SXSW music photos and review: The Drums, Howler, Fun. and more

Our intrepid reporter files a last hurrah from Austin.

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Photograph: Marielle Solan
Avalanche City
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Avalanche City
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Avalanche City
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Avalanche City
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Avalanche City
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Delta Spirit
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Delta Spirit
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Delta Spirit
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Delta Spirit
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Delta Spirit
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Delta Spirit
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Devin
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Devin
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Devin
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Devin
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Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran
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Elle King
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Elle King
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Elle King
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Elle King
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Elle King
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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fun.
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Howler
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Howler
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Howler
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Howler
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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Of Monsters and Men
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The Drums
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The Drums
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The Drums
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The Drums
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The Drums
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The Drums
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The Drums
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Willy Mason
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Willy Mason
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Willy Mason

Friday started at Lustre Pearl once more, where I caught Minneapolis band Howler headlining the Dickies/Filter party with a set of lazy-boy, sunglass-strapped summer songs. One highlight was "America," the opening track from its self-titled debut, although the band put the most oomph into "Beach Sluts," which is about a girl with loose morals stealing your soul—Rush Limbaugh, please add this to your bedtime playlist. England is obsessed with Howler, and I can see why: The group writes red-blooded songs about growing up in the USA, and plays like it worships the Strokes.

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I stopped by the Hype Hotel to catch a song or two from Sweden's droney Korallreven. Frontman Marcus Joons wailed over synths while wearing a flower behind his ear, but the place was cooking up a strange light show and filled with Doritos propaganda, so I left pretty quickly. The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to attend parties featuring long lines, angry door people and exclusive guest lists: I was denied at the Instagram/Nylon–sponsored Nick Waterhouse buzzy soul show at the W, and one look at the line forming on Sixth Street for Jack White at the Stage on 6th—it was snaking around the block at 4pm for a midnight show—made me fear for my life.

From 8pm on, I bounced between Stubb's two stages during the TONY showcase. First up outdoors was singer-songwriter Ed Sheehan, who got the crowd pumped with some John Mayer–ish singsongs and a few minutes of random rapping. Iceland's Of Monsters and Men followed with a neo-Americana vibe featuring two sets of keys, an acoustic guitar, electric guitar, an accordion player and airy, female-fronted vocals. The set was a standout: a perfect match for the evening's cool breezes and canoodling couples. Timbaland apparently agreed, because he strolled into the VIP section with a posse around 10pm, wearing a big pair of headphones that covered one ear. Maybe he was streaming last night's Bruce Springsteen show, where Arcade Fire guested by covering "This Land Is Your Land"—awesome, considering the band is Canadian. I was so busy staring at the beads of sweat forming on the back of Timbaland's neck that I missed most of Delta Spirit, but made it inside to catch the end of a bluesy performance by Brooklyn's Elle King, who purred, "This is for all the ladies out there," before inserting a randy bit of Khia into her set: "My neck, my back / Lick my pussy and my crack."

Back outside, Fun. featured lead singer Nate Ruess (previously of the Format) rocking a Canadian tuxedo and seducing every girl-heart in the near vicinity with its merrymaking indie pop. Janelle Monáe didn't show up to croon the hook on "We Are Young," but judging by the screams of appreciation and Ruess's ever-reddening face, her absence wasn't mourned all that much. You've already read about Devin's set at the Frenchkiss showcase; the band also played indoors at our affair, putting its collective back into the job with aplomb and spirit that suggested its members had slept well that week. (They hadn't.)

Sister duo The Pierces scooped up the last indoor slot before closing time for its white-wedding-dress folk-rock. Brooklyn's The Drums closed the night, channeling New Order and the Smiths in tight black pants and inspiring a full-on dance party that consumed the last bit of energy anyone had been saving. The furtive ass-shaking peaked during the band's single "Days," and I looked over the railing to see a guy in a Where's Waldo striped T-shirt pogoing as if his life depended on it, just before frontman Jonny Pierce segued into the slow-waltz melody of "I Need A Doctor," from Portamento.

Before stumbling back onto 6th Street, I briefly spoke to someone who claimed to work for the National Enquirer, who insisted he was at SXSW chasing 1,000-pound baby aliens. My ears were ringing (as were everyone's), so I screamed in his face, "I'm stealing that as a band name," turned on my heel and left.

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