SXSW '11 Day One Recap

While SU is on Spring Break, the music world is convening down in Austin, Texas, for the South By Southwest Music Festival. The NewsHouse is there to cover it, starting with a recap of the fest's first day.

Under the cover of clouds, SXSW began in Austin on Wednesday.  Music could be heard blaring from almost every bar, restaurant or corner (buskers!), as press, industry types and music fans cluttered Austin’s downtown.  Here’s a quick overview of some of the highs and lows of Day 1:


Best Afternoon Kickstart

Deafheaven gave fest-goers looking to ease into the day a dose of metal that served as a wake-up call at Emo’s.  The San Francisco group’s live sound was brutally heavy, but at the same time was very ambient.  It was a sound capable of rocking faces without making said faces feel like they were being constantly pummeled.


Lords of the Dance

In the midst of their set of cheeky pop rock at Emo’s Outside, the dudes that comprise Darwin Deez busted out some moves.  Between songs they burst out in silly dance routines to music including Rage Against the Machine’s “Testify.”  It may have served no real point, but it matched the playful mood of the group’s tunes and had the audience hooting with glee.


Maybe You Should Quit Your Day Job

For those unaware, Michael Cera is in a band.  A real one (sorry Sex Bob-omb fans), a real good one at that.  Mister Heavenly is the band’s name, and in addition to Cera on bass, the group also features Honus Honus of Man Man on key and vocals, Nicholas Thorburn of Islands and The Unicorns on guitar and vocals, and Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse on drums.  It should be no surprise that when talent like that comes together the results are instantly ear-catching.  The key to the groups sound is how a more traditional indie rock sound and song structure reigns in Honus, who is more focused than in his carnival barker-esque work with Man Man.  Along with Thorburn the vocal melodies seem to harkens back to 50s rock at times, and Plummer and Cera provide a steady groove for the singers to work over.  After hearing just a few numbers, I, for one, cannot wait for their debut LP due later this year.


Praise the Lord of Rock

The Gay Blades know how to rock, plain and simple, and singer Clark Westfield was out to preach his music to any non-believers at The Jackalope.  Their thrash-pop sounds like Queens of the Stone Age, if they grew up surrounded by the early ‘00s New Jersey emo/punk scene.  When Westfield wasn’t in the heat of a song, he was rallying the audience to proclaim “Halleljuah!” or wandering amongst the people reciting his distinct brand of homily.  Judging by the energy of The Gay Blades’ performance, there were likely more than a few converts.


First Time for Everything

Four Fists, the coloboration between rappers P.O.S. and Astronautalis, made its debut as part of Doomtree’s showcase at The Flamingo, and it was clear this was their first go at it.  The duo (who referred to the gig as “our first band practice”) started out with a bang on a new untitled track, but once that was through P.O.S. realized they forgot to bring the other instrumental tracks to rap over.  While P.O.S. went scrambling looking for the tracks, Astronautalis laid down a solid freestyle in memory of the recently deceased Nate Dogg.  When the search for the group’s backup tracks turned up fruitless, the guys performed their two previous colorations for each others’ records (“Handmade Handgun” and “Story of My Life”) and called it a night.


Words Would Be Nice

Now, Now is a terrific pop rock outfit from Blaine, Minnesota featuring grade A shoegaze riffs and Cacie Dalager’s soft haunting vocals.  It just would’ve been nice to hear any of those vocals during their set at The Parish Underground.  The space is not ideal for concerts, but a broken P.A. system makes it all the more frustrating.  Basically all that could be heard was the instrumentals and the very faint inklings of syllables (and this was likely because I was standing only about one foot away from Dalager).  It’s a shame to have such a good band wasted on such terrible in-house equipment.


Indie Til You Drop (Because You’re Napping)

Young Man’s sound is based around three guitars creating a lush layer of dream-like sound. The problem is that it also may induce dreaming, because it may put listeners to sleep. There’s nothing wrong with a little calm music, but during their set at The Parish, Young Man showed that they are the type of indie pop that takes it too far. It’s not the ideal music when the clock reads 11 p.m. and many people have been standing around watching music since noon.


The New Material Gambit

The Antlers are an amazing band and their album Hospice was the best album of 2009.  So it was a bit disappointing that on the first chance I got to see them live (at The Parish), the bulk of the set was taken by new material from their upcoming album Burst Apart.  The reason for this set list was clear – the group is set to play the new album in full live for NPR on Thursday.  Don’t get me wrong, the new cuts were choice, but it’s always hard to get behind songs that have not been heard yet.  It seemed to cause a bit of a disconnect between the band and fans because of the fans love of Hospice.  Some just didn’t seem like they could get into the mood and I don’t blame them.


Rocking Out

The Dodos have gone rock.  This isn’t exactly the Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival situation, but it certainly is a change for the group.   The Dodos garnered a decent indie following for their sound based around Meric Long’s quick acoustic finger plucking and a whole lot of vocal and guitar looping.  But at least on this night at The Parish the setup was different.  Long was no longer seated with an acoustic and multiple mics to sing into, but instead playing electric and doing very little looping.  In fact, The Dodos have added another guitarist.  The new setup certainly lends for a more rocking sound, but it’s not nearly as unique. The Dodos' sound stood out for its free and easy sound that felt breezy and natural.  Plugged in and toned down, they are just another indie band - a very good one, but less special.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.