SXSW Wrap-up
by Kevin J. Elliott

If there was one thing to be learned from SXSW 2009, it’s that now everyone’s invited to join in: from Metallica to Mike Sniper, and Kanye to Zola Jesus. Regardless if you have a badge, a wristband or just a fanny pack full of kind bud, you’re going to see at least a few acts that you’ll remember years down the road—and a few you’ve forgotten before the ride home. Those that claim the fest is getting too big for its britches and that is has lost its focus, obviously aren’t there or if they are, don’t know where to look. For every Fader Fort built into a marketing playground with fountains of free beer, there’s an unassuming Austin dive with a staff of hospitable locals that will let you drink till dawn.

So before I start rambling about the awesome weather we had this year, or the great expanse that has opened east of the interstate, or the magic a pedestrian bridge can hold at 3:00 am on the last night—I’d rather just list my five favorite shows. See you next year Austin.

XYX and Mayyors
Friday, 8:00pm

This was the best one-two punch of the week, simply because I was blindsided. The duo hailing from Monterrey, Mexico, XYX, may be friends with Los Llamarada, but that’s where the affiliation stops. Unlike the Llamarada, who devastate by cultivating a dense, borderless morass, these two have form and structure. The ends might be frayed into false starts/ends, echoed howls and aerosol feedback, but the crud in between is propelled by their signature bass guitar metallurgy. Speed and hardcore riffs fashioned into quick punk chunks. And on this night I got a tinge of early Boredoms in their mix. What they did segued nicely into the brutality brought by Sacramento’s Mayyors. By building a sonic monolith on par with Rusted Shut, Clockcleaner and Drunk with Guns, Mayyors look as if everything they do is done for a purpose—when that circumstantially can’t be the case. It was as much riotous spectacle as it was chaotic noise, with enough fist-pumping crescendos to actual follow along.

Thee Oh Sees
Thursday, 2:00pm
Beauty Bar

As I stated before, half the fun of SXSW is seeing bands out of their element, watching them adapt to unusual ecological parameters. I caught San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees with a hangover and crust still in my eyes, but as soon as they set-up (jam econo-style on the floor) John Dwyer hit my reset button. Squirming, slithering and flailing through songs from his new album, Help, you get the feeling Dwyer and his hand-picked crew have reached an apex of garage rock, a perfect distillation of all the projects that have come before this. Match the bone-in-socket stomp of Nuggets-nurtured tunes like “Ruby Go Home” and “Enemy Destruct.” With Dwyer’s bi-polar stage antics and sonic twists, you’ve got a band that transcends mere singles fodder.

Amanda Blank
Friday, 11:00pm
Club de Ville

Much of the excitement that comes with SXSW is witnessing an artist stand at the precipice of that next level. At the Downtown Records showcase Philadelphia’s Amanda Blank seamlessly moved from the role of sometimes guest rapper to a multi-faceted star in her own right. Scheduled to precede both Lady Sovereign and Kid Sister, she was surprisingly the most skilled of the three, not to mention the most original of all the M.I.A. replicates/female emcees that were scrambling for attention during the week. Though unfamiliar with her debut solo album waiting in the wings, live it sounded brimming with a widescreen range (supposedly everyone from Diplo to Dave Sitek was on board) going from Bmore club banger to late-night minimalist cold-wave. On top of all that she’s foul-mouthed and gorgeous.

Psychedelic Horseshit
Saturday, 8:00pm
Ms. Bea’s

At first I thought the homemade “Wavves Suxx” t-shirts that went unlaundered for four days were a bit much, a bit of antagonizing that shouldn’t go on in the “gang.” By Saturday I’d come to realize that Psychedelic Horseshit weren’t in anyone’s gang (maybe Eat Skull’s, but that’s another story) and they’d come to Texas to separate the true pagans from the meek sheep. If it wasn’t already apparent in the first 12 shows they’d played over the week, this performance on Ms. Bea’s concrete floor showed off their dedication to grotesque songcraft and to becoming the ubiquitous embodiment of anti-culture. Matt Horseshit was practically fuming out of his ears for some reason, perhaps because he still wasn’t sure if the crowd could translate his life’s work up to that point. But they were dancing and hooting and hollering and climbing trees, and somewhere a kid understood that all the thrills of blow-jobs, bong-rips and pizza can be found in one singular seven-minute Horseshit dub-jam. The message is that this band is beyond being bored.

Friday, 10:00pm

More than anything else, straining my night just to get a glimpse of Metallica, was done in order to rip apart my adolescent checklist for good (that is unless Phil Lynott is raised from the dead). Even though I knew I had slim to no chance of getting into Stubb’s there was something that drew me into the endless line. It was during “One” that I got to a point where it was becoming a reality and the San Antonio native next to me grabbed my shoulder and said “Being in this spot is pretty amazing.” I wasn’t one for hyperbole that night, but I almost had to agree. In comparison to a band like Metallica, Stubb’s is miniscule, so it was no anomaly that thousands crowded the streets around the venue to capture what they could from the Austin air. When I got to the entrance my bag got searched and in some twist of fate the security guard pulled my whiskey from its sheath and told me he’d watch it for me while I was inside. Now I can honestly say that I despise most things that Metallica stand for in 2009—they’re corporate shills playing in front of a giant Guitar Hero logo—but on this night, with a set that included personal favorites “Harvester of Sorrow” and “Master of Puppets” and even “Seek and Destroy” and “Whiplash,” all of the sudden I was 13 again in the junior high parking lot, wondering if I should take up smoking.

Highlighting SXSW
by Ron Wadlinger

Predictably, this year’s South By Southwest was a whirlwind. While I didn’t get to Kanye or Metallica, I caught more bands that I hadn’t previously seen than I can count, and I got to see most of my old favorites. Still being a relative SXSW novice, I guess I shouldn’t be making any grand proclamations concerning where this year’s edition ranks in the grand of scheme of things. All I know is that I had a great four days, getting my fill of music, pizza, beer, and barbeque. My current hometown of Columbus is blessed to be one of the popular stops for a lot of the acts covered by the Agit Reader, but sometimes it takes something like SXSW to remind you of just how many truly interesting and enjoyable bands make music today. After a few days back in Ohio, I’m ready for next year.

It’s tough to narrow the week down to just five shows that I felt were the best, but after a good amount of deliberation, here’s my list:

Zola Jesus
Saturday night
Music Gym

By far, the Zola Jesus performance I caught during the Sacred Bones showcase Saturday night was the most transcendent of the week. On vinyl, it’s clear how talented of a singer she is, and the songs burrow a little further into your head during each listen. Live, though, her brilliance is magnified. Flanked by Dead Luke, this four-song set was at times eerily haunting, and at times stunningly beautiful. Simply awesome.

Box Elders
Saturday night
Red 7

If Zola Jesus was the most transcendent, Box Elders were the most fun. At each of the shows I saw, the band played their throwback garage-pop with unsurpassed energy and enthusiasm. Playing as part of the Goner showcase Saturday night, the band kicked it into another gear, eventually working the large crowd into a frenzy. “Hole In My Head” has been stuck in my own head for a year now. Judging by the band’s new material, there will be a lot more songs I can’t stop thinking of once their debut LP arrives.

Mark Sultan
Friday night

I’ve never really gotten into King Kahn and the BBQ, but I was pleasantly surprised by Mark Sultan’s semi-unannounced appearance at the In the Red showcase. In fact, Sultan’s bluesy rock might have been the standout of that evening’s great line-up. I think the guy next to me scoffed when I dared to mutter out loud a comparison to the Bassholes during Sultan’s set, but I stand by it.

Personal and the Pizzas
Friday day

I still haven’t gotten to listen to these guys on vinyl yet, but I made a point of catching them during their time in Austin. Their brand of tough, melodic rock resonated with me, proving to be almost as “fun” as the Box Elders, but with a little extra grit. These are the kind of songs with perfect hooks that sound instantly recognizable, yet pack enough substance to preserve their staying power.

Outer Spacist
Thursday night

Seriously, no Columbus bias here. This five-piece psychedelic punk band was the perfect choice to lead off the Columbus Discount Records showcase, which proved to be perhaps the most consistently great showcase of the festival. Their recent (and long-awaited) debut 7-inch provides a solid look into what the band is about, but their live show is the way to go. Songs like “The Mind Is as Outer Space” and “I Talk with Telepathy Baby” were made to hear loud with the band right in your face, and this was the place to get that full-on experience. And you’ve never heard Burt Bacharach played right until you’ve heard the Outer Spacist cover of “Walk on By.” While it’s hard to pick a favorite from Thursday night, these guys get the mention for setting the bar so high.

For more SXSW coverage, read our dispatches from Austin from last week.