Austin, Texas — The second night of music at SXSW started off with a promising showcase with Andrea Balency Trio and Torreblanca at Buffalo Billiards. Andrea Balency, born in Paris but now living in Mexico, had already begun her set when I arrived and I could already hear her lovely bird-like voice as I entered the upstairs room where the stage was located. Performing solo, she still managed to make a big impact on the audience with her soft, yet powerful singing, and melodies that are worthy of some serious hip swaying.
In contrast to Balency’s one-woman show, five members of Torreblanca went on stage after what seemed like an extra long sound check, with the lead singer Juan Manuel Torreblanca asking the slowly growing crowd, “¿Cómo les están pasando?” (Are you having a good time?) The quintet’s first song was somewhat subdued for an opening number, but mostly everything played thereafter was upbeat and dynamic. Constantly switching instruments with the lone female musician in the group, Torreblanca played both accordion and keyboards with as much intensity as his singing. The tall, curly-haired, bespectacled front man may have been the focal point for others watching the show, but I was transfixed by Alex “Tío,” who alternated between the saxophone and flute and looked like he was having such a good time playing that I couldn’t help but smile while watching him.
Later I trekked over to the Flamingo Cantina, walking in halfway through New York band !Outernational!, which according to their lead singer, came to SXSW to pick a fight. Though not with any people in the audience, as the lead singer’s ire seemed directed at the powers that be and with society in general. With a punk rock persona, Irish influences, and a songs that surprisingly traveled seamlessly through English and Spanish, their infusion of cultures was definitely unique. Sometimes the songs sounded like music to drink a Guinness to, other songs were made to incite protests and anger.
By this time of the night, after two full days of watching back-to-back bands, trying to survive on little food and even less sleep, combined with plenty of uphill walking, I was feeling a little low on energy — until Los Rakas came on that is.
Their amazing set, definitely a SXSW highlight, was like a shot of auditory adrenaline. Hip-hop in Spanish and English, representing Panama and California’s Bay Area, DunDun and Rico took to the stage with a thunderous presence that made everyone get to their feet and get closer to the stage. Decked out in baggy pants, oversized black and grey tees, and matching gold and silver sparkling chains around their neck, Los Rakas let it be known that they were about to light up the house and get everyone jumping with their catchy hooks and thumping beats that I felt buzzing through my body even after the show ended. With a DJ and one gorgeously glamorous backup singer in a short, black, one-shouldered dress behind them, they ran around the stage, got the crowd to participate, and had everyone chanting during their anthem “Soy Raka” that they, too, were Rakas.
From there I headed to Easy Tiger Patio where British band Django Django was set to play, and I had high expectations for the group considering that the place was packed and my friend and I had to fight our way from the bathroom line to the entrance where they were playing. Perhaps it was the dim-lighting or maybe the low-key stage presence, I was definitely underwhelmed by their performance and Joy Division-meets-Devo sound.
From there we moved on to the Red Eyed Fly to catch the end of Neon Indian’s DJ set and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s (UMO) performance. According to their SXSW page, UMO describes themselves as “break-beats together with 70’s pop harmonies and a minimal Krautrock rhythm section,” and while I had a difficult time giving them all of my attention between the loud banter and people watching, their music served as the perfect sound to wind-down a rewarding night at SXSW.
[Photos of Torreblanca and Los Rakas by the author]