Best & Worst Moments of SXSW: Day 4

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Sleigh Bells / Photo by Kyle Dean Reinford
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

BEST FRONTWOMAN HYBRID: SLEIGH BELLS
Alison Mosshart's dangerous sex appeal + CSS singer Lovefoxxx's upbeat dance-floor groove + Crystal Castles badass Alice Glass' noisy ferocity = Alexis Krauss, a school teacher turned steamy indie siren leading Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells. Saturday night, she shifted from hip-hop and electro sass to power-rock, gyrating her hips in black tights, a mesh shirt showing a hot pink bra, and gold hoop earrings. She flipped her hair and fired over low-end electro beats and terrorizing nu-metal guitars courtesy of ex-Poison the Well axeman Derek. "No, no, no!" she huffed and puffed. Actually, yes, yes, yes! -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST GROWTH SPURT: SURFER BLOOD
When I saw wobble-pop purveyors Surfer Blood play at last year's CMJ festival in New York City, I was underwhelmed. Singer-guitarist JP Pitts sounded strained and yelpy and the band as a whole seemed nervous and unsure of what to do with itself on stage. Not anymore. On Saturday night, Pitts sang with full-throated accuracy and strutted around the stage like he belonged, leading the band through catchy, Weezerian songs from this year's Astro Coast. At one point, second guitarist Thomas Fekete plucked out a solo with his teeth, prompting a friend to say, "Not that kind of band, dude." He's right, but it was great that Fekete had the balls to go for such a flashy bit of showmanship. --DAVID MARCHESE

BEST COVER: CIRCA SURVIVE
Playing to a throng of diehard fans on the frozen tundra of Stubb's BBQ, this Philly-based, turbocharged rock act was forced to pack as much wallop into their abbreviated set as possible after temperature-related issues with in-ear monitors sabotaged their start. But frontman Anthony Green is a force of nature, a whirling dervish of flailing arms and legs with a fuel-injected holler sourced from somewhere deep within. And while he lamented that it was "as cold as a billion dicks" outside, and had trouble hearing himself, Green quickly made folks forget they'd lost feeling in their extremities, particularly on a cover of Nirvana's "Milk It." Guitarists Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom married Kurt Cobain's gnarly riffage with some stunning higher register wails, while Green took the vocals into operatic ranges never reached by the late grunge icon. If Courtney Love had heard them from down the street at the Perez Hilton party, where Hole was playing, she'd undoubtedly have already tweeted 47 love notes to Circa Survive. -- PETER GASTON

BEST MATERIAL FROM MODEL MATERIAL: KAREN ELSON
"I think I'm getting frostbite!" Karen Elson told a modest crowd during an outdoor set on a blustery, 40-degree afternoon at the French Ligation. Indeed, if anybody was there just to gawk at the supermodel wife of the White Stripes' Jack White, they were sorely disappointed. Fronting a color-coordinated band (peach and black), Elson declined an offer of a coat from a fan and soldiered on. The guitar-wielding 31-year-old, whose debut album (produced by her hubby) will be out this summer, has a loungey, twangy vibe that ventures into ethereal territory on her recently released single "The Ghost That Walks." And a nice touch: a rendition of Jackson C. Frank's "Milk and Honey," known primarily from cover versions by Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. -- KEVIN BRONSON

BEST UNDERATTENDED GIG: FRANKIE AND THE OUTS
In an indie rock popularity contest, Frankie Rose would be hard to beat, since the Brooklynite has drummed for garage-pop mainstays Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls. This fall Frankie split from the Stilts to focus on her own jangle-pop project, Frankie and the Outs, who performed at Spiderhouse's chilly outdoor showcase. The band's debut 7-inch was out this fall on pioneering indie pop label Slumberland Records. "Thee Only One," like most of her songs, soundED straight from '80s fuzz-pop group (and labelmates) Black Tambourine's discography, with extra girl group harmonies for good measure. But ultimately the temperature beat the band; they called it quits after an all-too-short five-song set. -- JENN PELLY

BEST MEN IN BLACK: THE BOXER REBELLION
You've heard music like the Boxer Rebellion's before -- dark, brooding, churning Brit-rock made by lads who keen their angst over ringing guitars and 4/4 beats. The quartet, which made waves when its 2009 digital release Union cracked the Billboard charts, seems intent on separating itself from the pack. American singer Nathan Nicholson and his bandmates (an Australian and two Brits) easily won over a Cedar Street Courtyard crowd with songs like "Evacuate." Now for the big stuff: recording their third album this summer with Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, the Vines), and appearing as themselves in the Drew Barrymore movie titled Going the Distance. -- KB

BEST ATTEMPT AT WARMING UP A COLD NIGHT: MINUS THE BEAR
"This weather is a tuning nightmare," said Minus the Bear singer-guitarist Jake Snider towards the end of his band's set on Stubb's fairly unprotected outdoor stage, just after another gust of wind ripped through the hoodied masses. The 40-degree temperatures were a nightmare in general -- most out-of-towners were vastly unprepared for yesterday's cold spell -- but the Seattle quintet's decision to play "Pachuca Sunrise," a cut from their 2005 album, Menos el Oso, was a fitting distraction. Its opening line about a night on a beach in the Mediterranean, coupled with warm, wavy guitar work from Snider and Dave Knudson, proved a truly transporting combination for a fleeting moment -- until that next gust of wind. -- PGRead More From SXSW Day 4 On Page 2 >>

BEST EXAMPLE OF SONIC DÉTENTE: P.K. 14
In their homeland, Beijing quartet P.K. 14 might be ahead of the curve. Here, where the rebelliousness of the Clash and the riffage of Sonic Youth are familiar cultural currency, it's too easy to finger P.K. 14's lineage. The foursome brought admirable energy and stage aerobics to its set at the Chinese Invasion's showcase at Speakeasy, but the material felt pretty cut-and-paste, even given the language barrier. Better (and less desperate for subtitles) was the punk shoegazing of the Velvet Underground-inspired Carsick Cars, who preceded P.K. 14 to the stage. -- KB

BEST FLUX-CAPACITOR: BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY
"Yo, let's take this shit back, wayyyyyyy back," Krayzie Bone said onstage at the Fader Fort. "Back to 1995, motherfucka!" The reunited Cleveland rap group then busted out a handful of tracks off their four-million-selling '95 release, E. 1999 Eternal: "1st of tha Month," "Tha Crossroads," and "East 1999." The sound was initially a bit muddy on their turbo-fast raps, but hit a smooth streak when they got all Boyz 2 Men on "I Tried" and "Days of Our Lives," two piano ballads with three-way vocals. Hey, they're not joking about the "harmony" in their name. The throwback streak continued with tributes to Tupac, Eazy-E, and Notorious BIG, including a particularly awesome version of "Notorious Thugz," their collabo with Biggie. "Bring that fat motherfucker back to life!" Bizzy belted. Oh, snap! -- WG

BEST T-SHIRT AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF YOUR MUSIC: BLACK TUSK
You know that skull being pierced by two swords? Yeah, that's Black Tusk, the Savannah, GA, trio that comes at you with three vocalists, an army of tattoos, and a scream-heavy fusillade of bottom-heavy riffage that set the entire crowd at Encore in motion. They call it "swamp metal," but that's almost misleading -- the way guitarist Andrew Fidler and bassist Jonathan Athon fold their notes into the precise pounding of drummer James May is anything but murky. An underground Mastodon? -- KB

BEST PARTING WORDS FOR SXSW: JAPANDROIDS
There's a reason why some call SXSW a "rock'n'roll spring break": Loads of increasingly-past-their-prime music enthusiasts attempt to rediscover their younger selves, who could romp around town unfettered for 20 hours at a time, stretching nights to see the sunrise. For those folks, ourselves included, Japandroids were the perfect band to cap this year's festival, reminding us both how fun it is to bounce around a rock club, unintentionally spilling beer on nearby patrons, and how we're trying to stay young as long as we can. "I don't wanna worry about dying," Brian King sang on "Young Hearts Spark Fire." "I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls." One to grow on, indeed. A later line, during "The Boys Are Leaving Town," was more fitting for the drunks flailing about gleefully in front of the stage at Galaxy: "Will we find our way back home? I don't know." Everyone remembers what room they're in, right? -- PG

BEST CROWD INTERACTION: RHYMEFEST
"Hold up, hold up," the Chicago rapper said to stop his DJ. "For all the white people in the building, it goes, 'I got money, money I got,'" he instructed, clearly scolding the nerdy Frat dudes in the front row, singing the wrong lyrics to a cover of 50 Cent's "I Get Money," stiffly dancing in their stripped Abercrombie polos. Later, after a taste of the husky, thick raps from his May 18 release El Che with a rousing "Talk My Shit," Rhymefest dropped 2006's "Brand New," his collabo with Kanye, and took notice of a dude in the frontrow mouthing all 'Ye's lyrics. Rhymefest paused mid-song, instructed him to step onstage and rap Ye's verses. The youngster held his own, too. "I'm Dirty -- Eastside make some noise!" the newbie hollered to the crowd. "I didn't ask you to hype the crowd," Rhymefest responded. "Get off the fuckin' stage." -- WG

BEST DANCE PARTY: TANLINES
A venue called Paradise proved a fitting one for Brooklyn-based Tanlines, a duo of ex-Don Caballero bassist Eric Emm and ex-Professor Murder multi-instrumentalist Jesse Cohen: Their tropicalia-laced rhythms turned a mix of expectant badge-holders and random Austinites into a beach party. Jams like "Three Trees" and "Real Life" -- you can hear them on the band's MySpace -- were fleshed out into booming, room-shaking anthems, equally perfect listening for sharply dressed hipsters and one spazzy, Joe Pesci-esque local. In a week laced with dance acts with much larger hype, I wished I'd taken a peek at these Tanlines far sooner. -- PG

BEST KEYTAR JAMS: DAM-FUNK
Okay, R&B whizz Dam-Funk was very likely the only one jamming out with that squiggly-sounding symbol of '80s ridiculousness, but good lord did he make it funky. Airing tracks from his fantastic double album debut, Toeachizown, the L.A. slickster put on the most dance-inducing set I saw at SXSW. Backed by a drummer, keyboardist, and iBook, Dam laid down sleek electronic grooves that boogied like Rouger Troutman barreling down the freeway in a Delorean and which provided plenty of space for his strangely soulful keytar solos. Dam's a bad dude -- in a good way. --DMRead More From SXSW Day 3 On Page 3 >>

BEST BAD ATTITUDE: TURBO FRUITS
Nashville trio the Turbo Fruits play three-chord garage rock that fizzes over with slaphappy drumming, cracked guitar leads, and simple, bluesy melodies. It's a sound that we've heard before, but the dropout sneer in Jonas Stein's voice as he sang about frying his brain and getting stoned (different things, evidently), and the band's revved engine roar gave what could have been a derivative set a wonderfully rebellious edge. A raucous cover of "Shakin' All Over" made me want to roll up my sleeves, show off the "Born to Lose" tattoo I never got, and smack the man in the mouth. -- DM

BEST UNWARRANTED CRACK COVER: YELAWOLF AND BOB DYLAN
Southerner Yelawolf, a pro skateboarder-cum-rapper covered in tattoos and sporting a long Mohawk with a gold ghetto-blaster around his neck, is the weirdest new addition to hip-hop -- dude is a genre-fuck influenced by Eminem-esque murder ballads and Bone Thugs' super-speed style, plus Kid Rock, punk rock, and, evidently, Bob Dylan. On "Mixin' Up The Medicine," his collabo with Juelz Santana, he transformed a lyric to Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" -- "In the basement mixing up the medicine" -- into a cocaine anthem. -- WG

SECOND BEST UNWARRANTED CRACK COVER: GET BUSY COMMITTEE AND THE KNIFE
This Los Angeles trio -- rappers Apathy and Ryu, and producer Scoop DeVille -- kicked things off at Club DeVille (the irony!) by playing a video of an '80s D.A.R.E. commercial, featuring Peewee Herman warning about the dangers of crack cocaine, before dropping a sample of the Knife's "Heartbeats." Over the chest-rumbling, electro-pop beats, Apathy and Ryu dropped rhymes about -- what else? -- "cokeheads, buglars, and crack fiends." Which is surely exactly what the experimental Swede duo hoped for their dance floor gem.-- WG

BEST REASON RISK FROSTBITE: DUM DUM GIRLS
"We've got two more songs and then we risk hypothermia," said Kristen Gundred, a.k.a. lead Dum Dum girl "Dee Dee," before a packed patio at Spiderhouse coffeeshop. They're known to play with blank facial expressions, but the Californian goth beauty and her crew of dolled-up black leather-and-lace bandmates seemed particularly miserable in the 40 degree weather. Despite frozen fingers, their dark, distorted pop sounded sharp. Performing tracks from their Sub Pop debut I Will Be, the Dum Dum Girls blend Jesus and Mary Chain's goth fuzz with surf guitars and moody, vintage vocals. -- JP

WORST MISSED POTENTIAL: THE FRESH & ONLYS
Almost everything is in order for this San Francisco rock quartet: Their charmingly skuzzy garage rock sound is both weird, with noisy shoegaze guitars and psychedelic song structures, and classically indebted, with a Detroit proto-punk feel and surf rock and rockabilly flourishes. Guitarist Wymond Miles is the stand-out, playing the role in tattered black leather jacket and a bolo tie, shredding on his vintage Fender Jaguar on tracks off their latest release, Grey-Eyed Girls. Singer/guitarist/co-founder Tim Cohen's voice, while excellent on record, was indecipherable and muddy. He wasn't much to watch either: standing idle in a tattered t-shirt, with his big beard and long hair, his aesthetic didn't fit the band's shtick. WANTED: Charismatic singer with sex appeal and stage command. Just sayin'. -- WG

WORST BAND TO LISTEN TO WITHOUT EAR PLUGS: THEE OH SEES
San Francisco rock ragamuffins the Oh Sees put together a nicely ramshackle set of loopy freakbeat -- the sort of thing that I like to imagine one could've heard crashing out of windows on Haight Street in 1965 -- but I should've taken my mom's advice and brought ear plugs. The fuzz screaming from frontman John Dywer's 12-string guitar made me feel as if I should take my ear drums out for an apology dinner. Keyboardist-tambourine player Brigid Dawson appeared to be singing some harmonies as well. Can anyone out there confirm? --DM

WORST TIME TO LEAVE YOUR GLOWSTICK AT HOME: HOOD INTERNET
Chicago-based mixtape maestros Aaron Brink and Steve Reidell made rocking the dance floor look easy at Karma. Mash, plug and play - for the eighth time in 2½ days at SXSW. Whether you move to the music or play spot-that-song (was that really Lil Wayne and Royksopp? Julian Casablancas and Omarion? Dr. Dre and Class Actress?), the duo is undeniably fun. Now if those nerds could only make their laptops dance. -- KB

IN BRIEF:

Québécois shoegazers the Besnard Lakes are known for their mountainous, dramatic sound, but before their set Saturday at the Galaxy Room they soundchecked to "Louie Louie." -- KB

I got frozen out of seeing Nashville riff rock duo Jeff the Brotherhood because the club had reached capacity by the time I arrived. Bad for me, good sign for the band, which has a real charisma and gift for combining punkish energy with stoner stomping. -- DM

When Of Montreal's Jamey Huggins performed as his solo project James Husband at the Polyvinyl Records showcase, two other members of his day band, drummer Davey Pierce and keyboardist Dottie Alexander, played in his quintet, which covered the Bangles' "In Your Room." -- KB

Baltimore hip-hop duo Oh Snap! was fair to partly cringeworthy, but they have spawned funny T-shirts based on one of their songs: "I'm Too Fat to Be a Hipster." -- KB


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