Day one in Austin was a bit lighter than normal, and I’ll skip bands that didn’t do it for me. Cut Copy stole the day for me. They lit up the house, and continue to have so much more energy live than their past albums would indicate. The new stuff sounds good live, and the new album will hopefully capture more of their on-stage vibe. The Raveonettes have been one of my faves for years. Just about every review of their new album has been an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Their darker, fuzzier, slower vibe doesn’t work nearly as well for me, and their shows have changed in the same way. I had to wonder if maybe they just weren’t inspired. Crowd reactions were mild. They seemed so much more into it a couple of years ago at the Troubadour in L.A.
Day two: I’ll only put it this way one time, but The Whip from Manchester, sort of a New Order meets 2008 band, absolutely whipped up the crowds during their gigs. For me, they were one of those energizing SXSW surprises, but it turns out that many electro tastemakers in the U.S. are already onto them. Also on the dance side, Toronto’s Holy Fuck aced their set with their entirely analogue, all instrumental, hard electronic. Regular readers and listeners know I’m a huge supporter of London’s Switches. Their single “Drama Queen” has more hooks than a closet and deserves far more U.S. airplay. These boys easily delivered the goods at their showcases. They’ve been touring the U.S. extensively and it shows, as their live gigs have come up another notch. I continue to like the U.K.’s Noisettes, and I caught a few songs at their DirecTV taping. Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed plays a good-vibe, well-done brand of retro-soul.
After a slower start to the conference, things definitely picked up on Friday. Day three‘s high of 93 gave us practice for Coachella. Skybombers are the Melbourne band I’ve been following for a year. They’re hot live, and their unofficial SXSW gig was welcome at a time when the new band highlights haven’t included as many guitar-oriented groups as in other years. Their glam/punk/rock sound works great, and crowds consistently go for these guys. Their album will come out stateside in late spring. The Cribs are a great live band, and once again came through. Their new single “I’m A Realist” has a shot at major airplay. You’re probably wondering how Vampire Weekend did. I’m a fan and would say their live show has some more energy than what I’ve seen from them on TV. Fans of their music will enjoy the live set, but I don’t know if the show itself will blow people away. They’re likable up there, and are pretty much straight ahead at this point. MGMT, the other major Brooklyn buzz band didn’t get into the costume changes I’d heard about, but they play well, come off well. The set at times made me think of Arcade Fire and at other times reminded me of Pink Floyd. They could have been a little more up-tempo, and I was surprised they didn’t play “Kids”, which is not only faster-paced, but also is a popular track that may break them into the mainsteam. After playing all week, they may have been tired by Friday night. The Ting Tings are fun and talented; and they had lots of people talking about them. Santogold’s cool choreography was a joy to observe. White Rabbits are very musical with lots of piano, a nice discovery on the harder indie/folk side.
Day four was easily the best. L.A.’s Airborne Toxic Event has been attracting serious interest from major labels, as well as leading management companies. As an unsigned band, they are also being played by both KROQ and Indie 103.1 in LA. KROQ might do that once or twice a year. Their live show was ace. It appears that everyone will know this band before long. Sons and Daughters have a new album coming out, and I caught some of their DirecTV appearance, where they played great. It turned out to be a highlight of the conference for me, and I look forward to catching them at Coachella. I’ve been following The Redwalls a long time, and have seen many of their shows. This one was their best to date. Duffy‘s wonderful hit ‘Mercy’ turned out to be the only up-tempo tune in her set. This retro-soul U.K. girl is being called the blonde, clean cut version of Amy Winehouse. She has a great voice and is pleasing to watch, but I’d love to see her juice things up a little bit. The Wombats packed the Liverpool/Manchester showcase, and continued to play with power, while continuing to deliver their tongue-in-cheek lyrics. At the same venue, The Rascals sound like a talented but less accessible Arctic Monkeys, and they’ll be interesting to watch. Lead vocalist Miles Kane not only sounds like the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, but the two of them have teamed up for The Last Shadow Puppets side project. Two high-energy indie folk bands are Ra Ra Riot and Ezra Furman & the Harpoons. Both played strong sets.
There were something like 1,600 bands, including more than a few I wish I’d gotten to see. I’d say that the overall energy level of the conference was down. This might be attributed to the travails currently being endured by the industry. It may also be due to the fact that the indie music is almost becoming mainstream in terms of exposure. It also seems like the band line-up wasn’t quite as strong this year. Just about every bar raised the prices of their drinks this year. We big city people are used to paying a lot more in our establishments, and local owners obviously decided they can make a lot more money on us. The conference has become more commercial every year, and we can only hope that it doesn’t loose its relevance anytime soon.