Morrissey's face."
4) Drab Majesty, Boy Harsher, Automelodi and Essaie Pas at the Levitation and Holodeck SXSW Official Showcases
Despite intense bleedover from a nearby stage, the duo blanche (a.k.a. Drab Majesty) were dependably great, delivering some of their dark wave-inflected harmonies to the nodding masses outdoors at Hotel Vegas and providing a fitting warmup for the similarly inclined dance-floor fodder of Automelodi, Boy Harsher and Essaie pas.
3) Spirit Adrift and Gatecreeper at Dirty Dog
Soaring and beautiful, the Arizona-based doom crew Spirit Adrift ripped through a set in support of its latest offering, Curse of Conception. Gatecreeper, who share band members with Spirit Adrift, beat their chests to the sound of their own Neanderthal death metal beat soon thereafter. The crowd, though meager in size, was held utterly captive by both.
2) Integrity, Gatecreeper, Spirit Adrift, Madball, Metz, Culture Abuse, Radioactivity and Spiritual Cramp at Thrasher x Vans Deathmatch
A mix of buzzy indie, punk and hardcore, the Deathmatch offered appearances from No Warning and several others, but the best sets at the Saturday show came via exclusive appearances from NYHC favorites Madball, Toronto noise-rock unit Metz and power-pop up-and-comers Radioactivity and Culture Abuse.
However, the standout set — hands down — went to Integrity. Pulling primarily from late 90's classic Humanity Is the Devil and beyond, the veteran hardcore band played its first Austin appearance in nearly five years to a head-walking, stage-diving mass of feverish fans. Note-for-note perfect solos and all, Dwid Hellion and Co. showed why they've been able to stay relevant as a band for 30 years.
1) No Warning and Iron Age on Lamar St. Pedestrian Bridge
The best gigs at SXSW are always the highly illegal "ask a punk" gigs, and this was no exception, despite Integrity not being able to play due to police intervention. Powered by gas generator and lit by streetlights, a modified version of Iron Age started the night with a killer four-song set ("Hail & Kill," "Violator," "Evil Ways" and "Burden of Empire") closing up quickly to make way for No Warning's short and intense showing. Austin P.D. swarmed moments later and broke up the fun.
Death Bells, RVG, Wedding Present et al. at the Official Felte/Part Time Punks Showcase at Barracuda
Alice Bag and Bat Fangs at the Official Don Giovanni Showcase at The Sidewinder
Superchunk at the Official Onion AV Club at Mohawk
Shame and Current Joys at the Official Ground Control Showcase at Barracuda
IDLES at Official Fluffer Records and SIOLM Showcase Barracuda