What It Was Like: Here We Go Magic, The Middle East, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Frightened Rabbit and Those Darlins

Night One of SXSW 2010 saw things kick off on quite the bitchin' note--and not just because of the big names. They were around, sure--Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Broken Bells and Spoon all shared a stage at Stubb's (and a massive line to get in, natch)--but there was plenty else to see without waiting around for James Mercer and Danger Mouse to offer up a whole set of songs that sound alike. Here's what we saw at SXSW's first music night in 2010, and, sure enough, what it was like...

Act: Here We Go Magic, a five-piece indie rock outfit from Brooklyn.
Where: Club De Ville
What It Was Like: If you didn't already know that Here We Go Magic was from Brooklyn, a quick listen indicated as much just fine. Its sound is quirky and smart and, last night, the band calmly delivered its bouncy, restrained and, at times, deceptively loud songs in great fashion, with strong harmonies and enough synthesizer to give its songs a spacey feel without being overwhelming.
Verdict: Not sure about the recorded stuff, but, live, Here We Go Magic's sound made for an enjoyable listen. It was rocky, bouncy, and sometimes outright dancey--but with enough complex time changes thrown in to keep listeners off-guard and from getting too comfortable in one place.

Act: The Middle East, a baroque Americana act from... Australia?
Where: Club De Ville
What it Was Like: Well, actually, it was very much like watching DFW's own Telegraph Canyon--seven members (one female), over-the-top instrumentation, carefully constructed songs--only with more lead vocalists. And maybe a little Ra Ra Riot song construction thrown in to boot.
Verdict: The band very much lived up to the hype it had earned at last weekend's NX35 conferette in Denton, where it went from a relative unknown to a much-buzzed-about-Denton act. This Austin crowd seemed relatively unfamiliar with the act as well--but also was eventually won over. Gorgeous stuff, indeed, if a little too mellow and unvaried.

We Were Promised Jetpacks, an angry young post-punk quartet from Edinburgh, Scotland.
Where: The Parrish
What it Was Like: Actually, it felt like watching a soccer team play on its home pitch. This crowd was WWPJ's from before the first downbeat. And when that came, the room melted. Audience members chanted harmony parts that the band didn't even tease. They sang along passionately and heads tilted toward the sky. They danced so hard that the floor, too, bounced with them.
Verdict: It was greatness. Granted, it's tough to outright hate a show in a fever-pitch environment like this one, but this one hit me right in the gut. The band;s post-punk offerings were punchy, fast and, well, they spoke right to the cantankerous teen inside of me somewhere. So I bought the band's debut full-length after the set. And I almost never do that.

Act: Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish five-piece with a knack for writing some of the most affecting songs around.
Where: The Parrish
What It Was Like: Frightened Rabbit's display at The Parrish last night, although uncomfortably crowded near the stage, felt shockingly intimate--like a large group of friends gathering around a pub, listening to sad songs and rocking anthems as they let their emotions run wild.
Verdict: Phenomenal. The band's 2008 full-length, The Midnight Organ Fight, was among my favorite releases of that year, and, honestly, having never seen the band live before, I was pretty worried that I was going to leave disappointed. Hardly: The band's live offering is a little looser, a little more reactionary than its recorded material, but frontman Scott Hutchison's vocals--the band's not-so-secret weapon--still managed to chill the audience to the core. So, too, did the band's ever-building, crescendo-filled material. The crowd's inability to resist those builds--although they come every single time, it seems--was pretty ridiculous, actually. So maybe it wasn't surprising when the band was called out for an encore. Which may have been a first at SXSW 2010. Sure was, as far as what we saw.

Act: Those Darlins, a four-piece retro-rock outfit from Nashville, with three frontwomen and the luckiest guy in the business on drums.
Where: Submerged
What It Was Like: You know those girls in high school--the ones who cut class, and smoked cigarettes in the parking lot, and wore too much eye makeup, and were kind of adorably troubled? Then, really, you already know Those Darlins. And last night's crowd at Submerged sure did--and it loved every second of it, interacting with the band and hooting and hollering at the stage. The girls had it down to a science, really: As one would take the lead, the others would take to riling up the crowd, be it by jumping into it to play its instruments or by flashing flirty eyes at the men in the crowd who couldn't get enough. Which was all of them.
Verdict: Are Those Darlins the cleanest, tightest band in the world? Hardly. But its songs aren't really meant to be clean. Nope, this is a dirty retro-rock outfit with a throwback country bent, and with three impressive singers to offer it up: one rather classic and straightforward, one raspy and rough a la Joan Jett, and one high-pitched and endearingly whiny a la a female Strange Boy. And, overall, it makes for a sound not altogether unlike the Black Lips. Real fun show, too.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman