What It Was Like: Hey Willpower, Ra Ra Riot, Peter and the Wolf, Be Your Own Pet, The Von Bondies, Grand Ole Party, The Lemonheads

Grand Ole Party having a ball (Pete Freedman)
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Saw plenty of stuff on night one in Austin... here's a quick rundown, in an SXSW feature we'll call "What It Was Like"...

Band: Hey Willpower, a two-piece dance duo from San Francisco Where: Ms. Bea's (unofficial party) What It Was Like: Watching a super flamboyant 14 year-old boy do a dance routine for his parents--after he'd just seen Olivia Newton John's "Physical" video on MTV for the first time. Verdict: Entertaining in the way a drag show is--but without the fashion show flair. Random Note: The keyboard player was wearing a longsleeve shirt embroidered with a kitten's face.

Band: Ra Ra Riot, a six-piece chamber/baroque-rock group from Syracuse, NY Where: Ms. Bea's (unofficial party) What It Was Like: Watching a band you think is about to blow up alongside a bunch of other people who are convinced that the band is about to blow up. Verdict: A phenomenal five-song set--and it included two impressive new songs, "Too Too Too Fast" and "Run My Mouth Off," that will be released on the band's not-yet-mastered debut record. Random Note: This was Ra Ra Riot's third performance of the day--and they still managed to bring it with energy, without looking tired.

Band: Peter and the Wolf, a chamber folk act from Austin Where: Central Presbyterian Church What It Was Like: Waiting on the world to change, oddly. The church venue gave the band's choir and the set's overall feel an enlightening appeal--but gave the sound troubles, given the venue's high ceiling. Verdict: Snoooooooooooze! In this high-energy event, it was a good idea, in theory, to hear some slower-paced folk-pop songs and chill out for a bit. But it would've been nicer to have the band feign a little excitement for playing the fest. Maybe the fact that it's their hometown took some of the appeal away for them. Random Note: Frontman Red Hunter's brother was in the crowd. Hunter pointed him out to the audience and explained that his brother wanted to hear louder stuff from the band, too. Hmmmm...

Band: Be Your Own Pet, a female-fronted four-piece punk set from Nashville Where: Emo's Main Stage What It Was Like: Watching a punk rock show where the band's female lead singer is possessed by the devil. Lots of convulsions and energy from this four-piece. Verdict: Pretty awesome. The energy made up for lead singer Jemina Pearl's so-so vocals. Random Note: Nothing too raunchy was seen, but if Pearl were Lindsay Lohan, the paparazzi would've been all over this show b/c of her short skirt. If you catch my drift...

Band: The Von Bondies, five garage-rockers from Detroit Where: Emo's Annex What It Was Like: Watching a band really try to overcome that one pretty big single it had. Verdict: I showed up to the Annex just as the Von Bondies were finishing up their big hit song, "C'mon, C'mon," and it was weird that they really still want to be pidgeon-holed as such. Sure, it's the theme song for FX's Rescue Me but it didn't take them to the heights they surely anticipated. The rest of the set was a lot of decent retro noir-rock, but nothing too phenomenal. Random Note: The lead singer called out a crowd member for clapping out of rhythm during a clap-along portion of the set.

Band: Grand Ole Party, a female fronted three-piece retro-rock act from San Diego Where: Emo's Annex What It Was Like: Watching a wannabe Broadway singer with drumming skills (trying to) become an indie darling. Verdict: GOP's lead singer's got pipes, but there's a kitschy showtunesy feel to her voice that gets grating when her bandmates aren't performing up to par around her. And that happened a lot last night. But the fact that she doubles as the band's drummer's pretty freakin' impressive. The band saved its best for last, performing its phenomenal track "Look Out Young Son," from its new debut album Humanimals at the end of its set. Random Note: Be Your Own pet's bass player made it across the street to catch this set.

Band: The Lemonheads, Evan Dando's seminal indie rock project Where: Emo's Annex What It Was Like: Watching a bunch of musicians--there were a TON of bands in attendance at this set--and journalists nerd out for 45 minutes. Verdict: Dando's voice hasn't changed a bit and he played a set that included big-time fan favorites "It's a Shame About Ray" and "Bit Part In Your Life" among others. The crowd was so into it, they cheered on, demanding an encore. Given that it was the last set of the night at the Annex, Dando gave it to 'em. Random Note: Dando was in his element last night, feeding off the love from the crowd. He reciprocated by playing the chords on the second song in his encore as he leaned down to the front row to to let a fan strum the strings. -- Pete Freedman

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