You’re walking briskly through the dark, a slight wind whispering through your hair, as tree roots present themselves like a Disney cartoon, seemingly meant for you to hop from one to the other as crunchy, fallen leaves collect and form a path leading you downtown. You no longer remember what day it is, and time is only meaningful as a marker for where you need to be, and what band you’re about to see. You’re so exhausted that other people and structure are flying past you in big blocks of color, but you just keep walking, determined not to miss that next band that you just really, truly have to see.
This is South by Southwest. It is constantly flitting from one show to the next on an almost-empty stomach, grabbing free breakfast tacos here and there when time permits. It is a creature with such a short lifespan, that you devote yourself, mind, body and spirit to it so that you can get the most enjoyment out of it as is humanly possible. This is what the festival brought me this year, and despite seeing fewer bands than I normally am able to, I feel that it was one of my most successful fests to date.
It always creeps up on me. One minute, my friends and I are lamenting the fact that South by Southwest is over, and we have to wait a whole year before we do it all again. The very next, it’s time for a constant barrage of music, libations, and general merriment. And so, here we are again, poised on the edge of greatness (or a great catastrophe, depending on how organized you are). What’s that, you say? You don’t even know who is playing this year? Worry not, o yon procrastinator! That’s what I’m here for. I’ve scoured the SXSW lineup this year and have come up with the below suggestions of bands you really can’t miss. Per our usual format, you’ll find below the name of an incredible band, a brief description of what they’re like, a video of a song that encapsulates what they’re about, and the venues & showtimes where you can actually find them. Some are new to me, some are old favorites. Either way — buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.Read More...
South by Southwest 2011 has come and gone, and in its path of destruction, it has also left behind a lot of great new music to enjoy. This was the most difficult year for me to navigate the conference, because it was the first where I was working a full time job most of the week. Still, I happened upon some exciting new discoveries and also enjoyed some of my well-established favorites, and am happy to pass it all along to you.
1, 2, 3 — Ever since this group’s grungy pop tune “Confetti” lodged itself into my brain, I was pumped to see 1, 2, 3 live and figure out how they’d come off on stage. Lead singer Nic Snyder (who you’ll be forgiven for mistaking for Tobey Maguire) has the perfect pop voice, hi-pitched but powerful. The group’s onstage presence is fairly straightforward, but if you’re patient with them, they’ll treat you to a range of loose, beachy rock songs that sometimes even hint at southern influence. This is a band not quite ready to have a big breakout, but with tons of exciting potential. If you like being ahead of the curve, hop on this bandwagon early; I think Frenchkiss absolutely knew what they were doing signing these dudes.
Young the Giant — In my South By preview, I mentioned that these guys could end up being one of my favorite finds of 2011, or they could be another “their hit is all they have up their sleeve” band. I can now say confidently, they are totally the former. Young the Giant are indeed a young, energetic band on the brink. If you’re not too indie for arena rock, look to these guys as possible heirs to the Kings of Leon. The guys took what appeared to be whiskey shots to grand applause before they ripped into their set, and I only found out later that lead singer Sameer Gadhia was suffering from bronchitis that night; I had no idea, he sounded so incredible. The band’s sound is shiny and clean, but their energy is so raw that you don’t leave feeling that sterilized feeling you might with a too-polished rock group. Every band member is fun to watch perform, but Gadhia is unquestionably the show-stealer. The guys excelled at their fast, raucous songs just as well as they killed the slower, moodier tunes, and they left us “My Body” as their goodnight kiss-off. There is all kinds of awesome going on with this band. Listen, listen, listen.
The Dodos — These guys have been kickin’ around for a number of years now, but I’d never managed to catch a live show. I had always wanted to watch singer and guitarist Meric Long’s fingers fly in the fretboard, and watch drummer Logan Kroeber’s arms pump madly as he pitched out rhythms seemingly inhuman. It is as simultaneously whiplash-inducing and effortless as I expected. The guys mostly focused their setlist on brand new tunes, which fit easily into their discography. The Dodos are definitely straightforward performers, but their intense musicianship makes up for a lack of showiness. The band had things working against them; they were playing at 1:00 am, and they were playing fairly gentle folk music at 1:00 am, but they were still a joy to watch and a band I’d see again live. And I’ll always adore their lush, rich records.
Wye Oak — When I was scouring the SXSW ’11 lineup, I stumbled across this band’s song “Civilian” and was sold enough to know they were a group I had to see at some point during the week. I finally made it happen on their Friday night performance at the Parish. When they first started playing, I was worried; the music was beautiful, but the whole thing reminded me a little too much of my experience with Beach House at SXSW ’09. In other words, I was worried I was going to be bored to tears. Luckily, Wye Oak have way more backbone (sorry, Beach House fans). Guitarist and front woman Jenn Wasner has vocals that howl like some fantastical mermaid-siren’s, and she is so much fun to watch on guitar. Andy Stack is a perfect compliment on drums, adding to the tunes without overpowering them. I think the song that finally really knocked the wind out of me was “For Prayer,” which punctuates with a screaming wall of sound after each verse. It shocks you awake and alive, and I like that kind of fire. And you gotta love another female presence on Merge Records. Got to.
Sharon Van Etten — Sharon Van Etten is, as an everyday person, too cute for words. She’s clearly a total nerd, but she’s a nerd with this singing voice that can grab you by the throat and punch you in the guts and eat your heart for lunch. Her songs are the heartbreak kind, done with honesty and beautiful, relatable storytelling. Van Etten was an artist whose album I’d already fallen for pre-SXSW, and was heavily anticipating her live performance. She more than lived up to expectations, sounding impeccable in a noisy Mohawk as the sun shone down on our heads. The music sounded good (save for one new song the band had to start over; the bass never did quite sound like it was in the proper key). But it’s Van Etten’s voice that is the show-stealer every time. The instrumentation is ultimately a lovely dressing for her vocals, which are deep and luscious, an absolute treat for the ears and soul.
Sarah Jaffe — Jaffe, Jaffe, Jaffe. My love affair with Sarah Jaffe is now a solid year along in its development, and with each new performance, she affects a new part of me and impresses me even more deeply than the time before. Sarah Jaffe has an incredible honey-toned voice, is brilliant at songwriting, and continues to explore new and exciting experiments that, more often than not, succeed with flying colors. She still has a beloved cache of folk-rock and folk-pop tunes from her EP Even Born Again and debut album Suburban Nature, but she now tends to open her shows with an electro-R&B number that leaks into “Under,” where she sings over a loop of her own echoing chorus of vocals. It’s a show-stopper, and has elicited rabid applause each time I’ve seen it performed. If you’ve ever just felt this fullness in your chest, like happiness could be the fluffy stuffing of a teddy bear, except it’s in you and bursting out at your seams as you grin like an idiot, that’s the kind of feeling Sarah Jaffe’s music will give you. Plus, the woman’s stage banter is so endearing and hilarious and personable, you too will instantly fall in love. I’ll leave you with a couple of crude videos of Jaffe’s tunes, just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about (to really get it, see her live. I can’t stress this enough.)
Where you gonna rest your head?
Intro + Under
Here it is – the last preview before the South by Southwest Music Conference descends and we all lose our minds. I scoured the band list to try and find the best groups I could to recommend. Below, you’ll get a quick-hit description of the band from me, a link to a song that exemplifies their sound, and the time and venue the band is performing at. I break it all down day-by-day; if you really love a band, check the sxsw.com schedule to get all of their performance dates (a lot of ‘em are playing 3+ shows). Read on, and then get out there and rock!
Tuesday, March 15
Admiral Fallow – upbeat orchestral pop from Glasgow; like if Freelance Whales had Frightened Rabbit’s accents. The Bat Bar, 9pm
Dry the River – Bon Iver-ish vox over sweet, smooth tunes. Like a brighter Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s. The Bat Bar, 10pm
Fences – Beckish vox, gentle singer-songwriter stuff with a little folksy overtone. (His appearance = TOTALLY deceiving). The Bat Bar, 11pm
Mr. Heavenly – Man Man meets the Ronettes. The Bat Bar, midnight
Surfer Blood – Move the Drums south to Florida to beach up their sound; there you go. Emo’s Main Room at 1am
Wednesday, March 16
Brett Dennen – Paul Simon-y. Pretty voice, pretty songs. Moody Theater @ 7:30pm
Erland & the Carnival – something familiar about this; like Travis-esque vox with throwback pop rock music. 8pm at Club de Ville.
The Black Atlantic – saw ‘em at CMJ, absolutely gorgeous music. Teitur with more folk leanings than pop. 10pm at Esther’s Follies
1,2,3 – gritty pop-rock with a snarl. 10pm at the Parish.
Sea of Bees – 11:30pm @ Central Presbyterian Church; somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Martha Wainwright. Gorgeous voice, she’ll shine in this venue.
Flogging Molly – the perfect band to get you ready for St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday. 11:45pm @ Moody
Sharon Van Etten – heartbreaking singer/songwriter with vocal power that overwhelms you. Midnight at Swan Dive.
The Spinto Band – these are my boys. Super fun and smart pop music. Midnight on the Barbarella Patio.
Young the Giant – This band has a song in heavy rotation on 101x right now, and it hooked me. I’m weary that they might be another ‘The Hours’ for me (where “Ali in the Jungle” is amazing but everything else falls flat), but seriously – watch that video and tell me you’re not curious. Midnight at Buffalo Billiards.
The Dodos – I’ve been a fan of these guys for a while. If you’re into heavy rhythms and incredible guitar playing, check ‘em out. The Parish @ 1am.
Thursday, March 17
Sondre Lerche – gorgeous intricate delicate pop music. I’ve loved this Norwegian since I was 16 (I’ll be 24 on March 16). Not to be missed. Maggies Mae’s @ 9pm
Phantogram – electronic rock, super catchy, bop-able. Playing Lustre Pearl at 11pm
The Kills – Allison. Effing. Mosshart. ‘Nuff said. Emo’s at 11pm.
Emmylou Harris – Classic country darling. Plus…will Conor make a guest appearance? She’s play his set at Auditorium Shores for sure. Antone’s at 11:15pm
Miniature Tigers – saw these dudes open for the Freelance Whales, and fell in love. Incredible onstage charisma, great pop tunes – winners. Lamberts at 11:45pm
Maps & Atlases – really great vox, deep and luscious, plus uptempo rock to back ‘em; reminded me a little of TV on the Radio, but I like this better (keep in mind I’m not a fan of TVotR). Midnight at Red Eyed Fly
Dom – saw ‘em at CMJ, they totally won us over. Fun, dancey, energetic, depth – definitely a must-see. 1am at Club de Ville
Friday, March 18
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – local funky rock; the baby-makin’ kind. Moody Theater @ 8:05pm
JBM – A blog favorite. The kind of gorgeous folk music that will make you ache in your guts. Central Presbyterian Church @ 8:15pm
Alex Highton – sweet singer-songwriter from the UK. 9pm at 18th floor at Hilton Garden Inn
Sarah Jaffe – You know where we’ll be at 9pm on Friday. Jaffe is stunning, stunning, stunning. If you haven’t caught her yet – you must. She’s at Momo’s.
The Bright Light Social Hour – Austin’s men of rawk. Put your fist in the air and let loose. Momo’s at 10pm.
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Thao is a beast. She’s emotive and fabulous and crafts kickass pop rock tunes. See for yourself – 11pm at Antone’s.
Wye Oak – gorgeous folksy music with stunning lead vox. Great for woods-walking. 11:45pm at the Parish
Little Dragon – gorgeous R&B vox and moody/peppy electronic music from Sweeeeden!!! SVERIGE!! Lustre Perle at midnight.
Saturday, March 19
Man Man – Wild and crazy collaborative party good times. 4:30pm at Auditorium Shores
Middle Brother – Collab between Dawes, Deer Tick and Delta Spirit members. Old school country-fried rock. 5:25pm at Auditorium Shores
Bright Eyes – I don’t even know what to say about this. This will be my first ever time catching Conor with Bright Eyes. He’s my musical soul mate. Dig it. 7:30pm at Auditorium Shores.
Pujol – Jack White’s babies. Raucous and fun. Mohawk Patio at 9pm
Toy Selectah – mashin’ up the hits for you to get your dance on. 9:30pm at Prague
The Rural Alberta Advantage - kinda whiny vox (think Neutral Milk Hotel) but if you can get into it, the music is great. Great energy. 10:30pm at Central Presbyterian Church
Ezra Furman & the Harpoons – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! vocals set to folksy pop rock. 11pm at Speakeasy
Royal Bangs – forceful and fun electronic rock. 11pm @ the ND
Royal Forest – Austin heroes; will sometimes cover Neil Young and the Talking Heads. (Full disclosure – I help manage these guys and they’re the bomb. See them.) 11pm @ the Marq
Deer Tick – Gritty country folk rock. 1am @ Lustre Perle
Yoko Ono – Yoko! I mean. It’s Yoko. 1am @ Elysium
BONUS: The Black & White Years are quickly becoming my favorite Austin band. They don’t have any official showcases, but they’re playing gigs every day until SXSW ends. Check out their show list here.