I’d been talking about this show for a few weeks now, and like a little girl eagerly planning her birthday party- the day finally arrived, and rest assured, it was an absolute dream. Let’s preface with me, this weekend, making several trips to LAX to pick up artists and take them to their hotel. In between, a few friends and I decided to get dinner at Swingers. While we were crossing the street we got smoked by a car! Seriously. I was hit by a car. It was so bizarre, and I don’t really remember it all happening, I kind of just flew into a puddle and got up thinking, “Aha! I’m invincible now! I came out with just a bruise on my knee. My friend Dan was a little more beaten up than I was. But thankfully, nothing major- we’re totally fine. Really, just something I wasn’t anticipating while preparing for this show. Some people just don’t know how to drive out here. My biggest concern is that this torrential, endless downpour will eventually flood all of Southern California.
Finally getting to the venue to set up was such a surreal/cool experience. All of those weeks tucked away in our office- things were finally materializing, it was real. Our favorite artists were soundchecking in front of us, the deputy mayor came by (really, though). We hooked up our jars filled with lights and set up the visuals created by Nathaniel Whitcomb of Think or Smile. I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Nathaniel for putting together the stunning visual backdrop that played throughout the night. Everyone kept asking about it- it really added to the overall aesthetic of the evening. Check out more of Nathaniels stuff HERE.
The night began with John McCauley performing a Deer Tick acoustic set, as hundreds of people began pouring into the venue. Next up was Blake Mills, an extraordinary musician who mostly works behind the scenes, producing and teaching guitar to some of the biggest bands in the industry, at just 23 years old. Seriously unfair, almost devastatingly so. I kept joking with Alex, “well, what’s the point in going on anymore? Blake has done it. He’s reached perfection”. He plays guitar like no one I’ve ever seen before. He put out a record this year called “Break Mirrors” and it was hands-down, one of my favorites. He performed alongside his girlfriend Danielle Haim and the Goldsmith brothers of Dawes, which was probably one of the highlights of my evening. Danielle Haim is flawless.
After Blake, Guards went on and played a lively set of revivalist rock with favorites like “Resolution of One” and “Long Time”. Seriously, if you don’t have their EP yet, you need to grab it over at their bandcamp. Oh, and bonus- it’s free. After that were the lovely and haunting sounds of Mountain Man, a three-girl acapella with harmonies that will destroy you. I had the pleasure of hanging with them beforehand and they’re the absolute sweetest. They managed to arrest the crowd with complete silence for their set as they whaled and hummed, sometimes without even microphones, just with the power of their own vocal chords and their meditative songs. Their voices are instruments, and their presence is commanding.
After them, Cass McCombs graced the stage with a rare performance. He played alongside members of Darker My Love, the kinds of music that led us into a sombre place, one that was quiet and soft, then brought us back up with classic Americana and jangly rock. I remember hearing whispers of “Cass is playing? He never plays!” so as co-headliners, they absolutely delivered.
The finale was the long-awaited, much beloved Middle Brother with all three front men of Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit, along with Griffin Goldsmith of Dawes at drums and Blake Mills on guitar. They announced that it had been 8 months since their first ever performance at SXSW, but with three masterful musicians taking the stage, they took complete control, and engaged the crowd with entirely new songs off their debut record to be released in March. The tracks sounded borrowed from all three acts, but reappropriated, refreshed to sound new. More of a country-blues inspired sound, they shifted from swaying ballads to fast-paced gritty rock jams. We couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to end the evening, with an encore Replacements cover song and eager cheers from the crowd.
So many incredible people made this happen, and for that we extend our gratitude and love to all of you. All of the bands, thank you Guards, Blake Mills, Mountain Man, Cass McCombs, and Middle Brother. To Nathaniel Whitcomb of Think or Smile, who wasn’t even there, yet managed to steal the show with his gorgeous visual art and animation playing on the backdrop throughout the show. To Scott Toepfer who took beautiful photos for us, to everyone in the Yours Truly crew, Chadwick Gantes andBrandon Tauszik for filming, Carter from Rollo & Grady, Tim from Smoke Don’t Smoke, Andrea from Filter magazine, Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, Zack from Sezio, Meghan Ellie from Levis who flew out from San Fran! (I now call her my dreamboat) to Florencio Zavala who designed the beautiful show poster, to our Invisible Children volunteers- Kimmy, Taylor, Bert and Marshall. To KCRW, everyone at Partisan Records, The Grafton Hotel, The Standard, and everyone at the Troubadour. We sincerely couldn’t have done this without you. We consider you all family, brothers and sisters. Thanks for sharing this meaningful experience with us.