SPIN Staff’s Best & Worst of SXSW 2011
Our crew weighs in on this year's top sets, biggest disappointments, and more.
DOUG BROD — EDITOR IN CHIEF, SPIN
Best Set: The Jim Jones Revue at Emo’s Jr., Friday night. Until the Hives get back to touring this London quintet is simply the most electrifying live rock’n’roll act on the planet — period. Hyperbole? Have you seen them?
Best Discovery: Dinosaur Pile-Up, a trio from Leeds, England, that brings to mind a power-pop Nirvana or an aggro Ash. Like all great SXSW discoveries, they played as if this was the most important gig of their lives.
Biggest Disappointment: Odd Future at Buffalo Billiards, Saturday night. You’d think that for their official showcase at the venue sponsored by a magazine that put them on the cover (ie: Billboard), the buzzy L.A. rappers would bring the A-game reportedly on display at all the day parties they booked. But after bitching about bad mics (sounded fine from where I was standing) and berating folks in back for not being up front (um, place was packed, so that would have been physically impossible), they aborted their set just 15 minutes in, leaving an impression usually reserved for naked emperors.
Bummed I Didn’t Catch:One of the good Odd Future shows.
People Were Really Talking About: The good Odd Future shows.
CHARLES AARON — MUSIC EDITOR, SPIN
Best Sets: John Grant crooning to the heavens at Central PresbyterianChurch with Midlake. Big Freedia invoking the gospel of ass in sweltering, ridiculously hyped tent at Mess With Texas party.
Best Discoveries: The sign-language ladies going for broke stage left during the Strokes show at Auditorium Shores, and tribal guarachero DJ/producer Toy Selectah.
Biggest Disappointment: Jamie xx‘s DJ set at Barcelona, a “mad classy” upscale dance cave with hostile creeps at the door and a garbage sound system unprepared for dubstep’s rumbling low-end. Sure, Jamie phoned in a lackluster performance, but considering the circumstances, it was understandable.
Bummed I Didn’t Catch: Ben “Weasel” Foster‘s now-legendary career-ending set where he bitched and moaned about having to play SXSW, about how he was worth more money than he was getting paid, about how rock critics are parasites, about how he’d offer $20 to a “girl” who would beat up a female heckler, about how he was gonna “whip his dick out” so some “fuckin’ skanky wench” who supposedly threw a beer at him “could suck on it” and “lick his taint,” and about how another female heckler should “get your skanky whore ass up here.” He then finished off the evening by punching that woman, as well as the venue’s female owner. Mad classy.
People Were Really Talking About: How to make money by selling your soul, without anybody knowing how hopelessly compromised you are, a.k.a. The Usual.
STEVE KANDELL — DEPUTY EDITOR, SPIN
Best Set: The Joy Formidable were all over Austin, and it’s uncanny how much they feel like a fully-realized band, for relative newcomers. If Ritzy Bryan isn’t a huge star by this time next year, we’re all doing something wrong.
Best Discoveries: Doesn’t really seem fair since they’re already an indie-rock all-star squad, but seeing Mary Timony, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss’ Wild Flag, managed, with just one single under their belts, to sound familiar and fresh at the same time.
Biggest Disappointment: Just a theory, but the dearth of off-site late-night marathon parties that have been such a SXSW staple the past few years put that much more of an onus on seeing bands in the prime-time scrum, rendering the dream of avoiding puke-soaked 6th Street an impossible one.
Bummed I Didn’t Catch: Missing Deer Tick‘s all-Nirvana set on Saturday night was a big mistake. The Death From Above 1979 show sounded pretty interesting, before all the pushing and the shoving and pepper spray and the mounted police made it an entirely different kind of interesting. Not sure how I managed to avoid both Yuck and JEFF the Brotherhood.
People Were Really Talking About: Odd Future, obviously. Anytime a band’s live spectacle is gauged by its inherent risk of grievous physical injury, something’s happening. The scene at Saturday’s Mess With Texas event, which saw them promoted to mainstage headliners at literally the last minute, was pure Thunderdome. That Tyler took his sneakers off before plunging feet-first into the crowd from the top of the amp stack was widely misinterpreted as consideration toward his fans, when he really just didn’t want those things ripped off his feet. Of course they bailed on their relatively quiet showcase slot two hours later and even that was a brilliant move — they weren’t going to top this mayhem, so why not give everyone something else to talk about?
PETER GASTON — INTERACTIVE DIRECTOR, SPIN.COM
Best Set: JEFF the Brotherhood at Kiss and Fly, where the band turned one of Austin’s gay discos into a cock rock extravaganza, with sweat-soaked riffage and hipster dudes dancing in cages. Also, the Vaccines at SPIN’s bash at Stubb’s, where they chiseled the addictive cuts from their fabulous debut even further into my psyche.
Best Discovery: The just-signed Sleeper Agent are about to be something massive. The Kentucky-based quintet’s playful, Southern fried, boy-vs.-girl power pop is instantly loveable — but also potentially a good look for college-bound teens growing out of their Paramore fixation, starring singer Alex Kandel as their new favorite frontwoman.
Biggest Disappointment: Yuck might have been showing festival fatigue by Friday night as their set just fell flat. But, I still love that record, and know from anecdotal evidence that they wow-ed elsewhere.
Bummed I Didn’t Catch: Telekinesis, which performed a stripped down set at SPIN’s Loft on 6th Street, while I was off shooting at a different location. Turns out the band was joined by Death Cab for Cutie‘s Chris Walla on guitar! Can’t wait to share the video of the set later this week on SPIN.com.
People Were Really Talking About: The fact that SXSW Interactive, which precedes SXSW Music, has become a really vital entity where immense innovation is happening every day. Bonus: Brands with loads of ducats bring in great musical talent (Foo Fighters, Big Boi, etc.) to play late-night parties that rival the biggest nights during the music-only portion of the conference.
WILLIAM GOODMAN — ASSOCIATE EDITOR, SPIN.COM
Best Sets: It was all about the ladies: Glasser at Central Presbyterian Church, where the Los Angeles-based songstress proved to have supernatural musical powers; Sharon Van Etten at Swan Dive, where the Brooklyn singer-songwriter poured on the emotion, shaking the minimal electric guitar chords propping it up; Jessica Lea Mayfield at Central Presbyterian Church, where the 21-year-old Ohio songsmith proved her mass appeal with crushing alt-country ballads.
Best Discovery: Fences. When this Seattle singer-songwriter first emerged last year, I wasn’t too keen on his confessional acoustic ditties. But live, with a hot-shit backing band, the tunes off his self-titled debut LP, produced by Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara, are something else all together.
Biggest Disappointment: The Raveonettes at Cedar Street Courtyard. After arriving early and waiting around for 30 minutes, I discovered the Danish duo canceled their set due to singer-guitarist Sune Rose Wagner’s visa issue. Bummer. Their performance of songs of their new album, Raven in the Gave, would have undoubtedly been a highlight.
Bummed I Didn’t Catch: Dirty Beaches at Kiss and Fly. One read of Charles Aaron’s description of Chinese-Canadian singer-guitarist Alex Zhang Hungtai as a devastatingly cool rockabilly greaser in tight white t-shirt, jeans, boots, thin mustache, and with a jet-black coif, whose set — which was part performance art — combined pre-recorded reverb with surf-rock riffs played on a white Stratocaster and lyrics about Cadillacs, I was sold.
People Were Really Talking About: Odd Future‘s bloody set at the Thrasher Party, during which Hodgy Beats jumped from the Scoot Inn’s three-story-high roof and leader Tyler, the Creator launched off a stack of speakers, breaking a fan’s nose when he landed. Also, the riot at Death From Above 1979‘s set at Beauty Bar.
KEVIN O’DONNELL — ASSOCIATE EDITOR, SPIN.COM
Best Sets: Kurt Vile‘s Saturday afternoon outdoor show at Auditorium Shores. He may have had a bunch of his gear stolen the night before, but the Philadelphia guitar whiz still delivered mellow runs through songs from his awesome new album Smoke Ring for My Halo.
Best Discovery: Mount Kimbie. These British pals of James Blake delivered club-wrecking grooves that dipped into heady dubstep, ass-shaking jungle, 8-bit nattering, arch Kompakt-style techno, and more. Dominic Maker and Kai Campos also get bonus points for being able to play live instruments and — shocker for electronic artists — having a genuine talent for singing.
Biggest Disappointment: Queens of the Stone Age at Stubb’s. Their full performance of their classic 1998 debut was a stoner-rock fan’s wet dream, but with Foo Fighters‘ Dave Grohl in town to promote a documentary and Jack White hanging out at that show, it’s too bad they didn’t join Josh Homme and Co. on-stage for face-melting, devil-horn-throwing, six-string mayhem, etc., etc.
Bummer I Didn’t Catch: Wild Flag. I’m not slagging Carrie Brownstein and her work with Sleater-Kinney — the group is one of indie rock’s all-time greats — but second guitarist Mary Timony’s albums with Helium remain some of my favorite records to come out of ’90s Alternative Nation. Janet Weiss’ wrecking-ball force on the drums and a keyboardist who adds some ’60s psychedelic touches only sweeten the deal. If 2011 is the Year of the Grunge Revival, I bet they’ll deliver something way more maximal and mind-blowing than Pearl Jam and Soundgarden combined.
People Were Really Talking About: Death From Above 1979‘s first reunion show in five years turned into a full-on riot early Sunday morning, with security guards spraying mace and tasering unruly fans who tore down a chain-link fence. Other reports make it seem way more insane than it actually was — the mounted police actually seemed pretty calm — but it was just the last in a string of SXSW bummers, from the crane collapse at the OMD show to the fans who were denied entry at Kanye West‘s VEVO spectacle.
CHRIS MARTINS — CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Best Sets: For pure energy, my money goes to (duh) Odd Future at the Thrasher party. I feel like I’m living on borrowed time now since I was one of the precious few who didn’t stumble away from that fantastic mess dripping blood. Also: Sun Araw at Barbarella for the spacey, dazed and amazing psych-funk jams.
Best Discovery: Though they aren’t new to me, L.A. dream-poppers Superhumanoids have really stepped up their live game. Each member of the quartet does double or triple duty on stage, and the boy-girl vocals are positively swoon-inducing.
Biggest Disappointment: Jamie xx at Barcelona. Hope you had a nice nap, man.
Bummed I Didn’t Catch: Glasser at the Central Presbyterian Church, which sounds like it was a truly religious experience. Mount Kimbie at any of their gigs. Kurt Vile‘s daytime romp at Lady Bird Lake (too far away), and the rest of the Odd Future sets, including the Billboard walk-off.
People Were Really Talking About: The Counting Crows Adam Duritz, whose presence at the festival seemed to confound most fans of emerging music. Was he trolling for more supermodels and hot actresses? Nay, he was promoting (and rapping with) his label’s new act Notar.