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SXSW

Play On, Players: The skinny on SXSW 2009.

By Jamie Gadette & Randy Harward
Posted // March 25,2009 - Sometimes, the best part about attending the annual South by Southwest Music & Media conference is sharing discoveries made during the whirlwind week of music, barbecue and booze. Apparently immune to the current economic downturn, SXSW was as bustling as ever—good news for the Utah bands representing in Austin. We watched with pride as Location Location, Eagle Twin, Kid Theodore and Cavedoll attracted new followers. Somehow Iota slipped by us (sorry, dudes!).

Surely, they blew minds as usual. It’s impossible to review all 2,000 or so official showcasing artists—not to mention the unofficial groups hitting up 6th Street guerrilla style—but here are at least two takes on what went down and who should be on your radar.

Dan Auerbach can apparently do no wrong. The Black Keys guitarist/singer one-upped his debut solo album Keep It Hid with a fiery live performance at The Parish backed by San Antonio’s Hacienda who recorded their debut in Auerbach’s Akron, Ohio, studio. Charging through a set of sultry epic blues songs, he made the whole room swoon. See him in action when the Keys play this summer’s Twilight Concert Series.

I have to give props to Salt Lake magazine’s Dan Nailen for turning me on to the Heartless Bastards who, after performing at the Paste magazine party, established themselves as one of the best live acts gigging these days. Erika Wennerstrom’s ballsy, nuanced howl lands on the ears like a pleasant chokehold locked in a solid groove. Pick up The Mountain today.

Guitarist Marnie Stern played to adoring fans at the Kill Rock Stars/Bitch magazine bash combining a sweet-as-punch stage demeanor with her signature two-handed tapping technique.

At Waterloo Records on Friday, Handsome Furs— Canadian couple Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) and his partner in music/love Alexei Perry—threw themselves into a pulsating tornado of songs off their latest release Face Control which isn’t as cool and dark as their debut Plague Park, but which delivers some major dance jams with sexy, sweaty overtones that might have easily been inspired by one of the married pair’s hot-and-heavy make-out sessions. —JG

Jessica Lea Mayfield was brilliant and beguiling at The Parish, enrapting the crowd as her producer, The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, looked on. If you love her record With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, well, you ain’t heard nothin’ till you’ve heard her live. At 19, she’s already better than altcountry’s current queen Neko Case. Later, Valient Thorr’s loud-fast-drools set at Emo’s Annex saw front guy Valient himself acting a rock & roll fool. He was a sweaty, hairy demon—his eyes rolled back into his head as the five-piece band from Venus played their breakneck garage punk. On Thursday at their Convention Center panel interview with DJ Nic Harcourt, Devo debuted a new song and video, “Don’t Shoot, I’m a Man.” It was the same taut, eccentric dork-rock that made us love ’em in the first place. Afterward, I caught Roky Erickson at his annual Ice Cream Social benefit and talked to him briefly on the Gibson bus. He didn’t have much to say aside from the usual pleasantries—but his manager had him covered, plugging the upcoming new release.

On Friday evening, Hamell on Trial was a stark contrast, showing the petulant side of singer-songwriters flipping off the crowd and talking about whether or not Michelle gives Barack a “backstage pass.” Those who saw Metallica at Stubb’s plugging their Guitar Hero edition completely missed the point of South-by-Southwest, which is to see new music and/or stuff that’ll never hit your town. I saw Bigelf, a Los Angeles band popular in Scandinavia for a decade, but just releasing their second U.S. album Cheat the Gallows. If the equation (Alice Cooper Kiss) x Black Sabbath / (Pink Floyd The Beatles) means anything to you, get their entire catalog.

Friday and Saturday night both had great comedy showcases, just like last year. Eugene Mirman and Nick Kroll (HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim) hosted. Marc Maron was at his angry-hilarious best, Todd Barry killed with jokes about Metallica and bachelorette parties, Janeane Garofalo did her self-deprecatory political-agitation thing and we gobbled it up. Josh Fadem played Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” on a puppy! Earlier, Gadette and I attended a Rachael Ray party (yeah, the food was good). Seeing the New York Dolls play a wholesome household name’s daytime soiree was hilarious.

They ruled, natch, and it was nice to see them after the sad, sad, display of Ray’s aging husband’s band The Cringe (an apt appellation) acting like mainstream pop equals indie rock. Only Ray and their friends/employees dug it, so the reason for the party was clear.

Gil Mantera’s Party Dream wasn’t nearly as funny as last year, but they did strip and pretend to hump each other. Philly label Park the Van (Dr. Dog) showed off The Peekers, a six-piece from Louisiana—and there’s much to be proud of with this four-vocalist country-psych-folk-rock band. PJ Harvey and John Parish were absolutely incredible at Stubb’s. I now understand why so many people are hopelessly in love with her. A familiar voice lured me into Emo’s Annex to hear Hot Leg—the new band from Justin Hawkins of The Darkness.

Same deal—spoofy but reverent cock rock—different band. That’s a good thing. The Riverboat Gamblers finished off my SXSW 2009 with a solid, rocking set of power-pop imbued punk rock tunes, played not just the fest but the world was about to end. —RH

 
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