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2023 SXSW Festivals Field Report

Our Favorite Live Performances of SXSW 2023

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Even if you’ve been to as many shows as I have, SXSW always manages to dazzle with its myriad of live performances. The fact that nearly every barbecue joint, bar, and grocery store becomes a makeshift music venue for the week means that you’re bound to see some cool things, even if you’re just walking around the city.

Though there are far too many amazing showcases/performances that we saw to list, here are some of our highlights of the festival this time around… listed in no particular order. -Li-Wei


HARU NEMURI @ End of an Ear

What do you get when you combine one of the best record stores in the US (don’t @ me!) with one of the coolest artists working in the scene right now? You get pure magic.

If you’ve never been to a HARU NEMURI show before, you’re in for some wild times the second she steps onstage. Having seen her last year at SXSW, HARU NEMURI ran through a lot of the familiar beats that make her show so dynamic in the first place – unfettered shouts, fast-paced monologue-rapping, and some seriously heavy sonic distortion. Oh, and another thing: at no point is there a distinction between where the stage ends and the audience begins. The entire world, and by extension the entire record store, is her stage. At one point HARU NEMURI ran across the record store floor with her flashy, long-corded mic and jumped on the countertop, all without missing a beat. “Riot!” indeed. -Li-Wei

Balming Tiger and Dream, Ivory @ Whole Foods (Whole Planet Foundation Event)

I’m never going to forget Balming Tiger’s slightly neutered, yet lively energy appeasing the family-friendly crowd at Whole Foods only to be followed up a couple of hours later by Dream, Ivory dropping F-bombs and oozing angst-riddled lyrics amongst predominantly white families jogging back and forth between kombucha and plant-based ice cream samples. The venue was more of the highlight here, but it was an unparalleled side of SX that included two of our most anticipated acts bringing their all to a general, youthful, and enthusiastic crowd. -Justin

OK Cowgirl @ Mohawk Indoors (Academy Fight Songs Official Showcase)

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from OK Cowgirl, Leah Lavigne’s dream-rock project that we first covered back in 2020. To this day, “Get Gone” / “Don’t Go,” the only two singles the band had out at the time, still float in and out of my brain on occasion.

But at their official showcase at Mohawk, OK Cowgirl somehow took the successful elements of those earlier songs, added a grungier kick to it, and leaned hard into the rock part of the equation. Lavigne was a true rockstar that night, playing her newer songs to a pumped-up crowd. Though I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs that were played during the set, the sheer fun that I had has pushed me to take a listen to their underrated Not My First Rodeo EP… and it’s got me counting down the days until their debut LP will be announced. -Li-Wei

LUCY @ Elysium (Mystic Story / Mandoo Entertainment Showcase)

It takes a lot of work to get to SXSW, especially if you’re an artist from overseas. Visas have to be approved, travel accommodations have to be made, and for many, navigating the chaos of the festival can be a task in itself. So one can only imagine how the four-piece Korean band LUCY felt when their only showcase slot of the festival was marred with technical difficulties. 

It was never clear what exactly went wrong with the equipment and what could’ve been done to fix it (Was it technical issues? Glitching software?), but the band wasn’t able to perform their original songs with the gusto that they deserved – opting rather to change their setlist into a live jukebox of sorts. While the stage crew fruitlessly tried to fix the technical issues, each of the band members took turns playing covers ranging from hoedown country songs, rapturous guitar jams to a touching Joe Hisaishi violin solo that everyone went wild for. Even though there were clear fans in the audience that wanted to hear LUCY’s extensive catalog, it really didn’t seem like they minded this off-the-cuff showing of the group’s other talents.

It’s no secret that the four members had admirably natural stage presence (they were created via a Korean talent show à la One Direction, after all), and their total control and coolness about the situation only enhanced their charming rizz even more. In the end, though this set was probably not the result that LUCY was hoping for, it became one of the most memorable in more ways than one. -Li-Wei

Sobs @ House of Commons (VNYL & Topshelf Records / Friend Oasis Day Party)

It’s no surprise that we at From the Intercom love Sobs, so when the Singapore-based band announced that they were playing SXSW, they were at the top of our list of must-sees. In fact, they were so good that we caught them not once… but twice!

The first night that they played at Cheer Up Charlie’s (Topshelf Official Showcase), there was a flurry of chaos – set times were moved around, people seemed confused, and there were murmurs about a possible thunderstorm that was going to hit Austin that night (which ended up striking minutes after Sobs’ set ended). That bubbling excitement made for an overly giddy set – perhaps more than one would like – which led to a hastily cut set and off-kilter sound mixing. Even so, Sobs persevered and made everyone dance.

But it was the next day’s Friend Oasis showcase (Topshelf/VNYL’s Unofficial Day Showcase) where they really shone. The venue? The tiny backyard of a frat/sorority house (I still don’t know exactly what it was), complete with a moldy green swimming pool and an out-of-commission school bus to set the scene. Sobs played under a tiny temporary canopy, and they were right there on the ground floor with us. Somehow the mix seemed better, more intimate. In a way, the rain from the previous night gave the whole atmosphere a renewed energy that lasted throughout the rest of the day. When Sobs played the hell out of “Friday Night Lights” and “LOML” towards the end of their set and everyone started moving along, you couldn’t help but look around you and wonder how you got to this exact place. This is what live music’s all about! -Li-Wei

Honey Son (Mars Wright) @ Kenny Dorham’s Backyard (Pinoy Potluck ATX Day Party)

Visiting Pinoy Potluck ATX’s backyard show was a spur-of-the-moment decision that set the tone for the rest of my good experiences during this year’s SX. Excellent food, vendors, artists, and overall energy were more than enough for a good time, but I was most blown away by Honey Son’s performance. Mars Wright’s slickly concocted one-man R&B science involved impeccable looping skills, immaculate vibes, and several children providing live percussion that eventually enlisted participation from the audience as well, including us. It was a dreamy, wholesome time that I will always treasure and was only possible through the openness of the Austin Filipino community. -Justin

Thao @ Ballroom A (SXSW Community Concerts)

The Wednesday night flash thunderstorm really threw everyone for a loop, but I guess one of the selfishly positive results of that for us was that Thao’s set was moved into the Main Ballroom at the Convention Center from Lady Bird Lake, which was much closer to downtown and conveniently indoors.

While it was pouring outside, everyone inside – families with small children, stragglers hiding out from the rain, and (ahem) Asian American indie music journalists – momentarily forgot about their troubles and celebrated with Thao. We made it! It’s a party!

With a full band, Thao played a handful of upbeat songs from A Man Alive – notably turning “Fool Forever” into a cool call-and-response that I still can’t get out of my head – and running a few of her other big hits. It’s almost too cliched how picture-perfect the scene was. The rain was pouring, the thunder roaring, and all of us strangers were vibing together to “Meticulous Bird.” Admit it: every indie kid has had to have dreamed of this at some point in their lives. -Li-Wei

Honorable Mentions:

mui zyu @ 13th Floor (Post Electric Artists Showcase)

LÜCY @ Elysium (Taiwan Beats Showcase)

9m88 @ Cheer Up Charlies (Tiger Den [Jaded / Balming Tiger] Day Party)


Special thanks to Justin Ricafort for contributing his favorite performances. This article is part of our SXSW 2023 coverage.

Header photo by Adam Kissick.

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