Another year, another grueling sprint to South by Southwest's end--only, this year, well, things seemed a little different than in year's past. Especially on Saturday night.
More so than on any previous night of the festival, Saturday night seemed to finally show some kinks in SXSW's armor--both on the festival's part and on the increased savvy of the badgeless showgoers.
On the festival's final night, the SXSW's over-selling of badges and wristbands this year was quite apparent: Badge and wristband lines to enter clubs extended, in many cases, longer than even the lines for the badge- and wristband-less. And those folks--now quite hip to the fact that, if they arrive early enough to a venue and camp out, they'll be able to enter the show of their choice--clearly knew how to beat the system.
It's not like the venues really mind--they're able to charge these folks a cover admission and earn a little added scratch for the effort. But it sure made figuring out what you were going to see--and how far in advance you would have to arrive--something of a crap shoot, as venues reached capacity way early on in the evening. And they never calmed down much as the night went on.
There, of course, are advantages and disadvantages to these developments. But, for a growing festival like, say, Denton's NX35 Conferette, this situation maybe provides a silver lining: Even the big boys have growing pains.
Oh, and this was also one of the coldest nights--if not the flat-out coldest ever--in the history of SXSW. And the crowds still showed. Which makes us all suckers, I think. But I digress.
After the jump, a rundown of the final 12 acts I caught at this year's SXSW. And, in case you were curious, yes, I made my goal of catching 50 acts I'd never seen before over the course of the fest's four-day run. It was close at the end there--but the final day proved pretty fruitful despite all these issues...
Band: Washed Out, Georgia's chillwave answer to North Texas' Alan Palomo
Where: Fader Fort
What It Was Like: Like the laziest dance party you've ever seen. Funny thing about chillwave: It's dance music, but it's more non-committal than anything. Ideal for background setting, Washed Out's music had audience members dancing as they conversed--but few were necessarily actively paying attention.
Verdict: That above sentiment is more a knock on the genre than on Washed Out. Actually, Washed Out's lush performance at the Fader Fort was quite enjoyable. Joined by Brooklyn's Small Black on stage, Washed Out's songs packed an added oomph than did the first few songs of his set, which were offered up alone by the artist. Overall, though, the songs are quite good for what they were.
Band: Real Estate, a buzzing summer- and beach-obsessed quartet from New Jersey
Where: Fader Fort
What It Was Like: I don't really know what it is with the kids these days, but non-committal, half-hearted, mid-tempo efforts seem all the rage. Real Estate personifies this much with its sound--a winning, '90s-indebted lo-fi rock style with some garage underpinnings. Live, the band's demeanor is similarly low-key.
Verdict: It was fairly enjoyable, and the songs were quite nice. But, in this live setting, the songs didn't really stand out much--nor did they reall demand attention. Were it not for the palpable buzz wave this band was riding heading into South by Southwest, it's questionable how much of an impression the band would have made.
Band: Free Energy, a recently Rolling Stone-approved power pop-rock quintet from Philadelphia
Where: Cedar Street Courtyard
What It Was Like: The first show of the Night Four found Free Energy drawing an early-arriving crowd of listeners eager to catch the band's live performance. And not just listeners, but fans. This crowd was singing along emphatically to the band's hook-heavy, mall-punk-appealing, Journey- and Cars-owing, early '80s-indebted pop-rock sound.
Verdict: I wanted to hate pretty much everything about this band before I heard it. But pretty much everything about it--from the free cassette tapes of its debut album that were placed throughout the venue to the band's charming on-stage banter with the crowd--was quite likable. So, too, was it's dancey pop-rock, which was filled with "Don't Stop Believin'"-aping guitar licks for days. I've seen the beginning of the end for the mall-punk era, and it starts Free Energy.
Band: The BlueBonnet's, an almost all-girl garage- and blues-rock outfit from Austin
Where: Buffalo Billiards
What It Was Like: Pretty much exactly what you'd expect an all-girl blues-rock outfit from Austin to sound like, except with a little added kick, a little added sass, and a little more gritty an appeal.
Verdict: More enjoyable than it appears, the BlueBonnets are the kind of band you never seek out at SXSW, but don't necessarily mind stumbling upon. Its appeal, too, is fairly universal given its genre tendencies. But even though it did have some extra, and impressive, elements thrown in the mix, it was a little too dad-rock-ish for my tastes.
Band: The Deaf, a Dutch punk trio with energy that can't be bottled
Where: Buffalo Billiards
What It Was Like: Imagine The Hives (quirky, European, in-your-face) crossed with The Riverboat Gamblers (high-energy, an incomparable live show, immediately live likability) and, well, you've got the he-said-she-said retro punk of The Deaf.
Verdict: Having never before heard of The Deaf, I can confidently say that this was one of my better accidntal finds of SXSW. The guitar-toting frontman spazzed out across the stage like Jerry Lee Lewis as he frantically tossed off impressive licks between leg kicks and stage slides. His bass-playing female counterpart was no less an ass-kicker herself, oozing cool confidence and vocals with a soft grit to balance things out. A whirlwind of a live show worth catching, for sure.
Band: Wiz Khalifa, a buzzing, XXL-approved rapper from Pittsburgh with a skate-hop bent.
Where: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: Like watching a consummate crowd-pleaser. It's tough to say how many in Emo's were necessarily all too familiar with Khalifa's body of work prior to this show, but Khalifa showed a savvy in this show that many other SXSW performers could stand to learn from. Sure, he played the songs for which he's made a name for himself. But he also made certain to play a song off his new mixtape that was sure to please the indie-snob SXSW attendees, a song called "The Thrill," which boasts a sample of Empire of The Sun's "Walking on a Dream."
Verdict: Really fun, really impressive, and an overall good time. Khalifa's got a charismatic on-stage persona, clearly comfortable in the limelight. It benefited his performance greatly, too, this sense of self, allowing him to fully command the room. Oh, and his flows were an impressive match with his hipster-ish beat bent. Sidenote: Rappers, better than anyone else at this year's SXSW, made sure to shout out their Twitter accounts at shows, angling to up their follower counts.
Band: LoveLikeFire, an artsy indie quartet from San Francisco
Where: Emo's Jr.
What It Was Like: Like watching a band try too hard and not get the job done. LoveLikeFire's sound is entirely predicated on its frontwoman's vocals--which, unfortunately, weren't up to snuff at this show.
Verdict: So-so at best. Along with leaning heavily on its frontwoman's vocals., the band relied a little too intently on crescendo. And though its builds were, indeed, somewhat pleasing, they weren't impressive enough to carry the weight the band was aiming to bear.
Band: Jake One & Freeway, an emcee and DJ pairing with a fine new album in tow.
Where: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: Unlike, say, Wiz Khalifa's performance prior to Jake One a& Freeway's in the main room, this offering wasn't of the hipster-hop varety that so many SXSW rap performances this year seemed to be. Rather, this was classic backpacker hip-hop--gritty and intelligent and reliant on old, time-tested genre tricks.
Verdict: Entertaining, for sure, and a refreshing offering given the above parameters. This boom-bap, sample-heavy offering wasn't aiming for indie cool, but more aimed to be true to the efforts that allowed this sub-genre popularity in the first place. And, for that, the show benefited greatly.
Band: The Drums, a Brooklyn act that made its name thanks to a quirky music video that finds the band's frontman running along a beach, singing its hooky, summer-loving "Let's Go Surfing" single.
What It Was Like: Like being totally swindled. Whereas "Let's Go Surfing" is a lo-fi indie gem, the band's live offering was, oddly enough, of a distinct, new wave- and Interpol-aping variety. And, let's face it, this ain't 2005 again.
Verdict: Disappointing, more than anything. The band's new wave efforts seemed like uninspired retreads more than anything. And though the band tried its damnedest to create some energy from the stage, bouncing along with its performance, its energy didn't translate to the crowd at the big venue, which seemed rightly confused at what it was seeing.
Band: Get Busy Committee, a hip-hop collective that made the most of its time, if nothing else.
Where: Club De Ville
What It Was Like: Like a bait-and-switch. The venue, boasting an all-hip-hop showcase on this night, was supposed to feature former Death Row artist Kurupt in this time slot. But the former Dogg Pound-er was nowhere to be found. So, the Get Busy Collective, at the request of the event host, popped up on stage and performed a few cuts for the restless audience. And, in doing so, the band showed off an impressive awareness and understanding of how to energize a crowd.
Verdict: If nothing else, this band knew its audience. Starting off by rhyming over a sample of The Knife's "Heartbeats" and then segueing into a track with a beat created of samples from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme, this collective quickly turned a downtrodden audience into a smiling lot. Quirky, sure. But one should never discount an artist's ability to read his audience.
Band: Rival School, a prominent post-hardcore outfit from the turn of the century, reuniting for a slew of gigs in anticipation of a new album--its second only--some ten years after its debut release.
Where: Red 7 Patio
What It Was Like: Featuring members from influential hardcore acts Quicksand, Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, Rival School pleased a reverential crowd by not only playing hits off its seminal debut, but also by offering the crowd new songs to chew on.
Verdict: Can't say I was ever all that familiar with Rival School's body of work prior to this show, but the band's post-hardcore sound was surprisingly catchy and memorable--and, some ten years after its release, shockingly relevant today. Its new songs too sounded great.
Band: J. Mascis, the legendary Dinosaur Jr axeman, offering up a set of solo material, and not a backing member in sight.
Where: Red 7 Patio
What It Was Like: Mascis hasn't released a studio album of solo material in over five years, but at this show, it didn't really matter. He put on a display, playing acoustically, and yet somehow using his mind-bending talents (and maybe a few pedals) to distort the sounds into a sonic display that even the most dynamic electric guitar players can't even begin to fathom matching.
Verdict: It was a little slow, sure, but Mascis, folks, is a hero. Far as I'm concerned, he's never really received the credit he deserves as one of the greatest guitar players ever. And this show only further confirmed his place atop the heap in my book. Without seemingly much effort at all, Mascis--also an underrated vocalist, by the way--played a somewhat wank-ish set of head-spinning solos and pleasing melodies. But it was rewarding beyond anticipation.
Band: Fucked Up, the Toronto hardcore heroes with a reputation for phenomenally off-the-rail live performances
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Where: Red 7 Patio.
What It Was Like: Like the kick in the ass the tired, cold festival attendees needed to close out SXSW 2010. By then end of the set, frontman Damian Abraham, despite the cold, was down to his boxers, swirling the microphone around in the air above his head as crowd members hopped on stage, only to dive off and crowd surf--just as one of the band's guitarists did, while managing to never miss a beat.
Verdict: One of the flat-out best performances I saw at SXSW 2010--and maybe 2010 as a whole. Giving The Riverboat Gamblers (who played a set on Sixth Street at the same time, also, surely, to close the festival out in fine form) a run for its money as one of the best live performers around, this show just oozed with angst, vigor and communal energy. Top-notch stuff, to be sure.
..and, well, that pretty much covers it.