Dakin’s SXSW Journal: 47 Instant SXSW Gig Reviews

by Dakin Hardwick on March 22, 2011


It ain't no party unless the cops show up!

Another SXSW has passed, and this year, I intended on doing a daily diary, but the internet kind of sucked in our hotel, and I also really wanted to sleep, so instead you get this: a big, huge list of everything awesome at SXSW, including some amazing day parties thrown by our friends at Terrorbird, Force Field PR, Ticketfly, SPIN, NPR, and MOG (thanks!), leaving me pretty tired and delirious. For those of you that don’t want to read, I’ll sum it up: Best bands that I’ve never heard of before were Attic Ted, The Death Set, and DOM. The Kills did not kill, but TV On The Radio, Death From Above 1979, and The Dead Milkmen all played great comeback sets. Now, sit back, relax, have a Shiner Bock and read on:

Wednesday, March 16th

Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings played a familiar sounding brand of Pop/Punk. They reminded me a lot of the music of the mid-90’s, sort of a hodge podge of Mr T Experience, Better Than Ezra, and the faster Weezer material.


Pictureplane did fun dance music and punky speeds. It was just a guy and a laptop, and I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if his set wasn’t in the early afternoon.


Minimalist music that felt electronic, but was entirely organic. They are extremely gifted musicians that really understand the importance of a solid arrangement. The vocal harmonies were delicate, precise, and so rhythmically complex that they needed to play in a circle and watch each other to insure that all vocals were in sync. This was a killer set, and the first band to triumph over the limitations of an event like SXSW.

Rainbow Arabia

Rainbow Arabia were described to me as what happens when LA hipsters try to do Arabic music. That is not what I heard… They did typical, slightly mellower poptronica. Their singer, Tiffany Preston, has charisma in spades, and managed to work the daytime crowd pretty well, but the songs were lacking. I’m sure in a few years this band will be great, but for now, they just aren’t ready yet.


I first saw Smoosh several years ago at Slim’s, opening for Mates Of State. At that point, they were a pair of adorable tweens that did cute, indie rock tinged pop music for keyboards and drums. They have since grown into full fledged teenagers, and with that came a much more grown up sound. They added a violin, a cello, and a bass guitarist, and have moved into chamber rock territory. Singer Asy’s voice is still youthful, but the songs are coming from a much darker place now.


Their singer reminds me of the singer from The National, and the rest of the band does simple, straight up rock music. It’s the kind of stuff that you pound your fist to, but nothing fiercer than that.

The Death Set

I try not to use the phrase “amazeballs” lightly, but The Death Set definitely qualified. The band began their set by simply playing The Jackson 5’s “I Want Your Back” on the overhead, and then playing along for a few bars before abruptly cutting it off and diving head first into a blistering punk rock song. Throughout the set, which was ridiculously high energy, singer Johnny Siera kept triggering samples with a foot board, and the band would play along to 30 second snippets of songs like Notorious BIG’s “Hypbotize” or Bad Religion’s “Fuck Armageddon, This Is Hell” before assaulting us again. They were so intense that they prompted me to leave my comfortable booth, and my animal impulses kicked in, forcing me to join the sweaty, frantic dancers at the front of the stage. It takes a lot to get my 31 year old bones to move like a 15 year old, but this band accomplished such.


I try to avoid seeing bay area bands while at SXSW, but I keep missing tUnE-yArDs at home, and I decided that it was time to finally see them. Fronted by Merrill Garbis, a woman whose voice is clearly one of the most dynamic I’ve heard in years. She sounded like a female Cab Calloway, and she handled all of her own percussion and ukulele, while she had a bassist and horns filling out her bright & jazzy sound. It’s no surprise that she was hand picked by Yoko Ono herself as an honorary Plastic Ono Band member at Ono’s shows in LA last year.

Sondre Lerche

I have spent very little time actually listening to this guy, but people seem to love him, and I had a free moment to finally check him out. I also was starving at this point, and much like many of the SXSW gigs, there were free nachos in the back. So the nachos split my focus a bit. What I got from him was a that he has a really pretty voice, and is an excellent guitarist. I simply wasn’t taken in by his songs, but I could tell that I was alone, because the majority of the crowd stood in rapt attention.

Bonus tip for single guys: This showcase audience was 90% female.

Sofia Knapp

This was my first official showcase of the fest. I didn’t have anything on my schedule for 8 PM, and a got a tip that this would be a good set. This woman is amazingly gifted. She has a stunning voice, had beautiful songs that were memorable, is a gifted guitarist, and simply owned the stage. She would be the perfect package, except for two details that may be minor, but are the things that could hold her back. First, she played an electric guitar like an acoustic. Sometimes it’s interesting, but with her, it was just jarring. Secondly, she kept insisting on processing her magnificent voice. If you have such a gift, use it. Don’t hide behind technology.

My own humble opinion.

Attic Ted

My primary ambition for this night was to see Duran Duran. That didn’t happen. Because the same person that tipped me off on Sofia Knapp dragged me to a tiny bar several blocks off the strip. And that’s where I learned about Attic Ted. What is Attic Ted? They were one part The Residents, one part Danny Elfman score, and one part awesome & weird dance party. They performed behind homemade masks, and even got the crowd dancing and singing along to a Yoko Ono cover! When does that ever happen?!?!?! They were the 2nd band to get me moving, and I felt that they scored super points!


Thursday, March 17th

Liam Finn

Son of the great Neil Finn, but the comparisons end there. Liam played a blissful set of psychedlic pop music that is big and triumphant. I understand why Eddie Veddar considers him to be one of the greatest living songwriters, because he nailed it on the songs, the arrangements, and his band was super tight.

Owen Pallett

The artist formerly known as Final Fantasy played a pleasant set of pop songs using a keyboard, a violin, and a looper. He built some great pop songs up by him self, and although fun, I wasn’t compelled to stay for more than a few songs. It was a case of “good, but not great” and after watching Liam Finn, it was a bit of a let down.


Talk about setting the bar ridiculously high for the day! I’ve previously mentioned on this site that Sleater – Kinney could be my favorite band of all time. WILD FLAG is 2/3 of that legendary band, plus Mary Timony of Helium and Rebecca Cole of The Minders. It’s a rare super group situation where the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. It’s as if they picked up right where S-K left off on their punkadelic farewell record “The Woods,” brought in some of Helium’s prog tendencies, and a pinch of girl group harmonies and organ driven garage rock and you get close to what WILD FLAG are all about. Really, you just gotta listen to them because words will never do this band justice.

The Joy Formidable

As the band I saw AFTER WILD FLAG, I had little hope for them. I think that their debut record, The Big Roar, as a lot of fun, I simply don’t think it’s as good as WILD FLAG. I also wasn’t expecting such a deliriously high energy live show. The power trio ripped through their set of music that can only be described as “Noise Pop.” Singer Ritzy Bryan, with her huge blues eyes, black dress, and blonde bob cut looked like a doll possessed by rock n roll. She is simply one of the most charismatic front people I’ve seen, and I see a lot of shows.

The Antlers

The Antlers were the exact opposite of The Joy Formidable, in terms of stage presence. They played a record front to back that only a few weeks ago they finished recording. They were nervous, and you could tell by looking at them, but once they started playing, it was a whole new world. The venue we were (The Parish) at might be the most acoustically perfect venue in Austin, and their set of swirling guitars and falsetto vocals filled the room in the most glorious way. Halfway through the set, I sat down on the padded bench on the side of the venue, closed my eyes, and let it over take me. After a long day of rock, it was a pleasant reprieve, and I’m quite excited about this release.

Solace + Fury

This was another SXSW-surprise. This band, led by Amber Tisue, did a bit of bright folk jazz that never veered towards Ani DiFranco territory. Even better was the fact that this group is normally just a drummer and a singer/guitarist, but they tacked on horns & bass at the last minute, without any rehearsal, and sounded spectacular!

Hey Rosetta!

Canadians are awesome. This band? Amazing. They were simultaneously big & intimate, and worked well at St david’s Sanctuary. They were another folk rock band with a lot of people on stage playing a lot of different instruments, and although there is the tempation to compare them to Arcade Fire, these guys have the sincerity that Canada’s biggest band of the moment never had.


Reminded me of Snow Patrol. Also reminded me that I needed a break from bands to go find food. Sorry guys!

Foster The People

The crowd loved this band. I didn’t. They sound like every other popular rock band of the moment. They are a little bit indie, and a little bit radio rock.

Noah & The Whale

This band covers everything. They do garage rock, they do country music, they’ve got a violin, they do folk, they do power pop. Every song was entirely unique, and they know what they are doing. They played to big stage at Stubb’s like headliners, and the audience knew it, too!

Donald Glover/Childish Gambino

After an expensive pedicab ride, some chasing clues about a B.o.B./Janelle Monae set, and a lot of frustration, I stumbled into Austin Music Hall to see Fishbone. The place was packed already for a Wu Tang set later, and the crew was taking forever to set up Fishbone. I was there for about 30 minutes before Donald Glover came onstage while Fishbone’s crew was setting up, and did 10 minutes of freestyle. He was killer! He moved quickly and with wit, and the Wu audience ate it up! It was really good, and I’m sure a full set would be even better. After he left the stage, it was another 20 minutes of no Fishbone, so I left.

The Bangles

The crowd for The Bangles was ridiculous. The venue was packed beyond belief, and there was probably 100 more people watching from the street! The crowd stayed cool, and they never needed to break it up, so we all got to enjoy this set. The band still looks great, especially Susannah Hoffs, who will never look older than 25, it seems. They played the hits, and their set was almost exactly like their Lilith Fair gig from earlier last summer. They played a few new songs that all sounded like old songs, which is good. They even dusted off Big Star’s “September Gurls,” in tribute to the late Alex Chilton, who died days before his SXSW gig last year.

J Cole

I’m wasn’t familiar with him before this set, but the guy was good. He’s a charismatic rapper, and he’s part of the new wave of rappers that cut out the machsimo, and just play music for the love of it. The crowd was crazy for him, too!


The Adventures Of Bobby Ray is one of my favorite records of 2010. It might be the most humble rap record to break through to the mainstream, and it’s full of earworm hooks that stick with you for days. B.o.B’s set tonight, complete with 5 piece back up band and his friend Playboy Trey acting as hype man, was a deliriously fun trip through that record, concentrating mostly on the deeper cuts. B.o.B. is also one of the few rappers I know of that play guitar while they play. They man can do it all, and despite not taking the stage until 2:10 am, he still gave us an epic  45 minutes dance party kept going well after the bar went dry.

Friday, March 18th

28 North

A bunch of guys doing country rock. Kind of like Kings Of Leon before they started sucking.


This is the new project from Circle Jerk’s Keith Morris. They very simply played old school punk rock. Every song was short, fast, loud, and catchy. Morris himself came off as your really awesome punk rock grandpa that told great stories about the old days, but still had attitude to spare! His look is great: He’s balding with dreads, and is fit as a fiddle. He had great one liners, but I was too busy enjoying the band itself to write them all down. The best was when he went on about his love of coffee, and called Starbucks “another place where people go to get jacked up.”

Electric Child

Bass, drums, and a ballet dancer. Their front woman, Alison Clancy, was amazing as a band leader, using her ballet moves across the stage and throughout the crowd, but the songs weren’t especially memorable. The best moment was when she channeled her inner Kathleen Hanna for a cover of Le Tigre’s “The Empty.”

The Vaccines

Like a sober Strokes. Sorry I’m being so catty…. NEXT!

DOM are a young band that looks like they should be really sloppy & unprofessional. Instead, they are a ridiculously tight band inspired by 60’s garage bands. Their lead guitarist was equally technically proficient and creative, two worlds that rarely meet. I could see this band a hundred times over, and by Saturday, I wasn’t alone, because I kept seeing people wearing DOM sunglasses and t-shirts, so you know that the betting folks should be looking towards DOM to take over the world, even if it’s one small audience at a time.


Someone at SPIN Magazine decided that it would be funny to book DOM and OMD back to back. Despite the silliness of the names, they totally rocked it. I only knew them as the “If You Leave” band, and folks looking for a band like that should simply look elsewhere. They played the hit, but also a wide array of dark New Wave dance songs. They even brought out Moby to play bass on a couple of songs, and nuclear warfare couldn’t wipe the smile off his face during this set.

The Kills

On the other hand, few bands seemed more upset to play than The Kills. They struggled with technical difficulties that prompted lead singer Alison Mosshart to storm off mid set. They looked exhausted, and simply couldn’t get past the trouble they were having. Even the most die hard Kills fans in the crowd felt that the show was “lacking.”

Before I get flamed by Kills fans, I need to say that I really like the band. At Treasure Island 2008, I thought that they were brilliant! The band sounded good, and both front persons radiated so much sex appeal that most of the audience needed to shower after their set. This performance wasn’t that.


I’m not typically a fan of the DJ set, but this guy totally made up for The Kills lackluster set by playing a fun set as electronic music that was a little bit punky, and a perfect warm up for TV On The Radio.

TV On The Radio

Headlining the SPIN Party at Stubb’s was TV On The Radio’s first gig in three years or so. It’s also their first gig in a much longer time without bassist/keyboardist Gerard Smith, since he’s dealing with lung cancer. Instead, drummer Jhameel Bunton took over bass duties, and The Death Set’s Japhet Landis took over drums, filling in those shoes rather successfully. The band played several new songs, in addition to classics like Dancing Choose, Staring at The Sun, and closing the set with a brutal pairing of the new “Reptition” and “Wolf Like Me,” whipping the industry-heavy crowd into a brisk pogo. The new material is solid, and maybe a bit more aggressive than the older stuff, but mark your calendars because April 12th (11th everywhere other than the US, I believe) is the date of the new album’s release, and it will be an album of the year contender for sure, if this live show was any indicator.

Set List:

Young Liars

Dancing Choose

Will Do

Staring At The Sun

Red Dress

Blues From Down Here


Wolf Like Me

Times New Viking

Summery, bright, boy/girl indie rock. I enjoyed this band a lot! They are very lofi, and a bit sloppy. Drummer Adam Elliott reminded me of a much more confident Meg White, and were a lot of fun to watch. They looked like they were having a ball, and unlike a lot of bands by Friday night, they were still fresh and exhilarated.

FreeCreditScore.com Band

This was billed as ‘Liz Phair & The FreeCreditScore.com Band,’ which I thought would be fun. Instead, this band known for a horrible jingle did a full set. What did they sound like? Well, what OKGo would sound like if they stopped caring about writing songs. The best part of their set was the jingle.

Liz Phair

On the other hand, Liz Phair sounded great. She opened with the blistering mid 90’s hit “Supernova,” then dived straight into 6’1”, then “Never Said.” She played a greatest hits set complete with only one track off last year’s maligned Funstyle record. The only thing odd about this set was that all of the tracks from the lofi classic Exile In Guyville seemed inappropriate next to the bigger, more produced tracks from later records. Although, even that was forgiven when she closed with an especially dry reading of “Fuck & Run,” punctuating the humor of the song.

Screaming Females

This band is crazy! Imagine if you will, a band fronted by a woman genetically engineered to have to stage presence and belting abilities of Molly Seigel of ponytail, give her Grace Slick’s voice, Lydia Lunch’s insanity, and Robert Johnson’s guitar skills. Write some killer blues/punk fusion tracks, give her a tight rhythm section, and you have rock & roll glory.

The End Tables

Another band where the first I’d heard of them was on the way to the venue. And they were recommended by the same woman that recommended that I listen to Addict Ted, so I opted to pay attention. What did we get? More old school punk. It was fun, if  not especially unique. The meager crowd enjoyed it, and we danced because that’s what you do to old school punk.

Kurt Vile & The Violators

Vile’s last two records are on pretty consistent rotation in my iPod. I’ve never seen him play electric, and it was a treat to see him in this setting. Although he doesn’t really do much in terms of crowd interaction, he just plays his songs really well. They were crazy noisy and slow, reminiscent of Crazy Horse at their heaviest. He closed the set with “Freak Train”, ending the song with a sax wailing and Vile crawling on the floor playing one of the nastiest solos all week!

Art Vs Science

All of my fellow Platters loved this band. I had plenty of 1 am options, but I decided to keep to see them based on that. I may loose my title by saying that I thought they were ‘Meh.” Their first two songs were a little too whimsical for my taste and their act seemed a bit “forced” at first. It wasn’t until their third song where they seemed to be having a good time, and it loosened up a bit. They did have an awesome sing along with the shout back “Parlez-vous Francias? Oui!” that ended in the band getting cut off by the venues manager for time. (despite it being only 1:40 am)

Saturday, March 19th

Smith Westerns

This band played at least 400 times this week, but it wasn’t until Saturday at noon did I actually get to see them. They played their catchy rock tunes very well, with all the precision as the wonderful album Dye It Blonde that they recently released, and their stage presence may have been a little sluggish, you try playing SXSW and tell me how you are feeling at noon on Saturday.


Yeah, I saw them again. Still awesome, and the only sign that this was their 7th show in four days was that Carrie Brownstein couldn’t quite scream the way she usually does. Other than that, they played like they were fresh! (Note: There last gig was ended at 2 am the night before. This gig was at 1 pm.)

Okkervil River

I really like this band, and I’ve seen them several times. This 45 minute set was equally weighted between new material, which is both faster and bigger than their older stuff, and the higher energy classic stuff. I still think that Lauren Gurgiolo is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock, and really is the rock that holds this band together.

TV On The Radio

Yes, I saw them again, too. This was virtually the same set as the SPIN show, only even more aggressive, and a touch longer, by about 10 minutes. And, since this show was open to the public, the crowd was far more fun.

Big Boi

People don’t respect Big Boi enough. When people talk about Outkast, they almost always put him 2nd to Andre 3000, which is totally ridiculous, because his microphone skills are amazing, and unlike Andre, is actually willing to hit the road and play live. He confessed to driving 16 hours straight to get to this gig (This MOG sponsored event wasn’t going to fly him in?), but you would never know it if he didn’t tell you. His energy was insane, and he, along with hype man C-Bone, fired through a set that consisted of 70% Outkast material and 30% tracks of his killer album Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty. His 45 minute set became an hour and 10 minutes worth of hardcore partying. He even invited all of the women of the crowd on stage that were willing to come up to dance, which turned it into  a crowd of about 30 ladies on stage.

So, we don’t really need an Outkast reunion of these are the kinds of shows he’s doing. And “Bombs Over Baghdad” might be my favorite songs to hear live.

The Dead Milkmen

Much of my high school life was spent listening to The Dead Milkmen, but I never thought that I’d get to see them live. So I ventured out to the Mess With Texas festival, which is a free, all ages event in a huge dirt field that focuses pretty heavy on the louder side of SXSW. I was a little nervous about seeing them live, but they sounded great! They were a little old, of course, but looked fit as a fiddle. They had insane energy, and the youthful crowd whipped into a delirious moshing frenzy that was so big and crazy that they managed to form a tornado of dirt the floated above the pit! Kids were climbing up the speakers to get a better view, and continu0usly lept onto the stage just for stage diving. Singer Joe Genaro grabbed a stage diver to introduce “Bitchin’ Camaro,” but instead of telling the story of the Camaro, he talked about how much he dislikes SXSW showcase gigs because of “all the independent filmmakers talking louder than the bands about their so called independent films for the Independent Film Channel. And remember, you aren’t an independent filmmaker if you are making a movie for a television network.” He was snarky, and fun, and the band sounded great. They played a bunch of new material, as well, and lyrically was a bit more grown up and political than their classic stuff.

The Ghost Of A Saber Toothed Tiger

This project, consisting of Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Kemp Muhl, is awesome. I saw them do an electric set at Noise Pop last year, and it was a great set of Beatles-esque pop music. This was a completely different thing entirely. Simple and stripped down. Muhl and Lennon were on acoustic guitar, with an extra side person alternating between horns, strings, and guitar. The dynamic was a bit jazzier and I was happy to get to hear them in this set up.

Death From Above 1979

This was a difficult decision for me to make, my 1 am slot for Saturday night. We had a rare club set from Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band (with special guests tUnE-yArDs, Thurston Moore, and Kim Gordon!) happening only a few blocks away from Death From Above 1979’s first performance in 7 years. I basically flipped a coin and ended up at DFA 1979. For several hours, I was deeply regretting this decision. We were treated to a barrage of the most boring DJ’s in the history of electronic music. It was pure pain! We considered leaving, but when I asked if I could simply run across the street to the ATM, we were told that we wouldn’t be able to come back. The band was set to take the stage at 1 am, but the venue was filled by 10 pm. The alley beside the venue was filling up fast, and things were starting to get intense. The fire marshall and several police officers kept coming through the venue to insure that things never got dangerous.

The band came out promptly at 1 am, and fired through a ferocious set of brutal dance punk. The band turned the crowd into a giant mob of pure adrenaline that didn’t stop moving. The crowd outside continued to grow more & more restless, and eventually tore down the back fence, turning the show into a near riot! Cops had to stop the show while trying to disperse the crowd, which numbered more than triple the number of people inside the venue. After about 20 minutes of cops, horses, and terrible jokes being told by drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger, the band finished their set in peace, while at least as much peace as you could have when moving at a breakneck pace. They set, which ended up being about 45 minutes long, ended in the giant bro hug amongst the sweaty masses, reminding the that I made the correct decision to stay in place.


Photo’s by David Price & Marie Carney, with additional photos by Caroline Hernandez, James King, and that one pic of Kurt Vile & The Violators is by me!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Casey March 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I really, really enjoyed these reviews. Consise & to the point. For the bands I have seen perform before, I thought your reviews for their shows were spot on compared to what I’ve seen which made me trust your opinion on the bands I would like to see but haven’t been able to see yet. I’m supposed to finally see DOM this weekend after playing out their EP incessantly and unfortunately missing all my other opportunities to see them thus far, so thanks for not ruining that for me. All in all, great work!


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