SXSW 2023 brings new and old talent to the Live Music Capital.
By Kaitlyn Wilkes, Photos by Kaitlyn Wilkes
Women-fronted bands and solo acts truly showed out at SXSW 2023. This is just a fraction of the music that cropped up throughout electrifying week.
Ok Cowgirl – March 15th, Mohawk Indoor
Former Midwesterner, now Brooklyn-based Ok Cowgirl front woman Leah Lavigne uses her soft, intimate vocals to lure people in. She sings like someone feeling the emotions of her lyrics for the first time. With drummer Matt Birkenholz, bassist John Miller and guitarist Jake Sabinsky, Ok Cowgirl commands the small indoor space. They sing about being in love with how someone looks at you. Talk about how dads aren’t supposed to leave. The lyrics amplify their crooning guitars, steady drum beats and heavy-hearted bass lines.
They do identify as an indie band; however, Ok Cowgirl is not afraid to lean into the Western sound inspiring their namesake. Some of their tracks start off more subdued, then blossom as the tune progresses. Other songs carry a Western etherealness to them. The band seamlessly combined the wistfulness of indie and folk with the reliable tempos and storytelling of Country Western.
Blondshell – March 16th, ACL Live
Throughout Blondshell’s show at ACL Live, the fan in front of the microphone blows her short blonde hair back. (Recalling 2000s Disney Channel music videos.) Thunderous instrumentals come up through the floor and into the body, the music taking control of those within the space.
Blondshell, stage name for singer-songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum, might not be very tall in stature. But she packs a punch. Her ’90s alternative sound showcases her wide vocal range and songwriting abilities. Talents that embody the self-deprecating storytelling style of the late 20th century.
The rhythm section works in tandem, creating a pocket that puts people of all ages in a trance. When the guitarist has technical difficulties, the bassist and singer collaborate to create a haunting duet. The drummer joins the impromptu ballad; the trio creates a Patti Smith-esque tune, bringing the electricity of the legend into the high-ceilinged room.
Voxtrot – March 16th, Stubb’s
Those who found themselves at Stubb’s would have never guessed that at one point local five-piece ensemble Voxtrot had broken up for 12 years. Their onstage instrumentation transports the audience back to the indie-rock scene of the late ’90s and early 2000s.
“Soft and Warm,” the happy-go-lucky end credit-like song paints the stage in rainbow lighting. The upbeat piano provides an instruction manual for the dancing crowd. The crowd’s enthusiasm bleeds onstage. Guitarist Mitch Calvert jumps around as he strikes the chords on his six string. Lead singer Ramesh Srivastava dedicates the song to the city. He tells fans young and old, “You are so young. So feel alive and one day you will live on your own.”
Introducing the next chapter of the band, Srivastava dedicates a new song to his boyfriend. He delves into sentimental and passionate lyricism. Telling a story about coming to terms with his sexuality and finding someone who loves him. A new album on the horizon gives old fans anticipation. Meanwhile, new fans are encouraged to delve into the local sensation’s catalog.
March 17th, Esther’s Follies showcase
From 8 p.m. to 10:40 p.m., three artists light up Esther’s Follies. The trio of acts turns the comedy club into a bouncing, vibrating musical venue, drawing in current and new fans. The night of pop and rock groups gives those in attendance a spreadsheet of those to look out for. The bands continuously enthrall those who get caught in their snare.
European super trio Lewis Lazar, Julia Johansen and Christopher Willatt, aka Oracle Sisters, haul the audience back to a time where ’70s folk, rock and family bands reigned supreme. Sparking guitar solos contrast with shared microphones and on-stage banter. Said solos add to the playful personality the band presents to the crowd. At one time, they suggest there’s a possibility for nakedness. Closing out the show, guitarist Lazar encourages the crowd to gather closer together. “Let’s make this room into a giant sweat room of joy and ecstasy,” she exhorts. An airy bass solo accompanies the bouncing spectators as the room is, in fact, turned into a “sweat room of joy and ecstasy.”
Georgia Lines finds her footing among pop stars like Carly Rae Jepson. A strong contender for a spot in the famous “pop girlies” category. In comparison to studio versions of her songs, the Kiwi’s live performances lean into the pop-rock sound. Her long-haired guitarist demonstrates by thrashing around as if in a heavy metal band. The bright pink and blue lights paired with a lime green dress illuminate her bubbly personality. Lines also shows pride in her country, performing a Māori lullaby, an homage to her home country’s native people. Lines lets the technical difficulties roll of her back and becomes one with the crowd, enchanting the audience with her voice acapella. A sneak peak of her unreleased sonically vivacious, independent-woman anthem “Monopoly” proves that the small island of New Zealand is bursting at the seams with rising talent.
Dublin alt-pop four piece milk. proves the recent wave of indie and alternative bands from the Irish city deserve more critical attention. A combination of live drums and drum synth pads, razor-sharp bass and lead singer Mark McKenna’s sultry lyrical delivery entice the crowd to chant for encores. McKenna, drummer Morgan Wilson, guitarist Conor Gorman and bassist Conor King transform the comedy club into an arena. They carefully swing long-necked instruments, test the breaking point of drumsticks and feed into audience excitement with smiles and waves to those watching outside. Despite no encore, the enthusiasm from the crowd suggests milk. the Live Music Capital will welcome them back with open arms.