Indie-pendent picks


April 2, 2006


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?

Charlie Williams


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.

Andrew Hilsberg


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 four days?

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!

Scott Barsky


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.

Kinky Friedman 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.

Jim Ryan