SXSW 2010
by Kevin J. Elliott

The hangover that persists once the revelers return home from SXSW is often met with regret. Did you see enough? I didn’t see (insert buzz band) or meet up with (insert lost friend), or head to Salt Lick or the bat bridge, and on and on. But when I go over my scrawl of notes, written late night, usually in darkness, cradling a beer and cigarette, it looks like I saw too much. It truly takes a few days to process it all and synthesize it into one complete ball of wax. If there was one thing I took from SXSW 2010 is that there’s something for everyone—no one scene, genre, or band got more play than another. I floated from gnarly scum-rock punk shows to dapper dimly lit nightclubs and back to pre-fab tents filled with nonplussed hipsters and ganja smoke. Another savory year to say the least. Here’s a list of my five favorites and one pick for the absolute worst band seen in my eight-year history in Austin.

Top Five

Dam-Funk (Fader Fort, Saturday afternoon): This was my second time with Dam, the 38-year-old producer turned performer, who cut his teeth in the dawn of the G-funk era. Eventually during the week he would employ a full band, with dancers and live drums, but even alone you got the sense the ghosts of Zapp and Roger were spread amongst the stage, playing along with him.

Twin Sister (Club Deville, Friday afternoon): One of my random picks culled from pre-fest research, this Brooklyn quintet went beyond the standard melange of Animal Collective’s tropical rhythms and lite-psych head-trips. I envision them as Fleetwood Mac stranded on the Lost island, time-travelling between Haight-Ashbury communes and Greenpoint loft parties.

Moon Duo (Encore Patio, Friday night): I thought I knew what to expect from Ripley Johnson’s new two-piece, namely a replicate of Wooden Shjips minus the meandering band behind him. Goodness, I was wrong. His now patented guitar excursions are even headier than in the Shjips and now, bolstered by his partner in crime’s added ethereal synths and modified beats, those riffs are that much closer to the heart of darkness. Stunning.

Washed Out (Klub Krucial, Friday night): Despite the chillwave hype reaching a threshold by the second day of the fest (Can we really endure any more?) and despite Washed Out’s Earnest Greene becoming the scene-girl heartthrob by proxy, this kid is the only genius of the bunch. Instruments were kept at a minimum for most of the bands I saw this week, but that really doesn’t matter when pop as lush and complete as “Feel It All Around” oozes from the speakers to insulate a day-long buzz.

Zola Jesus (The French Legation Museum, Thursday afternoon): I would’ve been just as satiated following around Nika Danilova the entirety of the festival, but for some reason I’m assuming this show, played out under the brightest sun of the fest, was the strangest. In all black, Danilova and her trio of synth warriors pounded out the most emotionally draining performance I saw all week. I think I wrote down Madonna goth-pop about 20 times, thinking in time I could make it a commonplace identifier when describing this rising star.

Honorable Mention

Flying Lotus (Phoenix, Wednesday night): I’ve heard about this beat pioneer for a long clip, but have never ventured into his extensively praised catalog. This is only an honorable mention, because at this point on Wednesday, I could barely stand due to exhaustion. Still, Flying Lotus has raised the bar on DJ culture, taking us into a brave new world combining old-school, glitch-gabber drum & bass, and next wave pyrotechnics. Plus he lays it all out with the enthusiasm one could equate to the finest of rock frontmen, pulsating and writhing with every intricate twist and turn.

The Worst

Salem (The Mohawk, Thursday night): I had high hopes for this trio’s “gutter industrial” and with the right configuration and panache, it might just have worked. But this was the most unbearable set I experienced, and to top it off, I mistakenly had to experience it twice. Please don’t sue me for slander Salem. You looked like junkies, pounding out rudimentary beats, off-key vocals, and mumbled raps with the energy of a black hole. I’m sure they sold their equipment to score before they even left Austin.

SXSW Wrap-Up
by Ron Wadlinger

Top Five

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River (Galaxy Room, Saturday afternoon): Maybe it’s just me, but in light of the Friday passing of Alex Chilton, the Austin crowd seemed to especially appreciate watching one of its great native sons take the stage in celebration of a legendary rock career. This wasn’t a mere nostalgia act, though. Instead, Okkervil River proved to be a fantastic back-up band for Erickson’s songs, and with four guitars deployed at times there was truly an impressive wall of sound. Old favorites “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” and “I Walked With A Zombie” were delightfully devastating, while new material from Roky’s upcoming album provided fittingly quiet counterpoints.

Zola Jesus (French Legation Museum, Thursday afternoon): I bought into Zola Jesus mania during her show at last year’s Sacred Bones showcase, and her subsequent LP on that same label proved that her industrial pop has staying power. At this show (and another I stumbled across on Friday), I found that the Zola Jesus sound is continuing to develop, given a major boost thanks to the upgrade from a one-man backing band last year to a three-man synth squadron flanking her at this year’s festival. This one is still definitely on my watch list.

This Moment in Black History (Plush, Friday afternoon): The Cleveland post-punk mainstays have been at it for a while, and they approached this early afternoon show in tiny Plush with their trademark aggressiveness. Featuring a lot of material of their latest Smog Veil album, Public Square, the quartet transitioned seamlessly from thick punk grooves to brash hardcore assaults. Few bands can simultaneously handle being both extremely witty and surpassingly intelligent like these guys, and their SXSW shows proved that they remain one of the more provocative and entertaining bands operating today.

Crystal Antlers (Red 7, Saturday night): On their first EP and debut album, Crystal Antlers delivered sprawling, majestic psychedelic jams laden with screaming vocals that incorporated everything from noise to Latin influences into a cohesive vision. It had been a while since I’d last heard from them, but I was pleased with what I heard: a sound that retained all of the good stuff from before, but advanced in a more pop-oriented direction that is a totally logical, sensible, and exciting development for this Long Beach band.

Beerland (all week): Maybe it’s a bit of a cop-out to list a venue as one of my top shows of the week, but those who kept up with the Agit Reader SXSW Blog for the duration will know that I seemingly spent two full days here. As a non-official venue in the heart of the action, Beerland has been able to choose its own destiny and consistently book shows that almost primarily feature top-notch underground rock and punk bands. When I had an opening in my schedule, oftentimes I’d just head up Red River by instinct, and nine times out of ten I was pleasantly surprised.

Honorable Mentions

Moon Duo (Encore, Friday night): This two-piece was simply mindblowing—you’d do well to believe the hype.

Drunkdriver (Encore, Friday night): Raw, violent, and groovin’, just how I hoped they’d be.

Wizzard Sleeve (Jaime’s, Thursday night): This electronic goth-punk trio from Alabama always delivers with some ferocious energy.

Biggest Disappointments

Home Blitz (Encore, Friday night): For years, I’ve been a fan of the recorded work of Home Blitz’s lo-fi, “Daniel Johnston fronting a garage punk band” brand of rock. I’d never gotten to see the band in action, though, so I was really looking forward to seeing them in Austin. Maybe I caught them during an off-night, but their Friday show seemed apathetic and listless. I’ll give ?em a pass, but I admit I was a bit bummed that the stage show didn’t match the records.

Abe Vigoda (Barbarella, Saturday night): I’d been interested in checking these guys out for a while, but couldn’t handle more than a few songs. It sounded like Vampire Weekend with a distortion pedal, and I’m not really down with Vampire Weekend. I should’ve known it wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

Andrew WK (Galaxy Room, Saturday afternoon): Back in the day, I used to scoff at Andrew WK’s jams, but on Saturday afternoon I was in the mood for some all-out party rock. When only a single keyboard and microphone were set up at the Galaxy Room outdoor stage, however, I sensed trouble. This was an Andrew WK solo set, consisting of ham-fisted classical piano pieces and improvised nonsense.