Bands to Watch at SXSW and In the Lou

We here at Playback St. Louis have scoured the South By Southwest music festival and St. Louis/Columbia concert listings so you don’t have to. Here are some bands that’ll be passing through both cities, as well as our recommendations.

Blue October
SXSW: La Zona Rosa,
March 20, 10 p.m.
STL: The Pageant, March 19
Fingers crossed: it appears Blue October’s time has — finally! — arrived. The San Marcos, Texas, quintet released its third album, History for Sale (Brando/Universal), last summer; what began as an indie release following their drop from Universal (Consent to Treatment, 2000) turned into a happy reunion, as Blue October was re-signed to Universal. The band will be prominently featured at this year’s Austin festival: with a 10 p.m. Saturday night slot, Blue October follows Liz Phair and precedes both Cracker and Camper van Beethoven. Singer/songwriter Justin Furstenfeld writes heart-wrenchingly personal lyrics; his delivery ranges from a soothing murmur to an anguished howl. But the remaining bandmates are no slouches, lending intricate orchestrations (including the occasional aching violin) to complete the experience. You can catch their blend of beauty, noise, and angst when they hit the Pageant stage March 19 in support of Better Than Ezra. (LH)

British Sea Power
SXSW: Rockstars, March 19, 10 p.m.
STL: Mojo’s (Columbia), March 4
Pick up the debut LP (The Decline of British Sea Power) from this Brighton, England, quartet and listen to the first two songs. Both are fast, spastic, and nasty. Hit pause, and wait five minutes; come back, hit play, and listen. What the hell happened? What happened is the band that may not get the hype of Interpol, but whose British retro act has more sincerity than those hair stylists could ever muster. More Bowie and Bunnymen than Joy Division, BSP is swinging through Columbia on their way to SXSW before heading back across the pond. Therefore, get off your hinder and break it down to Tiger Country. I know you’ve got plenty of sick days left. (DL)

SXSW: Friends, March 18, 11 p.m.
STL: Mississippi Nights, March 27
Originally conceived as a side project, +/- has now released two albums and is touring in support of the latter. You Are Here (Teenbeat) is a beautiful, angst-filled CD, replete with catchy musical hooks, interesting sounds, timing shifts, and insinuating vocals. Formed by ex-Versus members James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos (each vocals/guitar/keyboard), +/- also includes Austin drummer Chris Deaner. There are elements of the Faint, New Order, and Death Cab for Cutie in You Are Here, yet +/- remains very much their own band. Expect the live show to deliver harder and louder interpretations of songs from the often-gentle record; in other words, bring your earplugs, and prepare to be amazed. (LH)

The Walkmen
SXSW: Exodus, March 18, 12:00 a.m.
STL: Mojo’s (Columbia), March 13
Rising from the ashes of the celebrated Jonathan Fire Eater in 2000, The Walkmen modify that fierce garage sound and deliver an eerily unique and diverse musical style. Three members remain from the original group, who gained acclaim and a Dreamworks contract through ferocious live performances. Former Recoys’ bassist Peter Bauer and singer Hamilton Leithauser joined the group and helped to craft their surprising rhythms, which effectively match his haunting vocal delivery. The Walkmen are currently touring behind their sophomore album, Bows and Arrows, released in February to very positive reviews. (DH)

The Wrens
SXSW: Friends, March 18, 1 a.m.
STL: Music Café (Columbia), March 15
In the mid-’90s, The Wrens were an underground sensation on the cusp of success. Collectively, brothers Kevin and Greg Whelan (bass/piano and guitar, respectively), Jerry Macdonald (drums), and Charles Bissell (guitar) released their second full-length, Secaucus, in 1996 to critical acclaim on Grass Records. Halfway into their first tour in support of the disc, they were pressured to sign a high-dollar contract and make music that is more radio-friendly; they declined, parting ways with the label. Legal complications ensued, and The Wrens nearly fell prey to the complications. Fast-forward to fall 2003, when the band re-emerged with The Meadowlands (Absolutely Kosher). Now, finally, the waiting world can hear the intelligent indie rock that is The Wrens.

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