SXSW has finished up, and once again we have survived with minds and limbs largely intact, despite a lingering fatigue that at least I feel. Starting with the Flaming Lips pre-SXSW on Friday the 12th (amazing show despite the terrible venue: Austin Music Hall) and a live performance by comedians from FX’s The League on Tuesday (Nick Kroll, Jon Lajoie, and Paul Scheer were hilarious, but Stephen Rannazzisi bombed) and running through hundreds of free parties and showcases, SXSW 2010 had something for everybody.
All in all, I thought it was a pretty fantastic week, despite frigid temperatures on Saturday. We were able to catch most of the acts that I was excited about, plus a few surprises, and only one act disappointed: jj, who was terrible live.
- Miike Snow, Wednesday night, 1 am, Galaxy Room Backyard
This show was unbelievably good. Miike Snow’s debut album was my favorite album of last year. Fun, incredibly well produced, indie pop delights. Every track is different and yet share a remarkable craftsmanship and talent for catchy melodies and fun. With that album ringing in my head for the past 9 months, these Swedish guys were my number one draw for SXSW and they did not disappoint. Live they were perfect. There wasn’t a single unnecessary note played, everything was perfectly layered, the energy was high, and they just sounded amazing. Plus I got to give Adrien Brody a swig from my flask, and he appeared to be having a good time wearing his gloves.
- Street Sweeper Social Club, Thursday night, 1:00 am, Rusty Spurs
This was one of the surprises. Attempting to arrive early for Glitch Mob, who were on at 1:30, we went to Rusty Spurs around 12:30. We were initially confused to discover that the show was apparently sold out (not a big deal since we had badges), but when we went inside, there was just a room with comedians/weirdos singing karaoke. As Nicky got more and more frustrated with their rendition of Don’t Stop Believing, he urged us to leave. Upon walking out, however, we realized that there actually were two rooms, so we re-entered, and moved through the line at the back of the karaoke room, to discover a packed crowd next door. Not knowing who was coming on we shuffled to the back as the band began to play. My first reaction to Street Sweeper Social Club was, “This band sounds a lot like Rage.” Then Eric asked, “Is that Tom Morello?” I couldn’t believe that it was, but sure enough, this is Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) and Boots Riley’s (of the Coup) band, and they were amazing. At one point Boots sang, “I’m going to tie you up and make you understand.” What will we be made to understand? My interpretation: the system might be oppressing you, but it’s still okay to get riled up and dance and let your frustration out, and try as hard as you can to hold people responsible for their actions, even if it’s only by pointing them out at a concert. This message was clearly expressed in the way Tom Morello appears to be trying to tear down the military industrial complex using his guitar, an effort that involved playing with his teeth, dripping sweat like a faucet was turned on above his head, and generally shredding like I have never seen before. Best surprise of the festival.
- Broken Bells, Friday, 11:00 pm, Lustre Pearl and Saturday, 4:00 pm, Mohawk Patio
I have been listening to the new collaboration album between Danger Mouse and James Mercer since the NPR sample a month ago and downloading it just two weeks ago, and while I have liked it a lot, I was worried they might be too mellow live. I have never been a huge fan of the Shins, partly due to overplay and association with a certain scene (think Garden State), but I love everything Danger Mouse has been involved with. Like Miike Snow, he has a remarkable ability as a producer and musician to put a lot into his music but somehow give the impression that it was only what was necessary to make it perfect, from his work with Cee-lo in Gnarls Barkley to the Black Keys and The Grey Album.
Wanting to make sure we saw this new act, Nicky and I got to the Lustre Pearl hours early at 5:00. We were able to catch Warpaint and Rogue Wave (both pretty great) during the day shows, before they kicked us back out and made us stand in line another hour and a half for showcase re-entry. We were some of the first back in and secured a spot at the front center stage. Unfortunately, we had to endure a second lackluster performance by Here We Go Magic (they opened with Only Pieces, which was fantastic, but then played a number of new songs, which aren’t nearly as interesting as those from the first album. It was an alright set, and I still like Luke Temple, but he needs to go back to the amazing, repetitive rhythms that made the group amazing and stop just writing rock songs). Then we caught She & Him (the new collaboration of Zooey Dechanel and M. Ward), who were supposed to headline but switched slots with Surfer Blood, which was disappointing as I really wanted to see Surfer Blood and didn’t catch them all weekend. Additionally, because of the change, She & Him took about 45 minutes to set up for a show that I didn’t even want to see. Lo and behold, they got on stage and Zooey Dechanel looked really attractive but otherwise, there’s little to say. M. Ward and the backup band were great, but the songs were uninteresting, and Zooey Dechanel’s singing is no more impressive than a hundred other young singers one could find in Austin. She just happens to be famous.
So finally, Broken Bells came on, and they were amazing. The album is well crafted, but performed live it has even higher energy. Instead of making me want to sit and listen to them croon, Danger Mouse uses the drums to make you want to dance, and James Mercer was great. His falsetto on Ghost Inside, my favorite track on the album, was perfect, and each song brings a bunch of different levels to keep things interesting. They were also great again the next day at the MOG party at Mohawk, even if they played essentially the same set.
- Black Keys, Saturday afternoon, 4:40 pm, Mohawk Patio
When we found out the Black Keys would be playing a free show on Saturday, we decided we had to be there. I love these guys and have seen them before, but they are too great to pass by. The entire MOG party on Saturday at the Mohawk was amazing, indoors and out. We caught Dum Dum Girls, Rye Rye, Freelance Whales, Demolished Thoughts (w/ Andrew WK), Real Estate (who I found better live than their album), The Antlers (awesome), Broken Bells (2nd time), and the Black Keys. The rain that came in early Saturday morning brought clouds, biting wind, and 40 degree temperatures for much of the day, which had us dancing to stay warm between sets, but despite the weather, the MOG party was fantastic. When the Black Keys started playing their brand of hard blues, I couldn’t help but feel a tingle in my spine, as I danced away with my face up at the clouds.
- Washed Out, Wednesday afternoon, 2:00 pm, Mohawk, Friday night, 1:00 am, Klub Krucial, and Saturday afternoon, 6:00 pm, Levis and Fader Fort
I have been listening to Washed Out’s Life of Leisure since last year and while I like the album a great deal, I have generally considered it fairly mellow, low fi music that I like to work to, but after catching Ernest Greene’s act three times during SXSW, I gotta say, he brings the party. Backed up by a full band, this show is about dancing. You still can’t really understand what he’s singing about, but it doesn’t matter. The first show at Mohawk had some sound issues that made things a little frustrating, but when he finished the night at Klub Krucial after Memory Tapes, Washed Out had everybody in the room dancing away.
- Lord T & Eloise, Thursday, 10 pm, Barbarella
I had only just heard of these guys a few days before from my friend Jennie, who apparently knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who used to be Lord T. I hope I got that right. Anyway, following a terrible set by jj at the Mohawk, that we rushed to go see, we decided to go meet folks at Barbarella and see this Aristocrunk group from Memphis that consists of Lord T in a white wig and general foppery and Eloise painted gold with hair in curlers and a sick cape. With their accessories and stage presence, it felt like watching a show by crunk beat wielding outlandish wizards. Basically, they were great. For a somewhat comical act, they deliver their lines with amazing skill and alacrity, and the beats are loud and danceable. I doubt I’m going to rush out to buy their album, but it’s certainly a great live performance.
Other great shows that we caught:
- Fanfarlo (I saw them in December at the Independent, but their performance before Miike Snow at the Galaxy Room Backyard was fantastic once again. Probably even better)
- Memory Tapes (I REALLY wanted to see this act, as I love the album, but because of delays caused by She & Him, we had to run from the Broken Bells show to Klub Krucial and only caught the last song. Nonetheless, it sounded great, and I believe we converted some friends who made the entire set)
- The Antlers (Much better than I ever expected. Really phenomenal)
- Local Natives (I didn’t like every song these guys played at the Fader Fort, but they were mostly pretty great)
- Dan Black
- Real Estate (I haven’t liked the album, and Nicky didn’t like them on Saturday, but I thought it sounded pretty good. Very mellow)
- Warpaint (awesome chicks rocking)
- Rogue Wave (don’t know how I missed checking these guys out when I lived in San Francisco, but they sounded great)
- Glitch Mob
- The xx (good like usual, definitely fun at the French Legation)
- MURS (didn’t get to hear him, but love him, and said hello before running over to see DEATH at the end of Saturday night)
- The Middle East (Australian bluegrass/country/folk? I just liked the guy with the sick beard playing a stick covered in bottle caps)
I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I’ll come back and edit later. No real big surprises this year. I wish I could have caught more Memory Tapes and seen the Rural Alberta Advantage again (I love them, but have already caught it. Heard their shows were great). Toro y Moi would have been fun. I heard Surfer Blood was good. Despite getting recommendations for Sleigh Bells, Nicky said they were terrible at the Fader Fort. I also missed Nas & Damian Marley, who apparently were fantastic, and Bone Thugs n Harmony (although I caught some of their after show as I walked by Club De Ville on Saturday night). Also missed The Royal Bangs. Can’t catch them all.
Anybody else have SXSW reviews? Leave comments.
Nicky pimped that ride