The 20 Best Performances We Saw at SXSW 2022

Featuring Wet Leg, Haru Nemuri, W.H. Lung and more

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The 20 Best Performances We Saw at SXSW 2022

Two weeks after returning at long last to Austin, Texas, for an in-person South by Southwest—not to mention celebrating our 20th anniversary the only way we know how—the Paste Music team has finally caught its collective breath, and we’re ready to reminisce. Hundreds of bands scattered across “The Live Music Capital of the World” for the first time since the pandemic began, popping up in churches, restaurants, alleyways, parking lots and just about any other space you can imagine, and performing for fans especially ravenous for shows. Some of our favorite sets, we saw coming, while others were pleasant surprises we stumbled upon while making our ways through the musical whirlwind. Some of these bands graced Paste’s own stages at The Pershing, while others performed elsewhere around ATX. The sum total of it all is the 20 best performances we saw at SXSW 2022—look back on them all (or live vicariously through our staff’s still-ringing ears) below.


Bun B

Texas legend Bun B’s career has spawned a second life after the dissolution of UGK following Pimp C’s passing in 2007. With his unmistakable baritone, it’s no surprise that his voice has been featured on tracks by everyone from E-40 to Ginuwine, Big K.R.I.T. to Parquet Courts. At SXSW, Bun carried himself with grace as he barreled his way through his catalog, from “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” to “Draped Up,” reminding fans both old and new of his career that has spanned over 30 years. —Jade Gomez

Cassandra Jenkins

As an overwhelmed first-time (in-person) SXSW attendee, Cassandra Jenkins’ Tuesday night set at St. David’s was precisely what I needed, a hushed oasis of a performance and venue alike—”It feels good in here,” Jenkins said of the sanctuary, tucked away a couple blocks off the hectic Red River corridor. Her set itself was ethereal from beginning to end, lengthy sound check included, from which Jenkins and her band eased directly into “American Spirits.” From there, a handful of tracks off their acclaimed 2021 LP An Overview on Phenomenal Nature sandwiched a near-unrecognizable rendition of Paste’s favorite song of 2021, “Hard Drive,” complete with upbeat guitar chug and dueling saxophones—“We spared you a 35-minute version of that last song,” said Jenkins after, in a radical misunderstanding of the term “spared”—and a new, untitled tune about getting a job at a flower shop (“Jobs, anyone?” Jenkins deadpanned) that was characteristically enchanting. Sorry to say so, but Jenkins’ St. David’s set was a borderline spiritual experience, from Adam Schatz’s first synth note down to Jenkins’ last tender vocal. —Scott Russell

Duke Deuce

Memphis’ own Duke Deuce is a force to be reckoned with. In his explosive performance as part of legendary Texas outfit The Chopstars’ showcase at cleverly named Pour Choices, Duke commanded the stage for a jam-packed setlist featuring hits such as “WTF!” and “Falling Off” featuring Rico Nasty. Whether he’s breaking into one of the many dance moves that have earned him internet virality or commanding the audience to repeat his iconic “what the fuck” ad-lib, Duke Deuce has used the pandemic to his advantage in perfecting his magnetic stage presence that will take him to even further heights. —Jade Gomez

Gustaf

Brooklyn art-punk band Gustaf have generated quite a bit of buzz since their formation in 2018, and they managed to live up to all of the hype during the four sets they played in Austin last week. Tine Hill (bass), Vram Kherlopian (guitar), Melissa Lucciola (drums), Tarra Thiessen (percussion) and Lydia Gammill (lead vocals) tore through a blistering show at the second day of Paste’s party at The Pershing. Armed only with children’s toys and household objects used for percussion, pitch-shifted backing vocals and the perfect amount of charm to balance out their kookiness, it’s easy to see why the band seemed to win over pretty much anyone within earshot. —Elise Soutar

Haru Nemuri

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Sometime around 1 a.m., the Tokyo-based Haruna Kimishima (performing under the moniker Haru Nemuri) takes the stage for the evening’s final soundcheck. Kimishima, whose cheeks are dusted in a chunky silver glitter, surveys the bristling Cheer Up Charlie’s crowd while a crew member comes over to lower her mic stand. Being quite petite and having just been preceded by a platform-clad Julia Cumming (of Sunflower Bean), it feels as if the stand drops nearly a foot in height. Kimishima chuckles lightly as the stagehand twists the stand back into position; whether this laugh comes at an amusing observation of height difference or because the singer plans to never stay in one place long enough to actually make use of a mic stand, I am still trying to deduce. The guttural death-metal roar that rises from Kimishima’s throat only seconds into the setlist (it’s “kick in the world,” the explosive title track from her 2018 EP that lands somewhere between electro-punk, rap and J-pop) shocks and intrigues with an energy that towers well beyond the reach of any mic stand extension. Kimishima knows this and latches on, heaving her body to the beat while her free hand hurls firstly towards heaven, then in an air-guitar roundhouse, then back to a desperate clutch of the microphone resembling something of a prayer. This is how the next 45 minutes continue, Haru Nemuri a whirling dervish, stumbling as if bulletstruck, limbs playing the part of both dodgeball and dodger. If Kimishima is out of breath, she doesn’t show it, electing still for wilder movement. “Dance with me!” she cries before darting through the crowd, my fellow attendees dutifully lifting our eccentric ballerina’s microphone cord overhead to provide a clear path for her urgent romp. Back onstage, Kimishima addresses us warmly, a gigantic smile plastered across her face as she delivers a quick lesson in Japanese before inviting us to sing along. Most of the audience, myself included, do not speak Japanese. Kimishima seems to want our effort more than our perfection, and it’s clear by this point that we are all simply honored to be sharing this moment in time with her, so we oblige. Bows come too soon, but still, Haru Nemuri’s spell does not wane. —Lindsay Thomaston

Horsegirl

Fresh off announcing their full-length debut Versions of Modern Performance (June 3, Matador), Chicago trio Horsegirl laid effortless waste to a packed-out Cheer Up Charlie’s crowd on their way to a Grulke Prize win for Developing U.S. Act. If anything, the moment was too small for vocalist-guitarists Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein, and drummer Gigi Reece, who performed with a coolly detached command that belied their years (Cheng and Reece are college freshmen, and Lowenstein still a high school senior)—no bass, no banter, no problem. Cheng and Lowenstein’s vocals were mixed noticeably low, but it didn’t matter, a testament to their hard-charging rock’s unwavering attention to melody that keeps you leaning in and compelled. Lead Versions of Modern Performance single “Anti-glory” was particularly mesmerizing, the band’s commands to “dance” impossible to ignore. —Scott Russell

King Hannah

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Liverpool’s King Hannah was named one of Paste’s Best of What’s Next acts for a reason, and their performance at our anniversary celebration proved that. The band’s tight grasp on American folk and blues paints ominous and sometimes humorous portraits of daily life. Frontwoman Hannah Merrick is an enigma, delivering each line with a subtle intensity that can bring anyone to their knees. A special treat was their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” a fitting tribute to the musical lineage that spawned their take on rock and roll. King Hannah proves music knows no borders. —Jade Gomez

Magdalena Bay

When we saw rising synth-pop stars Magdalena Bay perform at last year’s all-digital SXSW, Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin livestreamed from a living room, their DIY setup complete with green-screen visuals and artificial crowd noise. Safe to say the duo leveled up for their sole 2022 set, commanding the corner stage at Cheer Up Charlie’s and delivering an early highlight of a head-spinning week. Tenenbaum and Lewin pulled most of their setlist from their acclaimed 2021 debut Mercurial World, from the bouncy “Dawning of the Season” to the positively ebullient “The Beginning,” and closed with their breakout 2019 hit “Killshot.” Lewin was locked in all the way through, in perpetual motion between his guitar, bass, keys and computer, while Tenenbaum’s cool confidence and vocal prowess only ramped up as their set progressed. Ain’t no dance party like a Mag Bay dance party, and they’ll only get bigger from here. —Scott Russell

Narrow Head

Narrow Head’s late-night set at Wednesday night’s Run for Cover Records showcase was, in my professional opinion, hard as hell. The Houston-based quintet, led by vocalist and guitarist Jacob Duarte, unleashed wave after wave of heavy-shoegaze sludge, blending brute force with big hooks, and stoking a full-blown mosh inside the tiny Vaquero Taquero. Duarte’s vocals vacillated between a jaded post-grunge drone, restrained crooning and throat-shredding screams, all riding on the band’s triple-guitar onslaught. In the same vein as bands like Hum and Nothing, Narrow Head’s melodic post-hardcore sound is overwhelming in the best way—at one point, I head-banged so hard, I forgot where or who I was, which is only a slight exaggeration. Narrow Head’s invigorating set was a SXSW performer favorite, as well: We spotted members of Enumclaw and Wednesday rocking out in the front row. —Scott Russell

Olivia Kaplan

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Tonight Turns to Nothing, the debut album from Olivia Kaplan, is an astoundingly underrated gem in the crowded wispy singer/songwriter field. It sounds more effortless and timeless than other folky indie records, and it attempts to uncover complicated emotional truths without ever coming off as self-indulgent or esoteric. Plus, there’s just something about Kaplan’s airy voice that activates the pleasure centers in my head, so it was a no-brainer to catch one of her SXSW sets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rowdy, late-night Hotel Vegas crowd wasn’t particularly primed to hear one of Kaplan’s delicate solo sets. However, it’s a mark of a great songwriter to play a quiet set with no backing band to a loud, largely disinterested crowd and still connect with those who were listening hard enough. Kaplan’s set was so tender and emotionally communicative that I feel bad for anyone in that room who wasn’t fully present. —Lizzie Manno

Pillow Queens

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Dublin’s Pillow Queens have been Paste favorites for a while now, so of course they fit right in on the first day of our party, put on in collaboration with Women That Rock. Watching their performance back, it’s hard not to look on (and listen) in delight and awe at the band’s combination of warm vocal harmonies, earworm guitar hooks and genuinely funny stage banter. Through renditions of all three singles from their forthcoming album Leave the Light On and highlights from their 2020 debut In Waiting, it was impossible to miss the sheer passion Pamela Connolly, Sarah Corcoran, Cathy McGuinness and Rachel Lyons put into what they create (not to mention that it’s hard not to immediately match the energy they bring to it). Though they mentioned not being used to heat in Austin, it seemed like most of the light was coming from the stage once they graced it with their killer set. —Elise Soutar

Pom Poko

A no-brainer highlight from Day 3 of Paste’s party at The Pershing, Norwegian four-piece Pom Poko’s set had our team arguing over who would get to write about it. I’m convinced that vocalist Ragnhild Fangel had more fun than any other person, let alone performer, at SXSW this year, pogoing with the audience and giddily dancing through the band’s spiky art-rock explosions. Drummer Ola Djupvik and bassist Jonas Krøvel could not have been more on point, stopping, starting and shifting gears with unreal seamlessness while guitarist Martin Tonne made an absolute blur of his fretboard. Fangel was the impossibly charming presence at the center of it all, negotiating the band’s alien instrumental landscapes with a joyfulness that swiftly spread through the room. Cheater tracks like “Like a Lady” positively erupted through the speakers, melding weapons-grade guitar-rock with Fangel’s rosy melodies. If there was a single set at SXSW 2022 worth describing as “irresistible,” it was Pom Poko’s. —Scott Russell

S.G. Goodman

S.G. Goodman’s performance at the Paste party can best be described as “spooky,” with her sprawling Kentucky tales testing the expectations of country music. Her infectious passion reaches into her spine-chilling vibrato, reminiscent of the country crooners before her. Goodman’s powerful presence is as rugged as it is elegant, with a rustic edge that carries on into the vivid pictures she paints in her music. —Jade Gomez

Snotty Nose Rez Kids

First Nations hip-hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids wear their identities proudly, and that’s not a bad thing. As the lone hip-hop act at the Paste anniversary party, the Juno Award-winning act brought out the big guns. With explosive production that can be best compared to The Bomb Squad, their politically charged raps deal startling blows without ever sounding tiresome. The two juggle infectious songs of Native pride (“Boujee Natives”) with hard-hitting expressions of land reclamation and anger. Snotty Nose Rez Kids are a thrilling hip-hop act that only become more powerful in a live setting. —Jade Gomez

So!YoON!

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Seoul’s Se So Neon are one of today’s best bands—no one does delectable and cerebral guitar pop quite like them. Their latest project, 2020’s Nonadaptation, was full of R&B and electro-pop tinges, and while many indie rock bands struggle to pull off a funkier sound without sounding dated or cheesy, Se So Neon sound futuristic and cool. Their lead vocalist and guitarist Hwang Soyoon also makes music under the moniker So!YoON!, and like Se So Neon’s, her music is full of engrossing textures and dynamic song structures. While Se So Neon did not appear at SXSW (though they’re set to embark on their first North American tour later this month), So!YoON!’s inclusion was still exciting. Her Friday night set at the Jaded showcase displayed a cleaner, more pop-oriented sound, and her smooth, charismatic voice had a clear grip on the audience, as did the mercurial synths. Everything Soyoon has released so far sounds effortlessly interesting, and her SXSW set was no different. —Lizzie Manno

Sudan Archives

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It’s clear that Sudan Archives (born Brittney Parks) has garnered quite a lot of attention since she was originally slated to play SXSW in 2020, and certainly more since her performances in 2017 and 2018. Rightfully so, as the singer, songwriter, producer, and self-taught violin virtuoso has carved out a place in music that is nothing less than visionary. Inspired by West African fiddling and grounded in irresistible hip-hop beats, Parks takes her ear for the experimental and wields a sound that is all at once avant-garde and accessible, forging a voice of Afrofuturism that defies genre and demands curiosity. After downing a tequila shot (to the encouraging cheers of the eager crowd, of course) Sudan Archives opened her set with a new song (a honey-slick ballad expertly woven with Parks’ electronic sensibilities) before tapping her platformed boot against a loaded pedalboard. Something like an orchestra warmup, but perhaps if you were underwater while listening to it, began to fill the room in a restless crescendo. Another tap against the pedalboard and the swell was snapped away to the catchy violin hook of “Confessions.” The crowd erupted. Parks could hardly contain her grin at the reaction. A holographic butterfly strapped to her wrist bounced its wings with every glint of her bow. She looked like she was having fun, and so was I. Though the set arrived an hour late, I’m reminded of a Julie Andrews quote from the movie The Princess Diaries: “A queen is never late. Everyone else is simply early.” Reader, I was simply early. —Lindsay Thomaston

Walt Disco

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I first heard the Scottish band Walt Disco roughly four years ago, when they released a single called “Dream Girl #2,” which was packed with impressive, dramatic crooning and pop immediacy. That track has since been scrubbed from their internet, along with their debut EP No Need for a Curtain, on which it also appeared. Since then, a lot has changed for Walt Disco—most notably, that their songs sound sharper and that they engage much more overtly in gender exploration. After several years worth of singles and EPs that traversed various styles, their debut album Unlearning is now set to drop on April 1, and having seen their live show at SXSW, it feels like they’re finally coming into the peak of their powers. Channeling the wonky post-punk of Orange Juice, the larger-than-life pop of David Bowie and the gender-bending theatricality of Rocky Horror, their set was utterly magnetic. Lead singer James Potter not only drew the crowd in with their alluring, jaunty presence, but also put on one of the great vocal performances of the festival. —Lizzie Manno

Wednesday

After the band’s whirlwind SXSW concluded, Wednesday frontperson Karly Hartzman sparked a conversation more important than any one performance, pulling back the curtain on the potentially prohibitive costs rising artists take on in order to play the festival. Having that in mind makes us even more grateful for the Asheville quintet’s Wednesday (natch) evening set that we saw, which packed Mohawk’s compact indoor room with Americana-suffused, shoegaze-y guitar rock that towered to the rafters. Hartzman—clad in a fit for the ages, complete with a bedazzled “Sexy” hat and perhaps the rudest T-shirt ever screen-printed—led Wednesday in putting on the kind of dynamic show that made me both thankful I remembered to bring earplugs, and perpetually tempted to take them out, my hearing be damned. The band brought the noise of not only their 2021 standout Twin Plagues, but also a number of new songs we can’t wait to catch on wax. —Scott Russell

Wet Leg

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The longest line I saw at SXSW this year was to get into the British Music Embassy showcase for Wet Leg. Inside the packed Cedar Street Courtyard, founding duo Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers were leading their bandmates in doing everything they could to live up to the hype. Chiming guitars and Ellis Durand’s bright post-punk bass lines rang out like church bells in the cathedral-like hall, and Teasdale’s dry wit on songs like “Wet Dream” and closer “Chaise Longue” had the crowd hanging on every word. Isle of Wight, their home just off England’s southern coast, might be best known for its 1970 festival with Jimi Hendrix that outdrew Woodstock, but this young band with just five released singles have already put it back on the musical map. —Josh Jackson

W.H. Lung

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I was very impressed by W.H. Lung’s Iceland Airwaves set in 2019, in which they primarily performed songs from their debut album Incidental Music on a tiny dive bar stage. Now that they have a second, more danceable LP Vanities under their belt and were provided with far more spacious stages at SXSW, there was always a possibility that these live shows would reach new heights. Not only did it feel like W.H. Lung kicked into higher gears at SXSW, but it also felt like there was literally no limit to these gears. Lead singer Joe Evans was light on his feet, constantly bouncing around, dancing and gleefully engaging with audience members as if it was the last show he would ever play, all without any of these interactions feeling cheap or forced. He frequently inserted himself into the middle of the crowd, hellbent on provoking an affecting reaction and leaving the audience in more of a frenzy than he first found it, and was mostly successful in doing so. With their infectious dance-pop tunes and unmatched ability to make every crowd interaction feel unforgettably euphoric, there’s no reason this band shouldn’t be playing much bigger stages. —Lizzie Manno