The 10 Best Artists We Saw At SXSW 2019

On March 18th 2019 » By Vinyl Me, Please Staff

Melanie Header

Last week, the Vinyl Me, Please editorial staff decamped to the taco-and-pizza-strewn curbs of Austin, Texas, for SXSW Music. In addition to showing out for our amazing showcase, they spent their days finding secret shows and yeehaw showcases. Here’s the 10 best artists they saw last week.

Rico Nasty

These rappers swear they on that rockstar shit, and these rappers ain’t Rico Nasty. PEREIT! Like, no bullshit, the Moe jumped outta me in the moshpit, my toothpick limbs sweating bullets in jubilee with so many beautiful faces, Black faces. I mean, everyone was in there, but… it felt like the crowd woulda been my friends in high school the way Rico’s aura reminds me of the PG girls from first period. Her presence generates that energy, taking minimal energy to incite a furious wave of rebellious conduct. As she conducted the Sugar Soldiers through an array of her most popular bops, she beamed with equal parts gratitude and astonishment at the mess she’s made already. The stage brimmed with several figures, many playing earlier on the Pigeons & Planes lineup, all crankin’ with Her Majesty. It’s so easy to forget Rico’s 21. It’s also easy to lose your nasal spray, ibuprofen and deodorant when your front zipper comes undone as you thank God for not having to smack a bitch today. In our interview last year, Rico told me she observes the trash on the floor after her shows end and how they differ in different cities. I returned to Empire Garage seeking what I lost in the fire, and remembered. Time is a flat circle. — Michael Penn II

Your Smith

Growing up with Minneapolis as the nearest major city, I can’t count the number of times I saw Twin Cities performer Caroline Smith play — first in her relative youth with her early project Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps, then just under the name Caroline Smith — and always looked forward to it. I hadn’t seen her perform in years and wasn’t sure what to expect, but an unplanned stop at her SXSW set under her latest moniker Your Smith was the most comfortable and transformed I’ve ever seen her on stage, and an absolute highlight of my week. Performing mostly tracks off her latest EP Bad Habit alongside a cover of Wilson Phillips “Hold On” that brought me back to life after a week of severe sleep deprivation, she emulated a slightly more laid-back version of one of my personal gender-bending pop icons Christine and the Queens, while remaining something completely her own. — Amileah Sutliff

The Comet is Coming

Live jazz is a crapshoot at SXSW, where sound systems are pushed to the brink by even Mumford and all his sons. U.K. jazz star Shabaka Hutchings’ space jazz trio The Comet is Coming were like, well, a space object event, their blend of jazz, soul, Sun Ra and Mos Eisley making every organ roll and sax lick seem like a divination from the skies. Their new album came out the day after their set at Empire Garage and it almost lives up to the Chakra alignment of seeing this live. I spent most of my time at their set looking like Kevin McAllister. — Andrew Winistorfer

Disq

When I tell you this set re-energized me in the first symptoms of the week’s malaise to come, believe it. Listen, I didn’t grow up on no hard rock shit. I have minimal context for it, save for how They inject it into the mainstays of American culture to the point of ubiquity. I say that because my barrier to accessing all the sources Disq draws from proved to be no hindrance from processing how fucking hard these Wisconsin white kids go! I’ve seen hella Disq sets — marveling at how cool they are, highkey — but this set hit different for the incoming demise of my circadian rhythm. Disq blew them speakers out for damn-near 40 minutes, guns ablaze with tireless precision and a lingering self-awareness that’s never painful. The wink-wink quality of the banter does nothing to diminish how this five-piece pulverizes this rock ’n’ roll shit. Like, I’m sure I asked Isaac why he wanted to die when he wrote “I Wanna Die,” and I damn sure forgot what he told me. We ain’t know each other like that yet. Either way, I felt that shit and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that shit! Look, the way I feel about Disq after a set like this must be how washed-up Aerosmith heads feel on some “REAL ROCK ’N’ ROLL” shit! — MPII

Chai

While my Libra-rising ass typically dreads the inevitable post-SXSW “What was your favorite thing you saw?” inquiry from well-meaning friends and family, I’ve actually got a confident answer this year: Japanese bubblegum disco-punk band Chai. I was lucky enough to see them twice in one day, fresh off the drop of their new album Punk — and on the day it (rightfully) received Best New Music from Pitchfork — and each set was boiling over with more glittering energy than I’ve seen on stage in recent memory. Pop perfection and iconic matching pink and orange outfits, like some sort of guitar-wielding collective of superheroes, honestly SXSW convinced me if anyone’s gonna save us, it’ll be Chai. — AS

Melanie Faye

This was my fifth SXSW, and my fourth in a row, and I mention this not as a brag, but as a, “I’ve seen some shit in my day, kid.” My first SXSW was in 2011, right when the corporations came in and people started rapping inside chip bags and shit, but this year and last year have felt like a return to what SXSW is actually about: an opportunity to see a ton of new, Rising artists in one singular location, broken up by runs to Gus’s Fried for a three-piece meal. As a person entering my mid-30s, going to SXSW and, especially, our VMP Rising program, makes sure that I’m not a guy who’s spending all day online talking about how I miss the Strokes or whatever, and I’m up on the cutting edge. Melanie Faye was this year’s most surprising discovery; I was vaguely familiar with her YouTube videos, where she plays instrumental covers on a guitar, showing seemingly impossible dexterity and technique, but that didn’t prepare me for what a Melanie Faye live experience is like. Remember how you used to stand, slack-jawed, half-stoned at parties in college, watching someone shred on Guitar Hero in a way you can’t even comprehend? Melanie Faye did that on a real guitar, playing Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” as a progressive jazz record, among another 30 minutes of face melting. She’s an exciting artist because she could go about 14 million directions for her actual LPs — she’s gonna make the MOST fire 2020’s George Benson album, I can feel it — but until then, she can show up at events like SXSW and walk off with everyone’s head. — AW

Robert Ellis

I’ve seen Robert Ellis a couple times as he arced around the Midwest, most recently in Appleton, Wisconsin, during the tour behind his ace 2016 self-titled, but I was unprepared for how jovial and winning he’d be playing songs from this year’s Texas Piano Man, an album that finds him putting down the guitar and sitting behind the ebony and ivories. Dressed in the white suit from the album cover, Ellis captured the general feeling of SXSW — with its endless shows, bottomless drinks, and venues without adequate sitting space — in between songs: “I feel like this festival is engineered to kill us all.” “Fucking Crazy” was emotional and raw, and “Topo Chico” was the most fun song about seltzer I’ve ever seen performed in tails and a top hat. — AW

Miya Folick

I only cried twice this SXSW (a new record for me, thanks): once when my mom, who babysat my pup while I was away, sent me a photo of my dog wearing a raincoat, and the other during Miya Folick’s set. Attend enough South Bys and you realize these performances are truly hit or miss: on one hand, the energy of a city-wide, week-long party in honor of rising bands playing live music is unmatched, but on the other, it’s one of the most exhausting possible conditions to be in as a performer. Sometimes you see some lackluster sets, sets in which artists seem to be holding back for the sake of survival and energy conservation. Miya Folick was the opposite. She gutted herself on stage in a way that was somehow both danceable and cryable (easily the best combo) and gave a vocal performance that could stop even the most jaded, exhausted SXSW attendee (i.e. me at that point) dead in their tracks. — AS

Texas Gentlemen

Sometimes it can feel like a band is created in a laboratory of your mind and memories’ making, a place where van rides with your dad listening to soft rock from the ’80s and your parents’ record collection of ’70s country LP’s coalesces into some band you couldn’t have imagined even if you tried. Texas Gentlemen were that for me on Friday night at Mohawk. A group of road hands for too many acts to name, the Gents started their own thing for TX Jelly in 2017, but their set for New West was almost all new material from their upcoming sophomore album (hopefully due out later this year), which sounds like it’s going to mix yacht rock with Texas Boogie, Yes with Willie, and ZZ Top with Booker T. After their set, I’m not sure there’s a new album I’m more ready for out this year than I am for TX Jelly 2. It was the final show I saw on the night of my fifth SXSW, and not many things have hit me in my brain’s pleasure receptors quite like the Gents did. — AW

DaBaby

Every year, there’s a crop of rappers on the brink of a breakthrough who play a fuckton of shows to give the people a snippet of how the fuck they comin’ in the first place. DaBaby, about 45 minutes late, is likely the rapper atop the crop: his Interscope deal’s locked in, his shit’s gone viral, and his Austin antics are well-documented. (He really walked around 6th Street in a diaper one year.) Alas, it’s clear DaBaby’s the Money Mayweather of this rap shit, down to the handheld promo signs and the impeccable drip and the way he threw UPS boxes in the crowd for “Suge (Yea Yea).” His smile beamed, his voice boomed in a cacophony of hypemen, he surfed the crowd and lost nothing expensive. He also uses HIV testing (promptly followed by shaming) as a crowd interaction point, proving he’s clearly working with outdated information. (But no, what the fuck?) This set had all the fixins of a Big Rap Show and only confirmed why the cruel comedic tint of his charisma — backed by good rapping, mind you — has already catapulted him into the purview of nerds in The Media (me) and the public eye. He asked for a cowboy hat before “Walker Texas Ranger” dropped; no one plugged him. He later walked around the streets with three hulking security guards in bulletproof vests. I couldn’t fathom the paranoia running parallel to the prevalence, nor do I envy it. — MPII

Rico Nasty

Rico Nasty, the first of her name, The Ruler Of the Rage, The Queen of Yee-Haw ripped through a wild, tempestuous set split pretty evenly between her turn-the-fuck-up material and her punch-you-in-your-fake-face material at Mohawk for Brooklyn Vegan on Thursday, dressed in a cowboy hat and a lot of fringe, breaking a nail and inviting interlopers to booty shake onstage. She’s a budding superstar, a certainty underscored by her “Elvis has left the building” run out the back of the venue when she was done, where I spied her sign a copy of our Record of the Month before being whisked away in a bike cab. Yeah, we covered her further above, too, but this should serve as a final warning: Do whatever you can to see her in your zip code. — AW

Latest from The Magazine