During a day that saw no less than Dolly Parton make her SXSW debut, the hottest ticket was arguably for Wet Leg, the Isle of Wight duo whose charmingly post-punk songs have made their upcoming album one of the most anticipated of the year. The line to see the band at Mohawk stretched all the way down Red River, but to those who made it past the door, the euphoric gig was worth the wait.
Day 4 also saw rare performances by Zambian group Witch, an unconventional heavy-metal panel, and our first (and hopefully only) Alex Jones-adjacent sighting of SXSW. Here’s what we witnessed in Austin:
Season of the Witch
Despite a wonderful, surprising revival in the past decade, Witch are not exactly a regular presence in the U.S. The Zambian rock pioneers are currently on only their second American tour, ever, in their nearly five-decade history. So Witch’s rather large footprint at SXSW has been a blessing. They were all over Austin on Friday, soaking up fan attention while hanging at Hotel Vegas and playing two shows: A raucous afternoon slot at Container Bar, and a 1 a.m. set at Lucille that felt more intimate, but still burned with mind-meld intensity and a sense of occasion. Co-founder Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda (still a small-scale amethyst miner in Zambia when he’s not performing) and fellow original member Patrick Mwondela were decked out in their usual vibrant witch hats and joined by younger musicians who nailed their winding psychedelic explorations and dime-stop shifts; guitarist Michael Rault positively shredded. The good vibes were so persistent that at one point the band joked that their name — an acronym for “we intend to cause havoc” — also stands for “we intend to cause harmony.”
Wet Leg Becomes a Big D
The Isle of Wight duo have gotten so much buzz over the last year that they recently upgraded their venues to fit as many fans as they can — and they have many, who know every word to the post-punk gem “Chaise Longue” and the witty kiss-off “Wet Dream.” It was crucial to catch them at SXSW, and we finally did at Mohawk on Friday afternoon, with Rhian Teasdale commanding the stage in a cowboy hat and Hester Chambers shyly beaming along. Their self-titled debut arrives next month, but until then, we’ll just keep chanting “I got the big D” over and over.
SXSW’s Holy Divers
In a festival that leans hard into indie-rock, hip-hop, and world music, one panel stood out like a sore devil’s horn: Friday morning’s “Dreamers Never Die” was a discussion of the enduring power of heavy metal with some titans of the genre. Moderated by SiriusXM’s Eddie Trunk, the hour-long sitdown featured Black Sabbath bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler, the irrepressible youth-gone-wild Sebastian Bach, and Wendy Dio, the widow of legendary howler Ronnie James Dio. While the bulk of the conversation centered around a new movie celebrating the late RJD, there were a few lessons in legit metal history, thanks especially to Butler, who recalled his Irish-Catholic parents’ horrified reaction to Black Sabbath’s first album. But it was Bach, ever the loose-lipped wildcard, who provided the comic relief. When the convo turned to today’s metal bands and the outrageous fonts they often use to spell their names, he quipped: “Why do their logos look like a tree branch?!” Never change, Baz.
Sammy Hagar Goes Country
Speaking of hard-rock interlopers, Sammy Hagar and his band the Circle also crashed the SXSW lineup, playing a no-badge-required concert at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. We caught the Red Rocker’s headlining show in Nashville earlier this month, but for Friday night’s gig, in support of the Give a Note Foundation, we weaseled our way into a coveted spot on the side of the stage to watch Hagar belt out “Rock Candy” and “Poundcake.” We also got a literal glimpse behind the curtain and learned that Hagar, his former Van Halen bandmate Michael Anthony, and Jason “Son of Bonzo” Bonham warm up backstage not to classic rock tunes but to country music. This night, they got in fighting shape by playing along to the Cadillac Three’s “I’m Southern” and Luke Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart” — Hagar called the latter’s chorus one of the best country lyrics he’s ever heard.
Los Bitchos’ Wild Ride
It’s one thing to hear the global, all-female dance-rock band’s debut Let the Festivities Begin!, but the party truly comes to life when you watch them perform. They passed a bottle of tequila amongst each other while grooving hard on psychedelic surf riffs, Latin rhythms, and more — and when we say “more,” we mean “Lindsay Goes to Mykonos,” a song about that time Lindsay Lohan went to Greece and started managing a beach club. “We always hope that Lindsay Lohan might come to one of our shows,” guitarist and songwriter Serra Petale told the crowd. “She will, right??” They kept us glued the entire time, and they don’t even have lyrics.
Incessant yapper and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was supposedly rumbling around Austin’s streets this week in his armored “battle tank,” trying to troll SXSWers with his macho false-flag persona. While we didn’t see Jones himself, we did come across his minions on Friday night cruising South Congress in an InfoWars branded Hummer. Two dudes were standing in the back, while a third had his head out the top, shouting something garbled through a megaphone. About the coming of our reptile overlords? About their favorite tacos? Your guess is as good as ours.
(Full disclosure: In 2021, Rolling Stone’s parent company, P-MRC, acquired a 50 percent stake in the SXSW festival.)