SXSW '11: Music fest is big, loud and (sometimes) tiring

Otto-Tune music blogger Seth Sommerfield breaks down the annual Austin, Texas, music event's best sets, breakout bands and acts coming soon to CNY.

If one word could describe SXSW it would be “exhausting,” but in a very, very awesome way. 

For of four days, Austin, TX becomes the epicenter for the music world.  Live music pours out of every nook and cranny from noon to the late hours of the morning.  SXSW is an audio barrage that pummels even the most intense listeners into a tired mess so full of bliss that all one could want is to hibernate and dream of even more music.

SXSW Sampler

Get a taste of the Austin's four-day music extravaganza:

Truth be told, SXSW isn’t really a music festival in the traditional sense.  It’s far more hectic, cluttered, and diverse than the idealized notions of a Coachella or Bonnaroo.  It’s also more exclusive.  While most of the daytime showcases (usually running from noon-6 p.m.) are open and free to the public, at night SXSW becomes an insider’s showcase.  If you don’t have a press/industry badge (even if you bought one of the $200 festival wristbands), the odds of getting into any of the popular showcases is slim to none. 

Despite this drawback, SXSW still offers way more music than any human can take in.  Here’s a look at some of the highest highs of the fest’s 2011 incarnation, as well as some chances for you to catch some top notch SXSW talent coming through Syracuse’s neck of the woods in the near future.


The 10 Best SXSW Sets

10. The Gay Blades @ The Jackalope (Wed.)

The Gay Blades commit fully to rocking out, but do so with a sly grin and their collective tongue planted firmly in cheek.  Frontman Clark Westfield paraded around with all the style and flair of a revival tent preacher while still blasting through a collection crunchy alt rock tunes.


9. The Antlers @ The Parish (Wed.)

Armed with first class musicianship and an unparallel lyrical ability cut to the emotional core, The Antlers signaled that they are not a one-album wonder with their SXSW shows.  The band would undoubtedly be higher on the list if they had played a few older songs instead of mostly testing out songs from their yet to be released LP Burst Apart.  Still, the new cuts were ear-catching enough to have me counting down the days until Burst Apart hits store shelves.


8. TV on the Radio  @ Stubb’s (Fri.)

More than a few critical darlings of the indie scene aren’t worth all the hubbub.  TV on the Radio is not one of those bands.  The band mixed in some exciting new tunes with a slew of favorites (including set-ender “Wolf Like Me”) to get the large crowd at SPIN’s SXSW howling with joy at the rock that was pouring over them.


7. Kevin Devine @ St. David’s Historic Sanctuary (Sat.)

Devine’s brief late night set in the St. David’s chapel displayed the singer-songwriter’s lyrical chops in an atypical setting.  While some of his words might have ringed a bit blasphemous in the holy confines, the emotion and power put behind them had the audience in the pews captivated.


6. The Photo Atlas @ Peckerheads (Fri.)

No other rock band puts on can rival a The Photo Atlas dance party.  Despite having to play with borrowed equipment and the hour nearing midnight, the Denver quartet was able to whip the packed onlookers into a floor shaking frenzy.


5. P.O.S. @ Austin Convention Center (Thur.)

While he’s first and foremost a killer MC, P.O.S. can also crack wise if needed.  So when only a few people showed up for his performance in a massive room at the Austin Convention Center, he lightened the mood by sprinkling a few jokes in-between ferociously spitting lyrics on songs like “Purexed” and “Optimist (We Are Not For Them).”


4. Sharon Van Etten @ The French Legation (Thur.)

Sharon Van Etten’s melancholy odes and warm sunny afternoons seem like an unlikely pairing, but the meshed marvelously at SXSW.  Her warm demeanor made the match even more enjoyable.  The songstress cooed her way through a sober series of her artfully constructed songs in front of a captive, sundrenched audience looking to escape the dark walls of Austin’s many indoor showcases.


3. Mister Heavenly @ Emo’s (Wed.)

The newest indie rock supergroup (featuring members of Modest Mouse, Man Man, and Islands) might be easily tossed aside by many jaded rock fans and critics due to the inclusion of a certain famous bassist – Michael Cera.  However, SXSW proved that Mister Heavenly is not a band to be tossed aside as a novelty.  The group displays touches of ‘50s melody led by Honus Honus’ and Nicholas Thorburn’s vocal leads.  Oh, and Cera does a damn good job holding down the basslines.  Keep an ear out for their upcoming debut LP.


2. Now, Now @ Valhalla (Thur.)

It was an exceptionally strong SXSW for Minnesota, as strange as that sounds.  Acts like P.O.S., Tapes ‘n Tapes, and the Doomtree Collective rocked crowds for days.  But the crown jewel in the Land of Lakes’ SXSW contingent was Now, Now.  The trio’s brand of mellow melodicism was sickeningly sweet and catchy.  Backed by layers of their fuzzed out guitar, Cacie Dalager and Jess Abbott quietly crooned tunes compelling enough to force this concert-goer to catch them twice despite literally thousands of bands being around.  Now, Now was worth it.


1. Death From Above 1979 @ Beauty Bar (Sat.)

The Canadian noise rock duo chose to play their first show in 5 years to close out SXSW.  It didn’t disappoint in the least.  Not only did they prove they could still get people grooving to their heavy distorted jams, they also proved just how much commotion they could cause when people gathered outside the Beauty Bar’s chain link fence began to riot.  Things got a bit ugly outside (mace, mounted police, ect), but the band weathered cop-enduced delay to finish up their set blistering through a rendition of “Romantic Rights.”  After a half decade off, nothing was going to stop the rock.

SxNY: Acts make their way to Upstate NY

Fret not those who were unable to get down to Austin, some of the best SXSW acts will be playing close to Syracuse in the next few months.  Don’t miss you’re chance to catch some great live music.

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.