Best & Worst Moments of SXSW: Day 3

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Neon Indian / Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

BEST. PERIOD: NEON INDIAN
Backed by a rubbery live band, Neon Indian mastermind Alan Palomo played a set of rinky-dink synth pop that built a pastel pleasuredome out of squiggly synth lines, chintzy keyboard, brittle guitar, and a charmingly stiff beat. Songs like the aptly-titled "Terminally Chill" give off a sense of woozy childlike glee, as if they were composed by a nerdy nine-year old who loves 1999-era Prince, doing the robot, and the occasional acid trip. -- DAVID MARCHESE

BEST THROWBACK: DEMOLISHED THOUGHTS
If the band names Gang Green and SS Decontrol mean anything to you, you likely would have gotten a kick (in the head) out of this apparently ad hoc supergroup of sorts, featuring lead screamer Thurston Moore, guitarists J Mascis and Don Fleming, and a Fucked Up guitarist on bass. Perversely, their singular focus was on covering now-obscure early '80s hardcore, with Moore -- who still looks like a gawky 19-year-old -- reciting the lyrics from a cheat sheet before shouting them when the band butted in. Inspiring a swirling pit and frantic stage dives, it was a great reminder of the sweaty hardcore matinees of my youth and no doubt thrilled a certain record-collector mindset. In fact, before the set Fucked Up frontman Pink Eye proudly showed me the 13-inch -- yes 13-inch -- vinyl he had just picked up from Jack White's pop-up store. This show must have sent him to heaven. -- DOUG BROD

BEST FREAK NASTY REPLACEMENT FOR KE$HA: UFFIE
Pop problem child Ke$ha's stories of hard partying, Hollywood boys, and brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack not freak nasty enough? Meet Parisian rapper Uffie, signed to Ed Banger Records, the same label home of Justice -- and one of Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus' fave new artists. She's a self-described "bad ass bitch" and at Mohawk she played the role, strutting onstage in her short blonde bob and revealing black lace top, dropping XXX-rated rhymes on "Pop a Glock" -- "When I rock the party, you bust a nut." On "Brand New Car," which, like all her songs, features electro beats and deep bass, like a harder version of Ke$ha's "Tik Tok," she admitted her love of shoes -- and aspirations of pop chart domination. Uffie's not there just yet; she's still a bit unpolished. But look out -- with the proper producer, her club-kid shtick could be transformed into pop gold. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST STATESIDE DEBUT: CHATMONCHY
Chatmonchy are three bubbly Japanese girls who play crunching, hook-filled power-pop that sounds like Weezer rendered in anime. For all I know the band's lyrics are about herpetology and needlepoint, but the trio, which made its American debut on Friday night, played with such infectious enthusiasm and its songs, especially the fizzy "Daidai," are such ingeniously constructed marvels of tension and release that the language barrier easily came crashing down. If Chatmonchy aren't already big in Japan, they should be. Here too -- and everywhere else. -- DM

BEST BUZZ BAND: BEST COAST
When L.A. lo-fi surf trio Best Coast closed out Gorilla Vs. Bear's day party at Klub Krucial, the venue hit capacity and a line trailed down 6th Street -- for good reason. Though frontwoman Bethany Consentino and her two long-haired male bandmates may look like California uber-hippies onstage -- and song titles like "Sun Was High (So Was I)" fuel that assumption -- their fuzzy hooks and 1950s-inspired pop have become the epitome of blog cool since 2009. Named one of SPIN's Must-Hear SXSW acts, Best Coast's solid live performance -- less fuzzy than their reverb-y recordings -- proves they deserve the buzz, which should only grow as they near the release of their debut record later this year. -- JENN PELLY

WORST BUZZ BAND: MEMORY TAPES
Sometimes hype is more than slightly overblown. Case in point: New Jersey's Memory Tapes, the dreamy, dance-y electro project of 28-year-old guitarist/vocalist/programmer Dayve Hawk (who has also recorded as Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes). Like a bubblier Helio Sequence with loops of wistful organ synths, lo-fi digi beats, and a headphones-sporting live drummer adding rhythmic umph, Hawk sang lyrics of heartbreak and despair on tracks like "Green Knight," off his 2009 release Seek Magic: "I want to give you my love / I want to call your name." The sound is part of a new genre called glo-fi or chillwave, the best of which is SPIN's Big in 2010 pick Neon Indian. Live, the smooth, opiate-dream sound is more disjointed -- and Hawk's watery, androgynous vocals sound gruff and choppy. Memory Tapes album isn't bad, but in a live setting its better qualities are compromised. -- WG

BEST SINGALONG: THEOPHILUS LONDON
There were other samples in his totally dance-tastic set that you'd recognize, but when this Brooklyn beatmaster dropped Whitney Houston's glass-shattering Bodyguard soundtrack jam "I Will Always Love You," droves of hipsters at Club de Ville shed any remaining stoicism and sang along. Loudly. As the beats returned, we wondered aloud whether Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" could be used similarly. The answer: a resounding "no." -- PETER GASTON

BEST ALTERNATIVE TO M.I.A.: MALUCA
If M.I.A. were a sassy Latin mami, her globe-trotting hip-hop sound rooted in spicy dancehall instead of electro Bollywood, she'd be 28-year-old Maluca (a.k.a. Natalie Yepez). Raised in New York's Dominican community, Maluca mashes hard-hitting, lo-fi drum machine beats with mambo flourishes and the distress-call horns, deep bass, and fast sing-raps of Spanish youth music. The M.I.A. comparisons are more than sonic: Diplo, M.I.A.'s onetime producer/DJ, discovered Maluca as she sang karaoke and helped launch her career, signing her to his to Mad Decent label. She was initially hesitant to perform due to intense stage fright -- but that's now clearly gone. With two dancers at her side, Maluca jived and moved in black tights, a black ballcap, and a gold robe, opening it occasionally to flaunt her sexy curves. -- WGRead More From SXSW Day 3 On Page 2 >>

BEST SONIC AIR-CONDITIONING: REAL ESTATE
6th Street's Klub Krucial has a serious heat problem -- it's a friggin' Texas sweatbox. But luckily Ridgewood, New Jersey's psychedelic surf-pop quartet Real Estate had a solution: reverb-drenched guitar jangles and lyrics about breezy summers in suburbia, with plenty of references to beaches, lakes, and pools courtesy of frontman Martin Courtney. Their sound is pretty and freeform -- think the meandering guitars of Built to Spill but with a fixation for good vibes. The boys looked a little tired, but they charged on with songs off their self-titled debut, their best -- "Beach Comber" and "Suburban Beverage" -- exploding in a cool tangle of guitars and bass. Like ice water to the face. -- WG

BEST ANGEL FLYING TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND: HOLLY MIRANDA
There's something spooky beautiful about spending Friday night in a darkened church, especially if Holly Miranda's implausibly angelic voice is reverberating up to the 60-foot cathedral ceiling and back down to the stiff-backed pews where you sit in wonder and SXSW exhaustion. During her Central Presbyterian Church set, the Brooklyn transplant's tunes about troubled relationships often relied on the start-stop dynamic of her smoky voice, a capella or backed by a single guitar, suddenly punctuated by the Sonic Youth-like clatter of her backing band. It's a pleasing combination; it shakes the cobwebs out of the traditional singer-songwriter formula. But in the end, it was Miranda's vocals – notable for their searching, ascetic purity – that elevated the night and turned the rapt audience into a congregation of believers. -- MARK BAUTZ

BEST CHOICE OF VENUE: THE XX
The Central Presbyterian Church also provided emerging Brit trio the xx with a perfect setting for their austere music. In the huge but hushed cathedral, the subtle interplay between guitar, bass, and processed sounds echoed fully – as did Romy Madley's Bjork-like whisper. The group's motionless disregard for performing, which can be a drawback in a noisy club, suddenly seemed like a moral virtue. Their songs hold mysteries that were deepened by the solemn space -- and absorbing them felt like SXSW's version of accepting grace. -- MB

BEST NON-COMEBACK: RA RA RIOT
With their second album due later this year, we expected Ra Ra Riot to pull the tarps off some brand new songs during their set at the Green Label Sound showcase. But with the crowd well lubricated after a genre-defying, body movin' set from Theophilus London, the clock approaching 1 A.M., and the alcohol flowing copiously, the Syracuse sextet -- playing their fourth consecutive SXSW -- blazed through airtight versions of songs from their 2008 debut, The Rhumb Line. And while they did play two new songs, frontman Wes Miles didn't even acknowledge them, instead feeding off the frenzied enthusiasm that surged when his band powered through their catchiest song, "Dying Is Fine." -- PG

BEST MARRIANGE OF TWO DUDES FROM MODESTO: ADMIRAL RADLEY:
They're longtime friends from the same hometown who sport respected indie resumes. And now Jason Lytle and Aaron Espinoza are collaborating in Admiral Radley, which includes Lytle's ex-Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch and Espinoza's bandmate in Earlimart, Ariana Murray. If Friday's uneven set at the Galaxy Room was any indication, Ad Rad's (yes, they already have a nickname) forthcoming album will satiate fans in both camps - finely honed, intricately layered songs with loopy effects, whimsical themes ("I [Heart] California") and, satisfyingly, the verve of two old buds just having a good time.-- KEVIN BRONSON.

BEST BACKPEDALING: INTERNATIONAL HIP-HOP SHOWCASE
The beauty of SXSW is stumbling upon a new artist as you peruse the chaos, drawn in by a snippet of music wafting out to the sidewalk.My quirkiest discovery yet: the International Hip-Hop showcase, presented by Nomadic Wax. Swede rap duo Timbuktu & Chords dropped rhymes in both English and their native tongue over an international pu pu platter of laptop-generated beats -- reggae dub, African drums, and funky smooth soul. Luckily, two messages seem to translate worldwide: dancing and drugs. "Shake your little asses," the tall, blonde Chords instructed, before diving into another old school track with a simple instruction: "Get high, high, high, high, high, high, high, high, high. -- WG

BEST UNEXPECTED COLLEGE HOUSE PARTY: SHELLSHAG
Tack more grit to Liz Phair's 1993 indie rock debut and you've got Brooklyn's Shellshag, a guitar/drum duo who show their love for all things punk and grunge with their recent album Rumors in Disguise. At midnight a crowd of 50 packed into a messy kitchen at a University of Texas student party, where guitarist Johnny Shell and drummer Jen Shag tore through a raucous set. Shag attached bells and shakers to a her sequined belt and clunky combat boots for additional percussion, and more came from the crowd, who hit her drum while hollering along to Rumors gem"Resilient Bastard." -- JP

BEST BAND VAGUELY CONNECTED TO J. MASCIS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Sub Pop newbies Happy Birthday have a spunk that set them apart from other lo-fi noise poppers -- and it only takes one listen of the Vermont trio's mega-catchy, cleverly harmonized song "Girls FM" to get it. Playing an 8:30 P.M. outdoor set at Cheer Up Charlie's parking lot-turned-performance-space, they sped through 30 minutes of tunes from their recent self-titled debut -- upbeat pop with unusual guitar tunings, group vocals, and psychedelic touches. Warm, intricate guitar work came courtesy of frontman Kyle Thomas, who also rocks alongside Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis in the stoner metal four-piece Witch. -- JP

IN BRIEF:

Whoever was DJ-ing at the Friendly Fire showcase at Club de Ville was on fire Friday night. At one point, I said to the friend I was with, "Neon Indian sounds amazing." My friend gently explained that the band wasn't on yet. Both Neon Indian and the DJ should take that as a compliment. -- DM

Entourage star -- and Honey Brothers drummer -- Adrian Grenier dined with a posse of pals in the private patio dining area Moonshine, getting properly pre-gamed for a night of rock'n'roll. -- PG

There's no lack of dedication to Keeping Austin Weird. One transient sipping a paper-bagged beer belted a craggy version of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna," and later joined a dance act on 6th Street, attempting -- and failing -- to execute their dexterous moves. She gets an "A" for effort. – WG

Fresh from guesting with Stone Temple Pilots the night before, former Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger caught the action at Muse's sold-out Stubb's show. -- DM

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