@ZackTeibloom When we caught Oberhofer’s 11 pm show Tuesday night at Nomad, Caitlin and I thought we had a pretty tame SXSW week ahead of us. After being wow’d by the band we loved so much at SXSW ’14 we saw them three times in the same day, we had the traditional brownie sundae and queso at midnight at Kerby Lane to celebrate Caitlin turning 29. We went to sleep expecting a tamer SXSW, since we wouldn’t have a badge this year, but woke up to news we had two badges waiting for us at the convention center. Happy birthday to us. We then sought out a few favorites we found from our pre-festival hunting. Caitlin had turned me onto Coast Modern and Aurora (who I also knew from their music being played often in the bathrooms at Apple) and I turned her on to PWR BTTM. So we went and saw them. And then we loved them so much we saw them again. And again. We ended up seeing Coast Modern four days in a row and meeting them. We saw Oberhofer twice more, saw PWR BTTM three times in two days and saw Aurora’s first two festival appearances and wished we saw more.
In this post, I’ll write up the little things I noticed seeing these wonderful bands at the early stages of their careers day after day. The little things you can only get from tons of exposure to intimate shows. Things like: why is Brad Oberhofer testing out the sturdiness of tables behind the stage before he goes on? Who is the girl in the crowd signaling one more song to the rest of the band? What does it take for Aurora to feel comfortable taking her jacket off to dance? What song will the crowd think is over before Coast Modern wows them with their powerful closer? What is PWR BTTM looking for in Austin and what do they have a crippling fear of? All this and more on why you should fall in love with these bands…
I was filming 30 seconds of every band I saw at SXSW, but upon realizing Coast Modern was so new and with their fans tweeting at me clamoring for more, I ended up filming almost 10 minutes of their shows and put it together for a full package of my favorite band of the week.
My wife and I knew Coast Modern was a new band we were anxious to check out at SXSW. We didn’t know how brand new they were or how utterly obsessed we’d become with them by the end of the week. This LA band only has released two songs, “Hollow Life” and “Animals,” which we played on repeat in the days leading up to SXSW. We caught their first ever show at Maggie Mae’s before our other favorite of the week, Aurora, and they were phenomenal. They nervously fist bumped each other before going on and told the sound guy they’d do the sound check live, pointing up for certain instruments and winning the crowd over as they went.
We didn’t have plans to see them again, but I ran into lead singer Coleman Trapp the next day at Flood Fest and we talked about the previous night’s show and I asked if I heard him right the previous night, that it was their first ever show. He told me they’d done a couple warm-up secret shows opening up under a different name for bands like The Drums and Penguin Prison, but SXSW was their first exposure as Coast Modern. And they were going on at Flood Fest an hour later. I texted Caitlin the above pic of the two of us and told her she had an hour to get to the venue. She sped down and we danced and while we gravitated to the two songs we knew at first, we soon found they don’t have a weak link in the seven to eight song set list. The next day we made it a point to be front row against the guard rail for their third show at Hype Hotel. I’d start to notice things like how Trapp wasn’t wearing the necklace he wore the first two shows, how he liked his microphone placed on the stage with no stand since he’d just dance around the stage singing and holding it and how he’d unplug it and walk off with it at the end of his set. But before that last song, “Hollow Life,” ends, watch at 9:13 of the video above as most of the crowd thinks the song’s over. Then Trapp comes back in to sing the “It’s all an illusion!” part before hitting the chorus again to close it out. I can’t wait to hear it with a crowd that knows it’s coming and belts it out with them, so it’s not just my wife and I yelling “IT’S ALL AN ILLUSSSSSSSSION!” from the front row.
Even though they sounded strong night one, it was a delight to see them grow as a band, getting more confident and playing bigger and bigger stages, ending with Perez Hilton introducing them at the best venue in town, ACL Live Saturday night, sounding as amazed as we were that they’re such a new band. Watch the video above to get a feel for them yourself, but I’d describe them as a fairly straight forward four-piece alternative rock band with a smartly constructed songs, a confident lead singer a full sound that harmonizes their vocals and great musicianship from top to bottom. I will be surprised if these guys don’t start breaking out bigger when their album comes out and they get to touring. Expect them on the festival circuit by next year.
While I’m hopeful Coast Modern will break big, Aurora already has and is about to get a lot bigger. Like a young Sia with a First Aid Kit vibe, this adorable 19 year-old Norwegian singer who looks like the female Gelfling from The Dark Crystal is oozing talent and a voice that demands to be heard. And she’s getting there quickly. The video above already has 7 million views, she was on Fallon last week (watch the performance), her spectacular cover of Bowie’s “Life on Mars” was just released and will be featured on “Girls” as the young singer is selling out dates across the U.S. and internationally. Her band is solid, but they’re just background for the singular talent that is Aurora. I can’t say enough about her powerful voice or songwriting, wise beyond her years. Even at 19, she has solid stage presence, gesticulating with her hands, making wide eyes at the crowd and giving off an appreciative humbleness while delivering cute banter in English and stage direction in Norwegian. I could describe her all day, but it would do no justice to her, so seek out every song and video you can find.
When we saw Aurora at Maggie Mae’s, she ended the show by dancing wildly in celebration of an incredible performance. Taking her jacket off and on at times when dancing, she’d revealed the previous day that she felt comfortable taking her jacket off because she’d shaved her arm pits, a bit of banter that gave her manager watching by the side of the stage a laughing fit. She told us she was sorry she was so small in stature, which might make her hard to see on stage. She joked that she’d start watering herself to grow more. Don’t worry, Aurora. You’re about to become massive.
PWR BTTM is two gay guys from New York who wear dresses and a ton of glitter on stage, are funnier than your friends, write great songs and are far better guitar players than they need to be. The songs are awesome enough on their own, but when they take guitar solos, it’ll bowl you over how talented they are. You guys didn’t need to be this good, I’m already loving this. Add their bitingly funny banter to the mix and they have it all. Except money or husbands, according to the aforementioned banter, where at two separate shows they made jokes about their crippling student loans and about a drawer full of scary bills they won’t open. At one point the drummer and guitarist switch places and someone in the crowd yelled out “That’s not right. You can’t do that.” They snapped back,”What part? So much about our band is fucked up.” And brilliant. I hope these two find an audience and happiness. I can’t get enough of their music. I put in “Ugly Cherries” above so you could hear some of their guitar work. “1994” would have worked as well, but check out “I Want a Boy” and “Dairy Queen” for more clever lyric fun. They were one band I pulled from NPR’s 100 bands to watch that I insisted Caitlin and I see and I was happy how much we loved them that we ended up catching two more shows and I miss them already.
We’d seen Oberhofer a number of times already, so I could focus on the little things more. I noticed that the drummer’s girlfriend in Oberhofer with the nose ring will stand crowd left about three rows back during the band’s show and is the one to signal to the band that they only have time for one more song. I saw her do it the second time they played and realized she’s with the band, but wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the relationship until the drummer smiles and sings along to a line about being in love while gazing at her and she smiles back at the third show. I began to recognize why Brad Oberhofer, lead singer and namesake of Oberhofer is checking the stability of a table behind the stage before the band goes on. He’s doing so because he’s trying to figure out the most dramatic way to leave the stage mid-song. I know that’s what he’s doing because the night before he ducked out the back door of Nomad only to come back in the front door of the venue and re-appear by crawling back to the stage through the crowd on his knees with his guitar slung across his shoulder. When he attempts to get back on stage he’ll knock into the mic stand with his guitar, take a shot of clear alcohol from the crowd, attempt to down it, spit it out, and tune his guitar with a broken string while barely missing a beat.
On this day, he’ll decide the table behind the stage is too unstable, so he’ll go through the crowd again with his guitar and mic stand and climb a shed at the back of the venue before being directed down by security. He’ll leap off the drum kit and wiggle around on the floor of the venue and play the rest of the song in the middle of the crowd while facing the stage. When you see Oberhofer for the third day in a row, Brad won’t go into the crowd this time, but, as always, he’ll intro the band by first name mid-song and say “We’re Oberhofer. O-B-E-R-H-O-F-E-R!” as they wind down the set of surf-rock heavy on the guitars with wonderfully catchy hooks. Now, all of this would be theatrics if the music wasn’t great, but thankfully it is. Brad Oberhofer writes incredibly catchy tunes, plays a mean guitar and has a band to match him. They’ve been around a few years and have gotten lower billing on festival circuits and I hope they get bigger, but I’m happy to be able to see them as an undercard being under-appreciated for now.