Written by Emilee Lindner • Photography by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images • March 9, 2017
Lady Gaga caused some controversy—no big shock there—with her performance at 2014’s SXSW, when she invited a performance artist to come onstage during ARTPOP’s “Swine.” The artist vomited on Gaga in brightly colored liquid throughout the performance, causing fans to get a little squeamish in the crowd. While the show made national news, it prompted a conversation about what art is.
Soundgarden blessed SXSW with a performance of the seminal Superunknown album, which was turning 20 in 2014. Though Chris Cornell admitted the band didn’t have much time to rehearse for the show at Moody Theatre, they flawlessly played songs like “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” with original tunings, meaning they switched guitars every song. With an unmatchable throwback vibe, Soundgarden fans ate this show right up.
SXSW invited Johnny Cash to deliver the keynote address at the second-ever event. He told music industry pros about how he learned to play guitar and what it’s like to continue improving after a hefty career. And guess who opened for Cash? Beck, who was just a weirdo with an unlikely hit at the time.
Right before she was about to make it big with “I Kissed A Girl,” a still-green Katy Perry took the stage at SXSW 2008 to perform some songs off her upcoming One of the Boys LP. Tunes like “Waking Up In Vegas” and “Hot N Cold” would go on to become hits. Watching Perry on the small stage is surreal, as she would be playing arenas just years later.
In 2013, the punk legends appeared onstage for a House of Vans-sponsored show where they played songs from their 2013 album Ready to Die. The show featured guitarist James Williamson, who played with the band for the first time since 1973, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
When noise rock outfit Death from Above 1979 decided to reunite, the band started a near-riot at SXSW. No, really. During a raucous and sweaty set—their first in five years—at Beauty Bar, fans outside started pushing at barriers, anoying police and causing a scuffle. The show stopped until things got in order, and from there, the iconic show finished out.
Big Star was scheduled to perform at SXSW in 2010, but frontman Alex Chilton died of a heart attack a week before the show. To pay tribute to the late mastermind, the remaining trio invited other musicians onstage, instead of canceling the gig. Among those who honored Chilton: R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, M. Ward, the Lemonheads’ Evan Dando, Sondre Lerche, John Doe, the Watson Twins, the Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood. A heartwarming and fitting memorial.
It was 2007 and Amy Winehouse was starting to blow up in the U.S. For a few lucky music lovers, the soulful songwriter performed “Back to Black,” “Rehab” and other up-and-coming hits from her sophomore album, Back to Black. Winehouse passed away in 2011, making this an even more precious performance.
It’s always fun to go back and witness a band’s live show before they really make it big. The White Stripes played SXSW in 2001, right before they released breakout album White Blood Cells. As you can see, the crowd was awfully chatty. Compare that to years later when Meg and Jack White’s project would win Grammys. Oh, how things change.
Before he became the salt-and-peppered-haired human rainbow that we know now, Wayne Coyne was herding together volunteers to play a The Flaming Lips’ cassette on their car stereo. (This was 1997, keep in mind.) They got together 30 cars for the “Parking Lot Experiment”—kind of like a car orchestra. Shortly after, the band released their eighth album, Zaireeka.
FIND TICKETS FOR