I sat down to make a top 5 list of my favorite musical moments from South By Southwest 2009, but as I started putting it together, I thought I’d rather just give my comments in each of a few different categories. Read ahead to see:
- Which band had the best choreography?
- What was the most average performance that suggested a great album?
- What band is most likely to cause an indie music nerd pit to break out?
- Who was my biggest surprise of the festival?
- What band clearly got tired of playing shows and seeing me at them?
- What act caused my fanboy drool reflex to start?
- Which band needs the most practice to go from interesting to awesome?
- Who caused a crowd to go from standoffish to dancing madly?
- Which show that I tried to attend got visited by the fuzz?
Q. Which band had the best choreography?
Quaff is a Japanese band that played the Japan Nite show at Elysium. This was the last band I saw on my last night, and although we had seen these guys walking around town, we had no idea they were such a good band. They play a tight hard rock with showy guitar solos, but what really makes the band fun is their stage presence. From the hair to the dancing, it truly is what the Japanese call “visual rock.” Check out a clip from their show-ending cover of Michael Jackson’s Beat It:
Q. What was the most average performance that suggested a great album?
When I saw that one of the dudes from Field Music (Peter Brewis) had a new band, and they were playing a showcase I could easily attend, I made a beeline for it. While the performance itself was a bit average, I could tell that the music was really cool. I remarked that it sounds like the amazing love child of XTC and The Who. I went ahead and got the full album when I returned home, and I was definitely right. This is some sweet, sweet stuff. I recommend it for anyone who likes their pop a little edgy and quirky.
Q. What band is most likely to cause an indie band nerd pit to break out?
I’m never able to describe this band properly, so I’m not going to try again here. I’d say “listen to the album,” but that doesn’t really work either because the live energy takes this group to another level. I’m just going to suggest that you seem them play. I’m not even going to suggest it; I’m going to require it. Don’t listen to this group’s music until you’ve seen them perform in person. Otherwise, you may end up with the wrong idea. Ponytail’s Saturday night showcase was probably my favorite show of the festival.
Q. Who was my biggest surprise of the festival?
We went to The Speakeasy (a very nice bar) to see a German synthpop group called Popular Damage, but we got there a bit early and they were running very late. Therefore, we ended up seeing this band finish their soundcheck. I had never heard of this group before, so I had no idea what they sound like. By the look of them, we assumed hardcore band. They had crazy bearded guy and long scraggly hair dudes and tall cymbals; we assumed metal. Then they started their set with a couple of minutes of crazy feedback. And then the 80s funk pop kicked in. Next thing I knew I was on Wikipedia asking who this amazing band was. Tigercity play music that fits somewhere into the Toto, Survior or Hall & Oates genre. It’s yacht rock for now. I can’t wait to see them again.
Q. What band clearly got tired of playing shows and seeing me at them?
My current album obsession is The Airing of Grievances, this group’s debut album. I’ve bought the LP even though I have a turntable that won’t work for me. So obviously I was going to see them. What I didn’t know was that they’d keep playing shows I wanted to be at for other reasons, and that meant I could see Titus Andronicus again, which made me very happy. Live, they play each show like it’s their last, and the energy is just great. Their sound is old school punk with a bit of an epic flair. Their lyrics are brilliant, but you can’t really make most of these out when they’re performing. The last time I saw them, they seemed dead tired, like they had played too many shows this week. The singer was overheard in the bathroom commenting on this, even. When we almost saw them a fourth time, I asked the guitar player if they were tired, and he said that it had just been too damned hot that afternoon.
Q. What act caused my fanboy drool reflex to start?
I didn’t much care for the first Bird and the Bee album. I thought it was a little wimpy. But the Please Clap Your Hands EP was so great, I became a fan of the band even before their new album came out. I finally went to see them last month, and the show was so much better than I had expected. Inara George (The Bird) wears colorful outfits, dances cutely, and has an “oh gosh” style of crowd banter which is just adorable. She’s my official musician crush of Q1 2009. Meanwhile, Greg Kurstin (The Bee) is clearly a talented producer and musician, but he’s a lot less photographed. Their next album is going to be all Hall & Oates covers. I’m excited.
Q. Which band needs the most practice to go from interesting to awesome?
Late of the Pier are an extremely talented group of British teenagers who have just put out one of those most interesting sounding albums I’ve heard in ages. It’s a mix of crazy tempo changes, wild dance beats, far out synths, and a kitchen sink. There’s four of them in the band–the lead singer also plays guitar, synth and drums on stage. This is too much. They’re simply not able to recreate the sound of the album on stage, yet they’re still insisting on trying. They made a lot of errors, and it’s clear some more rehearsal, or perhaps a 5th musician, would have them sounding a lot better. I’m told a show later in the festival had fewer mistakes, so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. Wait for this band’s second album; if they continue trying to be what they’re trying to be, it’s gonna be amazing.
Q. Who caused a crowd to go from standoffish to dancing madly?
I’m told now that Yelle is a big deal, but I had never heard of her before. My friends caught part of her set at a day party while was watching Harlem Shakes. They told me I should definitely go see her, so we all made plans to meet up. My 8 o’clock ended earlier than theirs, though, so while I was comfortably inside chatting with Party Gil of Gil Mantera’s Party Dream, they were stuck outside the full venue. When she started, about 50 people were into her, but by 20 minutes into the set, the entire room full of curious onlookers were dancing and waving their arms like crazy. I think she’s crazy, sexy and cool. Her dancing is infectious and the music is joyous synthy new wave. The lyrics are in French, but a few enterprising people were singing along. Perhaps they are also French? Catch her US tour this fall, and prepare to dance.
Q. Which show that I tried to attend got visited by the fuzz?
When I got to the MSTRKRFT show, it was too late to get in. The alleyway where we would have entered was full of revelers, all dancing to the fierce music blasting from the tent. A few people claim there were “a thousand” people back there, but it was at most 150 people. Either way, it was a joyous scene with people dancing in the alley. Then the cops showed up. Now, some people might think “darn the cops are here,” but most people here thought “flashing lights! Excellent!” Eventually, the horses were brought over. I saw people jump the fence to get in, and it turns out they halted the show for a while asking people to calm down. We didn’t stick around to see the escalation, and instead checked out Quaff, which brings us right back around to the beginning of this post.
All in all, it was another amazing year in Austin at SXSW, and I’ll surely be back next year!