Angel Olsen, Burgers + Ping Pong: SXSW Recap, Day One
Diffuser arrived to Austin, Texas, early Tuesday afternoon (March 17) for this year's installment of the SXSW Music Festival. Within our first day here, we saw bands that ranged from hometown boys Spoon at the Hype Hotel to a mass of psychedelic folk (Ryley Walker, et al.) and heavy metal (8th grade rockers Unlocking the Truth).
We also devoured some delectable eats and jammed on a little table tennis. Looking back on the first day of SXSW, the bar is set pretty high. Here's what stood out to us:
Best Set of the Night -- Angel Olsen
Missouri-bred guitar goddess Angel Olsen didn't wait for a soundcheck. With a beatific grin and boozy confidence, she just began. It didn't matter that the thick bass and tinny trap drums of the between-band house music persisted for a few minutes more — it was bound to lose. "Oh my God, I need you close," she sang, and all the chatter stopped. Even the bands shredding next door seemed to vaporize as she struck her guitar, the naked reverberations sounding like an abstraction of '50s malt shop music while Olsen's impossibly rich vocals thickened the air. "This isn't easy," she said at one point after a particularly felt rendition of "Lights Out," which, like many of her best songs, pairs downcast ethereal Americana with a sort of forced optimism: "If you feel like quitting now, then try a little harder," she can be heard cooing on her enthralling album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. Here, outside at the Mohawk with no band behind her, her pained quaver makes the sentiment seem fragile. Her set, however, was anything but. Sporting a Megadeth badge on the back of her white blazer, Olsen unfurled dark, haunting beauty into the night air.
Best Burger Found (and Eaten) on 6th Street -- The Jackalope
A greasy heap of cheese on meat on meat, this mayo-gushing dream sandwich -- the 'Bama Burger -- will both soak up the booze (if you've been so inclined) and power you through the next few hours of jams. From the top down: a mound of spicy slaw, a viscous puddle of cheddar, a pile of shredded slow-smoked pork and six ounces of hot beef. The bun's soft, the pickles are sweet, and if you sit at the bar you'll have unlimited napkin access, which is your secret weapon in besting this beast. We feel proud of conquering this one.
Best Oasis to Take a Break -- Easy Tiger
Stop anywhere in the middle of 6th Street and you'll find yourself at the crossroads of cacophony. There's a band for every bar, rooftop and storefront -- and that's why we're all here, but occasionally you'll need to beat a retreat from the noise. The Easy Tiger bakeshop is on the main drag, but go through the doors, grab a huge pretzel fresh from the oven and head down the stairs. Out back you'll find an outdoor oasis next to Waller Creek below street level. The stellar craft brew selection (Mikkeller Black Hole on tap!) is complimented by a pair of ping pong tables.
Best Texas Hello -- Curtis McMurtry
What better way to set the stage for what's to come at SXSW than live music as soon as you step out of the airplane? That's what happened to us as we were welcomed with the haunting Americana reverberations of Curtis McMurtry (son of James). That's all we needed to hit the ground running.
Burgers, ping pong and good music -- what more could you ask for? Are you at SXSW? What have been the highlights for you so far? Let us know in the comments section below!