SXSW 2017: At the Drive-In bring old intensity to their breakneck set

Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive-In performs onstage at House of Vans during SXSW 2017 in Austin.
Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At the Drive-In performs onstage at House of Vans during SXSW 2017 in Austin. Photograph: Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW


The Chicago punk trio are the embodiment of stripped down. Three guys, drums, bass and guitar – and loud, shouty songs that have a clear melodic edge. Playing in a bar where the demographic was split pretty evenly between industry types and bikers, they managed to win over most people with a set that saw one three-minute punk missive after another. Cosmic Zoo was a great example of what they do, with lead singer Chris Sutter growling and hissing his way through inscrutable lyrics that draw on Kafka, Jeffrey Eugenides and Emily Dickinson. It’s an abrasive but charming approach that sees them create a sound that moves between the bassline-driven mantras of the Fall and the more upbeat poppier moments of Bob Mould and Hüsker Dü.

James Bagshaw and Tom Walmsley of Temples perform
James Bagshaw and Tom Walmsley of Temples perform. Photograph: Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW


Kettering’s own neo-psych wanders Temples drew a large crowd at the Mohawk and were one of the most-hyped acts before the festival. The band – James Bagshaw (vocals, guitar), Thomas Warmsley (bass, backing vocals), Sam Toms (drums), Adam Smith (keyboards) – certainly look the part with the clothes, the hair and a sound that screams psychedelia but they, more than a lot of the new groups pulled under that umbrella term, can marry the aesthetic with great songwriting. Tracks like Certainty with its jaunty keyboard line could potentially fall into cheesy territory but tread the right side of psych, whereas tracks like Keep In The Dark lay down a deep, driving rhythm before opening up with well-crafted choruses. It’s a combination which has won them a loyal following in the US and sees them as a band that combines the look with the sound.

Denzel Curry

Denzel Curry’s live show feels more like a workout than a concert. On stage, with only a DJ for company, he stalked the crowd – revealing he almost missed his flight – before launching into a hyperactive masterclass in contemporary rap. High energy delivery, circle pits, non-stop jumping and a keen crowd served to create an atmosphere that felt like a hip-hop CrossFit class. Tracks such as Zone 3, ULT and N64 kept the energy high and showed Curry at his storytelling best. The incessant jumping meant that some of the lyrics became little more than grunts and noises, but for Curry the attraction is in the performance not technical perfection.

Your fitness instructor … Denzel Curry
Your fitness instructor … Denzel Curry. Photograph: Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW

At the Drive-In

Returning heroes can be a disappointment and when At the Drive-In first re-emerged in 2012 for a string of live dates, there was a sense some of the performances were being dialed in rather than delivered with the same notorious intensity they produced the first time around. But in Austin, Cedric, Omar and the gang ran through a breakneck set of their best-known work – most of it coming from their 2001 album Relationship of Command. Album opener Arcarsenal was their starting point and that set the tone for a performance that felt like a band proudly picking up where they left off rather than sheepishly getting back together for one last payday. New material was limited to Governed by Contagions, and that fit in with the older post-hardcore material a lot of the crowd had come to hear. Fifteen years later songs like Sleepwalk Capsules still sounded incredibly fresh and served as a reminder of how exciting At the Drive-In could and still can be. The nine-song set was a pithy warm-up for the band’s upcoming tour and after they ended on that favourite of MTV2 circa 2002 and punk parties everywhere, One Armed Scissor, it was clear they mean business.