Written by Laura Hamlett Monday, 29 March 2010 20:23
Oh sure, there were the requisite “big” bands, most of them at Stubbs, including Muse, Hole, Spoon, Broken Social Scene and Scissor Sisters. As for the stable of up-and-coming bands everyone was hip to catch, there just didn’t seem to be any.
Frightened Rabbit at the IFC House
This was our eighth year covering SXSW for PLAYBACK:stl. For those who haven’t been, it’s an annual spring break/pilgrimage for anyone involved in the music industry, whether performing, managing, licensing, booking, signing or listening. I’ll go out on a limb and say what most people only think: The bands are secondary to the panels, networking and schmoozing.
That said, my schedule once again didn’t allow me time to attend any of the panels—not the ones I wanted to see, anyway. So scratch that from the list of pluses. And, to be honest, most of the networking and schmoozing takes place outside the showcases, whether at day parties or along the bar rail. And bands? A hell of a lot of them play a hell of a lot of shows, many of them free and open to the public.
Granted, the music badge provides perks not available to wristbands or cash customers. Aside from the aforementioned industry panels, you’re allowed access to the trade show and press lounge. You also get go-to-the-head-of-the-class privileges at any show that isn’t already sold out. Good perks when the shows are filled with buzz bands.
This year not so much. Oh sure, there were the requisite “big” bands, most of them at Stubbs, including Muse, Hole, Spoon, Broken Social Scene and Scissor Sisters. As for the stable of up-and-coming bands everyone was hip to catch, there just didn’t seem to be any.
Overall, this year’s lineup didn’t impress me. The saving grace was that two of my longtime favorites were performing—artists I’ve seen before, but would never turn down a chance to see again. Maybe I’ve just seen too many bands over the last decade, but only a handful I caught at this year’s fest really impressed me. So here it is, my SXSW 2010 recap, broken down by my likes and dislikes.
Wouldn’t Have Missed in a Million Years
Matthew Good | Last fall, the brilliant Canadian rocker Matthew Good announced a winter tour across his country, culminating in back-to-back shows at Massey Hall in Toronto (site of the live album he released in 2008). For Christmas, I asked for a trip to Toronto. It was the first time I’d get to see him…plus, he almost never played the States so I wanted to take my chance when I got it.
The week before we left, Good announced a U.S. tour, including a stop at SXSW (on my birthday!). Unfortunately, the NXNE showcase (of which Good was a part) was banished to a tiny basement venue called Prague. Good, a huge star in his native land, played a stage which barely afforded him room between him and his bandmates.
To be fair, the dungeon was packed for his set, with everyone in attendance extremely passionate and involved. To his credit, Good delivered the best show he could under the circumstances…though he did point out, “It’s been 14 years since I’ve played South by Southwest, and it will be another 14 before I return.” He deserved better.
Tommy Keene | I’ve been listening to Tommy Keene since high school, making it, um…let’s just say quite a few years I’ve been a fan. Remember the thing I said about the parties? Between those and his official showcase, Keene played three shows…and I was at every one. All these years and he’s still an amazing performer. With his infrequent touring schedule, I was extremely happy to have had three opportunities to see him.
Wanted to See and Did…With Pleasure
Bad Veins | The Cincinnati duo canceled a scheduled appearance in St. Louis last fall due to car trouble, so I’ve been waiting a while to catch them live. Their set was easily one of the best of the fest. Their brand of indie rock translated extremely well in a live setting; even with just two people they put on a compelling show.
Frightened Rabbit | The week before SXSW I heard this Scottish quartet on NPR’s All Things Considered and wanted to check them out. To be fair, they did play a number of shows, nearly putting them into “buzz band” territory. We were lucky enough to catch a set at the IFC house (free wifi! free snacks! free drinks! free coffee bar!) that was being recorded live for the station. (We were especially lucky because the weather on Saturday had dipped precipitously and the IFC house was indoors.) Though they didn’t become an instant favorite, they were definite enjoyable, especially the witty discourse. Midway through the set, frontman Scott Hutchinson remarked, “Always a quandary when you look down and see water on one side and alcohol on the other. You know which one you should drink.”
The Beauvilles | I caught this Tampa band years ago at a BAAMO showcase. I liked ‘em enough to give the singer my card and offer him a show in St. Louis whenever they could make it. Shawn Beauville ended up keeping my card, and got in touch a couple years ago when they released a new album. Though they have yet to play St. Louis, I was happy to get an opportunity to see the set now that I’m familiar with the music. The band muddled through a problem-laden set with aplomb…and a healthy dose of rock star swagger.
Never Heard of But Was Glad to Have Seen
Dead Sexy Inc. | Truthfully, the only act in this category that overwhelmingly impressed me was this crazy glam-punk trio from France. They were campy, they were dirty, they were over the top…and it worked, to delicious effect. (left)
MM/DD/YYYY | Had this loud, frenetic electro band not preceded Matthew Good or been so loud, I would have enjoyed them more. As it was, I was too anxious for their set to end so I could get to the main course. Definitely one I’ll keep an eye on. (right)
Wanted to See and Did…Mostly Worthwhile
matt pond PA | I’m a fan, longtime but not obsessive. I’ve seen the band—fronted by Matt Pond himself, of course—a couple times before; both were enjoyable, though Pond is an odd man to be sure. He was at the pinnacle of his oddity this night, making for a slightly uncomfortable and uneven show.
Marty Wilson-Piper | The ex-Church co-songwriter put on an enjoyable acoustic set in a small tap room with good beer. He looked old but sounded great; his choice of an oriental hooker-cum-backup singer really didn’t work for me, though.
Wanted to See and Did…Eh
We Were Promised Jetpacks | OK, they’re buzzy. And OK, they were good. But a life-changing experience? Nowhere near, at least not for this music consumer. To be fair, the crowd did seem very into the gig; probably just a case of personal preference (though Jim agreed with me on this one).
Bear Hands | To be honest, I don’t remember a single thing about their set.
The Parlour Steps | Buzzy? Yes. Exciting? Hell, no. The two guys and two girls in this band seemed underwhelmed to be there, as well. I couldn’t stay; too boring. (right)
Could Have Done Without
These are bands that, for one reason or another, I happened to catch but wished I hadn’t; my time could have been better spent elsewhere.
Andrew W.K. | People like this shit? Really? I couldn’t last beyond one song.
The XX | Shoegaze on Quaaludes, razorblades included.
Tigercity | Indie sweethearts who are so, so boring.
The Howlies | Power pop? Not powerful enough, apparently.
The Damnwells | I used to be a big fan. Did they always sound this middle-of-the-road?
Bottom line: Spring break in Austin is still one of the best ways to spend the third week in March, and I will definitely return...but maybe with not as high expectations next year | Laura Hamlett
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