Freeway’s at SXSW, like thousands of other performers, for a purpose. Some are here to reintroduce themselves to the public (Courtney Love), others to say hello for the first time (Danger Mouse and James Mercer’s new project Broken Bells). Still others are here to remind you they still exist (Smokey Robinson). Freeway fits into each category.
And he’s fine with it.
“You’ve got to stay on your grind, move forward and take control of your destiny,” he says. “[Music] is definitely a competitive industry. It’s a different day now. When we first got on it was definitely easier to make money in the music business.”
Later, amidst more hugs, autographs and photos, Freeway takes time for an interview with James King, an Austin hip-hop blogger at sincerelyking.com, who summed up the love surrounding Free. “I kid you not—no fan shit, no dick riding—this is one of the best artists to ever come out,” he says. “Ever come out. Did you hear? I said EVER.”
King then raps Freeway’s “What We Do,” perhaps his most famous hit, for added emphasis. “That’s real shit, bro. Real deal shit, man,” he says, almost yelling. “Because people don’t understand what it’s like to live out here. And that’s a prolific artist, that’s making prolific statements. And whether it’s Roc-A-Fella or another label, that man is ill, bro. Person to person, that’s an ill-ass artist. He’s going to reach great limits, man. He’s just going to take his time to sit back, recalculate the game, readjust his aim and shoot off.”
It goes without saying: You don’t drive 2,000 miles to play in front of people to suck. This year, Philly bands did not disappoint. Drunken sea crooners Man Man wowed the crowd during their headlining slot at the Mess With Texas day party. Free Energy converted new fans with their infectious brand of Strokes-like pop. And Dr. Dog overcame long odds to win over a sleepy daytime crowd at the Austin Convention Center, where live music goes to die.
And then there’s Drink Up Buttercup.
Nothing about their new and excellent Born And Thrown On A Hook (out last week) suggests the type of wild abandon with which they approach their live show. The record is subtle, in parts, and spliced with snippets of Zach Condon’s (Beirut) fascination with all things Eastern Europe.
But live they will eat your fucking heart in front of you. Only that’s not exactly right, because there’s a fair chance the band doesn’t even realize you’re there. Their eyes are rarely open. They’re in a trance.
They bang on trashcans with mannequin heads and what must be industrial strength maracas. They whip around one another violently like whirling dervishes with a death wish, and midway through their set you begin to believe you’ve walked in on some demented pagan ritual you are not supposed to be seeing, but can’t tear your eyes away from. They are the Eyes Wide Shut orgy of live bands.
Lead singer/guitarist James Harvey could mop the floor with Mariah Carey in a battle of the octave if he cared to. The haunting reverb thrown on his voice only adds to the towering abundance of it all. And when he does finally open his eyes—when any of the energetic foursome does—they seem possessed.
Also possessed: the crowd at Buffalo Billiards attending the 10th and final show of Drink Up Buttercup’s daunting four day SXSW schedule, who danced transfixed in front of the stage like black-eyed extras in True Blood.
“Our schedule was packed so tight that, in some cases, we had to lug our equipment, trashcans and all, multiple blocks to make it to the next show on time,” says Harvey. “The shows ranged from pretty great to mind-blowingly awesome.”
SXSW is a giant choose-your-own-adventure book. While some bands and many fans come to Austin for the drunken revelry, DUB represent another breed. They’re hustling. Pro gear. Pro attitude.
“The experience wasn’t as party-all-the-time fun as people might think,” says Harvey. “We were hard at work down there. We had cards and wristbands that gave us access to free booze for the duration of the festival, but we didn’t have time to indulge.”
“We were just trying to get in front of as many people as possible,” says Chiddy, of Philly rap tycoons Chiddy Bang, who also didn’t make light work of their time in the state’s capital. “We named it ‘the SXSW Takeover.’ SXSW is pretty chaotic by nature, and the experience is a great way to test your physical limits. Drink as much as you can, sleep as few hours as possible, and play multiple shows in one day. It’s a blur.”
“The early shows were hard to get up for,” says Robbie Garcia, singer/guitarist for Philly’s Reading Rainbow, who played eight shows while in Austin. “Overall we had an amazing time. Aside from getting really sick and losing our voices, everyone that saw us reacted very positively to our music. It was exhausting, but well worth it. We went to SXSW to show people what we were all about. We were able to meet new people and also found a label to release our next album!”
Look for Reading Rainbow, soon on Chicago label HoZac.
Still others decide to tackle SXSW with a more casual approach. West Philly’s Grandchildren have done the more-shows-the-better approach, but this year eased off a tad. “Our schedule in comparison to what many bands attempt to do was rather light,” says Roman Salcic, one of Grandchildren’s many multi-instrumentalists. “This year our label [Green Owl] rented out the 34-acre ‘Rockin’ Y Ranch’ where we and our label mates took up residence for the week. Our lighter show schedule—we went for quality over quantity this year—allowed us to go see more music, exchange ideas, and make connections and friends with other great artists from all over the country and the world. So while our Austin experience this year probably differed a bit from what bands in our position usually go through, I must say that, for me personally, it has been the best SXSW experience thus far.”
Salcic’s bandmate Adam Katz agrees. “SXSW was the best ever for us this year,” he says. “Our busiest day had three shows (a relatively light load for SXSW)—one house party run by young 20-somethings, our Green Owl showcase, then an after-party for our label’s showcase that didn’t start until about 3 a.m. The shows were great. We blew Austin’s mind every time. And meeting Bill Murray at our showcase was surreal.”
The Philly psych-rock foursome Drink Up Buttercup become “recording artists” next week with the release of their phenomenal debut album Born and Thrown on a Hook.
Philly phenoms Man Man are hitting the studio in March and April to record the follow up to 2008’s criminally overlooked Rabbit Habits.
This latest burst of folk revival is made up of a rotating cast of 30 to 40 like-minded musician friends who snowballed into an ever-expanding collective they refer to “our little music community.”
Wild is true punk royalty in this town, and his services to Philly music were formally recognized in the 1980s when Wild was anointed “Mayor of South Street” in a formal presentation at the storied rock club J.C. Dobbs.
Wherever Roselius is, that’s where the party’s at.
New songs off Shame, Shame were just as polished as old nuggets, and Dr. Dog proved to be masters of the long lost art of the set list.
PW's Music Issue 2014