SXSW 2011: The Best of the Rest
Sixth Street has reopened, the crowds have gone home and recovery has begun for the hangover-music haze wrought by South by Southwest. And while we must attempt to go back to life as usual, we’ve not finished just quite yet. No guts, no glory. We don’t have a problem, we have a lifestyle. And so, with a heavy heart and an ever-increasing bruise count, we bring to you the best of the rest of SXSW (or at least the ones we have photographed).
Best Turn it up Past 11 Band: Jeff The Brotherhood. Ears, meet JEFF The Brotherhood. Head, meet whiplash. Proceed. But for those craving a bit more, JEFF The Brotherhood are two brothers, neither named Jeff, who produce ’70s rock-via-garage lifestyle, likely fueled by tons of beer. Their sound is an ode to the six-string and drum set (no fancy electronics here) and it is just fantastically, headbangingly good.
Best Supergroup: Mister Heavenly. Yes, the band has the Michael Cera, made very clear by the number of Superbad jokes coming from the audience and the post-show line-up of hopefuls asking Cera to come check out their band. But the term “supergroup” (the other type of “super” thrown about with this band) isn’t just lip service. Honus Honus (Man Man), Nick Diamonds (Islands / Unicorns), and drummer Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse) effortlessly craft their own self-proclaimed “doom-wop.” And while Cera may be known for his film forays, it was Diamonds who seemed to most enjoy hamming it up in the spotlight, playing to the crowd, strutting around on stage and generally mirroring what the audience already seemed to be doing: having a good time.
Best Unknown Street Band(s): In the chaos and madness of the SXSW haze, these two bands’ names were lost, but their sound was not forgotten. If you’ve got any leads, let us know.
Best Standing Ovation:Â When Merrill Garbus of Â tUnE-yArDs asked the crowd to rise from the Central Presbyterian Church pews, they easily and eagerly responded. The multi-layered rythyms, vocal loops, noise and percussion paired with Garbus’ charm made for an intriguing performance that would give any pastor a run for his Sunday morning services.
Best Worst Police Antics: With the Death From Aboveriot getting all the attention, it’s likely that Starfucker’s Ryan Biornstad is feeling a bit left out. Right before their show at Lipstick 24, Biornstad was arrested for apparently unloading gear in the middle of the street and then mouthing off about it. Signs immediately went up with some choice works for the Austin City cops. Fight the power.
Best Music to Melt Your Face:Â Grunge, punk, rock, garage, pop, surf or psych, call it what you want, but the truth of the matter is that Ty Segall always brings in a crowd ready to gain some serious bruises. This year Segall didn’t disappoint, as the fan who stage dove off the 20-foot speaker would likely assure you.
Best One-Man Band: “I’m just having such a good time! Tell me what to play and I’ll play anything. And by anything, I mean what I play on my violin,” Owen Pallett enthused. But aside from his usual ethereal orchestration, heÂ did indeed play something outside his repertoire, namelyÂ Caribou’s “Odessa.” It was, of course, hauntingly beautiful. Water was scarce that night in Austin as many cold showers were needed by those who found the meeting of the musical minds too much.
Best “Is This Real Life?” Moment:Â Vockah Redu is an experience. Born from the roots of the Sissy Bounce movement, Redu is the avant garde explosion that flirts with the lines our culture already pushes up and against. Sexuality, gender, persona and identity are themes, but don’t even begin to encompass an act that manages to have meta concepts wrapped up in an ass-bouncing, booty-popping extravaganza. Never mind that Redu can truly spit it on the mic.
Best Hangover Cure: Panache’s Annual Hangover Party @ Beerland w/Â Heavy Cream, Turbo Fruits, Pujol, Dominique Young Unique, Tog, X-Ray Eyeballs. While the last Sunday of SXSW is usually desolate, the tried and true still remain to carry on. And so they did at the appropriately titled Hangover Party, which seemed to endorse the idea that the greatest hangover cure is another drink and turning the guitars to the loudest decibel. (No word yet on if this is FDA approved.)
Best Hangover Cure (Part 2): The name says it all:Â The Vaccines. Following a slew of media hype, The Vaccines deliver a sound perfect to cure a hangover: predictable, easy to swallow, fast-acting and no greasy add-ons. And please don’t confuse any of those adjectives as a bad thing. The Vaccines sound like early indie, lo-fi, with megaphone vocals and while, yes, it can be slightly predictable, sometimes it’s okay, you don’t have to be a special snowflake and you can leave your 10,000 synths under the sea experiment at home. It’s catchy, loud punk-pop and as already established, louder is always better.
Best Band Rapport: Fighting a late start, technical problems and a sound engineer who could barely remember to call them by the instrument they were holding, Braids did something shocking even for SXSW: they started off with an onstage group hug. Â However, when it was time to perform, the gloves came off. Under the guise of dreamy-electro pop you might almost miss Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s line, “Have you fucked all the stray kids yet?” Almost.
Best Craziest Small Venue Paparazzi: It’s like Clue the SXSW edition:Â Twin Shadow. In a church. The fire marshall was called.
Best Heckler Response: Plagued by a various sound problems, Cults seemed slightly uneasy to perform their sinister pop amongst the pews of Central Presbyterian Church. But any doubts were laid to rest when an audience member yelled, “More vocals!” to which Brian Oblivion coolly responded, “Pray for it.”
Best outdoor lighting: Â BRAHMS and the High Highs
It can become tiresome constantly referencing the same names, and in recent times the words New Order, synth-pop and, well, New Order have reached the pinnacle of the tolerance threshold. But once Brooklyn’s (another word inching towards that dangerous territory) BRAHMS took the stage in their tri-color red-white-and green set up, their intriguing, slightly sinister and electro-infused pop was immediately captivating. Yes, it does give off some Ian Curtis vibe, but, just as most comparisons, it still finds its differences. Namely there is quite a bit less dance and more moody sway.
The High Highs are a Brooklyn (there’s that word again) based (via Australia) band whose simple act of rope lights around microphones highlighted their mix of raw guitar acoustics, smooth vocal harmonies and dreamy textured sound.
Best Way to Recoup: Young the Giant. Color everyone shocked that a California indie band, full of 21-year old college drop-outs, would be able to make catchy pop hits that made them favorites of last year’s CMJÂ festival. Once you pick up your jaws off the ground, give this band a listen. At SXSW, casually stumbling into their concert provided anthemic, pop Ã la a sweeter Killers or Bear Hands that was easy on the ears and allowed for what was tired stumbling to easily mask as breezy swaying.
Best On-Stage Accessory: With thousands of bands descending upon the Weird city, it’s often tough to get noticed or be remembered. Richie Follin of Guards seems to have overcome that awkward name-forgetting moment with his “Richie”-emblazoned guitar strap. All gimmicks aside, it wasn’t hard to notice the room fill considerably when he took to playing his self-described “pop wave doom.”
Best Opening: Glasser (Cameron Mesirow) began the night with an a capella version of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” a haunting Irish folklore-sounding tune. However, known for her incredible, almost indescribable range, that was hardly the tip of the iceberg for Mesirow. While she used some backing tracks to supply her eclectic mix, watching Glasser is like seeing an artist’s process in motion. She’s not afraid to revamp old songs, create sounds with unheard-of gadgets, or even get down with dance moves that would make Grace Jones and Bjork take notice. There’s a certain reverence that comes with watching Glasser, and the engrossed crowds sitting at the end of their pews could not have been more fitting.
Best Band to See Through a Fence:Â While everyone was talking about the riots for Death From Above (we ourselves have mentioned it twice), a much more hospitable fence-jumping was taking place only hours before at Barbarella’s for ’90s punk-prog band And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead. Fans still stood on chairs and peered over the picket white fence to see Conrad Keeley scream out his lyrics in brutal fashion. However, no mace, police brigades or 1992 LA flashbacks were involved. Maybe we’re just getting old.
Best Band Additions: Hooray for Earth is hardly a new band, but leading vocalist Noel Heroux explained that the band’s latest incarnation included Cristi Jo and Jessica from Zambri. It gave the electro-pop outfit a Cocteau vibe, and as their name suggests, it was very exclamation-worthy.
Best Old-Time Folk (complete with Knuck Tats):Â Seemingly straight out of Tin-Pan alley, Hurray for the Riff Raff‘sÂ bluegrass, country, front-porch-with-a-banjo sound is marked by a bit of a tough streak. With each strum of the guitar one can see lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra’s impressive knuck-tats that display the ever-menacing â€˜Song Bird.”
Best “Secret” Show: Frankly, this show was hardly secret, but with the swirling rumors of Radiohead, Kanye and Arcade Fire performances (and the ever-looming promise of a three-in-one event), Baltimore’s Secret Mountains were exactly the type of covert concert we were craving. Like many fairing from the Inner Harbor these days, this six-piece band came bearing dreamy psychedelic pop, but they did it well, making them one of the best-kept secrets of SXSW.
Best Band We Couldn’t Understand:Â There are many genres of music that can be hard to decipher: some heavy metal, the occasional marble-mouthed grunge, and we’ll believe what we hear from those brave enough to venture into screamo. But in this case, the lack of understanding had little to do with sound, but rather language. Malajube are Francophones from Montreal whose experimental indie-pop is hardly new to the music scene. Their SXSW performance showcased a darker sound, but the cheering audience assured that if language was a barrier, they glided over it with ease.
Best Audience: The Strokes and Kanye may have pulled in the tens of thousands, but most other SXSW bands have more humble beginnings. Take Austin nativesÂ Cunto! who played for a drunk guy under an overpass. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t respond to requests, leaving the quartet free to pull from their repertoire. It wasn’t confirmed, but the light snores sounded approving.
Of course, these are only a few of the best experiences and bands witnessed at SXSW, but the greatest thing has to be that all the madness, the headaches, the lines, the euphoria, the discoveries, the screams, the shows, the riots, raids and ridiculous fashions will return again next year.Â The end of the world will just have to wait.