Best & Worst Moments of SXSW 2011: Day 1
Yuck, Grouplove, Sharon Van Etten, Jack White, Mona, and more from musical Mardi Gras in Austin, TX!
BEST GLORIOUS NOISE: YUCK
Maybe it was a trick of the environment — the cool cobalt light, the perfect 70-degree weather, the endless supply of Lone Star beer — but when Yuck played Stubb’s Wednesday night, it seemed like each guitar note rang a little louder and longer. Their Sonic Youth-channeling shred-pop confection “Get Away” was the peak of their set, showing what the London-based foursome does best: wave after molasses-thick wave of spacey, distorted licks that come across as neither skronky nor showy — just plain pretty. The slow dive closer “Rubber” drove that point home in all its grungy alt-’90 glory. — CHRIS MARTINS
BEST BRITPOP REVIVAL: BROTHER
Guess who didn’t choose sides during 1995’s Battle of Britpop. That would be this quartet from the English city of Slough, who sound as if they nicked the best bitsof both Oasis and Blur, even though the members were probably all of five when the fighting was fiercest. In their first-ever U.S. gig at Latitude 30, they confidentlyran through a set of inordinately bouncy, earwhig-infested, say-nothing guitar rockthat seemed factory-tooled for open-air-festival croon-alongs. (With a nod perhapsto another ’90s-era fave, the Happy Mondays, a prodigiously Afro’d young womanchipped in on backing vocals.). Calculated, shameless, and giddy — but, damn, did itwork. I, for one, expect huge things. — DOUG BROD
BEST HOPE FOR WHITE STRIPES REUNION: JACK WHITE
The guitarist unveiled his new mobile music store, the Third Man Rolling Record Shop, in a downtown parking lot by playing a two-song set, which included a stripped-back version of the White Blood Cells track “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” — KEVIN O’DONNELL
BEST EMOTIONAL PAIN: SHARON VAN ETTEN
“I write from a painful place,” the 30-year-old New Jersey native recently told SPIN of the inspiration behind her latest release, the seven-song EP Epic. You can say that again. At the Swan Dive venue, just past midnight, Etten played a mournful solo electric ditty, reminiscent early Cat Power, and while her lyrics were largely undistinguishable, the track’s title unidentifiable, it didn’t matter — the song gushed emotional ache like blood from an open wound. Words like “pain” and “brave” and “broken” occasionally rose over the five or six simple, tinny electric guitar chords she strummed alone. Even her bassist and drummer watched intently, like they’d never witnessed the emoting force of tangled nerves they in fact support each night. “[I’ll] never let myself love like that again,” she said. I’d reluctantly advise against it: It sounds like it hurt. — WILLIAM GOODMAN
BEST RUMBLE: JAMES BLAKE
Dubstep darling James Blake may have broken out live drums and guitar for his SXSW debut at Stubb’s, but it was the digitalia that left the biggest impression. When the sub-bass hit on opener “Unluck,” it shot through the crowd like a sonic boom, causing arm hairs to stand, pant legs to quake, scalps to tingle, and women to screech. He followed this with a truly dubbed-out take on his famous Feist cover, “Limit to Your Love,” whose low end sagged about a thousand percent lower than it does on the album. Best of all, each deep rumble and amplified drum hit cleared a path for Blake’s more minimal side — the soulful croons and keys that contrast so perfectly with the cavernous bombast. — C.M.
BEST NEXT KINGS OF LEON: MONA
This Nashville quartet, who were recently scooped up by major label Universal, offered up raucous, arena-ready burners reminiscent of the Followill Brothers’ smashes like “Sex on Fire.” And while singer Nick Brown’s vocal style veered occasionally into Steve Perry pomp, it’s the vitriolic, lung-busting screams that he unleashed in their set-closing punk anthem that could be the band’s secret weapon. — K.O.
BEST GANGSTA SWAG: FREDDIE GIBBS
Wearing a clean white t-shirt with a bulging Swisher Sweets “cigar” tucked behind his ear, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs delivered a jolt of old school, über-blunted, hypermasculine rap swag to the hip-hop focused Mohawk Patio. Before playing his first song — a menacing Mexicans With Guns-produced murder fantasy called “Highway to Hell” — Gibbs led the audience in a chant of “Fuck the police.” He later took it to the next level via his single “National Anthem,” inspiring the packed crowd to sing along with the oddly infectious chorus: “Fuck the world.” The best thing about Gibbs? When he says “Get your hands up,” you’re not sure if it’s a hoedown or a holdup. — C.M.
MOST BALLSY CAREER MOVE: PETE WENTZ’S BLACK CARDS
It’s possible to grow tired of cashing in on wearing eyeliner, playing to arenas full of tweens, and emoting like you’re still 14, but at least when bassist Pete Wentz launched Black Cards, his first post-Fall Out Boy musical project, he didn’t fall back on his past. Instead, he went… sassy Latin electro-pop? “I spent a lot of time in a band whining, so this time it’s good to be up onstage seeing people smiling,” Wentz told the half-full crowd at Maggie Mae’s at 1:30 A.M. “Sometimes it needs to be sunny outside.” Fronted by Bebe Rexha, who Wentz discovered when he overheard her singing in a studio, the band played reggae-flecked songs that are part Shakira spicy, part Lily Allen pop. “Shake your body!” Rexha repeated. Their music’s a convincing nudge. — W.G.
BEST MICRO-RAVE: GOLD PANDA
London’s Gold Panda packed the tiny Mohawk bar far beyond a fire marshal’s worst nightmares. His skittering soft tones, soupy ambient textures and constant thumping rhythm brought the drunk and down-to-dance out of the woodwork, and the hoodie-wearing producer responded in kind. Always maintaining a pulsing unst-unst, Panda let his psychedelic scores stretch out, first slowing songs like “You” down to a clubby throb, then jacking it way up to close with a wall of digital drums. It was at this point that the otherwise stoic performer seemed to be hit with a severe seizure. Apparently it was contagious, as the room became a happily jerking mess. — C.M.
WORST BEACH HOUSE RIPOFF: MEMORYHOUSE
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this might be an insult. With whirring keyboards and organs, floating-in-space electric guitar riffs, minimal drum machines, and female vocals addressing the human condition, this Ontario duo’s sound is a thinly-veiled knockoff of another dream-pop duo with “house” in their name: Sub Pop’s Baltimore outfit Beach House. Their set Wednesday, as a four-piece, was messy. Singer Denise Nouvion was offkey and her voice cracked often. The band was sloppy and out of time. And any swells or momentum — arguably the most important aspect of dream-pop sounds — fizzled out. Thank god (hey, the show was in a St. David’s Church) for when guitarist-vocalist and co-founder Evan Abeele sang backup, propping up Nouvion. Live, Beach House build a larger, far more convincing sound — and the do it with half the people.– W.G.
BEST UNEXPECTED REVIVAL: THE OOM-PAH BUSKERS ON 6TH STREET
This five-piece brass band amused drunken rabble-rousers in front of the posh Driskill Hotel with hot oom-pah and jazz, proving not every band needed a showcase or corporate-sponsored party to get noticed. It worked for Freelance Whales, right? — K.O.
BEST EBULLIENT BEATS: BATHS
This seems to be the year for beatsmiths who are able to emote — see James Blake, Toro Y Moi, Mount Kimbie, et al. — and none does so quite as brightly as L.A.’s Baths. Gripping his mic with both hands during new song “The Nothing,” Will Wiesenfeld practically screamed his falsettoed motivational mantra to “get out and find the love of [his] life.” During the epic, drum and bass-inflected “Indoorsy” he rocked so hard and happily that his glasses flew off of his face. Then, cuing up the samples of little kid chatter on “Aminals” to a hail of cheers, Wiesenfeld stopped to observe, “This song is so fucking cute.” So, um, what’s the opposite of emo? — C.M.
BEST ROCK HISTORIANS: HOLLERADO
This Canadian-based act must have one hell of a record collection: the group’s throwback sound dipped into everything from Television-style twin-guitar solos to boot-stomping, T. Rex-inspired glam-pop. And was that a tease of Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing?” that we heard mid-way through the set? — K.O.
BEST FEEL-GOOD VIBES: GROUPLOVE
Los Angeles’ Grouplove still sounds better on record than in person, but the band’s family folk vibes and broad grins were plenty infectious at their Latitude 30 stop-off. Making like a tighter, more pop-focused (and much smaller, members wise) Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, they emphasized big harmonies, high energy and crowd clap-alongs, notching wins with slow, alt-country grinders like “Gold Coast” and twangy upbeat anthems like “Colours.” Of course, that didn’t stop them from being among the worst-dressed — the bassist looked like he walked off the set of a Civil War reenactment. — C.M.
BEST SOUTHERN AMBASSADOR: BIG K.R.I.T.
On record, Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. embodies all the best lyrical elements of Southern rap: street wisdom, freaky sex, car culture, sports metaphors, general weirdness. Live, the charismatic emcee seems an apt candidate to represent the entire movement. Performing from both the stage and the floor, he switched back and forth between bouncy fast-rap and slow stylish verse with ease on tracks like “No Wheaties” and “Moon & Stars.” His instructions to the crowd were either drawled to perfection or the point of incoherence, depending which side of the Mason-Dixon you hail from. He wore a custom medallion with his state’s shape cut out of its middle. And as if to cement his diplomatic status, K.R.I.T. dedicated crowd favorite “Hometown Hero” not only to the recently deceased Nate Dogg, but to the victims of the Fukushima disaster. — C.M.
Shout out to the older man in his 60s with no shoes, no shirt, wearing a kilt, with ketchup caked onto his goatee, and with tattooed eyebrows in a Celtic warrior design, attempting to sing a Lady Gaga song on 6th Street. That’s the spirit! — W.G.
Flying Lotus affiliate Matthewdavid stewed up a set of psychedelic beats that kept up with the best of the electronic acts that rocked the Mohawk last night. Watch out for this one — think Animal Collective on a chemical cocktail of DMT and steroids. — C.M.
Ambling back to the hotel, we were distracted by what looked like a Juggalo speed-rapping with Body Count backing him. Turned out to be Kansas City weirdo Tech N9ne in corpse-paint, regaling an enrapt audience with tales of past run-ins with a “Psycho Bitch.” Equal parts trick and treat. — C.M.