Monday, March 17, 2008

SXSW 2008

[photo credit: Staciaann Photography]

The South by Southwest Music Conference/Festival truly is exactly as it sounds: Over 60 venues, over 1400 artists, all packed into downtown Austin, TX over one week. In reality, though, it is hard to imagine until you see it all first-hand. It is overwhelming, thrilling, and exhausting all at once. The mere task of trying to select which bands to see at any given moment is a huge undertaking, mainly because there are very few easy choices (with the notable exception of skipping a party hosted by Perez Hilton, sorry dude.). In the end, though, having to choose among so many great shows really is half the fun, and I quickly realized that it is important to take chances on a new band, rather than always going with the more established acts. Below, personal highlights from SXSW and some Mp3s from the bands that put on my favorite shows.

[photo credit: dontdothisathome]

Favorite Large Venue Show: Alejandro Escovedo @ Stubb's
The perfect example of stumbling upon a great, great artist. The reason that I even made the trek over to Stubb's to check out this set is that I heard a rumor that Lou Reed was going to be a surprise guest at this set, which made me immediately leave the show I was at and head right over. Midway through the first song of the set, I had already forgotten why I came over, because Escovedo and his band tore through their own music with passion and incredible skill. I have no idea why Escovedo isn't playing huge venues, or even why his music isn't all over the radio. It is catchy, accessible, and laced with pure high-level musicianship. In the end, the entire set went by without any guest appearances, but it didn't matter. As a big R.E.M. fan who saw said band perform a terrific set the night before on the same stage, I can say that Escovedo put on the superior performance. Next year, I only hope that the crowd doubles if he makes another appearance.

Mp3: Alejandro Escovedo - Castanets

Runner-Up for Favorite Large Venue Show: R.E.M. @ Stubb's

[photo credit: chasingfun]

Favorite Mid-Sized Venue Show
: Bodies of Water @ Mohawk Patio
Bodies of Water was one of the bands I was most looking forward to heading into SXSW. They also were one of the acts that had a handful of scheduled performances throughout the week. I'd like to think that I picked the best show of the bunch, because they put on a terrific performance. Bodies of Water's songs have a wonderful tendency to include changes of tempo throughout as well as vocals from all members. This can lead to a sound that is Polyphonic Spree-esque with some jumpy Mates of State or Architecture in Helsinki-type twists. The high point of the show had to be towards the end of the performance, when the group played one of my favorite singles of 2007, "These Are the Eyes." The fullness of the song completely came through in the live show, and the group's charisma only added to the performance.

Mp3: Bodies of Water - These Are the Eyes

Runner-Up for Favorite Mid-Sized Venue Show: The Most Serene Republic @ The Parish

Favorite Small Venue Show
: Mittens on Strings @ The Hideout
In many ways, this was my favorite overall show in terms of a true South by Southwest experience. Mittens on Strings is a band that I first read about after last year's SXSW, and I've since grown to be a big fan. Unfortunately, they only had one show scheduled this year, so I was forced to skip both Aloha and Land of Talk to see this show. Verdict: glad I took the chance. The Hideout was one of the stranger locations for a show, because after a week of seeing bands in bars, you quickly realize that this venue is actually located within a coffee shop. It isn't until you walk to the back of the shop that you see a side entrance that leads to a small theatre extension where bands performed. The journey was worth it, because everyone in the audience got to be a part of a special performance. While there are many bands nowadays that are producing contrived versions of mid-90s low-fi indie rock, there are significantly less acts that take the music of their predecessors and actually push it in a new and interesting direction. Mittens on Strings fall well within the latter category. After a 40 minute set, I left with the strong feeling that I had gotten the chance to see an act on their way up, which to me is the most exciting of all the opportunities at South by Southwest.

Mp3: Mittens on Strings - G.I. Dirt Races

Runner-Up for Favorite Small Venue Show: Bowerbirds @ Mohawk (inside)

Final tally of acts seen: 30
[In alphabetical order...Alejandro Escovedo, Basia Bulat, Bear in Heaven, Blitzen Trapper, Bodies of Water, Bon Iver, Bowerbirds, Dead Confederate, Destroyer, Evangelicals, Fleet Foxes, Islands, Jens Lekman, Johnathan Rice, Langhorne Slim, Le Loup, Mittens on Strings, N.E.R.D., Ola Podrida, Papercranes, Phosphorescent, R.E.M., Ra Ra Riot, Summerbirds in the Cellar, Tapes 'n Tapes, The Cribs, The Most Serene Republic, Tokyo Police Club, White Denim, White Rabbits]

1 comment:

lauren dana said...

I want to barter bodies of water with you, sounds good.. want to exchange it for tapes 'n tapes walk it off?