SXSW roundup: The non-superstar acts we loved
Parquet Courts. Photo by Amanda Hatfield[/caption]
What began as as intimate little outlet for indie bands and the people who love them has famously become a giant Pepsi Doritos playground for household-name brands like Justin Timberlake and Prince and Green Day.
And since Music Mix has already given you the skinny all the JT and GD happenings of the week, it’s time to go over the festival’s undercards. Our SXSW staff has each selected some of their favorite moments from the week:
“Since when are the Black Keys playing SXSW this year?” That’s what I was thinking when I walked past a small outdoor stage and felt a blast of blues-rock shaking the sidewalk. Turns out, it was San Francisco native Hanni El Khatib and his long-haired, leather-jacketed band—but their new album, Head in the Dirt, was produced by the Keys’ Dan Auerbach. They’re just the kind of band that’s made for SXSW: dirty, loud, and meant to be blasted from a parking lot.
Between Wild Belle, Wild Child, and Wild Cub, there were so many “wild” bands at SXSW that my friend and I started pretending that we were in a duo called Wild Rice. But once I got past the name, I loved this modest Nashville indie-pop group, who showed up wearing bank-teller button-down shirts, but ended up proving they had way more personality than you’d think. My favorite song was “Thunder Clatter,” the best Vampire Weekend song that Vampire Weekend never wrote, which ended with not one, not two, but three different guys drumming at the same time. Do not underestimate guys who dress like office-job types!
Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon might’ve split up, but reverb-drenched art-rock still has a power couple in Philadelphia’s Rob Garcia and Sarah Everton. Even at the early hour of noon, which is pre-hangover-sleep time, they cranked up the volume past the ear-plug limit, blending shoegaze-y guitars with sweet, girlish vocals. They made noisy-pretty sound pretty noisy, and even managed to drag the crowd away from the silly free Taco Bell Nacho-Blazey Firemouth Burrito shwag to watch.
Okay, so the music’s not really my thing: just try to imagine fun. playing back-up for a guy who sings and raps and really loves Eminem. But when I caught this duo at the MTVU Woodie Awards, they were by far the most visually entertaining new band I saw this year at SXSW. They showed up in skeleton costumes, swung from the lighting rigs, did backflips, engaged in a drum battle, and shot confetti at the crowd. When they were done, I heard a dazed college kid behind me say, “That was the greatest show I’ve ever seen.”
At 2 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning, three bands set up shop on a bridge to play an off-the-grid free show for fans and passersby, hoping to evade the official SXSW machinery (and Austin police) for at least one night. The scheme worked, and kids were climbing lampposts and dangerously balancing themselves on the backs of benches to get a glimpse of the action. Parquet Courts — a band of Pavement-y indie-rockers from Brooklyn via Austin — started things off by chugging through highlights from their recent album Light Up Gold. Following them was Florida’s Merchandise, who infused their set with some no-wave saxophone and guitar-heavy punk edge. Destruction Unit was last, but by then the comforts of EW’s hotel bed was calling.
Smashing Pumpkins at the Red Bull Showcase
While not a small band by any normal measure, the Pumpkins had to compete with both Justin Timberlake and Prince for attention Saturday night, so their show was populated mainly by diehard followers. Billy Corgan and company gave came through, though, with a two-hour set. It was Corgan’s birthday, it turns out — he was turning 46 — so perhaps that fueled his band’s rock-to-the-fullest performances of fan favorites like “Cherub Rock” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” They also covered David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” delivered an epic version of “Tonight, Tonight,” and closed the night with the expansive Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness song “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans.”
Anyone who heard last year’s R.A.P. Music knows that Killer Mike has a lot to say. That goes for his live shows too, as I learned at his Saturday night showcase at Lustre Pearl. Equal time was spent between songs and politically themed banter like, “I’m calling out politicians for hypocritically partaking in drugs and prostitutes, and I’m inviting them all out to South By Southwest.” But he used that passion for his performance as well, which included fiery renditions of Outkast’s “The Whole World” and his own “Willie Burke Sherwood” (named after his grandfather). “This is jazz, this is funk, this is soul, this is gospel,” he said as he segued into “R.A.P. Music.” “The opposite of bulls—,” he continued. “What up, rap church!” Amen.
“Old Emo’s” is code for the place where the legendary rock club Emo’s used to be before it moved to some distant region southeast of downtown Austin. Still, the shell of the old venue (and the memories that come with it) are still there, so Brooklyn Vegan seized on it to book a number of day parties full of blog-favorite acts. Two highlights were Autre Ne Veut, who kept the audience in a trance on the outside stage, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, whose psych-lite indie-rock provided a great respite from the loud and unruly crowds out on Sixth Street.
In their official SXSW bio, Capital Cities note that celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton has called them the best live band in Los Angeles, but also are quick to point that such praise for a band would normally be considered “dubious.” It was that description — and their very catchy and joyous single “Safe and Sound” — that lured me to the Belmont to check out their set Saturday night. Their self-titled EP might not quite be the second coming of Phoenix and MGMT, but Perez was right to gush over its live act: Matching yellow jackets, semi-coordinated dance moves, and an embrace of disco-electro-pop nostalgia (covers of “Stayin’ Alive” and “Nothing Compares 2 U”) had the crowd screaming along.