With 1,300 official
showcases and probably another 1,000 unofficial gigs at daytime and
after-hours parties, record stores or simply on the streets of Austin,
Texas, it's impossible to see even 5 percent of the music taking place at
the annual South by Southwest Music Conference.
In addition to 10,000
official conference registrants -- journalists, musicians and industry
insiders -- this music draws thousands of fans from across the country, with
the largest number from anywhere outside Texas traveling from Chicago,
according to conference organizers.
In my recent report from
SXSW XX, I asked readers to share their own festival highlights via e-mail.
Here are the most noteworthy volunteer reports, and I for one certainly
intend to keep my ears peeled for some of the music they've singled out.
SXSW: Crazy! I liked
Octopus Project best. I caught up with them on Saturday at Progress
Coffee, where they stood out among a crowd of singer-songwriters.
Well-played theremin will warm my heart in all -- er, most -- contexts.
127, the band
from Iran, was really great -- their keyboardist especially blew me away.
While I'm sure it's hard to be from Iran these days, a few of their songs
("I'm Not a Terrorist") played just a little too directly on this theme.
Hopefully they'll be able to get in the country again for more shows.
Also ran into Elizabeth
Elmore at a show by Smoosh, and we were both amazed. We expected it
to be, "Aw, really cute that these two well-connected sisters started a
band." But we got our asses rocked. There's real talent there.
Every L.A. band stank.
What's up with that?
This year was my first
year at SXSW, and I had a great time. It was a bit daunting with all of the
parties and shows, but I saw some great performances.
I was on my feet on
Friday from noon to 1 a.m. checking out 10 different bands over the course
of the day. That's why I was so happy to hit one of the conference rooms at
the Hilton Austin at 1 a.m. to check out Eliot Morris, a
singer-songwriter from Birmingham, Ala. It felt so good to finally sit down
on a couch, but it was even better to discover such a gem -- just an amazing
voice, terrific melodies and words that resonate and stick with you.
The other highlight was
an in-store by Nada Surf at perhaps the country's best independent
music store, Waterloo Records. (Why doesn't Chicago have a great store like
this?) I've been a fan of Nada Surf for years, and it was just great to see
a packed house singing along to all of the words during their 40-minute
performance. Considering the band was foolishly perceived as a novelty act
10 years ago, it was quite a triumphant performance and event.
Always too much to see
and not enough time, but it's all over and once again SXSW didn't
disappoint. Sure, it's overcrowded, the indie kids are in need of a shower/a
trip to the gym, and I still have no idea what 80 percent of the folks who
attend this shindig do for a living. But when you get down to it, where else
are you going to have the opportunity to see 1,300 bands in one city over
The first band I saw was
Art Brut. You wrote up these snotty punks from the U.K. in your
reviews, and they didn't disappoint. Pitchfork [praised] them last year over
their version of the Fall with smart, biting lyrics. I wasn't so sure when I
heard them a while back, but the songs are catchy, Eddie Argos has a great
stage presence and "We Formed a Band" is a great single.
Dirty on Purpose
is a trio from N.Y. whose EP just kinda floats by; live, it's a whole
different story. Plenty of Yo La Tengo feedback working into very nice
psychedelic/lite shoegazing tunes. Bottomless Pit found former
members of Silkworm bouncing back from the senseless tragedy by going back a
bit; whenever that record comes out, it will be worth picking up. Oxford
Collapse: Pitchfork says Wire/Mission of Burma, I hear the Feelies --
Southern college rock circa the mid-80s with some post punk. Another one
where the record falls short compared to the live show.
The Brakes were
snotty bastards from the U.K. with Eamon from British Sea Power barking
away. Film School has a new album on Beggars Banquet which is nice,
but this was another live band that thrives on stage; deadpan early Robert
Smith of the Cure with some shoegazing as well. And Zombi is two
gents from Chicago who have seen "Halloween" too many times -- John
Carpenter soundtracks is the closest comparison, but you can still can move
to some of their stuff.
In total, my final tally
was 30-plus bands!
I have been going to
SXSW yearly since '96, and in spite of a few very minor setbacks, this year
I discovered more great acts I was unfamiliar with, saw some classic artists
perform and saw more electrifying acts than previous years.
Mando Saenz is a
singer-songwriter from Houston, a roots-rocker who also plays a country
waltz and some honky-tonk. He's playing with guitar player Chris Masterson,
formerly of the Dictators and the Del-Lords.
gave a great speech at the Austin Music Awards in his bid to get on the
ballot for governor of Texas. He was smokin' a Cuban and was poignantly
funny. He wants to name major state highways after Buddy Holly, Willie
Nelson and Bob Wills. Kris Kristofferson and Jessi Colter
played about four songs together, including "Help Me Make It Through the
Night." Then the highlight was a set by former 13th Floor Elevator Roky
Erickson. I was awed at his successful comeback.
On Saturday I went to
Town Lake expecting to see Sam Moore, but the show was running late
and I had the good fortune to see Allen Toussaint. He had a full band
and the sound was great; he played "Lady Marmalade," "Mother-In-Law,"
"Fortune Teller" and many others. Moore (the Sam of Sam & Dave) also had a
full band, including four horns and two female backing singers, one of whom
was Bonnie Bramlett's daughter Bekka. At some point Travis Tritt made an
appearance for two songs -- a little corny, maybe, but it was still good.
Last but not least,
there was Chicago's own Waco Brothers. I've seen them at least a
dozen times over the years, maybe even with you. They played a strong set
featuring material from their newest, "Freedom and Weep," their onstage
exuberance made for another great show. They brought on Garland Jeffreys to
sing "The Harder They Come," and they just kept on going.