Spinning Platters SXSW Report: 25 Instant SXSW Gig Reviews

by Dakin Hardwick on March 21, 2012

Approximately .0003% of the attendees at SXSW 2012

This is my fifth year straight where I descended to the great city of Austin, Texas to enjoy the most insane week of live music you will ever enjoy. I took a little easier than most years, but I still had a very fulfilling week of music. I get to enjoy a wide array of great stuff, and, without further adieu, here are my thoughts on that time:

 

Bass Drum Of Death

My first band of SXSW was supposed to be Foxy Shazam at the greatest record store on earth, Waterloo Records. (Sorry Amoeba!) Well, traffic was pretty severe, and we ended up showing up during their very last note. So, we decided to cut our losses and stick around for a few hours because, well, we found a great parking space, plenty of free Monster Energy drinks, and it was a good time to get surprised. So, we stuck around for a band called Bass Drum Of Death. They are three mop haired fellows, and they played the kind of loud, fuzzy, riff rock in the same vein as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with a hint of Ramones inspired fun. This brand of stoner rock is not generally designed to be listened to outdoors, under the hot Texas sun, and 2 in the afternoon, but they managed to push through the environment and kicked off the week quite nicely.

Spoek Mathambo

Next up was a band from South Africa. Spoek Mathambo are one of those bands that try to squeeze so many genres into a single song that they are practically indescribable. They incorporated Afro Beat, Krautrock, Hip Hop, Soul, Goth, Electro-funk, Dub, and many more styles into their set in a fun and unique way that managed to get the small afternoon crowd grooving pretty intensely. I can’t wait for these guys to come back around and play an extended set in a nightclub. These guys will slay any dancefloor. They even covered Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control,” turning it into a funky number that simultaneously respects and destroys the original.

fun.

The crowd has been decent all day, but still relatively manageable. That all changed when chamber-pop-punk heartthrobs fun. graced the stage. They performed a stripped down set: just vocals, guitar, and keyboards. It brought out the classic english folk charms of their fantastic, hook laden songs. Younger Wahlberg brother look alike & singer Nate Ruess was silly and full of charisma, mocking other artists that have a “swag coach,” and generally looked like he was having a ball. The band came off very genuine, and seemed very happy about their new found fame. The crowd managed to pull the band into an encore, which is a rarity during the SXSW experience, and a sizable number of crowd members rushed the photo pit in order to get closer.

Fiona Apple

One of the most eagerly anticipated performances of this year’s SXSW was the live return of Fiona Apple. I have never seen Fiona Apple live before, but when she a opened with a blistering and spazzy take on When The Pawn…’s “Fast As You Can,” it was a bold and big statement. She took the stage with the kind of confidence and power that screams “I’m here and I am not afraid to crush you.” Her voice is as huge and powerful as ever, and although she seems to be incapable of ever putting on an ounce of fat, she looked as healthy as she ever. You can also tell that she loves making music, and whenever the band took any sort of instrumental break, she stood off to the side, by her baby grand piano, and smiled at them while swaying to the music. She focused mostly on new material, and, based on the show, her new record is going to be a mix of deep soul and blues with a hefty guitar crunch.

Robert DeYoung

Our next stop was going to be to visit Austin City Limits to see the immortal Lionel Richie, however we got distracted, and somehow landed in a venue playing electronic music. I’m not entire sure what was going on there, or why we were there, but playing a there was a guy in the corner named Robert DeYoung, and he was, quite literally, all over the place. He was playing drums, singing, running a light show, triggering samples, playing keyboards, and he just wouldn’t stop. There was very little unique about his energetic brand of house music, but it didn’t matter, because he was so fascinating to watch! It was like a human jumping bean trying to cover as much ground as a human can.

The-Dream

I had high hopes for The-Dream’s set. This is the man who wrote such modern pop classics as “Single Ladies” and “Umbrella.” I wholly expected him to have some great tunes that he kept for himself, but instead we were treated to some very bland, mid-tempo R&B-Pop. It would have been fine if he balanced it with some great showmanship, but he simply didn’t have that certain “it” factor. He had no stage presence, which only amplified how bland his songs were. I was growing restless, and desperately wanted our main event to take the stage.

Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie is a legend. He’s been in the business for longer than most people at SXSW have been alive. He puts out records regularly, and tours relentlessly. It’s a shame that most people know him because of his adopted daughter Nicole these days, because he certainly still, at least performance wise, on top of his game. He’s looking fit, as if he hasn’t aged a day since the “Dancing On The Ceiling” days, and put his all into his set. Yes, he pulled a few cliches out: he made us clap our hands, called Austin the greatest city in America, reached out to grab the hands of the ladies in the crowd during the slow jams, but when you’ve been doing this as long as he has, you own these moves. In fact, he may have invented most of these. Instead of playing a bunch of new songs, his set was 100% hits, all from his time with The Commodores and his classic 80’s period, forgoing even singles from the 90’s. His sole nod to his latest record, an album of duets with country singers, was “Lady,” which featured special guest Kenny Rogers on stage with him.

Setlist

Hello (Remix)
Running With The Night
Easy
Ballerina Girl
Stuck On You (solo piano)
Still (Solo Piano)
On My Way
Dancing On The Ceiling
Sail On
Keep On Dancing’
Lady (You Bring Me Up)
Lady ( w/ Kenny Rogers)
The Gambler (tease)
Brick House

Hello
All Night Long

The Little Willies

Norah Jones used SXSW to promote two of her 2012 records. One of those was a typical Jones’ set, doing the kind of material she’s most famous for. That wasn’t the kind of set we got at this afternoon set. This was a set by The Little Willies, a band that does covers of classic country and western songs, and features rockabilly guitar hero Jim Campilongo and vocals are shared with Richard Julian. The set was heavy on the honky tonk and light on the ballads. They played an even balance of familiar songs such as Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” as well as more obscure treasures like Ralph Stanley’s “I Worship You,” a song that packs more time signature changes in 2 1/2 minutes than Yes do in an entire album.

Narduwar and The Evaporators

Narduwar is best known as the man that does the most ridiculously well informed interviews on the internet. He also has a pop/punk band on Mint Records. Mint Records is the Canadian version of the dearly departed Berkeley pop punk label Lookout Records, and he does short, fast, silly songs that belong on that label. Some song titles include “Mario Cuomo Works at Domo” and “Addicted To Cheese.” He spent the bulk of the set playing inside the crowd, occasionally stopping to interview people in the crowd. He also crowd surfed a ton, played keyboards while crowdsurfing, and we were treated to a guest appearance by Andrew WK,who led the band through “Party Hard” and “I Don’t Need My Friends To Tell Me Who My Friends Are.” It was a joyful, sweaty, messy show.

JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound

I was about to start looking for a place to sit down under air conditioning, but instead I was enticed by a giant parking structure that featured Gossip playing. It was also a place where they were handing out cold water, which I was in desperate need of after Narduwar. So, while I was sitting on the ground, enjoying a nice bottle of water, and band starting playing. It wasn’t The Ting Tings, as originally booked. It was an wonderful, old school soul throwback group called JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound. It was hot outside, and the crowd was baking. JC Brooks could feel it, and he brought actually played doubled the energy levels of the show, and successfully combated the lethargy caused by the heat. The man sang his heart out, and the whole band thrilled.

Gossip

I’ve been following this band for well over a decade at this point. I remember them when they were a bluesy punk band whose singer has tremendous pipes. As time went by, their lineup slowly evolved. They used to be a three piece, then they added a dancer, then they lost that dancer. They changed drummers, added a bassist, and this show introduced the fans to a keyboardist. The band keeps creeping in to full on disco territory, but their heart is still the powerhouse frontwoman Beth Ditto. Her potent, soulful voice can be spine tingling and she also has a killer stage presence. She made a nod to fellow blue eyed soul singer Adele by incorporating elements of “Rolling In The Deep” with their breakout single “Standing In The Way Of Control.” In a perfect world, Gossip would be as big as Adele, and with Adele taking next year off, it may be the perfect time for this band to take over the world.

Twin Atlantic

After the killer double header of Gossip and JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, any band would be a let down. So, maybe my view of Twin Atlantic was tainted, but, well, I didn’t like them. This Scottish band played radio ready alternative rock from the bygone era of Eve 6 and Bush. Every song had a loud-quiet-loud dynamic.  They looked great, and the crowd loved them. It was music designed for the masses, and I could easily see this band getting played on the local alternative rock station. I just couldn’t see them played on my own stereo.

Foxy Shazam

Foxy Shazam were the polar opposite of Twin Atlantic. Where Twin Atlantic were safe, Foxy Shazam were dangerous. The moved without abandon. Instruments flew everywhere. Frontman Eric Nally reminds me of a cross between Freddie Mercury and the host of a turn of the century freakshow host. Their performance is one of the best live shows in rock, and the songs are also great. Nally ate a pack of cigarettes on stage, keyboardist Sky White couldn’t stand still to save his life, and trumpeter Aaron McVeigh did such heinous things to his trumpet that laws may have been broken.

Japandroids

It seems that SXSW day shows like to book the loudest possible bands as early as possible. And Japandroids are about as loud as they can get. They took the volume all the way up, and did a full throttle assault on the crowd. This band is so brutal and fast that it felt like my face was going to melt off. Throughout the set, singer/guitarist Brian King’s guitar kept giving out, but drummer David Prowse would not stop moving for any reason, distracting from the technical difficulties and making a seemless and brutal set.

Deerhoof

Deerhoof are a Bay Area institution. They’ve been kicking around the avant noise scene since 1994, although they are touring in support of Deerhoof Vs Evil, their most accessible record yet. The current live show has moved away from the avant garde, and recasts the band as a straight up garage band. They still are a bit weird, but the riffs played could get stuck in your head for weeks. Drummer Greg Saunier is the true backbone of this band, pounding those drums as if he were the human embodiment of Animal from The Muppets.

American Pinup

There are tons of bands playing up & down the main drag in Austin midday. To a less discerning ear, it could be pure noise. I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as a huge musical sampler, and once you hear something you like, you can walk right and find your new favorite band. American Pinup may not have been quite that good, but they were a nice find. This female fronted band fused together meaty, heavy guitars, a pounding rock beat, and flourishes of retro 90’s ska core, all complimenting Lauren West’s perfect rock & roll voice.

Dragonette

The Canadian synth pop sensations opened up their North American tour here in Austin, and they approached the show with great confidence. Such great confidence that they opened the show with the gigantic crossover  hit “Hello,” on which they are “featured” on the Martin Solveig track. Always a brave move to play your biggest hit first, and they did not let down. Instead, they played each song in their set as if it’s the biggest hit ever, and the audience ate it up. Singer/guitarist Martina Sorbara is a fantastic frontwoman, getting the crowd moving and dancing like there’s no tomorrow, which is always a rare feet at a show that has so many industry people at.

Strand Of Oaks

This is my fifth visit to SXSW, but my first time entering the legendary Antone’s. It was quite refreshing, after all sorts of pop up venues with varying degrees of sound quality, to a solid, professional venue. Things ran like clockwork, and everyone sounded great. The showcase this evening opened with Strand Of Oaks. It was my first “beard band” of Texas, which amazed me that it took this long. This band, who performed a brand of indie rock that was equal parts Built To Spill and The Allman Brothers. The guitar solos were blistering, and the band sounded like they were just getting warmed up by the end of their 30 minutes showcase.

Wild Belle

There seems to be a lot of blue eyed soul going around, and it often makes it hard to tell the difference between them. Although vocalist Natalie Bergman sounds almost exactly like Amy Winehouse, that’s where the comparisons begin and end. Bergman managed to pulled off that bored swagger that very few people can pull off. The incredibly tight band plays a delicious blend of reggae, psychedelia, and pop, creating a sound that almost sounds like an incredibly sexy, feminine version of The Flaming Lips.

ZULU Winter

In the 90’s, britpop bands were competitive and inventive, but time has rendered the genre a bit boring. It’s getting harder and harder to find bands that managed to be both commercially accessible and inventive like they heyday of Blur, Pulp, and Elastica. Instead, we are stuck with Coldplay, Keane, and Snow Patrol. So, I was a bit nervous when I saw ZULU Winter take the stage. These are good looking, well dressed Brits, and I was ready for 30 minutes of melodramatic whining. Well, my nerves were quite relieved when I heard a nice, deep bassline that was part Mike Watt and part Peter Hook. Dark synthesizers kicked in, and we were treated to a set of big, glorious British rock. Where many of their peers sound melodramatic, these guys were simply dramatic. Singer Will Daunt is an energetic and passionate frontman, and took control of the crowd nicely.

Glen Hansard

I’ve never seen Once. Just putting that out to my loyal readers… Aside from hearing “Falling Slowly” on the radio, my first experience with Mr Hansard’s work was when I saw him play with Eddie Vedder. He was good, but it couldn’t compare to the intensity of this performance. He only had time for five songs, but he made sure that those four songs left a mighty fierce impression. He started out alone, with just an acoustic guitar that has been worn so hard that there were three holes in the body. He strummed with the kind of intensity of a man that isn’t used to a PA. He was joined onstage for his second song by Jake Clemons, nephew of Clarence Clemons and current sax player for the E Street Band. For the third song, he brought out a bassist and a drummer for a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night.” Clemons may not look much like his uncle, but his tone sounded exactly like him. I wasn’t lucky enough to see his set with The Boss at ACL, but this performance made up for that. The band then played a Springsteen-esque version of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” before closing out with a brief, acapella rendition of the classic Irish folk song “The Parting Glass.”And with that, I was completely converted.

Jake Clemons

Pickwick

Pickwick were sold to me as “white boy soul music from Portland.” That was good enough for me. What I didn’t expect to hear was the widest vocal range of any singer I’ve come across in SXSW this year. Galen Dillard-Diston is the type of singer that’s on par with Prince. He might not have been the smoothest dancer on Earth, but his spazzy dancing was fun to watch. This band has an ultra tight groove going, as well… Maybe nerdy white boys from the Pacific Northwest understand soul afterall.

Nikki & The Dove

I decided to check this band out because they seemed to be suddenly everywhere. I needed to know what all the hype was about. What we ended up with was a band that I just did not understand. Lead singer Malin Dahlstrom looked and sounded like a cut rate Stevie Nicks. The beats were sloppy, and the performance was mediocre. I understand that this may have been their 4th or 5th gig of the day, so they were obviously tired. It simply wasn’t a good set.

Doomtree

Either SXSW was light on the hip hop with year, or I simply managed to never come across it. Either way, it was great to see the much discussed Doomtree. This seven piece hip hop supergroup, anchored by POS and Dessa, two of the most innovative mc’s out there, put on a fantastic show. Hip hop isn’t a scene known for it’s live presence, but these folks definitely put it all in their live set. High energy and fantastic.

Ceremony

At this point, I thought that all of my energy was zapped. Then I stumbled across the hardcore, full throttle assault of Ceremony. They did straight up hard core punk, and they managed to work the crowd into the biggest frenzy of the festival. There was full fledged put, crowd surfing, kids climbing up the speakers and jumping into the crowd- normal rock concert stuff. They had great hooks and melodies, and many crowd members new all the words to everything. The bands vocalist even left the mic with fans for a while to take over. It was a killer, sweaty way to end the festival.

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