SXSW '11 Day Two Recap

SXSW keeps a' rollin' along in Austin and The NewsHouse was on the scene to seek out the best of day two.

Downtown Austin was even more abuzz as the second day of SXSW commenced.  Not only were more bands and fans rolling into town, but there were also two little events you may have heard of (St. Patrick’s Day and the opening of the NCAA Tournament) bringing more non-music folk out.  Needless to say, it appears that some of these individuals may have had an alcoholic beverage or two (or six or twelve).  But that’s just atmospheric ornamentation.  On to the more pressing matter of the actual tuneage of day two…


Melancholy in the Midday Sun


After spending most of SXSW until late Thursday afternoon in the cramped confines of Sixth St.’s dingy dives, the outdoor Lawn Party at the French Legation was a welcomed reprieve.  Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s set proved to be the perfect compliment to the surrounds – an audio breath of fresh air to accompany the literal ones.  As she worked through her catalogue of sad songs, she did so with a smile as warm as the Austin afternoon heat.  It helped keep things light even when the lyrics suggested otherwise.  After breaking a guitar string before the finale, Van Etten attempted something that few notable SXSW performers would dare do – she sang her last song acappella.  If anything, this further helped showcase how emotionally naked her music is and the loud cheering after her last note signaled the crowds appreciation for that.



Most Criminal Under-attended Set


When P.O.S. hit the Studio Day Stage at the Austin Convention Center (a room can probably hold well over 1,000 people), twos of threes of spectators were there to greet him.  There were literally more people resting on bean bag chairs in the back of the room, then anywhere near the stage.  But the Minnesota MC wouldn’t be deterred.  He was incredibly playful with the small turnout.  He started the set by becoming (presumably) the world’s first rapper to perform slouched in a bean bag chair and continued crack wise for the remainder of his time.  Topics ranged from looking foolish skating down Sixth St. with an almost entirely unbuttoned shirt to his desire to break into people’s homes only to replace their crappy stuff with better things (coconut water for a coffee maker, for example).  Oh and there’s the fact that between all the laughs, P.O.S. showcased why he’s one of the best rappers alive and has garnered respect from the likes of Kayne West and other more well-known names.  He kept his flow tight while blistering through tunes from the tremendous LP Never Better and old bangers like “P.O.S. Is Ruining My Life.”  It turns out the real joke was on the throngs that missed this set.


Best One-man Band Expanded


Eric Elbogen, the man behind Seattle’s Say Hi, has a reputation for going through touring musicians like Lady GaGa goes through ugly dresses.  Recording all the instruments for Say Hi records, Elbogen has developed a need for control, but when he’s actually willing to accept his touring partners the results can bring his indie rock tunes to life.  On this night, as part of the Barsuk Records showcase, he manned both the drums and acoustic guitar, with a bassist and guitarist/keyboardist filling in the rest of the sounds that bounce around in his head.  While the results were nothing to blow listeners out of the water, the songs sounded full and solid.  Elbogen may never find his true kindred touring spirts, but just as long as he keeps touring whatever is okay.


She Bringeth the Thunder



We Are Hex’s Jilly Weiss doesn’t mess around.  The feather-adorned frontwoman has a commanding, passionate presence.  The power she sung with at Valhalla was appropriately fitting of a Norse goddess.  The strength of her bellow called to mind Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick circa “White Rabbit,” but in a post-grunge era.  Backed by the rest of the group’s grime rock noise, We Are Hex did enough enchanting to capture the small group gathered to watch.


Fred Astaire Ain’t Got Nothing on This Tapping


Maps & Atlases are just like any other indie band on their songs where normal guitar strumming is employed. But what happens when guitarists Dave Davison and Erin Elders bust out dual tapping leads?  The fluttering of their fingers on the fretboards creates a cascade of notes that is pure math rock bliss.  Thankfully, their was plenty on display at Red Eye Fly on Thursday night.


One other note about M&A – I’m constantly impressed/confused by how much better Davison’s vocals mesh with the rest of the band live in comparison to the group’s recorded efforts.  In a world where vocals are constantly under-mixed live, it doesn’t make sense that a singer would sound vastly better in person than filtered through an array of studio tricks.  But heck, it makes for a better show.

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