Boots clanking against the asphalt, I booked it to East Seventh Street. I hadn’t been to Barracuda since its Red Seven days, but the hum of Austin’s Red River District is always the same. A cacophony of double bass drums, blues progressions, and sincere crooner folk seeped out of the venues and became absorbed by the people. In front of Barracuda’s bright neon sign was, of course, a line. I slipped in, made myself invisible, and caught glimmers of conversations.
What’s going on?
Can we get in?
Have you seen Sweet Spirit before?
This band must be good.
What’s a hot toddy? Tea and whiskey? Weird.
It’s so cold!
Any judgments I made about these Sweet Spirit fans dissipated once I got inside. Relaxed revelers leaned against creaky picnic tables and sipped canned beer. They strolled up to the bar without a sense of urgency and didn’t feel the need to document every little detail on their Instagram page. Sure, maybe they looked calm and composed while smoking a cigarette under the live oak trees, but they were never too proud to rock out to TC Superstar’s ABBA cover.
Okay, I’ll admit it. When TC Superstar walked on stage in their oversized blue T-shirts and glittery eyebrows, I nearly wrote them off. Either they were attempting to out-weird the city’s antiquated motto, or they were artfully crafted and sincere. Their sound had the raw edge of The National mixed with Future Island’s carefree synth pop. And, by the end of the set, I was completely engrossed.
Two dancers grooved on either side of their stage, their movements a fascinating combination of modern dance, lyrical, and jazz. One minute they were leading the audience in a simple step-touch and the next they were whirling like a top. Through each bizarre performance, the dancers gave graceful lines and showed impressive technique. The more we watched, the more we understood. Don’t be quick to judge this band; TC Superstar is more cerebral than you might think.
After a synth-pop cover of “Mamma Mia,” TC Superstar cleared the stage for the headliner. Sweet Spirit has become synonymous with the Austin music scene in recent years, and their shows feel like three shots of espresso and whiskey. As soon as they played the first downbeat, fans rushed toward the stage, found their window, and didn’t dare give it up.
When frontwoman Sabrina Ellis is in front of the mic, the stage explodes with energy. Her grooves aren’t as graceful as the dancers in TC Superstar, but no one could possibly emulate them. Sweet Spirit feels like the posse of outcasts finally found their niche. Their music is a celebration of everything that makes us strange, and they implore the audience to embrace it.
Ellis’ raw vocals oozed with strength in their anthem, “The Power.” In the recording, Ellis uses the bridge to lament about her childhood bowl haircut. On Saturday, her words were a poetic stream-of-consciousness ramble about who she is and who she thought she’d become. Her speech was just vague enough to reach us. It meant something different to everyone.
As Ellis belted the instantly-catchy chorus to “Take Me To A Party,” I heard excited whispers circle around me. Sean Tillman, better known as Har Mar Superstar, weaved his way side stage. Tillman and Ellis recently teamed up to form Heart Bones, and they’re currently touring the U.S playing the songs from Dirty Dancing.
So when Sweet Spirit claimed they had one more song to play, we all knew that was a lie. They stormed the stage again for a vibrant encore with, you guessed it, Har Mar Superstar. The air rang with piercing trumpets, clashing cymbals, and wailing vocals. I heard the words “sensory overload” used a few times, but there was no way to avoid getting swept into the frenzy.
It took hours to return to real life after that Saturday night set. And honestly? I didn’t really want to.