What day is it today? Saturday? Let's see... got here on Wednesday... and that was Day One... so I guess yesterday was Day Three, right? To be honest, I've got no clue. Mostly, my head just hurts.
But our trek to catch 50 acts we'd never seen before at this year's SXSW continues along (watch it unfold live by following DC9atNight on Twitter, or by searching for the Twitter hastag "#50bands4days"), and yesterday proved as fruitful sa any, affording us insight into a whopping 17 acts we'd yet to see live. And it was an impressive bunch, too.
Sure, there were some bad apples, too. But, for the most part, those didn't ruin the bunch. Hit the jump for our blow-by-blow breakdown of the 17 acts we saw yesterday...
Band: Superchunk, college rock icons from the '90s return to the well.
Venue: La Zona Rosa
What It Was Like: Like watching a bunch of old farts relive their glory days. Not the band--the band, actually, looked and sounded pretty good. I mean the crowd, which definitely skewed older at this show than most. And when the set ended, these fans scattered, leaving the young 'uns to deal with buzz bands like The xx.
Verdict: Superchunk actually sounded great, playing both old favorites and, yes, some new ones too. Quite yer eye-rolling, though: These new tracks weren't all that bad--actually, they sounded very much like the old tracks. I'm probably looking too much into this, but I credit this all to Dinosaur Jr, which showed on its last two albums that a '90s band came return to form with new albums--and even surpass its older stuff. What I'm saying is this: Dinosaur Jr set the comeback bar really high. Superchunk, to its credit, is sticking to that same formula.
Band: The xx, the much buzzed-about dream-pop trio (formerly a quartet) from London.
Venue: La Zona Rosa
What It Was Like: Moody, gloomy, dark and dreamy. And straight gorgeous, too. At least the playing, I mean. The band, while looking both comfortable and confident on stage, remained completely silent between songs. And fairly stoic during them, too.
Verdict: The weather was too nice for The xx'ss music to logistically work yesterday--and yet it still did. And, even though the band wasn't necessarily the most active group of performers, it matched well with its sound. Really, if The xx tried to pogo on stage, it'd look more out-of-place than anything. But its music, folks... it's music fits pretty much anywhere. Believe the hype.
Band: Band of Skulls, a dark trio that blends Dead Weather with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Venue: Beauty Bar/Palm Door
What It Was Like: First off, it was loud. And, like The xx, Band of Skulls, too, was dark and gloomy. But whereas The xx take things off into a dream-pop realm, Band of Skulls (which, too, employs his/her vocal pairings) goes in a far dirtier, rockier direction.
Verdict: Pretty damn kickass, actually. There's a great chemistry between the the lead bassist and guitarist, who interplay often with one another on stage, apparently having fun although, c'mon, you know they'd never dare crack a smile. It was loud, rocking, and classic in its arrangements--but balls-to-the-wall enough where it still felt fresh. Oh, and the band's "Death by Diamonds and Pearls" is the best Dead Weather song that band's never written. And a pretty nice Prince nod, too, I think.
Band: Weekend, a super-young scuzzy garage trio from San Francisco.
Venue: Klub Krucial
What It Was Like: Like watching the calm before the storm. Later, this GorillaVsBear showcase would be overrun with crowds and lines hoping to catch the night's chillwave/gorillavsbearcore headliners, Memory Tapes and Washed Out. This earlier act, although hardly chillwave, still sat right up GvB's alley: It was raw, lo-fi and hook-filled.
Verdict: Pretty enjoyable, actually. The band didn't seem to mind that there was only a handful of attendees in the room, instead cranking out a fast, 30-minute set that felt more punk-inclined than could've been expected. Still made for a fun set, though, and one that left its players sweaty and breathless upon its end.
Band: Dan Black, an electro dance-rock act with boatloads of sleaze, but little actual talent.
Venue: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: Electro-rock with way too many "sweet guitar riff, brah!" attitude. Also, a frontman who clearly enjoyed himself, but didn't boast the talent to back his bombastic persona. Here he was, bounding and swaggering about stage, warpaint stripes painted on his cheek, jerk--smirking it up with the audience, thinking he was something special. The paltry crowd at one of the bigger SXSW rooms only offered him a lukewarm response in return.
Verdict: Bless the guy's heart for trying, I guess, but he failed, coming off more like the sleazeball your ex-girlfriend's now dating, and less like anyone you would ever want to pay attention to. And he tried rapping/free-styling at one point. It was Kevin Federline embarrassing.
Band: Bachelorette, a quirky, electro-pop Kiwi girl, all by herself, with a keyboard, a laptop and a guitar.
Venue: Emo's Jr.
What It Was Like: Like Kimya Dawson, if she tried to be hip instead of alternative. Oh, and futuristic. There was some weird, out of place, beat action going on in this performance, and Bachelorette, although charming with her nervous stage banter, barely drew the crowd's attention. In the back of the room, men gathered by the bar to check the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament scores. In the front, conversations were abundant.
Verdict: I almost felt bad for Bachelorette, so I gave her way longer a chance than I probably should have in retrospect. Her songs were purposefully quirky, but otherwise without purpose. And without much substance, either. Also, her vocals seemed the same on every single track. Oh, and the tracks were pretty similar throughout, too.
Band: Royal Bangs, a high-energy dance-rock trio with a knack for energizing a room
Venue: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: At first, it seemed like yet another electro act looking to capitalize on the trends (and failing). But then Riyal Bangs proved that there was some merit behind its buzz, flailing abou the stage as its ballsy, Passion Pit-on steroids sound (without the falsetto... and less synth) amped up the crowd.
Verdict: Surprisingly good, actually. The band apparently debuted some new songs last night, if the lead singer was to be believed, but the crowd didn't really care, choosing to dance through it all anyway.
Band: Justin Townes Earle, the country-slinging, charismatic son of a legend--who was also named for another.
Venue: Red Eyed Fly
What It Was Like: Like a breath of fresh air. JTE was in fine form last night at one of the better showcases of the evening--a bill that featured him, Lucero, Deer Tick and Glossary--and he charismatically lived up to the show's hefty pull with his down-home retro-country tunes and the stories behind them.
Verdict: JTE is one of the better performers, around, folks. On stage, he implores his audience to "swing around a bit on this one" and such, while making goofy faces and telling stupid jokes about drinking and family and whatnot. Difference is, his family is one most are quite interested in. But unlike the rebel country of his poppa, Justin keeps things fairly traditional, albeit tinged with his unique sense of humor (and dress, too). Before the show, Earle stood out in the line with those hoping to get into his set, sharing stories, breaking news (he'll be recording an album in Austin this summer) and making conversation. A class act, indeed.
Band: Deer Tick, a ramshacle, slackerish alt-country outfit from Providence, Rhode Island, of all places.
Venue: Red Eyed Fly
What It Was Like: Like watching the up-and-coming future kings of alt-country mess around on stage and enjoy the hell out of itself. And the crowd enjoyed it, too. The band's retro-tinged country-rock pleased--but so, too, did the band's reggae version of its song "Dirty Dishes," which was dedicated to a friend who passed and always wanted to hear the song arranged as such.
Verdict: Seemingly without any effort, this outfit offered up a fine performance, joking around about trading song requests for drugs and smiling the whole time. And it was a relatively star-studded affair: Lucero's Ben Nichols, who whose band would follow Deer Tick's on this bill, stood just off to the side of the stage, clearly enjoying his younger counter-parts' offerings. And, to start its set off, Deer Tick was joined by Nikki Darlin of Those Darlins on vocals--for a song about blow jobs. It made sense, in a graphic sort of way: Nikki and Deer Tick frontman John McCauley appear to be dating (they kissed multiple times on stage for all to see). The rowdy, drink-in-hand crowd, ate it all up. And rightfully so.
Band: Donnis, a party-rapper from Chicago, who performed with a full live band behind him
Venue: Mohawk Patio
What It Was Like: It was a very high-energy performance--the live band backing Donnis' party-rap no doubt help ensure as much--and the crowd, which was hyped for the next acts, The Cool Kids, Miike Snow and Mayer Hawthorne & The County, ate it up.
Verdict: Problem was, many of the unaware audience members gathered at this show simply seemed to think that Donnis and his crew was The Cool Kids. They weren't. They were far better.
Band: The Cool Kids, the much-hyped, trend-setting hipster-hop dup from Chicago.
Venue: Mohawk Patio
What It Was Like: Like one big, fat disappointment. After being introduced to the stage by Hollywood Holt, whose Thursday night set remains a festival highlight, The Cool Kids came out to an adoring audience, ready to be wowed. Problem was, it was mostly a self-fulfilling prophecy on the crowd's part. It was so intent on enjoying the show, that it didn't really pay attention to its merits.
Verdict: There was pretty much nothing special about this rather mailed-in performance. The duo skulked back and forth across the stage, offering up its rather slow rhymes over its somewhat innovative beats, but it largely let the crowd's energy carry the show. The duo itself, didn't do too much to add to the mix.
Band: Grass Widow, an all-girl garage rock trio from San Francisco
Venue: Mohawk (indoors)
What It Was Like: Performing before a small, rather intimate audience, this loud three-piece boasted some good ideas--sludgy guitar rock with three-part female harmonies sure sounds like a winner--but a not-so-hot mix and some sloppy play held it back.
Verdict: Not terrible, but not very good either. Again, there were some interesting ideas at play here with the trio's garage sound--but the band appeared too nervous and unprepared for this environment to sell it all too well.
Band: We Are Scientists, a power-indie trio from New York City.
Venue: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: Poppy and ridiculously catchy, We Are Scientists performed to an adoring room of fans that seemingly made the trek to this show just for their performance. And, in turn, the band offered up a fun, banter-filled (if somewhat nerdy) set. But, for the most part, it was charming.
Verdict: We Are Scientists boasts some near-undeniable indie pop songs from its 2008 release, Brain Thrust Mastery ("After Hours"), and its 2006 release, With Love and Squalor ("Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt"), and, after some initial sound problems, the band got back on track, many thanks to vocalist Keith Murray's powerful, hook-filled delivery. The teases from the band's upcoming April 2010 release didn't seem to register with the crowd nearly as much, though.
Band: Flosstradmus, the oh-so-hip, Fool's Gold-associated, Chicago-based DJ duo.
Venue: Emo's Jr.
What It Was Like: The best dance-party at SXSW, maybe? Perhaps. Flosstradmus had the room on lockdown last night, dancing like madmen and bounding about with little regard to personal space. It helped, of course, that the duo brought in some added firepower. Joining Flosstradmus on stage (and off too) for this set was Chicago-based electro-hop emcee Kid Sister, powerhouse of a emcee, who brings a ridiculously infectious energy everywhere she goes.
Verdict: Just phenomenal. Kid Sister's appearance no doubt helped--together, with Flosstradamus spinning behind her, they performed Kid Sister's new single "Right Hand Hi" to a crowd that was overwhelmed with the joyous surprise of her appearance. After, she stood between the DJs, dancing as the two mixed and cut on their equipment before them. The crowd ate it up. Me too.
Band: Bear in Heaven, a surprisingly under-the-radar-up-to-this-point dream pop trio, looking to burst out in a big way at SXSW
Venue: Emo's Annex
What It Was Like: Like watching a band and a crowd come to perfect synchronization, feeding off one another and having one of the best times of SXSW 2010. On stage, the three-piece collectively shouted out the lyrics surprisingly heavy ambient-electro-pop tunes, and the crowd swayed and bounced in unison, responding to the performers' every move. The band members struggled to hold back smiles of awe, eventually just giving up and enjoying the feeling.
Verdict: One of the best showcases of SXSW 2010, Bear in Heaven seems positioned to burst out big in 2010. Its late-2009 release, Beast Rest Forth Mouth, despite some critical acclaim, went largely under the radar. With songs as infectious and memorable as "Lovesick Teenagers," that all should change soon. And though the crowd chanted for, and didn't receive, an encore at the end of the band's 40-minute set, it still left with a sense of amazement at the band's display.
Band: Themselves, a fast-paced electro-hop duo that's apparently just returned from a six-year hiatus.
What It Was Like: Like watching coinciding sports events on a TV with the picture-in-picture feature. Whether you wanted to watch one half of the duo's fast0rhyming skills, or the other half's beyond-impressive live beat-making routine on his MPC, there was plenty to watch and plenty to be amused by at this showcase.
Verdict: Another impressive display, for sure. Themselves boasts quite the unique style and a stage show that few rap acts can make. The rhymes may have been faster than necessary, but they simply added to the sensory onslaught the band offered up last night.
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Band: A Sunny Day in Glasgow, a six-piece collective from Pennsylvania
Venue: 21st Street Co-op
What It Was Like: Like a scene in a movie--maybe Night of the White Pants, but times a million. Some 700 college kids were strewn about the University of Texas co-op's property, awaiting the prospects of seeing Andrew WK perform live. but only 150 made it inside the performance space. A Sunny Day in Glasgow opened, offering up a college rock sound perfect for the setting.
Verdict: On record, A Sunny Day in Glasgow sound far more ethereal and ambient than it did live at this after-party. Blame the tired-looking band or the room's weak PA, but this performance sounded more REM-inspired than anything the band's released on record. It was pleasing, but a little sloppy and muddied, too. Couldn't stick around for Andrew WK--who, oddly enough, is among the buzzier acts in town this weekend, go figure--as he didn't go on until 4 or so--but he, too, performed in that pretty crazy environment. If nothing else, it was a memorable scene, for sure.