Best & Worst Moments of SXSW 2011: Day Four

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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart / Photo by Kathryn Yu
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

BEST BAND TO WATCH THROUGH A FENCE: PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART
Cheer Up Charlie's hit capacity for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but it wasn't a problem for those left out in the line. All that separated them from the crowd was a chain-link fence, so they stopped sweating the wait and spread out with beer cans in hand. The band seemed relieved to be playing something so endearingly informal. "I'm actually having a lot of fun," said singer Kip Berman after Pains performed the upbeat new Belong B-side, "I Wanna Go All the Way." He was grinning for the entire set. -- CHRIS MARTINS

BIGGEST RIOT: DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979
It's kind of amazing that this Canadian duo, who have released only one proper full-length, have built such an insane cult following after breaking up in 2006. The proof? DFA 1979's early morning performance -- their first of a short reunion tour -- at Beauty Bar's backyard space turned into a full-blown riot. The venue had reached capacity hours before the duo's set, and when they launched into the feverish anthem "Black History Month," fans in the alley started tearing down the chain link fence. Security guards responded quickly with pepper spray and tasers as mounted police stood watch nearby. No one appeared to be seriously injured and the guards' swift intervention quelled attendees who immediately started Facebooking and Tweeting what eventually turned into a non-event -- the healing power of social media, ladies and gentlemen! As for DFA's music? They played some. -- KEVIN O'DONNELL

BEST RETURNING CHAMPS: LIVING THINGS
For St. Louis-bred Living Things, it was just like starting over. Despite two majorlabel albums (plus an earlier, aborted release on DreamWorks) and numerousprevious SXSW appearances, the political glam-punks -- whose Ahead of the Lions was one of the 2005's best albums -- didn't draw much of a crowd at the cavernous Rusty Spurs. Not that the quartet noticed, as they played like they had something to prove and a stadium to impress, with frontman Lillian Berlin playfully picking on a woman covering her ears at the bar. Their short, pointed set leaned heavilyon 2009's Euro-slick Habeus Corpus; the one new song -- a righteous punky reggae rager -- hints that the band may be planning their own Sandinista statement. Here's hoping it'll get the open ears it deserves. -- DOUG BROD

WORST LINE: OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ GROUP
When Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's solo show turned into a Mars Volta gig with the addition of singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala onstage, the crowds amassed -- and nowhere are the Mars Volta and their predecessor, hardcore legends At the Drive-In, more revered than in their homestate. The lines wrapped the blocks, and some fans even climbed the trees for a peek in. Inside, it was the spastic, Spanish-flavored prog meltdown synonymous with their names: Rodriguez-Lopez summoned mind-bending sounds from his axe, while Bixler-Zavala held the mic stand like a boa constrictor, delivering his socio-political screeds about the parental system and not supporting children's aspirations, in song. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST GUITAR GOD: KURT VILE
The Philadelphia guitarist had his gear stolen from his truck the night before his Saturday slot, but he still managed to turn out wonderfully languid stoner grooves at NPR's afternoon party at Lady Bird Lake. Surprisingly, the shaggy-haired Vile, who looks and sounds uncannily like Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, fared better with his acoustic-led tunes than his electric ones. (You gotta love the politically-correct minds at NPR for hiring two deaf translators to interpret from the front of the stage, although they couldn't quite nail Vile's slack-jawed drawl, man.) "On Tour" came on as a glorious two-chord drone; "Ghost Town" was pretty much more of the same -- definitely a good thing. But "Ghost Town" was his real show-stopper -- a stretched-out, genuinely touching ballad about a sad-sack loser who can barely get off of the couch. -- K.O.

BEST REMIX OF THE HOKY POKEY: DAN DEACON
For his lone show in Austin, quirky Baltimore dude Dan Deacon set up in front of the stage in the midst of the legions who packed into Cheer Up Charlie's dirt lot Saturday evening. Before launching his set of dense, ADHD-addled electronic art-pop, he led the crowd in an opening ritual. "Everyone put your left hand in the air," he began, then instructed fans to take a knee and point at anyone who wasn't following directions. Next, we kissed our hands and planted them on strangers' faces. "Let us now celebrate the individual as the mass," he said like a Yogi leading his acolytes in a game of spiritual hokey pokey. "Let's stand up and start the dance." -- C.M.

BEST LIVE BAND: NICOLE ATKINS
On record, including her February release Mondo Amore, this New Jersey native is a mostly tame, yet talented, songstress, elegantly singing big Brill Building-influenced pop ballads from behind a wall of lush orchestration. Live, however, she's a versatile siren leading a no-frills rock quartet. She poured herself into the dark torch song "Hotel Plaster," praying for a lover's embrace while stuck in a hotel room, then later she was Janis Joplin's big-winded kid sister, wailing on a extended blues solo. Now if only she could capture that magic on record, she'd be the superstar she deserves to be. -- W.G.

BIGGEST CLOWNS: MAN MAN
These Philadelphia experimental punk weirdos -- who switched their all-white outfits for a very-Hives-inspired black-and-white look -- have earned a rep for putting on boot-stomping live shows, but their Saturday afternoon set at Lady Bird Lake lacked any of their notoriously unhinged momentum. Man Man's drummer continually kept losing control of the tempos, and while they tore through their cacophonous, punk-as-fuck sea chantey "Top Drawer," their unwieldy oom-pah grooves never did much to get the crowd moving. One jam that started as a tale about children who flee Easter Island for Antarctica proved they should pack everything up and apply as the house band for Yo Gabba Gabba. -- K.O.

WORST EFFORT: JAMIE XX
Ennui is a pretty big part of the XX's stage show, but in-band electronics expert Jamie XX didn't seem too cool for school when he DJed to a rowdy crowd in Barcelona's basement bar -- he was simply asleep at the wheel. He looked bored, tired and a little pained to be there, and didn't even bother to pretend he was doing little more than pressing "play" on what may have been a series of premade mixes. Toward the end, as a straight version of "Ring My Bell" transitioned into his Gil Scott-Heron collaboration "I'll Take Care of You" and, finally, his remix of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," he took a long break to lean against the wall. Way to go, bro. -- C.M.

BEST RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: KEVIN DEVINE
As downtown Austin's thoroughfare of debauchery throbbed with rock show sound bleed and underage partiers, a hushed congregation sat transfixed and reverent in the pews of St. David's Sanctuary, just steps from the nightlife nightmare, watching Brooklyn singer-songwriter Kevin Devine play a solo set that matured into a vital, acoustic guitar-backed sermon. After gently cooing through a gorgeous new song, "1.7.11," a thoughtful lament on love lost, Devine stepped back from the mic and delivered a fire-breathing, unamplified take of "Brother's Blood" that garnered a well-deserved chorus of mid-song applause and a standing ovation. Amen. -- PETER GASTON

MOST SURPRISING COVER: ELI "PAPERBOY" REED
He's known for digging out classic R&B nuggets and solidly reiterating them fortoday's retro-minded masses. But what's that song shticky blue-eyed soul belterEli "Paperboy" Reed opens his set with at Rachael Ray's cookout? It sure soundsfamiliar. Wait... is that Motorhead's "Ace of Spades"? Taking Lemmy's signatureanthem and transforming it into a blaring horn-and-rhythm-fest worthy ofWilson Pickett circa 1965, Reed and band manage to bring new appreciation to asongwriting genius often taken for granted, something all great covers should do. -- D.B.

BEST SXSW THEME SONG: WE ARE ENFANT TERRIBLE
Channeling the Kills in an equally sassy, way-cute and super Parisian sort of way, France's We are Enfant Terrible won over an unfamiliar audience at Cheer Up Charlie's with their mix of electro pulse and punky chutzpah. Singer Clo Floret stomped, pranced, and posed to the sounds of the band's hacked Gameboy dueling with apeshit drummer Cyril Debarge, who stood to smash cymbals at the end of their set. The name of WAET's catching closer? "Anything Less Than Extraordinary is a Waste of My Time" -- a sentiment SXSW's masses could certainlyidentify with. -- C.M.

WORST REASON TO LEAVE LO-FI BEHIND: TY SEGALL
Like a lot of distortion addicts, Ty Segall has been cleaning up his act little by little over the course of his last few records, but his midnight gig at the Mohawk was a testament to what's great about unapologetic loudness. His four-piece presented a monumentally heavy vision -- a blur of hair and guitars grinding out one woozy, blues-fed shredder after another. It was enough to inspire one fan to jump from the balcony bar into the crowd below. It wouldn't be rock'n'roll if no one got hurt. -- C.M.

BEST SXSW PERFORMER'S MANTRA: FAMILY OF THE YEAR
While closing an engaging set at Emo's Jr. that included an urgent run through their catchy-as-hell single "Psyche or Like Scope," the L.A.-based quintet channeled a bit of their fellow California dreamers, the Mamas & the Papas, with their four-part harmonies on the set-closing "Buried." But the take-away from the song was its hook: "Bury me with my guitar," they sang, a line to which the vast majority of the thousand-plus bands that left it all onstage this week in Austin would likely raise a glass. -- P.G.

BEST EXCUSE TO FALL IN LOVE: SUPERHUMANOIDS
Superhumanoids' Tumblr describes the Los Angeles quartet's sound as "music to help kiss the doldrums away," and that seemed right on at their Cheer Up Charlie's daytime show. Their romantic dream-pop coasted in on a cloud, beaming a blend of Talking Heads-y New Wave, atmospheric electronics, and beautiful boy-girl vocals. Guitarist Cameron Parkins sang in quavering baritone that would've made Morrissey blush, and keyboardist Sarah Chernoff complimented perfectly with a delicate, sugary coo. The combination begged for swooning sweethearts -- so much so that it was a little surprising that everyone didn't stop dancing and make out. -- C.M.

BEST ROYAL INDIE OFFSPRING: BRAIDS
If Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors were sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G., then four babies popped out -- two guys, two girls, for good measure -- it'd be this Calgary, Alberta, art rock band. At the Swan Dive, the band played a shimmering, ambient post-rock with layers of harmonies and intricate scales that hinted at two main inspirations: Merriweather Post Pavilion and Bitte Orca. Their leader, Katie Lee, though, gave the sound their own stamp with her hiccup-yelp cries of sexual imagery, including sleeping around and slapping flesh. -- W.G.

BEST AUSSIE IMPORTS: CLOUD CONTROL
Here's a tip for an unknown upstart band looking to stand out from the more than 1,000 other unknown upstarts at SXSW: cover classic rock songs like this Aussie art-pop quartet, who unleashed a jubilant version of Placebo's 1994 glam-pop drone "Pure Morning" during their final show at Maggie Mae's. But Cloud Control's originals also stood on their own, especially the rowdy pub sing-along "Ghost Story," which sounded like a modern day update of Dexys Midnight Runners' classic "Come On Eileen." -- K.O.

BEST NATE DOGG TRIBUTE: DJ Z-TRIP
Just because Nate Dogg is gone doesn't mean dude can't rock a party harder than any other at SXSW. A massive crowd gathered in the street outside the Red Bull Thre3Style Party were dancing in the streets when Los Angeles hip-hop producer-DJ Z-TRIP dropped the needle on a familiar command: "Hollllllddddddddd up. Heeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyy!" Then it was banging beats of the "Next Epidosde" and all sorts of passersby rapping along for blocks and blocks. R.I.P Nate Dogg. -- W.G.

BEST EXIT MUSIC: COVER OF GARTH BROOKS
There's just something about a ragged cover of Garth Brooks' celebration-of-derelict-dom "Friends in Low Places," at 2:45 A.M. on 6th Street, surrounded by can't-walk-can't-stand drunkards who've had four hours of sleep, 39 tacos, and 197 Lone Stars in the past three days, who are licking the dust from their teeth, that'll make you feel really, really gross, but in a prideful way. Like, "I made it." -- W.G.

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