I’m delirious from lack of sleep, I can barely stand due to the soreness burning through my legs, I’ve got a blister raging on my big toe and a small scratch has mysteriously appeared on my left hand. Ahh, it must be another Sunday morning at SXSW.
Now, many of our colleagues in the media worked hard to provide real-time updates from Austin during SXSW. At Twangville, we try not to let editorial obligation stand in the way of fun. Sure, we’ll give you the details, the highs and the lows, but we’ve got certain priorities. Music comes first. And in Austin, Shiner Boch comes second.
Somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 bands converged on Austin for this year’s SXSW music industry conference. Here are some of my highlights. (For additional SXSW coverage from Tom and John, click here.)
Theme and Variations
Soul and R&B continued to be a powerful presence for another year. Yet one could see the next trends emerging. Music is certainly taking on a darker edge, not doubt a reaction to the economic and political turbulence infecting the globe.
The garage door was opened slightly and the rough edges of rock could be seen establishing a foothold. The Raveonettes and the The Black Keys are the apparent ring-leaders with the power duo format but Spain’s The Right Ons and Boston’s Muck and the Mires are clearly part of the club with a more pop-oriented garage rock sound.
Singer-songwriters were also in abundance, particularly those with dark, brooding sounds. England’s Christopher Rees and Foy Vance stood out among them; others included Wisconsin’s Bon Iver, New York’s AA Bondy, Australia’s Paul Kelly (a long-time fave), and a solo outing from Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan.
Of course there is always a strong representation of UK alternative rock bands at SXSW. Leading the charge this year were London’s The Duke Spirit, Scotland’s Sons & Daughters and Leed’s the Pigeon Detectives.
SXSW aside, Austin is clearly one of the finest music towns in the country. I’m always excited to see some of the incredible local acts that play regularly in Austin but rarely tour outside the South.
At the top of the list is Jon Dee Graham, who delivered a sonic attack alongside his band the Fighting Cocks. When you’re starting to get tired and grumpy there is no better elixir than standing front and center at a Jon Dee Graham show. His pounding brand of rock will kick you in the ass. I suspect that if he weren’t such a nice guy, he’d probably do it literally as well.
It was a special treat to close the official SXSW showcase schedule with David Garza’s Saturday 1am set. Garza is as eclectic as he is talented, rivaling Ryan Adams at times (in a good way). Even though he was backed by a non-traditional band of three percussionists, a bassist and xylophone player, Garza delivered a healthy rock set. Hearing him power through some shoulda-been monster hits from his 1998 major label debut This Euphoria was, well, euphoric. (This Euphoria is out-of-print but now available for digital download on Amazon.com).
The Year of the Duet?
I suppose that there are surprise combinations every year at SXSW, but I caught a number of notables this year. Billy Bragg invited new-found friend Kate Nash to duet on the Shangri-las “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” during an intimate afternoon party I attended.
The New West Records party featured legendary guitarist Johnny Rivers (“Secret Agent Man”) joining Buddy Miller and band for most of the latter’s set. It was a somewhat odd but interesting pairing which showcased the incredible musical talents of Miller & company in keeping the free-wheeling set moving. For some odd reason, Rivers kept referring as Miller as “Jimmy.” Miller appeared bemused.
Tim Easton had already created a potent concoction by inviting The Whipsaws — Alaska’s answer to Texas’s Drams – to back him during SXSW. During Alejandro Escovedo’s traditional Sunday night unofficial closing showcase they cranked it up a notch by bringing Lucinda Williams to the stage for a rousing blues number.
I guess that several clubs got new ink pads prior to the conference and were anxious to use them. On Thursday most of my right hand and forearm were covered in stamps – sometimes with duplicates from the same club!
Ok, so this wasn’t quite a musical experience but my trip home to Boston was certainly memorable. My flight was connecting through Atlanta where, according to the pilot, the weather was quite nice. Shortly before landing in Atlanta, however, the pilot announced that we had been put into a holding pattern but that we didn’t have enough fuel to last. We “pulled over” in Montgomery, Alabama where the pilot announced that we he would “tell them what kind of plane we had so that we could get some fuel.” Not sure whether he put the gas on his credit card or was able to get by with an IOU.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.