Best & Worst Moments of SXSW 2011: Day 2

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G-Side / Photo by Ian Witlen
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

BEST POWER (POP) TRIO: DINOSAUR PILE-UP
It's difficult to write about this trio from Leeds, England, without mentioning thattrio from Seattle. Nirvana's gritty (but not grungy) DNA is all over the buzzy din.The difference here is that it's all relatively angst-free. Loud, boisterous, and with a bassist on the right side of hammy, they leaven pummeling riffs with the kind ofsweet melodies not heard since the last Ash album. Some tuning issues marred theirinitial sonic assault at Latitude 30 before a spotty yet enthusiastic crowd, but onsongs like "Mona Lisa" and "Birds and Planes," it was clear we were in the presenceof something special. -- DOUG BROD

BEST TRIUMPH OVER A LAME CROWD: G-SIDE
"We don't look like the type of dudes who'd listen to Beach House, do we?" observed G-Side rapper ST 2 Lettaz about halfway through the Huntsville, Alabama, group's show at Beauty Bar. The sparse crowd fidgeted and looked on perplexed. Crammed onto a small stage in the corner of a small rock club, ST and his partner Clova, along with a DJ and male-female backup singers, weren't exactly in their element (especially with the glitchy sound system and malfunctioning mics). But they remained undeterred, rapping fiercely over a sample of the dream-pop group's "10 Mile Stereo," while putting their own "hunchback and spliff to it," as ST remarked with a smile. Buoyed by their soulful backup, the duo took the luxurious, cinematic songs about the street-life grind (from expansive new album The ONE... COHESIVE), and gave them a raw, spontaneous urgency. -- CHARLES AARON

BEST RISING STAR POISED FOR CROSS-OVER SUCCESS: JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD
With her 45-minute set at St. David's, this 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Kent, Ohio, proved she has what it takes to be your favorite new artist -- and your mom, grandpa, little brother, and Stetson-tipping uncle's too. For her sophomore album Tell Me, produced by the cred-boosting frontman of the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, she's tweaked tender country-rock ballads into a universally irresistible medium. On "Somewhere in Your Heart," Mayfield delivered a crushing blow like a seasoned vet -- she's performed with her family's bluegrass band since she was eight -- over an acoustic guitar and piano groove, which detonated in an instrumental breakdown of funnel-cloud electric guitar and a rainstorm of cymbal percussion. "Don't you want to wake up with somebody beside you?" she sang. Sure do. But if not, your music will suffice. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

MOST COST-EFFICIENT TIME-KILLER: CHILDISH GAMBINO
Between Yelawolf and Fishbone's sets at the Village Voice party at Austin Music Hall, Donald Glover popped onstage for three largely a cappella freestyle songs. He was good, but should have stopped just before the part where he promised that "all" of the Wu-Tang Clan were on hand to perform. -- STEVE KANDELL.

BEST SOULFUL HEARTWARMING GESTURE: CHARLES BRADLEY
After his intense howl of a set at Stubb's, backed by the flawless ensemble Menahan Street Band, diminutive sixtysomething soul man Charles Bradley wiped his glistening brow, put his upturned hands together and began blowing long, heartfelt kisses of thanks to the boisterous crowd. The Brooklyn singer, who just released his first record in late January on Daptone, seemed genuinely moved by the opportunity to the play for such a large crowd, which was waiting for headliners TV on the Radio. -- C.A.

BEST BLASPHEMY: FENCES
"I may break a record for saying 'fuck' the most times in a church," joked Seattle singer-songwriter Christopher Mansfield, aka Fences, midway into his set at St. David's. And, oddly, the powers above seemed to have rewarded him for it. During "Girls With Accents," an indie-pop lament with a crushing chorus about squandered romance, Mansfield sang, "I'm fucking up, I'm fucking up, I'm fucking up everything" (that's three, for those who are counting). On the contrary. One LP into his career (his self-titled debut, produced by Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara) and Mansfield is giving his Bright Eyes-esque acoustic ditties some grit with a tight and biting live band that now sounds more similar to Seattle indie vets Death Cab for Cutie and even Sunny Day Real Estate. -- W.G.

MOST CONSPICUOUS FASHION TREND: THE "VENETIAN GONDOLIER" LOOK
This is a little out of our wheelhouse, but we'd be remiss in not commenting on the black-and-white horizontal striped shirt trend, as donned by half of Denver synth-rock quartet Chain Gang of 1974 and maybe a third of 6th Street. -- S.K.Read More From SXSW Day 2 on Page 2 >>

BEST PLAYFULLY (AND APPROPRIATELY) NAMED DJ: TOY SELECTAH
Monterrey-based DJ/producer Toy Selectah works in a style called tribal guarachero, which mixes electronic dance beats with more traditional Mexican music, but mostly he dares you not to grin and bounce at the same time. For his wee-hours Flamingo Cantina set, he created a wildly syncopated thump that shifted from raucous emotion (Hector Lavoe's heartrending voice leaping out of the mix) to more soothing mid-tempo grooves (Herb Alpert drifting by) to a veritable slapstick pile-up of accordions and thudding techno kick drums. And yeah, there was a drunk in a Lucha Libre mask trying to cha-cha mack on all the women in the bar. This is SXSW, after all. -- C.A.

WORST MUSICIAN TO HAVE AS YOUR ENEMY: GLASSER
Because she'd put a spell on you. During her set at the cavernous Central Presbyterian, the Los Angeles-based songstress born Cameron Mesirow proved to have supernatural musical powers, like a hipster witch possessed by the soul of Bjork. On "Home," off her debut LP Ring, she writhed and twitched, chanted and shrieked about clouds turning to dust, as her three-member backing band -- all dressed in earth-tone work suits -- summoned a tribal march with Far East-sounding flutes. "Tremel" was about "drowning and laughing," while being sucked into the ocean with "watery ghosts." All that was missing from the show was a sacrificial offering to the pagan gods. Hey, got a knife...? -- W.G.

BEST REFUGE FROM DOWNTOWN MADNESS: CULTS
Far from the ridiculous drunken college kids celebrating St. Patrick's Day on 6th St., Cults cooled off fest-goers at a cavernous church with their electronic-tinged take on '60s girl-group pop. The venue's booming acoustics only added to their already reverb-soaked sound -- particularly on tracks like the charming breakout song "Go Outside" -- and the hallowed setting only caused attendees to sit reverently in the pews. Still, there were a few spontaneous and sexy moments befitting a rock show: One fan sparked a mini dance party when Cults closed with "Oh My God" -- already an early contender for best jam of Summer 2011 -- while singer Madeline Follin suggestively tugged at the hem of her dress. Best moment: uncontrolled blasts of feedback during the starry-eyed ballad "You Know What I Mean" prompted Follin to joke, "That was weird -- I think that song is cursed." -- KEVIN O'DONNELL.

BEST NEW SIGNING TO AN OLD-TIMEY LABEL: SEASICK STEVE
It's easy to see why Jack White has signed this grizzled 70-year-old bluesman to his ThirdMan label. The man born Steven Wold has been a peripatetic musician fordecades and every moment lived seems to pour out in his sturdy playing and scruffyvoice. Performing solo while seated in a small chair at the lovely outdoor BelmontLounge -- his fulsome gray beard making him resemble a lost member of the ZZ Top tribe -- he's an irascible, engaging guy, dishing out joshing threats and cursing likethe awkward sailor his nickname suggests. -- D.B.

BEST MOSH PIT: FRESH & ONLYS
One thing SXSW -- and perhaps indie rock in general -- is noticeably lacking is the sweaty and wild (and something exhilaratingly hazardous) mosh pit. But don't be afraid to dirty your new Chuck Taylors or break your neck, guys, come on in! The rowdy, boozed-up crowd at Shangri-La had no such concerns, as the San Francisco quartet pounded out the hook-laden garage rock from their 2010 album, Play It Strange, with an intensity unmatched at SXSW. And the crowd went apeshit. They invaded the stage, poured beers on each other's heads (and possibly the bassist's), and started a mini circle pit. The band didn't stop playing until the soundsystem crapped out. Now that's rock'n'roll. -- W.G.

WORST HIPPIES: PRINCE RAMA
The ladies of Prince Rama are actually quite good at being hippies, but that made their shtick all the harder to watch. Drummer Nimai Larson seemed unhelpingly high, and her sister Taraka was a tousled mess in a gold-sequined dress. Utilizing an unintelligible bird call, the latter spouted out seemingly Eastern chants and mantras, but who could tell? Oh, wait -- the in-band dancer, a barefoot woman in traditional Indian garb, from the bright orange gown to the ornate headpiece. She grooved her hips and twisted her wrists throughout, whether the girls were smashing on cymbals, mashing on samplers, or running hands willy-nilly across the length of a keyboard. - CHRIS MARTINS.

MOST CONFUSING: FISHBONE
Although 1988's Truth and Soul remains an undisputed ska-punk-funk classic, the band's subsequent career has been all fits and starts, marked by revolving-door personnel upheavals and stylistic lurches towards metal and hardcore. The constants have been bassist John Norwood Fisher and frontman Angelo Moore, whose frantic energy hasn't let up much as Fishbone enters their fourth (!) decade, and although his showmanship now relies more on goofy wigs than leaping from amp stacks. Those at the Austin Music Hall hoping for a revue of the band's late-'80s sweet spot got a fair taste -- "Cholly," "Ma and Pa," and "Everyday Sunshine" -- but there was no evident interest on the band's part to reintroduce themselves to a larger, younger audience than they might normally see by trotting out the classics, content to languish in a weird quasi-jam-scene limbo. Most confounding of all, however, was the finale: a rote cover of Sublime's beloved-by-the-frat-mooks-it-vilifies "Date Rape." One can only assume that this was meant as a tribute to a fallen comrade who just happened to have capitalized on Fishbone's own far superior precedent, but it came off like pandering at worst, and at best, a misleading history lesson. -- S.K.

BEST VICTORY LAP: OH LAND
Danish electro-pop cutie Nanna Øland Fabricius recalled during her early morning set about how her SXSW 2009 appearance helped score her a major label deal with Sony. And she celebrated her return to Austin this year with bewitching art-pop that splits the difference between Bjök's avant-gardism and Robyn's dance-floor savvy. It certainly helps that Fabricius has model-hot looks, but when she switched up banging on an electronic drum pad, playing synths, or cueing up overdubbed vocal melodies on tunes like the subtle banger "Sun of a Gun," the girl showed she's a pure tech nerd at heart. --K.O'D.

BEST DRONINESS: AMEN DUNES
While much of South By Southwest is ready to move their feet by 9:30 on a Thursday (wait, it's only Thursday?) night, Amen Dunes trades in a slow, loud, heavy haze that can barely trigger a head nod. Damon McMahon records as Amen Dunes, but live, accompanied by a drummer, the band feels like No Age on cough syrup. This is a compliment. -- S.K.

BEST PROMOTION STRATEGY: THE NIGHTGOWNS
The up-and-coming Tacoma, WA, indie- and electro-pop quartet, who played the rooftop at Cheers late-night, have a unique way of promoting the sale of their latest album, Sing Something: "After the show we're giving away free hand jobs," joked singer-guitarist Trevor Dickson. "Oh, and we have CDs too." Sexual favors aside, their catchy, upbeat sound speaks for itself, especially one unidentified track with fuzzy, overdriven bass, 8-bit synthesizer sounds, and a bright lead guitar jangle. --- W.G.

IN BRIEF:
Singer-songwriter Jewel, who'll be a judge on Bravo'supcoming music competition Platinum Hits, stopped by the SPIN loft on 6thStreet to entertain fans with a performance of her hits, including sometop-notch yodeling.

An older parish member of St. David's swiftly shushed a drunken twentysomething, who was sprawled out on the floor in the hallway waiting to use the bathroom, for "using derogatory language in God's home," she said. "Watch your mouth, please!" -- W.G.

The ever-present crowd of b-boys on 6th Street found an unexpected collaborator in the short-haired pixie type who accompanied their boombox on her pink-painted violin. -- C.M.

Onstage at Red 7, psych-pop freak Gary Wilson donned a lab coat spattered with fake blood (we hope) and, even weirder, a headpiece that consisted of a black plastic trash-bag duct-taped to his skull, effectively blinding him. It would've smothered him too if not for the strange tubes protruding out of the space where his head hopefully was. -- C.M.

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