SXSW Day 3: The Best, the Worst, and the Rest

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Tinted Windows' Taylor Hanson / Photo by Christy Kurtz
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

THE BEST

Liveliest Supergroup: Tinted Windows
A Fountain of Wayne, an ex-Pumpkin, Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos, and the middle kid from Hanson: Not the most likely supergroup, but a fun lark nonetheless. Abetted by a fifth member -- Ben Kweller and Evan Dando cohort Josh Lattanzi -- the band plowed through the joyous retro power pop of their debut album with verve and wit. While Taylor Hanson's keening vocals often suggested some Disneyfied brothers act, the visual of these seemingly disparate talents onstage made perfect sense. -- Doug Brod

Best Senior Citizens: The Sonics
Often credited as the first punk band, the Sonics played a furious set at Emo's that generally sounded as if they had been cryogenically frozen in 1966. Five sixty-something guys singing about psychos, witches, and drinking strychnine for fun, they were the not-so-missing link between Little Richard and the Cramps. And last night, they never showed their age. Crazed vocals, pummeling drums, dirty organ, and hearty sax blurts combined to turn the club into a neo Delta House for 40 blissfully intense minutes. At the center: the darkest arrangement of "Louie Louie" you've ever heard. -- DB

Best Largescale Intimate Gathering: Beach House
This bedroom-folk group's second album -- 2008's Devotion -- was less willfully oblique and gauzy than their debut, but it still felt like the droning, dirgey exhalations were a spectral affair being glimpsed through the cracked window of a row house in their native Baltimore. Seeing them in the flesh, outside, under the stars at the tree-lined Courtyard wasn't quite a revelation, but the music benefited greatly from the lack of obscuring atmospherics. Guitarist Alex Scally bobbed his head and settled into a legit, if subdued, groove, while singer/organist Victoria Legrand's smoky alto, pushed up in the mix, brought a mesmerizing hush to the overflowing crowd, which stood eight-deep on the sidewalk trying to sneak a peek. Once lumped in with the self-conscious freak-folk trendies, Beach House are both refining and opening up their sound, with Legrand casting a spell like a more commanding, well-adjusted Hope Sandoval. And even in the midst of pushy geeks whining that they were on a guest list that didn't exist, her voice cut to the emotion quick. -- Charles Aaron

Best Chilling Soliloquy By a White Rapper: Cage
The life story of Chris "Cage" Palko is so epically fucked -- parental abuse, drug addiction, mental breakdown, self-destructive feud with Eminem -- that actor Shia LaBeouf has expressed interest in playing him in a biopic that's supposedly greenlighted for production (just the sort of tantalizing, potentially transformative, somewhat unlikely news that could send a guy like Palko reeling). But the Cage of today seems frightfully focused. His upcoming record, Depart from Me, co-produced by El-P and to be released in June, could be one of the year's surprising artistic breakthroughs, and his brief performance at this makeshift outdoor tent had a chilling, disturbing power. Palko doesn't so much rap as dramatically corner you with a seductive, glint-eyed sneer, his body undulating almost seductively. The music, an ominous electro whiplash (via a DJ on electronics and a hulking, doo-ragged guitarist who looked like a former could-kill-you-with-his-bare-hands bouncer at a Brooklyn strip club) blared while Palko prowled the small stage in a red flannel shirt and jeans, spooling out winding narratives that painted him both as a creepy stalker and a spiritually ravenous survivor. The result, not really either hip-hop or rock, could've been wildly uncomfortable, like a nightmarish poetry-slam flashback, but instead it felt like an artist getting more deeply comfortable in his own skin, and not just scratching the surface. Palko's too raw to ever concoct a profitable Slim Shady alter ego, but maybe that's a blessing. -- CA

Best Argument for Headphones and Doobage: Crystal Antlers
Crystal Antlers' idea is to lay super-stricken '90s alt-dude vocals over late-'60s/early-'70s psych-rock that threatens to veer off into a cannabis-funk, hi-hat/cowbell breakdown at the drop of a bong. Sorta like David Yow fronting Rare Earth, tightly edited. On their debut Touch & Go full-length Tentacles, and their self-titled 2008 EP, the Los Angeles band churned up an all-consuming maelstrom worthy of the concept (especially on the EP's hellaciously lurching "A Thousand Eyes"). Live, they played with verve and precision, but little abandon, and the two percussionists and organist strained to make up for a notable lack of guitar roar (nuff respect to the Mars Volta's Ikey Owens for his studio guidance). Some diehards in the crowd at the 1 A.M. gig pumped fists and banged heads, but every time you wished the band would kidnap you for a feedback-hazy roadtrip down a two-lane blacktop to some shack where a dude named Chico had the sickest mescaline in three states, they'd just dutifully jam until the song reached its logical conclusion. On record, Crystal Antlers are bad motherfuckers, but in concert they're just too damn agreeable. -- CA

Best Hometown Bet: Austin's Riverboat Gamblers
Coming to Austin and skipping a chance to see hyperkinetic hometown heroes the Riverboat Gamblers would sorta be like coming to Austin and skipping a chance to eat your weight in slow-cooked pig. Mike Wiebe, looking like a cross between Pelle Almqvist and Paul Westerberg, paces the length of the stage so ferociously and constantly that his progress could be tracked in miles -- the bus from Speed, now in lead singer form. With a clutch of new tunes from Underneath the Owl ("Alexandria" looks like an early favorite from the record, just out) sandwiched between older, equally raucous call-and-response garage-punk burners, more than half the fun at a Gamblers show is to enumerate the various opportunities to be lovingly walloped with beer cans or bodies: If Wiebe leaps from the top of the amp stack, is he more liable to hurt himself or whoever he lands on? The fact that I know the answer but want him to jump anyway probably says as much about what it feels like to watch a real rock show as anything else I could come up with. -- Steve Kandell

Best Way to Feel Safe: Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Camped out towards the other side of the rawk spectrum sits New York's buzzed-about Pains of Being Pure At Heart. That mouthful of a name, combined with the fact that guitarist/singer Kip Berman was wearing a zipped-up windbreaker indoors next to a big sign that read, if you squinted just the right way, EMO, lent a sense of vulnerability to the quartet's perfectly agreeable shoegaze-pop. Ain't no one getting hurt at this show, except maybe on the inside. -- SK

Best Act to See to Avoid Hipsterdom: P.O.S.
When Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. is onstage, there's no choice but to holster Blackberries, put away digital cameras, and unfold arms because, at some point, your hands will be in the air. It's the anti-hipster show: the MC forces folks to shake their rumps and participate vocally whenever called upon. With backing tracks packed with fuzzy guitars and staccato drum loops (check "Drumroll" off his new album, Never Better, for a taste), a P.O.S. show is as much punk as it is hip-hop, a notion reflected in one of the most diverse crowds you'll see in all of Austin, a combo of tattooed rockers and straight-up hip-hop heads. "I don't have anything against dudes in super-tight pink jeans," P.O.S. quipped. But, for 45 minutes, at least, there was nary a pair in the house. -- Peter Gaston

Best Comeback: Devo
Devo will release their first full-length album in 19 years this fall -- and, thank god, they haven't changed a bit. During their set at Austin Music Hall, the Akron, OH, new wave quintet kick-startedthe show with a three-song blast of new tunes that included "Don't Shoot I'm a Man," a punky, synth-heavy track that wouldn't be out of place on the band's 1978 debut. Frontman Mark Mothersbaugh -- wearing a cone hat and a traffic cop's outfit, of course -- bobbed his grey-haired head like he was having an epileptic seizure, while animated cars projected on a video screen sped by behind him. On another new one, "What We Do," his society-questioning lyrics about "eating, breeding, and doing it again" (paired with flashing visuals of a couple having sex on a hamburger) proved that Devo are still very vital, innovative and, simply, awesome. -- William Goodman

CONTINUE: READ THE WORST AND THE REST FROM SXSW DAY 3

THE WORST

The Worst, Period: Black Lips with GZA
While it probably seemed like a really cool idea for Atlanta, GA, flower punks the Black Lips to team up with Wu-Tang Clan's GZA for 15-minutes of punk-laced hip-hop last night at Stubb's, the result was decidedly awful. The Lips stumbled, sounding like a shaky high school talent show band, while GZA muttered unintelligible, half-baked rhymes. Clearly, they hadn't rehearsed. The only highlight: a blonde female fan sequestered GZA at the front of the stage and tried to seduce him with some aggressive, though simulated, oral sex.-- Matt Kiser

THE REST

Sleepiest Britpop Hero: Graham Coxon
It was probably the venue: a sprawling, cushy, bottle service-styleboite. He's made some brilliantly frantic solo albums, but on a bigstage with a guitar and stool, the Blur member gently strummed and sangwith an intensity that could not have roused a cat off a sofa.Thoroughly accomplished yet thoroughly forgettable. -- DB

Most Likely to Someday Have Their Own Guitar Hero Game:Silversun Pickups
Yes, the rumors turned to reality: Metallica dropped into Stubb's to melt about 1,800 faces at the launch party for their Guitar Hero: Metallica video game. But before the monsters of metal stormed the stage, L.A.'s neo-shoegazers Silversun Pickups warmed things up with a fierce sonic assault of their own, laced with never-before-heard nuggets from their forthcoming sophomore set, Swoon. Sure, singer-guitarist Brian Aubert admitted onstage that he's humbled by the mere sight of road cases emblazoned with Metallica's familiar logo, but he let his fingers do the talking. Undoubtedly indoctrinating new converts with his own trailblazing guitar work, Aubert shone most brightly on the slow-building epic "Growing Old Is Getting Old," off Swoon, and "Lazy Eye," Silversun's breakthrough single from their debut, Carnavas. Other Swoon standouts included "Sort Of," with its hopeful chorus bolstered by Joe Lester's swelling keyboard surges. -- PG

BACK TO THE BEST FROM SXSW DAY 2.

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