The Austin, Texas, musicfest South by Southwest—or “SXSW,” as it is often affectionately/lazily nicknamed—started off in 1987 as a springboard for unsigned acts, an industry convention where music’s next big thing could be discovered while busking on Sixth Street. (For years, this possibility was sort of the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of Lana Turner getting scouted at Schwab’s.) But my, how things have changed: Last year’s headliners included mega-names like Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, 50 Cent with Eminem, and Jack White, and this year’s SXSW will also draw many huge acts who are more accustomed to playing stadiums than Stubb’s.
If you’re heading to SXSW—the music portion of which begins Tuesday, March 12—in hopes of seeing some Texas-sized headliners, here’s who you should check out...
Dave Grohl & The Sound City Players – Nirvana/Foo Fighters rawk god Dave will not only deliver the SXSW keynote address on March 14, but later that night he’ll play a live show with his supergroup, the Sound City Players, which includes Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Rick Springfield, Fear’s Lee Ving, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Rage Against The Machine's Brad Wilk, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, and many more. Even radder: The Meat Puppets are opening. So, is Dave Grohl the coolest person the planet? This star-studded lineup provides more proof that the answer is a resounding YES.
CATCH HIM: Thursday March 14, 11am at the Austin Convention Center and 8pm at Stubb’s
Depeche Mode – The venerable synthpop gods will make their first-ever SXSW showing this year, following in the pointy-booted footsteps of their 1980s peers Duran Duran and OMD, who’ve appeared at recent SXSWs. Not only will the Mode's Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, and Andy Fletcher play an exclusive, Yahoo!-sponsored showcase Friday night at shiny new venue Brazos Hall, but they'll also take part in a public Q&A, conducted by KCRW DJ Jason Bentley, to discuss their illustrious career and their forthcoming album, Delta Machine. It'll definitely be a black celebration in Austin this year.
CATCH THEM: Wednesday March 13, 5pm at the Austin Convention Center; Friday March 15, 10pm at Brazos Hall
The Flaming Lips – These Oklahoma City eccentrics have played gigs that are already the stuff of SXSW legend, like the time they debuted their blood-and-puppets Soft Bulletin review at La Zona Rosa [editor’s note: this still ranks as one of my favorite gigs of all time], performed an afterhours “Headphones Concert” in the basement of a bank, or that time when frontman Wayne Coyne took over a multi-story parking garage for a chaotic “Parking Lot Experiment” that involved hundreds of cars and cassette tape decks. This year, in addition to the Lips headlining the Town Lake Stage at Auditorium Shores to promote their forthcoming 13th album, The Terror, they're releasing the first movie ever shot entirely on an iPhone, A Year In The Life Of Wayne's Phone. What other shenanigans will the Lips get up to this year? Who knows, but it’ll be fun to find out.
CATCH THEM: Thursday March 14, 12:15am at the Belmont; Friday March 15, 8pm at Auditorium Shores
Green Day – The last time Green Day hit the stage, they hit the skids, when troubled frontman Billie Joe Armstrong suffered a meltdown at September 2012's iHeartRadio festival in Vegas and subsequently checked himself into rehab, putting all promotional plans for the band’s ambitious three-part album series on indefinite hold. Now Green Day are back and ready to rock again at SXSW, as they play their first post-iHeart concert. No matter what happens, it’s sure to be a show to remember and one of the most covetable tickets of the festival.
CATCH THEM: Friday March 15, 8pm at ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Photo: Sophie HowarthIggy & The Stooges – Proto-punk legends the Stooges first played SXSW in 2007, back when they reunited for their comeback album The Weirdness; sadly, less than two years later, founding member Ron Asheton passed away. But the Stooges have soldiered on, and this year they return to Austin to promote their ironically/disturbingly/defiantly titled new album, Ready To Die. We imagine Iggy and company will come ready to rock, as well; no one of any age rocks as hard as Iggy Pop, in fact, so he’ll surely do his fallen comrade Ron proud.
CATCH THEM: Wednesday March 13, time TBD at House Of Vans
Justin Timberlake – Yes, that Justin Timberlake. JT’s appearance is just a rumor as of this writing, but that rumor isn’t too far-fetched, considering that headliners in recent years have included the equally A-list Kanye West and Jay-Z, not to mention the fact that Justin’s comeback album, The 20/20 Experience, comes out the week after South By Southwest. We think there’s a very good chance that the “Suit & Tie” singer will be suiting up for an exclusive SXSW event this year.
CATCH HIM: Watch this space…
Kendrick Lamar – The Dr. Dre protégé and breakout hip-hop star of 2012 is set to take OVER Austin, headlining Spin magazine’s always-at-capacity daytime bash, playing three official evening showcases, and probably popping in at various unofficial events. His signature song “Swimming Pools,” with its repeated chorus of “drank,” is sure to go over well with the beer-swilling SXSW crowd.
CATCH HIM: Wednesday March 13, time TBD at 1100 Warehouse; Friday March 15, 1:15am at Austin Music Hall; Saturday March 16, 12:30am at Viceland
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – 2013 marks the release of the first albums in five years from both of these dark, enigmatic rock bands, and the idea of them sharing one stage sounds truly epic. And if Nick Cave and Karen O, two of the most exciting lead singers working today, actually share the stage for a duet, we’ll probably pass out in a nearby BBQ trough from shock/happiness.
CATCH THEM: Wednesday March 13, 7:45pm at Stubb’s
Paramore – It has been four long years since these punk-pop kids released their last album, Brand New Eyes. But after much internal strife and some major lineup changes (founding members Josh and Zac Farro left acrimoniously in 2010), the regrouped and revised Paramore—still fronted by Hayley Williams, of course—will stage a major comeback at SXSW.
CATCH THEM: Wednesday March 13, 12:10am at the Belmont
Vampire Weekend – After taking a three-year recording break, these quirky, bookish prepsters are set to return this spring with their third album, Modern Vampires Of The City. What better way to end your SXSW five-day weekend than with some Vampire Weekend?
CATCH THEM: Friday March 15, 5pm at Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center; Saturday March 16, 12:15am at Stubb’s