People tend to look at the South by Southwest Music Conference through the narrow tunnel of their own musical tastes, but what makes the annual Austin throwdown unlike any other festival is that a who’s who of any genre you can think of is on hand to sate those tastes.
If you’re a country fan, you’re covered, thanks to the presence of older legends and rising stars. Into hip-hop? There are showcases dedicated to labels and different cities’ scenes. Want to hear hot young buzz bands of the so-called Alternative Nation? They are everywhere, playing free day parties and nighttime showcases. Reggae, alt-country, world-beat, dance music, metal—no matter what you’re into, SXSW has it, and usually a lot of it.
This year marked SXSW’s 25th anniversary, and there were reportedly more than 2,000 music acts on hand to help celebrate, or to gain a little hipster cred by playing one of Austin’s dozens of clubs to audiences full of music-biz tastemakers and hangers-on. How else to explain Duran Duran playing a BBQ joint (and, it should be noted, packing it so full that people arriving two hours early missed out)? And you had The Strokes playing a free show that turned into a near-disaster when the crowd stormed the amphitheater after it had reached capacity, destroying a fence; in retrospect, they could have taken my spot because The Strokes delivered one of the more half-assed shows I’ve seen in a while.
A band mailing it in is a rarity at SXSW, though. You’re more likely to find many transcendent moments, musical and otherwise, between standing in numerous lines, chowing on barbecue and tacos and hoofing all over town. Here were some of mine:
Best shows by bands I’d never seen: Wild Flag led the pack; the quartet includes members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium and The Minders, and had serious buzz at SXSW thanks to playing eight shows in three days. I caught the last, a show filmed and streamed by IFC, and it was excellent. Other memorable gigs included dynamic duo Wye Oak, old school punks Off!, led by former Black Flag/Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris, Brit guitar-rockers Yuck, Robert Ellis and The Boys doing country right and My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel exploring the sonic possibilities of loops, guitars and vocals in a pristine-sounding church.
Best shows I saw by old favorites: The Meat Puppets, complete with free tequila and beer, made for a fine St. Patrick’s Day afternoon at a Rolling Stone party. The Soundtrack of Our Lives proved they are, indeed, Sweden’s best rock band. Alejandro Escovedo broke out his Sensitive Orchestra’s horns, strings, keyboards and Latina backup singers for an awesome set in a South Austin parking lot. Bad Brains reminded me why they are punk pioneers, Ted Leo showed why he’s a worthy carrier of the punk torch, and garage-rockers The Fleshtones made my first time seeing them memorable thanks to hilarious dance moves and awesome songs until the wee hours.
SLC Locals representing: The Devil Whale played a showcase Saturday at The Marq. Poster artist Travis Bone, aka Furturtle, was at the Flatstock rock-poster show throughout the festival. Theta Naught played a couple gigs with Austin instrumental drone-rockers My Education. And Blues 66 played some gigs and got a VIP tour of the famous Salt Lick BBQ joint in Driftwood, Texas.