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Mark Kozelek
Pitchfork Official Showcase
Central Presbyterian Church

A beeping microwave could sound warm and majestic in the Austin Central Presbyterian Church, so imagine how veteran songwriter Mark Kozelek’s mellifluous vocals and intricate finger-picking sounded. He and his drummer harmonized beautifully as they sound-checked an a capella version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” (a hymn) before moving into “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here” (a song about Anton Lavey). If this was indeed intentional, it was the most subtle move Kozelek made all night. He expressed himself pretty clearly with a Benji-heavy set and some hilarious onstage banter. At one point he joked openly about Pitchfork at their own showcase, claiming Benji’s high score was “owed to [him] a long time ago.” Oftentimes though, he expressed more somber thoughts. Kozelek followed his Pitchfork jokes with a stirring performance of “Carissa.” His fingers danced deftly across the guitar strings and his voice resonated through the dim sanctuary as he lamented his cousin’s untimely death.

Kanye West & Jay-Z
Austin Music Hall

I felt the weight of every critique leveled at modern-day SXSW and reflected on rampant consumerism as I watched two of hip-hop’s most important artists perform for Samsung money to an enthralled Austin Music Hall…lol jk.I will say it feels a little weird to include Kanye and Jay-Z amongst my top SXSW performances, but I’d be lying if I said their set wasn’t a highlight. I could write 1000 words if I’m not careful, so I’ll keep it simple. Ye and Jay whipped through a total of 36 songs Tuesday night, performing several Watch The Throne cuts interspersed with brief “solo” sets of songs from each artist’s respective careers. Predatory beasts roared silently through LED screens adorning the giant, smoke-spewing cubes the rappers often stood atop. Kanye dissected himself with sheets of lasers, Yeezus Tour poster style. Jay prowled the stage, his hooks scrolling in bold letters behind him. There were bursts of light. There were even more lasers. Everyone sang along to “Runaway” and “99 Problems.” They played “______ in Paris” the minimum amount required (3x). My feet REALLY hurt. I only buy Samsung products now.


Angel Olsen
Pitchfork Official Showcase
Central Presbyterian Church

Angel Olsen’s full-bodied voice may not have even needed amplification had she left her band back home. I’ve seen the occasional tweet mentioning Mark Kozelek’s standing ovation at the Pitchfork showcase, but let’s not forget Olsen got one as well – for good reason. Olsen’s most recent album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness features some of her most accomplished songwriting to date and those songs thrived in the CPC. She outfitted lead single “Forgiven/Forgotten” with a massive, new ending and slow-burner/personal favorite “Lights Out” sounded even more reflective echoing throughout the building. Sitting in the pews, I felt super content, just the right amount of tired, as Olsen’s resonant vocals kept me riding that feel-good, woozy line between awake and asleep.


Future Islands
SPIN Day Party

Did you know these guys played Letterman? This was my third time seeing Future Islands and by far the most enjoyable. Singer Samuel T. Herring (the dancing man!) explained that the band had been tweaking their setlist with each performance that week, and the selections for the SPIN Day Party were spot on. Set opener “Spirit” and obvious crowd favorite “Seasons (Waiting On You)” were written for these kinds of performances. Herring matched the enthused crowd’s energy with joyous outbursts, praise for the festival and, yes, killer moves. Considering the band’s recent buzz, especially concerning SXSW, it’s not hard to see how he was so stoked. Yet, the band still closed on a somber note, following the introspective “Balance” with “Long Flight,” a song about the toll touring takes on relationships and a fitting reminder that Future Islands is more than meme rock. Take away the dancing and you’re left with tales of reflection, disorientation, loss and rediscovery.


Pitchfork Day Party 1
French Legation Museum

SOPHIE’s set was announced only a few hours before the Pitchfork Day Party and thankfully, I arrived just in time to catch it. His “Nothing More To Say” and “Bipp” 12”s got stellar reviews, but I never checked them out because I’m an idiot. Those releases only hint at the sugary environment the UK-based producer is capable of creating with one of his mixes. There’s a reason Resident Advisor has likened his music to “teeth-rotting candy.” SOPHIE transformed the French Legation Museum’s beautiful lawn into a taffy dance floor, encouraging a future bass bliss-out in the broad daylight.


The Gaslamp Killer B2B Just Blaze
Ray-Ban x Boiler Room
Emo’s Austin

I knew this set would be a highlight pretty early on. The Gaslamp Killler dropped some unreleased TNGHT before hip-hop legend Just Blaze could even join him on the decks, the show was that hype. He insisted their B2B was totally improvised, as Blaze got settled and the two traded banger for banger. When a transition didn’t quite work, it was easy to overlook due to the sheer momentum. At one point, both producers even hopped behind a drum kit. It didn’t make a ton of sense at times, but that wasn’t the point. The audible spontaneity made this set something special.

Here Are Some Sets I Loved, But Didn’t Write About For One Reason Or Another:
DJ Mustard (Ray-Ban x Boiler Room / Emo’s)
Perfect Pussy (Pitchfork Day Party 1 / French Legation Museum)
Future (SPIN Day Party / Stubb’s)

Written by: JJ Posway

Sophie Photo Credit: JJ Posway