Rolling Stone’s Rock Room at SXSW got off to a rousing start on Friday, as Keane, Nick Waterhouse, Tennis, the Heavy and We Were Promised Jetpacks all took the stage in front of festival-goers at Austin’s La Zona Rosa.
Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks kicked off the bill with tunes from their second album, In the Pit of the Stomach, including the heady post-punk jam “Sore Thumb.” Just a year ago, guitarist Mike Palmer was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the band’s immediate future was unclear, but on this afternoon they were in solid spirit and form.
Demure Tennis frontwoman Alaina Moore led the husband-wife duo through a setlist that flip-flopped between their critically-praised debut, Cape Dory, and its recently released follow-up, Young & Old. Tracks like “Pigeons” and “It All Feels the Same” were steeped in warm guitar fuzz. Afterwards, the band stuck around to lunch on free Yumé Burgers and catch Brooklyn three-piece Hospitality. Sounding like a peppier Suzanne Vega, Hospitality’s frontwoman Amber Papini led the band through tracks from their January debut LP, including the standout “All Day Today.”
“I’m trying to earn my buzz band stripes,” vintage soul revivalist Nick Waterhouse told Rolling Stone after his set. “I don’t have them yet.” Waterhouse, who recalls Buddy Holly in dress and Bobby Darin in sound, was joined onstage by New Orleans keyboardist Jonathan Batiste and backing band the Tarots, which features a saxophonist and three girl group-styled backup singers with shimmying tambourines. “This one’s a true story,” Waterhouse told the crowd before starting up “Some Place,” a track that will appear on his debut LP next month. As frenetic dance-rockers the Heavy took over onstage with a setlist comprised almost entirely of new tracks, Waterhouse took time out to explain the song’s backstory.
“It’s about everywhere I ever was in my life,” he said. “I wrote it when I was living in (San Francisco’s) Chinatown in a total shit apartment, working real long hours and not playing music. I wasn’t even playing music a year ago. I was working in an office.”
Making their first-ever SXSW appearance, Keane closed out the party with an eight-song set. The U.K. band will release their new album Strangeland in May, and they took advantage of the Rock Room’s intimate setting to test out new songs like “Sovereign Light Cafe” and lead single “Silenced By the Night.”
“Did you like that one?” frontman Tom Chaplin asked the crowd. “You can carry on cheering.” When Keane reached the final chorus of their biggest hit, the yearning “Somewhere Only We Know,” they were happy to oblige.