SXSW | 03.17.10 | Austin, TX - Day 1

Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Scott Dudelson & Kayceman

SXSW :: 03.17.10 :: Wednesday :: Austin, TX

With almost 2,000 bands performing on 80 stages throughout downtown Austin, the South by Southwest Music Conference is a music marathon fueled by Lone Star Beer and tacos. Now in its 24th year, SXSW might not be about signing new bands as it once was (the internet has really changed the game in how we discover music), but it still offers the opportunity to see a shitload of bands, some of whom will be stars before long, in a short period of time. The dynamics of SXSW may have changed as the festival has grown, but one thing hasn't changed: This long weekend in Texas can still break bands.

Kayceman's Top 3

Lissie at Galaxy Room :: SXSW :: 03.17.10 by Kayceman
#3 - Lissie

First set on the first day and Lissie was awesome. Reminiscent of a more rocking Neko Case or younger, more psychedelic Bonnie Raitt, Lissie filled the room with her powerful voice and flowing golden locks. More than singing songs it often felt like Lissie was opening windows into her life. One gets the impression these are confessionals, and when she hit the big notes it sent shivers down my spine. Lissie on electric guitar was backed by a strong lead guitarist who took some searing solos and a bass player who sat on a stool and also played high-hat and kick drum (no drummer in this band), the power this three-piece cooked up was impressive. She closed her set with a soul-rock, gospel tent revival rave-up called "Little Lovin'" off her wonderful debut EP Why You Runnin', which won over every pair of ears in the room.

#2 - Sleepy Sun

If you can make the hipsters dance you are doing something really special. San Francisco's psychedelic warriors Sleepy Sun are looking more and more like a "special" band, and their set at the IODA party uncorked some seriously good times. A close cousin to bands like Brightblack Morning Light and The Black Angels, the female counter-point vocals helped ease the heaviness of the music to create a welcoming haze. Like really good drugs where you feel opened up by the experience, like your learning something unspoken, this set was deep. The unquestionable highlight occurred when they brought out the Austin Children's Choir and finished the set with a cover of The Guess Who's "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" that stripped the crowd of their cool and ushered in an honest to goodness dance party.

Sharon Jones at Stubb's :: SXSW
03.17.10 by Scott Dudelson
#1 - Sharon Jones & Spoon at Stubb's

Number one slot on the first day: Stubb's. Between another wicked set from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Austin's own Spoon, and a set by the biggest buzz band of the fest, Broken Bells, this bill was tough to beat. Only unfortunate thing was that Broken Bells (featuring Danger Mouse and The Shins' James Mercer) wasn't very good. They weren't bad, and the songs are really great, but you could tell the live show was just an extension of the album's success. There were a few high points, like opener "The High Road," but overall the live show was a sloppy second to one of the best albums of this young year.

Sharon Jones on the other hand killed it. Her band is ridiculously tight and Jones is simply one of the best bandleaders around. Every single time I see this act I'm impressed, and at Stubb's it was no different. Playing to the largest crowd of the night, she had the audience in the palm of her hand with songs like "100 Days, 100 Nights," new one "She Ain't A Child No More," and a very cool reworking of "This Land Is Your Land." For anyone who says the golden days of soul music are gone, I say listen to Sharon Jones. Stax, Motown and Muscle Shoals got nothin' on Ms. Jones and her Dap-Kings.

Strange enough to keep it interesting but built on brilliant songs with inventive hooks, Spoon is a true leader in the modern rock world. Bathing in psychedelic splashes of sound at times, it felt like we were in an echo chamber, and the guest percussionist was a nice touch, too. Songs like "Written In Reverse," "Don't Make Me a Target" and "My Mathematical Mind" captivated the crowd with relentless rhythms and perfect precision, while "I Turn My Camera On" made a case for what disco could have been. This is a band of efficiency. No wasted notes or gratuitous solos (there wasn't a traditional solo all night), everything serves the song. Spoon continues to dish out the goods, and seeing them on their home turf on a big night like this was reason to celebrate.

I'd love to tell you more, but there is quite literally a party with my name on it that has already started. I need to get there. Let that be a glimpse into SXSW: There's always too much to do...

Continue reading for Sarah Hagerman's SXSW Day 1 highlights...

Words & Images by: Sarah Hagerman

Wanda Jackson & Green Corn Revival

Wanda Jackson :: 03.17.10
SXSW is geared towards pushing what's up-and-coming, but it also provides exciting chances to see legends in intimate settings. When the MC strolled out onto the Palm Door stage to announce Wanda Jackson - "The newest member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first lady of rock and roll! The queen of rockabilly!" - a gal that had roses tattooed from her wrist to her shoulder screeched in excitement and a dude with a pretty fierce wedge haircut and checkered jacket pumped his fists in the air. "I love singing to a pole!" she declared with a laugh, eyeing the rather unfortunately placed pillar smack dab in the center of the stage, before launching into "Mean Mean Man." As Green Corn Revival laid down rough-and-ready country, with slinky steel guitars and the occasional peppy trumpet, she wailed in her high, hundred proof voice. Armed with yodels, a kick ass pink guitar and stories about dating Elvis, at 72, Jackson is one feisty firecracker in a red fringe blouse. With classics such as "I Gotta Know," one of the first rockabilly songs ever recorded from 1956, and a killer version of "Heartbreak Hotel," she oozed timeless rock and roll attitude. But this was no nostalgia set. With a new album produced by Jack White, Jackson is still a force to be reckoned with. During her fantastic take on Amy Winehouse's "Trouble," she leaned suggestively against the pole, posing and pointing to folks in the audience as she drew out the lines, "I told ya I was trouble/ You know I'm no good." I overhead someone behind me declare, "Yeah, she's still trouble." I would suggest to anyone that comes to SXSW to try and catch at least one such show to realize, even in the midst of flash in the pan culture, there are artists who endure, and even stay fresh, after decades in the music industry.

Anais Mitchell

Anais Mitchell currently has an ambitious project, Hadestown: A Folk Opera. Based on the Orpheus Tale and set in a post-apocalyptic, depression-era America, folks like Justin Vernon, Greg Brown, and Ani DiFranco play the roles of Orpheus, Hades and Persephone, respectively. But tonight, it was just Mitchell and her guitar. She hushed the intimate crowd at The Ale House, some of whom sat frozen on the floor, causing Mitchell to remark, "I feel like it's story time in the library." With the Guinness and Lone Star-soaked mayhem of 6th Street's rage-a-thon pumping a block away, it was a welcome slice of peace, though her words touched on places that shook you to the core. For example, "Why We Build the Wall," where Hades asks a series of rhetorical questions to a group of children living in his walled city. "Why do we build the wall?/ We build the wall to keep us free." Freedom in this case means protection from the starving, poverty-stricken masses outside the gate. It was a bit Orwellian, and at a time where the social problems that confront us are often met with hostile indifference by those that feel entitled to clutch their piece of the pie, it hit a nerve. I couldn't help but imagine the stark, barbaric wasteland of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and woke up this morning unable to escape this image below, sung by Persephone in another tune:

The earth is a bird
On a spit in the sky
How long?
How long?
How long?

Bowerbirds

Danny Barnes :: 03.17.10
You had to feel for Bowerbirds. The crew running the Brooklyn Vegan showcase at Club De Ville took over half an hour to sound check the band, and after the first song, "Silver Clouds" from their stunning album Upper Air, guitarist Phil Moore broke both his pick and one of his strings, causing keyboardist and accordion player Beth Tacular to sigh, "Disasters everywhere." But the band took it in stride, playing a set that positively glowed, with a warm, inviting folk sound that you just wanted to join under the covers. "House of Diamonds" is Zen philosophy set to music, a reminder that true freedom exists inherently in our mind and once you open yourself to that place, you have the strong heart to let the world inside: "Yes, you own the stars/ You own the thunder/ But you have to share it all." This is the kind of band that builds you up into something stronger and reminds you, "Hey, shit happens." It's all strikes and gutters, ups and downs, and all you can do is abide.

Danny Barnes & Honky

It's a rare artist that can slip their material into different mediums and have it work just as well. But when you've got a set of songs as strong as the ones on Danny Barnes' latest, Pizza Box, the work speaks for itself. Although he usually plays his solo shows with his banjo and laptop, using Ableton software to loop and create texture, this night Barnes was backed by Honky - Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers) on bass and Justin Collins on drums, later joined by Bobby Rock on guitar. It was an amped-up approach that suited the songs to a tee, as Barnes' latest work travels from the sincerely touching to the unabashedly badass. At one point, he had us all verklempt during love song "Overdue," his banjo dancing lightly over Pinkus' melodic low end. Later, he picked up a flying-V guitar and wailed with a beaming Bobby Rock on "Road," his tale of a methamphetamine dealer hell bent on destruction. The latter was the perfect lead-up to an end cap of Honky songs. Running on pure diesel, where even the girls on the mud flaps would be giving you the middle finger, Honky took us for a whirlwind ride as they stretched their time to the max. There's a dirty grind with a rough-and-tumble heart in their sound, and Barnes' wild guitar freakouts fit perfectly. The grins on their faces and laughter as they would catch each other's eyes said it all – these cats were having a hell of a party up there, ripping it apart for those of us left standing at the brink of 2 a.m. at The Palm Door. Although he hasn't called Austin home for awhile, at one point a gentleman in the back cried, "Welcome home, Danny!" A true original who has never fit in anyone's box, Barnes' presence is certainly a welcome addition to SXSW this year.

Continue reading for more pics...

Images by: Scott Dudelson

Danger Mouse - Broken Bells at Spinner Party
James Mercer - Broken Bells at Spinner Party
Broken Bells at Spinner Party
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour at Emo's Annex
Leo Rondeau at Club Deville
Doll and The Kicks at Emo's Annex
Drake Bell at St. David's Hall
Freelance Whales at Paste Party
Henry Clay People at Little Radio Party
Hollarado at Canadian BBQ Party
Javelin at Buffalo Billiards
Mando Diao at Mohawk
Will Shef - Okkervil River at Paste Party
Roky Erickson at Paste Party
Suckers at Paste Party
Titus Andronicus at Force Field Party
Trespassers William at Hilton Gardens
Visqueen at Stubb's
Dawes at Club Deville

Check back tomorrow for more coverage of SXSW 2010...

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