Well it’s Tuesday, and I’m just back from the giant gathering of the musical and music industry tribes. Before the memories (hazy as they already are) fade completely, I have to mention a few of the high points:
boris – picture a covered outdoor stage in an alley behind a row of clubs, a few trees guarding the entrance, beyond which you find a sea of rapt listeners who are themselves enveloped in a stunningly loud and oddly peaceful ocean of droney, psychedelic metal. This was the one band I saw the whole week that seemed truly mysterious and legendary, otherwordly and almost godlike. In the infernal din that covers Austin all week, this band was louder, more unified, and more transforming that anything else I saw. It was so good that I purposefully skipped going to see them the next day, for fear of spoiling a perfect musical memory.
Blonde Redhead – OK, I only got to stay for a few songs, but they did play Falling Man, which is one of my favorites and a hit song if I’ve ever heard one. I found myself wishing that every fourteen year old in the world would fall in love with this band. Incredibly tasteful, stylish and sexy. If you like your pop music with equal measures of style and smarts, check out this band.
Midlake – Another partial set, sadly, as these boys from Denton, Texas make some of the loveliest and sharpest indie pop around. A joy to behold. I heard them play three songs before I had to go (they did seem to take forever to set up, which made me sad, since I got there in time to hear their whole set, but what can you do?), including Roscoe, which is another song I’d like to see at the top of the charts.
Beirut – I must say that although I enjoyed this set, I wasn’t as blown away by it as I expected. Zach Condon is a famously precocious 21 year-old artist, and the band’s blend of Balkan sounds and indie rock songwriting has been analyzed and reviewed so much that I just won’t even try. Although I like the recordings I have heard, this particular show seemed a bit disorganized and thrown together to me. Mostly, Condon’s charisma and his youthful bravado held things together. The band was good, great to look at, but the performances seemed a bit hesitant to me.
Future of the Left – This was one of the random surprises for me, as I stepped into Emo’s small room for a minute between seeing Mountain Goats and Blonde Redhead. With former members of Mclusky, this is a jagged post-punk band that rocks incredibly hard without seeming too loutish. Lots of shouted call and response vocals – they’re almost like a hardcore Field Music. They have nothing available, but there are songs on their myspace page.
Amy Millan – In the incredibly loud and chaotic din of Austin during South by Southwest, there are always a few performers who provide blessed contrast. This Canadian rootsy songwriter was so charming and relaxed onstage that it was like a blast of fresh air compared to all the costuming and posturing elsewhere. Of course that would mean nothing if the music wasn’t good. Thankfully, she is a fantastic songwriter who uses poetic imagery with a light touch. If you like Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt, and the like, you should check out Amy Millan.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – I saw a few songs by this phenomenal band last year, and had to make sure to hear the whole thing this time. ALthough they were plagued by a bad vocal mic and their set was cut short due to the lateness of the hour, the power and ferocity of Sharon Jones simply has to be seen to be believed. If you like James Brown, run, do not walk, to the nearest show by this band.
Jandek – If you don’t know the back story on Jandek, read up on it at Seth Tisue’s Jandek page. This legendary recluse has played fewer than 10 shows in his nearly 30-year career, and during that 30 year period he has released 49 records. His identity is a secret, his music is very difficult, and we got to go hear him play live. We got to see him in the flesh, which was pretty cool. He played in a beautiful church, and all during the first few songs people were taking pictures of him with flashes, and sending giant silhouettes up onto the wall behind him – it was a cool physical manifestation of his legend.
Ron Sexsmith – One of the best things about South by Southwest are the serendipitous moments. A friend I was with wanted to see Ron Sexsmith, but we didn’t have time. On our way walking from the boris show to see Sharon Jones, I stopped at an atm, and who should be playing in the open air venue right next to us? You guessed it. The Canadian craftsman himself, Mr. Ron Sexsmith. So we got to hear “Gold in Them Hills” without even trying!
Already looking forward to next year!
ps. My band’s shows went fantastically well, too. We had three. It was a pleasure to be able to both play and listen to the music at sxsw this year, and yes, we hope to repeat the visit next year…!