SXSW 2019: Vandoliers, Black Pumas, Edie Brickell, Mavis Staples - Rolling Stone
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SXSW 2019: 30 Best Artists We Saw in Austin

From Amyl and the Sniffers and the Vandoliers to Hayes Carll and Yola

Amyl and the Sniffers perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Amyl and the Sniffers perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

A.F. Cortes

The annual South by Southwest Music Festival continues to be an overwhelming experience for both attendees and bands, as each hustle from venue to venue either in in search of the next buzzy thing or their own big break. This year, however, SXSW felt slightly more subdued, perhaps because Austin’s major schools were still in session ahead of spring break. Even so, crowds were everywhere — filling clubs on Sixth Street, parking lots on South Congress and even boats on the Colorado River — eager to hear breaking acts from the Vandoliers to Black Pumas and vets like Edie Brickell and Mavis Staples. Here’s the 30 best sets we saw.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 12: Katie Pruitt performs at Ray Benson's Birthday Party at GSD

Per Ole Hagen/Getty Images

Katie Pruitt

Georgia native Katie Pruitt was liable to offer up a pretty different set depending on when you saw her. Wielding her electric guitar at Palm Door on Wednesday, the arrangements were built around jazzy, fluid dynamics, her intently detailed lyrical vignettes giving way to the tumultuous release of an instrumental break that seemed to unleash all the emotions left unsaid by the narrator. The twang in Pruitt’s voice became more of a grounding device when she switched to her acoustic at Thursday’s Luck Reunion, where she appeared as the winning “Artist on the Rise,” and sounded more like she’d taken the country ballad form and turned it inside out. J.G.

SXSW in Austin, TX, USA on March 2019.

Koury Angelo for Rolling Stone

Broken Social Scene

Not that a nine-piece band is going to sneak up on you, but Broken Social Scene have an onstage demeanor that seems like the epitome of nonchalant right up until the moment they flatten you. Looking as if they’d all just met a half-hour before showtime, the Canadian collective ambled onstage at the Convention Center on Friday and made magic pretty much from the very first note — intricate arrangements that were equal parts dreamy and driving, as well as amusingly self-deprecating. “This song is called ‘Can’t Find My Life,’ and your haircut is saving my life right now,” frontman Kevin Drew quipped at one point as he squinted into the crowd. It was the coolest pop-up show you ever did see. D.M.

Joshua Ray Walker

Jordan O'Donnell for Rolling Stone Country

Joshua Ray Walker

Joshua Ray Walker knew how to keep you guessing during his set at Rustic Tap on Saturday, rolling along to the rhythm of an 18-wheeler one minute and shifting into neutral for a loping bedroom ballad the next. The constant throughout for this country-tinged songwriter was his inexorable sense of storytelling, singing parables of self-reflection — and, oftentimes, evisceration — that were tortured by what his narrators could write in song but couldn’t say in person. Punctuating his haunting arrangements with even eerier high-pitched yelps, Walker finished things off, alone and seated in a chair, with the bold imagery of “Canyon.” J.G.

E.B. the Younger

Rett Rogers

E.B. the Younger

Birds were chirping overhead as E.B. the Younger — the new nom de plume for Midlake member Eric Pulido — performed at Hotel San Jose on Wednesday, and few sets could have been more perfectly in tune with the natural world. The song being played at the time was “Out of the Woods,” an airy, soft-rock piano serenade from the band’s new To Each His Own LP that transformed into a chamber-pop jam à la Grizzy Bear’s fiercer moments when the drums kicked Pulido out of his reverie. A timely added touch came from a taut cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” toward the end of the set. J.G.

Justin Townes Earle

Jordan O'Donnell for Rolling Stone Country

Justin Townes Earle

There are a lot of good ways to hear “Mama’s Eyes,” a decade-old song from Justin Townes Earle. Maybe the best is listening to him play it in a crowded room, with papa Steve Earle looking on as his son crooned the opening couplet: “I am my father’s son/I’ve never known when to shut up.” Earle showed the low-key charisma and top-line between-song banter that is his genetic birthright, playing solo to preview songs from his upcoming album The Saint of Lost Causes (on which, he said, “I got wordy”). For a closer, he broke out a letter-perfect cover of the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.” D.M.

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