Another grueling and glorious SXSW has finally come to a close. Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson, the last men on the All Songs Considered island, gathered at 2 a.m. to recap the sets they loved on the festival's closing day. On Stephen's recommendation (he's written about her before), Bob saw Los Angeles singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers in the Central Presbyterian Church. There, in a sanctuary from the noisy, standing-room-only buzz of Austin, her guitar and beautiful voice rung out in the big room. On the last day of Stephen's 21st year at the festival, he loved Phoria, a British electro-pop band that he also featured on the Austin 100 (by the way, have we mentioned the Austin 100? You should check it out.) Bob ended his last night with a madcap set from a British punk band called shame. The singer stripped himself nearly naked and then began climbing on various objects around the room, a la Iggy Pop. It was a powerful set, and the singer was relentless in his pursuit of a higher perch. He tried to climb a photobooth offstage and then fell off it with a resounding thud. When he got back to the mic, he turned and said, "Well, at least I tried." It's as good a message for SXSW as any.
This is our last daily recap from SXSW. We've been sharing early-morning recaps of our favorite sets from the day before. We'll be updating this page with short descriptions of Saturday's best discoveries from public-radio staffers who were in Austin on the festival's last day. Check out last Tuesday's recap for a full list of NPR Music's SXSW coverage, and be sure to look out for the All Songs Considered recap and the last of the South X Lullabies.
Phoebe Bridgers at Central Presbyterian Church
Going into SXSW, Phoebe Bridgers' name had floated to the top of my must-see list: The L.A. singer-songwriter has a gorgeous voice and a knack for stringing together rich, evocative imagery — and, as a bonus, she was set to perform in one of Austin's loveliest church venues. Bridgers and her band proved ideally suited to Central Presbyterian's still space, as her voice and guitar rang softly near the end of a long, loud festival. After five exhausting but satisfying days of music, hers is the voice I'm most eager to hear on the plane ride home. —Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
shame at Barracuda's
On the fifth and final day of the festival, after having seen roughly a dozen bands a day, I wanted something visceral to end my SXSW 2017. I went to see shame. This U.K. band marries performance, poetry and punk in a way I won't soon forget. Singer Charlie Steen was already shirtless, his pants held on by suspenders, when I walked in on the middle of their opening song. That outfit didn't last too long — first the suspenders dropped and then the pants. He snarled and twisted his sweaty body through a frenzied crowd and climbed atop speakers in a way that recalled my first Iggy Pop show in the '70s. Charlie and shame were all on fire when he next set out to climb a photo booth in the corner of Barracuda's. It was hard to see him in the dark through the crowd. But then I heard a thud as his body and microphone hit the concrete floor. He got up, music blasting, hopped on stage and stared at us all. Dressed only in his briefs, he said, "At least I tried." And that line is a call to us all. To the thousands of musicians chasing a dream and trying to connect, and to all of us in life trying to make a mark or a difference. Failing is key to greatness — there's no shame in it. Go see this winning Brixton band. —Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered
Born Cages at The Townsend
On my final night of SXSW, I happened upon a string of artists who write undeniably great songs. It all began with Born Cages. I'd heard — and fell in love with — a recent single, "Ain't Gonna Happen," but I knew I was in for a treat when lead singer Vlad Holiday nonchalantly (but quite intentionally) paid tribute to Chuck Berry's passing with a brief — but instantly recognizable — riff from "Johnny B. Goode." From there, rock 'n' roll carried the night. Tearing through a set of upbeat rock songs, Holiday was all over the stage and up on the monitors any chance he got. Every moment was Instagram-ready, and every song made me want to throw my hands in the air. Born Cages is ready for a much larger stage, and I look forward to saying, "I saw them when..." —Matthew Casebeer, opbmusic
Cilantro Boombox at Flamingo Cantina
This Austin-based band played many tracks off of their recently released Shine On, and both their record and their performance have moved this band many steps ahead in their career. The three-horn arrangements are intricate and funky, and the full rhythm section of drums, congas and timbales gives the band a full-bodied sound that is, frankly, irresistible. I've been keeping an eye on this band from afar, and their hard work has paid off with a sound that deserves to be heard beyond their hometown of Austin. —Felix Contreras, Alt.Latino