The 20 Best Acts We Saw at SXSW 2023

Music Lists SXSW
The 20 Best Acts We Saw at SXSW 2023

SXSW has always been, and will probably always be, my favorite music festival. I’ve heard endless people complain that it’s gotten too big or too corporate or too crowded, but I’ll take discovering my new favorite band in a tiny rock club over watching the latest superstars on a screen behind a giant stage with 80,000 other people. SXSW is as big or small as you make it, and there’s always something happening worth seeing. We had four people with diverse tastes covering the music at this year’s SXSW—though I think at least three of us had Swedish indie-rock quartet Girl Scout in our favorites. But below are our personal picks. That many of these are from High Noon at High Noon—the Paste showcase presented by Ilegal Mezcal—is mostly due to our initial booking of the bands we most wanted to see going in, and the fact that we all spent a lot of time there. Here, in alphabetical order, are our favorite acts from SXSW 2023. —Josh Jackson, Paste co-founder/editor-in-chief

Bartees Strange at Stereogum’s Range Life

The Washington, D.C. musician managed to power through five SXSW performances before completing his final one at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Strange, who released the blistering single “Daily News” earlier this month, refused to let any kind of fatigue set in as he delivered stripped down renditions of his most notable songs. He opened his set with “Boomer,” followed by tracks including “Hennessy” and “Heavy Heart.” Before digging into “Mustang,” he lamented to the audience: “This song is about being the only Black person in my county. There was my family, then there was everybody else.” He ended with the rapturous “Kelly Rowland,” and it was obvious to fans that he extracted as much gratification from it as we did. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Matt Mitchell

Blondshell at FLOODFest

Few artists have garnered as much hype this spring as Blondshell, the project of singer/songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum. Blondshell’s debut, self-titled record is on the very near horizon, and she played almost all of it on Thursday afternoon at the Mohawk. Decked out in an old Neil Young shirt and knee-length jorts, Blondshell won everyone in the crowd over, just in case they weren’t already madly obsessed with songs like “Joiner” and “Veronica Mars.” There’s a reason she took home SXSW’s Grulke Prize for Developing U.S. Act: Blondshell is undoubtedly the moment, and everyone recognizes that. The Mohawk room she played in was tiny—and the muggy heat from outside was only getting hotter in there—but she, with ease, cracked the whole place wide open. —Matt Mitchell / photo by Matt Mitchell

boygenius at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Baggage Claim

The SXSW banner at the bottom of the arrivals escalator at Austin’s airport on Tuesday simply said in small black letters, “boygenius.” And sure enough, a little after 3pm, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers walked beyond the row of microphones and videocameras barely separating about 100 audience members from the “performance area” (there was no stage) and began to play. It was a little surreal watching just a few feet from the indie supergroup as they traded vocals on songs from the upcoming album like “True Blue,” “Emily I’m Sorry” and “Not Strong Enough,” while some passengers collected their luggage and others tried to collect their wits, dumbstruck by their good fortune. At one point, Bridgers was delighted as the loud buzzer announced a nearby baggage carousel was about to start moving and rushed to start the song to preserve the airport ambiance. Welcome to Austin! —Josh Jackson / photo by Josh Jackson

Brian Sella (of The Front Bottoms) at High Noon

There’s a reason why Brian Sella of The Front Bottoms was chosen to headline the first night of Paste’s music showcase at High Noon. The saccharine frontman, equipped with only his acoustic guitar, poured his heart out on the microphone in front of fans who were as emotional as he was. From the enticing self-deprecation of “The Beers” to the existential drama of “The Plan (Fuck Jobs),” Sella still manages to perfectly encapsulate impressive amounts of self-awareness despite the band being founded nearly two decades ago. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Matt Mitchell

CM Talkington with Renée Zellweger at High Noon

When Austin filmmaker-turned singer/songwriter CM Talkington told me that his backing band for the Paste party would include both Oscar-winning actress Renée Zellweger and Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, I wondered briefly if I was living inside of a Mad Libs entry or getting catfished. But not only did Zellweger join Talkington on stage for two songs, she rocked the last one hard on both guitar and vocals. She also charmed the crowd, stuck around to support the other bands and just generally got our final day of our parties off to an amazing start. Talkington seemed to embody old, weird Austin with his music, lyrics and general spiritual positivity, having survived cancer and entered this new phase of creativity with both thankfulness and gusto. —Josh Jackson / photo by Josh Jackson

DJ Pee .Wee (Anderson .Paak) at the Billboard House

One of the most anticipated events at SXSW this year was Grammy-award winning musician Anderson .Paak taking the stage as his retro alter-ego DJ Pee .Wee. The event, which was presented by Doritos After Dark, happened in the heart of Austin to a crowd that was eager to be there. Sporting a Rick James inspired wig, Pee .Wee dominated the ones and twos for an hour, spinning an array of hits that ranged from Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo” to Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks.” Of course, he paid homage to the pop phenomena that is Silk Sonic by playing “Leave The Door Open,” insisting that the crowd sing it instead of him (he would go on to sing a few of his own hits). Pee .Wee also led onlookers to start a Soul Train line before performing a show-stopping drum solo to Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl.” His energizing aura revitalized those in attendance, even long after his set was over. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Candace McDuffie

Dream Wife at High Noon

This London trio, consisting of Rakel Mjöll, Alice Go, and Bella Podpadec, brought a ferocious punk-rock energy to day two of Paste’s music showcase at High Noon. Their brand of vivacity would be unstoppable if it was captured in a bottle; Dream Wife is captivating for just being themselves. Mjöll’s baby-doll looks are juxtaposed with blood-curdling screams that permeate their discography. Even their light-hearted tale of “Hot (Don’t Date A Musician)” feels more like a blustery warning than a cautionary tale. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Candace McDuffie

Eshu Tune (Hannibal Buress) at High Noon

Though some folks mightn’t have guessed that Hannibal Buress has bars, the actor and comedian recently decided to flex his musical prowess in a big way. Last year, he released his debut EP Eshu Tune–titled after his stage name–which combined Buress’ biting sense of humor with his storytelling capabilities. His packed appearance at Paste’s High Noon showcase excited patrons enough to clamor closely to the stage, where Eshu Tune performed tracks like the satirical “Knee Brace” and more stirring “Kept About 3.” The way the man commanded the crowd simply reiterated his inherent star power. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Matt Mitchell

Girl Scout at Las Perlas

Time and time again, an event like SXSW evokes the purest parts of loving music. During a midnight set at Las Perlas, Best of What’s Next alumni Girl Scout took the stage and stole the show at only their second performance in the U.S. What or who came before and after them didn’t seem to matter, as the Swedish quartet gained dozens of new fans at this hole-in-the-wall in Downtown Austin. They played the old stuff, like “Weirdo” and “Run Me Over,” (if you can call songs off a 2023 EP “old”) but, as we’ve come to learn, Girl Scout have many more songs in their back pocket. Frontwoman Emma Jansson put down her guitar to deliver a rapturous, guttural howl on new track “Monster,” while she and guitarist Viktor Spasov got so loud on “Mothers and Fathers” that it rang the crowd’s ears—all while the melody never became washed out by the toppling noise. The band are natural charmers; still so fresh and shiny that they are discovering new parts about each other’s playing style in real time—which is a gift to watch up close. If you surveyed the front row, you could see each person in it slowly become entranced by the band. Someone even opened Spotify and added them to their library mid-set. When they wrapped up with “Do You Remember Sally Moore?,” there was this almost-indescribable moment where each person in the front row bought into Girl Scout so much that they found themselves singing along with Jansson by the end of it all. It was like watching 75 people fall in love slowly and all at once; the reason we all do this to begin with. —Matt Mitchell / photo by Matt Mitchell

Hello Mary at Chess Club
At CREEM Magazine’s showcase, NYC trio Hello Mary kicked off the Thursday festivities with a heavy, electric 12:30 PM set. Helen Straight, Stella Wave and Mikaela Oppenheimer were so clearly still riding the momentum of their stellar sophomore, self-titled record that came out earlier this month. The Chess Club was a hole-in-the-wall with little signage outside signifying its existence, yet Hello Mary turned it into an entire stadium. Straight’s vocals were undeniable, as was the entire band’s ability to feed off of each other’s energy. As Straight got louder, Wave’s drums would swell up and Oppenheimer’s basslines perfectly shouldered the rhythm beneath the noise. They played “Rabbit” and “Stinge,” and the whole crowd couldn’t get enough of their energy. It almost felt unfair that the showcase kicked off with such a peak. Hello Mary has proven to be an almost unshakable band, one impossible to follow. —Matt Mitchell

Iguana Death Cult

I knew I had to see Iguana Death Cult as soon as I heard the band’s name. And they didn’t disappoint. From the word “go,” the whole crowd was dancing and pushing to their garage and psych-rock extravaganza. Keyboardist Jimmy De Kok stole the show for me, with every banger of a song accented by his percussion and dancing. I didn’t think spinning with maracas would work in a rock song, but I’m happy to report it does. —Adi Har-Shemesh / photo by Adi Har-Shemesh

Jadakiss at Empire Control Room

For those who questioned Jadakiss’ status as a rap legend, he cemented it in that infamous 2021 Verzuz when The Lox battled Dipset. His lyrical talent coupled with sheer showmanship allowed Jada to single-handedly carry that performance, leading the music world to give the emcee his proverbial flowers. It was a no-brainer for the Yonkers native to headline Empire Control Room. His brief set was saturated with classics, including “It’s All About The Benjamins,” “Who Shot Ya (Freestyle),” “Knock Yourself Out,” “Why?” and “I Get High.” Jada also reminded the crowd that The Lox were celebrating 25 years of their debut album, Money, Power & Respect, which is now a hip-hop classic. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Candace McDuffie

JVKE at NME-Bose Showcase 
Wearing a sweatshirt and plaid pants, JVKE took fans inside his resurrected childhood bedroom which served as his backdrop for his performance at Inn Cahoots. From the enthralling keys on “Golden Hour” to the pulsating nature of “I Can’t Help It,” the TikTok star turned bonafide pop star–born Jake Lawson–flexed his melodic vocals which are impressive for a singer so young. “Upside Down,” his 2021 song that went viral, was easily a crowd favorite and felt like a much needed breath of fresh air. —Candace McDuffie

Kate Davis at High Noon

Though Kate Davis’ upcoming record Fish Bowl is her biggest, most-ambitious project to date, the singer/songwriter stripped her instrumentals down for an incredibly intimate set at Paste’s High Noon showcase on Wednesday afternoon. It was just Davis, a guitar and some petals, as she delivered beautiful renditions of her new songs, like “Consequences” and “Call Home.” It felt like the proper precursor to Fish Bowl’s release this week; a good chance to fine-tune the tracks before diving fully into a European tour later this spring. As always, Davis was on her A-game, making High Noon’s indoor space the best spot to be in Austin on Wednesday’s rising afternoon. It’s hard to think of a better way we could have kicked off our showcase last week. —Matt Mitchell / photo by Matt Mitchell

LØREN at Cheer Up Charlie’s
No matter how many bands are on my list to see, it wouldn’t be a real SXSW without some aimless wandering into clubs to check out artists who weren’t on my radar. This year, that led me into Cheer Up Charlie’s for Tiger Den, a pan-Asian/pan-genre showcase. Korean model/musician LØREN was already onstage with the band of fellow beautiful and talented musicians he’d put together for the performance (he plays all the instruments on his album). A co-writer for the K-pop band Blackpink, Løren’s own music shows a deep love for ’90s/2000s rock ‘n’ roll, and the first song I heard sounded like the best new Strokes track in a while. From there he wasn’t shy with other influences like Weezer and maybe Fountains of Wayne. Rock’s demise has long been overstated, but it was still reassuring to see it in such young, international and capable hands. —Josh Jackson

Ratboys at Cheer Up Charlie’s

Ratboys was supposed to play SXSW in 2020 until lockdown stopped them—and the momentum from their newly released record Printer’s Devil—fully. Flash-forward three years later, and the band triumphantly returned to Austin to catch up. As Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning, Ratboys delivered an emphatic, blistering performance at Cheer Up Charlie’s. They played the familiar stuff, like “Elvis in the Freezer” and “Alien With a Sleep Mask On,” but the prize of the set was a roaring rendition of brand new, eight-minute single “Black Earth, Wi.” Frontwoman Julia Steiner floored the crowd with her unrelenting twang and masterclass showmanship, while she, Dave Sagan, Marcus Nuccio and Sean Neumann exploded into a perfect, single organism of rock ‘n’ roll. Ratboys has had all of our hearts for 10 years; on Tuesday night they sealed the deal once again with a live chemistry that remains unparalleled and irreplaceable. —Matt Mitchell / photo by Matt Mitchell

Sid Simons at 13th Floor

A staple of the New York Scene, Sid Simons stands out in showcases, beginning his set at 13th Floor in complete darkness. A Chopin interlude set the stage before his ’70s-style rock blew the crowd away. Simons knows how to connect with his audience. Later, the band covered for Vermont friends Thus Love (who unfortunately had to cancel) with an intimate late-night set after their original slot. I was overjoyed to hear Simons bring back an old favorite “Forever & Always,” a perfect choice to cap off the night. —Adi Har-Shemesh / photo by Adi Har-Shemesh

SUSU at High Noon

There’s nothing more rock ‘n’ roll than New York quintet SUSU. Fronted by Kia Warren and Liza Colby, the band was easily a highlight of Paste’s High Noon showcase with their infectious energy and crowd banter. “Psychedelic Gangster” was an instant hit, along with other gems in their catalog, but it was Warren and Colby’s bravado that made them unforgettable. From parting the crowd in half in order to lay on their backs and play tambourines in the middle of it to raucous call-and-response, SUSU were determined to give everyone in attendance a show–and more than succeeded. —Candace McDuffie / photo by Josh Jackson

The Lemon Twigs at Cheer Up Charlie’s

The Lemon Twigs’ time at SXSW got cut short because they had to jet off and open some shows for the Killers. Before leaving Austin, though, they made a pit stop at Cheer Up Charlie’s on Tuesday night to introduce the crowd to their new record, Everything Harmony, while also reminding them about the old stuff. After a late start due to technical hold-ups, the D’Addario brothers—Brian and Michael—were fully in their groove, sharing a wavelength no one else in the space could penetrate. They debuted new singles “In My Head” and “Any Time of Day” with melodic precision, but not before pulling out some reliable favorites, like “The One” and “Foolin’ Around.” It was a mixed-bag setlist, as the band played cuts from all four records in their catalog. Brian and Michael, in their matching striped shirts and bell-bottom jeans, looked inseparable and unstoppable on stage, surfing into tangential guitar solos. —Matt Mitchell / photo by Matt Mitchell

William Prince

William Prince’s voice stopped me in my tracks. The crowd at High Noon was outright mystified by the Canadian country singer, and by the time he played “Goldie Hawn” at the middle of his set, I was bawling. I can’t remember the last time a live show brought me to tears like that. His songs are universally relatable, and the depth of soul conveyed by his voice makes it seem like a warm hug. When people tell me they listen to “everything but folk and country,” William Prince will be top of my recommendations to change their minds. —Adi Har-Shemesh / photo by Adi Har-Shemesh

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