SXSW 2008 | Bigger. Bolder. Louder

sxsw_randy_sm.jpgRather than make an attempt to cover all 46 bands I witnessed, I’m going to limit my comments of the five best new acts I discovered, as well as five shows from established acts that knocked my socks off.







It certainly is great to escape the waning days of winter every March by leaving behind New York City and heading to the sunny climes of Austin for South by Southwest. With an all-time high of nearly 1,700 acts this year, the 22nd annual fest offered nonstop ear candy from March 12 through 16. From conjunto to electro to stoner rock, SXSW offered all things to all musical tastes. The event provided a forum for new projects from established acts like Lou Reed, Van Morrison, R.E.M. and Ice Cube, as well as acting as a buzz amplifier for developing artists like Vampire Weekend, Black Mountain, Duffy and Santogold. Lou Reed was on hand to promote Lou Reed’s Berlin, a newly-shot live concert film directed by Oscar nominee Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). In addition to delivering the fest’s keynote address, Reed performed an impromptu jam alongside Thurston Moore, My Morning Jacket and Moby, among others, in an event that had a line of shut-out fans stretching for blocks. If you stayed alert, you could also cross paths with a few holdovers from the SXSW film festival held the previous week. I spotted Steve Buscemi at my hotel, while Zooey Deschanel performed a few gigs with her music partner, M.Ward, under the name She & Him.

As in previous years, parties held outside the conference’s official jurisdiction flourished, bringing even more big names into the mix. Motorhead was the main draw at the Vice party on Thursday afternoon; the Breeders and NOFX were among the 30-plus acts that played a massive free "Mess With Texas" park concert on Saturday; while a full slate of other events were hosted by Playboy, Toyota and numerous others.

Rather than make an attempt to cover all 46 bands I witnessed, I’m going to limit my comments to the five best new acts I discovered, as well as five shows from established acts that knocked my socks off. For a more thorough recap, check out the photo descriptions on my links that appear below.

Five New Discoveries


Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong | the Fader/Levi’s Fort, Thursday, 3/13

This rather preposterously named London act delivered classic British Invasion thrills during their afternoon stint in the Texas sun. Vocalist Joe Lean was the drummer in the Pipettes up until June of last year, but now commands his own spotlight, prowling the stage like the lovechild of Ian Brown and Jane Birkin. Guitarist Tom Dougall (brother of Rose Pipette) provides the perfect foil for his frontman and plays with the rock-god showmanship of Jimmy Page. Both Dougall and second guitarist Dom O’Dare are fiendishly handsome, Dougall boasting the pin-up looks of Kula Shaker’s Crispian Mills while O’Dare bears a striking resemblance to Dave Davies circa 66. The Jing Jang Jong’s music is a brash blend of the Creation and the Music Machine, and I look forward to the May release of their Mercury debut album. Oh, yes, I do.

CPC Gangbangs | Emo’s Jr., Friday, 3/14

cpcgangbangs.jpgThis mysterious Montreal quintet strafed the disbelieving crowd at Emo’s with caterwauling vocals and a massive guitar squall. I still feel dirty. Visually the band is a ragtag conglomeration with various members looking like they could be from Motorhead, Rank & File, the Misfits and Weezer. Check out their debut album Mutilation Nation on Swami.

The Cool Kids | Emo’s Main Room, Friday, 3/14

I heard more than one person refer to the Cool Kids as "the new Run-DMC," which seems a bit obvious considering they’re a young, charismatic rap duo backed by a turntablist/laptop DJ. In any case, they seem poised to blow at any minute, having effortlessly inspired the capacity crowd at Emo’s to bounce in place while grinning from ear to ear. Fresh rhymes and a tight lyrical flow set to booty bass and old school big beat are the order of the day. Could well bring fun back to mainstream hip-hop since their set recalled classic platters by House of Pain and J.J. Fad.

The Whip | Maggie Mae’s Upstairs, Friday, 3/14

Taking full advantage of a Stateside recession and a weak dollar, the Brits once again traveled to Austin in droves for SXSW. The conference has truly become the leading "spring break" destination for serious U.K. music fans. Their presence was palpable at The Whip’s showcase as fellow Mancunians mobbed the flimsy upstairs balcony at Maggie Mae’s and made me realize the night might end with a Great White-type tragedy. The Whip delivered a rousing set for its supporters, laying down thick, meaty basslines over a slowly building wall of electro. Recalling the heady dancefloor utopia of New Order and the Chemical Brothers, The Whip will only strike harder in the coming months.

Mannequin Men | B.D. Riley’s, Saturday, 3/15

This Chicago quartet certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel with its hell-raising mindfuck of blues and punk. But Mannequin Men write great beer-drenched punk tunes that occasionally rise to the rarefied heights of the Gun Club and former Homestead Records’ rockers The Gibson Brothers. That’s more than enough for me.

Five Solid Veterans

X | Spin party, Stubb’s, Friday, 3/14


Exene, John Doe, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake cranked out classics from their first four Slash albums. I admire the fact that John never fails to honor the memory of deceased Big Boys vocalist Randy "Biscuit" Turner every time X comes back to Austin.

Naked Raygun | the Red-Eyed Fly, Wednesday, 3/12

I’m a Naked Raygun fan from waaay back, having first seen the band play with the Laughing Hyenas at a New Music Seminar showcase in 1989. I was also at Austin’s Cannibal Club in the early ’90s when Jeff Pezzati’s crew last came through. So I was fired up to see these Chicago punk legends again after all these years. Despite a slow start, their set gained momentum and wide-eyed grins could be seen throughout the slampit as old favorites like "Rat Patrol" and "Home of the Brave" were wheeled out for the faithful.

The Stems | Pop Culture Press party, Saturday, 3/15

The Stems rose to prominence in the same rich ’80s garage scene that gave us other Australian psych revivalists like the Scientists, Lime Spiders, Exploding White Mice and the Eastern Dark. For this rare appearance, we were treated to the original lineup of the band, performing hits from their heyday as well as a strong set of tunes from Heads Up, a studio album they released last year. Based on this showcase, I picked up both Heads Up and the Terminal Cool compilation from the merch table on my way out.

redwalls.jpgThe Redwalls | El Rio, Saturday, 3/15

Chicago definitely gets my award for "Most Valuable City" at SXSW this year, bringing to Austin unforgettable gigs from Naked Raygun, Mannequin Men, The Cool Kids and The Redwalls. I admit I’m kind of late in discovering The Redwalls, since I only first heard them last year when I was sent a copy of their excellent self-titled third album. For this set at El Rio, the band was pure professionalism, but not in any sort of bad way. They were pros in the sense that they were charismatic, focused, excellent musicians, and they looked and felt like a proper band. Best of all, they write and deliver perfect pop songs that can make you swoon with fond reminiscences of Badfinger and the Faces.

Paul Collins Beat | The Soho Lounge, Saturday, 3/15

As a member of The Nerves, Paul Collins helped give power pop a new lease on life by co-writing the immortal "Hanging on the Telephone." In 1979, he followed that coup by releasing The Beat, a fantastic collection of songs that still sound just as great today. All these years later, Collins is still at it, having released the Flying High album last year and running the awesome independent label Get Hip. This SXSW showcase was a real treat as Collins delivered crackling, energetic versions of "Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl" and "Work-a-Day World," among others. He’s got the beat! | Randy Haecker

Photos by Randy Haecker. View all of Randy’s SXSW ’08 photos:


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