What began as a relatively sedate industry showcase event in the musical town of Austin, Texas, has become an outright madhouse jammed with movers, shakers, hucksters, and pretenders, all clawing for BBQ and bragging rights for having seen “formerly unknown band now international stars” back when just 10 people made the smart decision to forego the “obvious headliner” to see the next rising star. Here are 10 musical acts surely to go up, up, up and away into superstardom… or merely into infamy! Be. There. First.
1. Catfish and the Bottlemen: 3/17, 12AM Latitude 30; 3/18, 11PM Blackheart; 3/19, 9PM ACL Live at the Moody Theater
These British indie-rockers (picture above) formed in Llandudno, Wales, with Australian singer Van McCann and a DIY work ethic that didn’t take “no” for a valid answer. They played their gigs in the parking lots while people streamed into the proper venues, handing out copies of their demo, knowing people like things for free. Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett’s Communion Records rewarded them by issuing their early singles and EPs and their brand-new debut album, The Balcony, which includes several tracks produced by Jim Abbiss, a producer who’s worked with Adele and the Arctic Monkeys. Universal also took an interest in the album, which debuted in the top 10 of the U.K. charts
2. Ex-Cult: 3/20, 11:20PM Hotel Vegas @ Volstead
A punk band from Memphis! Two great attributes already in place! The birthplace of rock ’n’ roll has always been a first-rate music town. Its more reasonable economics make it a better city for kids without trust funds to pursue their dreams than, say, New York. Ex-Cult formed in 2011 with singer Chris Shaw, formerly of Vile Nation, and drummer Michael Peery, who associated with Magic Kids, teaming up as Sex Cult. Their 2012 appearance at SXSW impressed the very indie-garage-star Ty Segall enough for him to produce their debut album as Ex-Cult. Their 2015 EP, Cigarette Machine, consists of 20 minutes worth of smart, aggressive music that may offend sensitive listeners but thrill the rest of us who never gave up cursing for Lent.
3. Gateway Drugs: 3/20, 8PM Cheer Up Charlie’s; 3/21, 9PM Emo’s
The Knack were a very good pop group with solid musicianship. Their bassist, Prescott Niles, is half-responsible for two-thirds of the Los Angeles psychedelic-pop-rockers Gateway Drugs; his kids Gab, Liv, and Noa Niles sing, play, and outnumber singer/multi-instrumentalist Blues Williams, who fills out this impressive quartet. Their debut album, 2015’s Magick Spells, is a trippy effort with great songs lurking under the manic feedback and intense interplay that includes vintage organ, expert harmonies, and guitar tones to die for. They’re opening for veteran shoegazers Swervedriver on a U.S. tour. But they can be caught here in smaller clubs where impatient Swervedriver fans won’t be in your way.
4. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: 3/18, 11PM Trinity Hall @ Old School
Southern rock often causes people to pause. Considering Memphis gave us Elvis Presley (via Tupelo, Mississippi), the Mississippi Delta gave us Robert Johnson, and Alabama birthed Hank Williams, the area should have an exploitable edge. It does in Lee Bains and his Alabama-based rock band, the Glory Fires. Bains was a fan of Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s Dexateens and joined the group on guitar before starting his own band, who now have two solid albums to their credit, including the Sub Pop-issued Dereconstructed. Get ready to rock! Even more!
5. Mew: 3/18, 11PM Red 7; 3/19, 11PM Clive Bar
When we last heard from this beautiful Danish indie-pop group, Scandinavia wasn’t nearly as hip and desirable as it is today. Chances are the group — with its original lineup! — will be previewing the songs from + - (as in “plus minus”), their first album of new material in six years that’s due for release on April 28 in North America. These will be their first performances in the U.S. in six years! As someone privileged to hear the album ahead of schedule, I assure you it’s a gorgeous piece of work that lives up to the advance single, “Satellites.” Mew remains an important group on the Danish indie scene, winning awards and selling albums to the gold and platinum levels in Denmark. It’s time we helped them repeat that success in America!
6. Moon Duo: 3/19, 9:15PM Hotel Vegas Patio
Moon Duo left San Francisco (taking their hearts with them) and relocated to Portland, Oregon, with new drummer John Jeffrey, who technically makes it a Moon Trio! Their third album, Shadow of the Sun, is a mind-meltingly good collection of motorik rhythms, Joy Division-like alienation, Stooges riffs, Teardrop Explodes trippy-ness, and Spaceman 3-type meditations that’s pure Moon Duo/Trio. Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada sound like they’re having the time of their crazy lives, and great studio tracks like “Free the Skull” and “Animal” can only get better in the live setting where freak flags will flow wildly and anything can — and will — happen.
7. MS MR: 3/18, 11PM Clive Bar; 3/19, 11PM Stubbs; 3/21, 12AM Empire Garage
This New York-based duo comprised of singer Lizzy Plapinger (MS) and producer Max Hershenow (MR), both 2010 graduates from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, surprised everyone with their atmospheric and uber-catchy 2012 “Hurricane” single that reached #8 on the US Alternative charts upon its re-release in 2013. Their debut album, Secondhand Rapture, was issued by IAMSOUND and Columbia Records in May 2013. The duo has been compared to Bat for Lashes, Florence and the Machine, Massive Attack, and even Adele, despite being classified as chillwave. Hopefully, after several solid live performances, another genre will be invented to better describe their excellence.
8. Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts: 3/19, 5PM Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center; 3/21, 12AM Parish
Though their debut album, Blaster, won’t be out until March 31, Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts are sure to be a major draw. After all, Mr. Weiland has sung for the overwhelmingly popular Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver while also finding time for a solo career, so there’s always the possibility of old hits showing up in the set. Working with guitarist Jeremy Brown, bassist Tommy Black, and drummer Danny Thompson, Weiland brings a bluesy swagger to the group’s riff-heavy music, as advance tracks, “Way She Moves,” “White Lightning,” and their cover of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” indicate.
9. Viet Cong: 3/19, 9PM Cedar Street Courtyard
Their early four-song Cassette (later expanded into a seven-song 12” vinyl EP) was lo-fi pop and garage rock, but the group’s self-titled 2015 debut album is an abrasive, chaotic assault that suggests they’ve been listening to the early works of the Fall, Sonic Youth and, of course, the pre-requisite Joy Division during the album’s final songs, “Silhouettes” and “Death.” Matt Flegel, Scott Munro, and Mike Wallace had worked together in the Calgary, Alberta indie band Women, whose guitarist Christopher Reimer died unexpectedly. Fittingly, for Viet Cong, they enlisted guitarist Danny Christiansen, who’d worked with Flegel and Munro in a Black Sabbath tribute band. While there’s no discernible Paranoid influence at work here, it explains the heaviness of their approach.
10) Will Butler: 3/20, 12AM Maggie Mae’s Rooftop:
His older brother Win Butler formed the Grammy Award-winning indie rock band Arcade Fire, which Will joined in 2003 right in time to be on the records. In 2013, Owen Pallett and Will composed the soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s film Her and received an Oscar nomination for their troubles. Now, in 2015, Will just released his first solo album, the 27-minute, eight-song Policy, which is more eclectic than Arcade Fire and also notably lighter in weight, likely due to not featuring half of Canada on the album. A song like “What I Want” is so energetic and exciting that it will surely “rock out” in concert. Unless, of course, Will decides to slow it down and do it as an acoustic ballad or a polka. You just never know with these multi-talented kids!