Exclusive: The best of SXSW

(Photo: Eileen Joyce: Many of the venues at the festival are in clubs that line 6th Street making it the most crowded street during SXSW.)
Dispatch from York Daily Record photo editor Eileen Joyce:
Whether you’re launching a new website, premiering a documentary or hoping to become the next must-hear band, Austin, Texas, is the place to be come mid-March. South by Southwest, a music, film and interactive festival now in its 25th year, brings together artists, fans and industry types from all over the country for a week of networking and partying. This year, I went to SXSW for the first time.
As a lifelong music nerd, I had been wanting to attend for more than a decade and I went as a fan with the intent of seeing as many different bands as possible over the five days of the music festival. The first thing I had to realize is that it’s impossible to see everything. More than 2,000 bands perform and I can’t be in three places at once (though I often wished I could). I did my best, though. I started each day around noon with one of dozens of day parties that run until 6 p.m. After a break for dinner, the official evening showcases start at 8 p.m. and run until 2 a.m. One day I managed to see 12 different bands in 12 hours. It’s easy for things to become a blur after all that music, but of the nearly 50 acts I managed to catch a few that stood out. Read more on the jump.
Elieen’s SXSW picks:
colins.jpg Perhaps the strangest act I saw during SXSW was Colin Stetson. He plays the saxophone and uses a form of humming to create odd yet haunting melodies. His sound is almost impossible to describe, but he had the crowd transfixed at the NPR party. Stetson will also be featured on the new Bon Iver album that is due in June. (Photo: Colin Stateson performs a song during the NPR day party at The Parish on March 17.)
I went to the Scottish showcase with the intent of seeing Admiral Fallow, a Frightened-Rabbit-meets-Mumford-and-Sons-type band that had everyone talking. They were as great as I expected them to be, but the surprise find of the night was Kid Canaveral. They’re a Scottish indie pop band that played a fun, danceable set, despite the fact that the bass player had thrown out her back earlier in the day. I didn’t buy too many CDs at SXSW, but I made sure to pick that one up.
Remember OMD? That’s short for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and they had a hit in 1986 with the song “If You Leave” that was featured on the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack. There was no shortage of ’80s bands looking to make a comeback at SXSW this year. The Bangles, Men Without Hats and Duran Duran all performed sets, but no one seemed happier to be there than OMD. Their new stuff sounded great. I wasn’t expecting much from their show, but they won me over.
Sometimes you have go across the country to find something great in your own backyard. Jukebox the Ghost is a three-piece band from Washington, D.C., and the only act I loved so much that I saw them twice. They reminded me a little of Ben Folds with their piano-heavy pop tunes, but they also brought a great energy to their shows. SXSW can be a grind for a lot of bands as they struggle to play as many shows a possible at all hours of the day, but Jukebox the Ghost didn’t seem to mind. If you want to see them for yourself, they’re playing at Sonar in Baltimore May 7.
The Vaccines were one of those bands that seemed to be everywhere during SXSW. Their debut album isn’t even out in the U.S., but they’re already being billed as the next big British band. It can be hard to get a crowd going at 2 in the afternoon on a hot Texas day, but their set at the Spin party at Stubbs got everyone moving with a series of short but catchy punk tunes. My friend and I agreed that we’d be checking out their album when it finally hits the stores May 31.
Dispatch from former York Daily Record/Sunday News reporter Sean McLernon:
(My friends and I) all sat on the curb of Driskill Street as a steady stream of people exited the Lustre Pearl and looked at each other. Where should we go next? The Strokes were playing a free show at Auditorium Shores. But Family of the Year was playing at some club on Fifth Street and there would be free food there.
None of us had actually heard more than a couple songs from Family of the Year. The Strokes are superstars. But this was South By Southwest. We were here to discover awesome acts. And get all the free stuff we can find. There are apparently some people who shell out a couple hundred dollars for official passes. Or wristbands. Or both. I’m not really sure. Because me and my friends didn’t pay a dime. We just showed up. Sometimes we waited in line, sometimes we waltzed right in, sometimes we snuck in a side entrance to a V.I.P. area. We tried to be flexible like that.
On March 17, we made the obvious decision. We passed on The Strokes for Family of the Year. And even though we weren’t on the RSVP list for the free showcase, after waiting for about five minutes the bouncer let us in and after scarfing down some free barbecue, we rocked out to an inspired performance by the indie-pop quintet from Los Angeles. With catchy hooks and infectious melodies, they had the whole audience engaged in the show.
In addition to seeing tremendous shows from bands with whom I was already enamored like Deer Tick (whose members have been in York three times), The Dodos and The Boxer Rebellion, I discovered several acts.
Sean’s picks:
Givers: This is a quartet that emphasizes the power in power pop, showing an enthusiasm on stage that was unmatched by any other band I saw during the week. That got the audience excited and involved. They play the kind of songs you can’t help but sing along to, even if you don’t know the words, and the whole crowd was jumping around and dancing by the end of the show. Vocalist/percussionist Tiffany Lamson was a captivating presence onstage, blending perfectly with fellow vocalist Taylor Guarisco. And I’ve never seen anybody beat a drum that hard. On the last song, she ended up destroying a tambourine. You can’t take your eyes off this group.
In-Flight Safety: We saw this band at a Canadian showcase in a small venue a little past noon, and most of our group was still in the midst of waking up after a long night before. In-Flight Safety was like one of those alarm clocks that starts off really soft and gradually gets louder, easing us out of our pseudo-sleep in a pleasant manner. These guys don’t rock hard, but they rock well, putting emphasis on their vocal talents and making subtlety a strength. There sound seems both familiar and unique at the same time, maybe because this is the kind of laid-back indie rock that so many bands are trying to pull off these days.
Speak: These four guys looked to me like they were about 12 years old. It turns out they are pretty young, recently graduated from the University of Texas last year, but their playfulness on stage and childlike joy they injected into their performance gave out a youthful vibe, in a very good way. These kids can really sing, and they add a bit of a synth-pop twist to the classic indie rock formula. They are the kind of band that can sound like Weezer one minute and MGMT the next, and they have enough musical range to cover the spectrum. We had heard that the all-male group does an amazing version of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman,” although that was not part of their set at this show. Maybe next time.

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