SXSW ’09 | Editor’s Picks

sxsw_sm.jpgFrom their humble indie-rock beginnings, this Scottish band has grown to become all the rage.







sxsw_as-tall-as-lions.jpgAs Tall as Lions | 03.19, 10 p.m. – Cedar Door; 03.20, 9 p.m. – Buffalo Billiards
I was lucky enough to catch As Tall as Lions at CMJ ’07; it was the best show I saw at that year’s fest. Frontman Daniel Nigro has a fluid, upward-register-reaching voice, leading the indie popsters in a shower of inviting and addictive songs. Their CDs to date are wholly satisfying, yet live, the four members are equally adept at rocking out. As I mentioned in my CMJ writeup that year, "Live, the songs are measurably more dynamic, thanks in no small part to the elastic, impassioned dancing of the bassist and the exuberant (often unmiked) sing-along and multi-instrumental talents of the traveling keyboardist." This one is guaranteed to impress. (

Barcelona | 03.20, TBA – Rusty Spurs
Equally melodic is Seattle trio Barcelona. With their debut album out on Universal Motown, Barcelona is another band firmly entrenched in the indie rock genre. With soaring vocals and a pleasing blend of smooth, memorable melodies and driving drumbeats, they are sure to draw the crowds in to their world. (

sxsw_crystal-stilts.jpgLou Barlow with Imaad Wasif | 03.21, 10 p.m. – The Parish
Imaad Wasif was in a band called Alaska!, best known as the band in the endearing Frances McDormand flop Laurel Canyon; he also toured a couple years ago as the second guitarist in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and was part of Lou Barlow’s reunited Folk Implosion. And Barlow? Aside from FI, he was in a couple other little bands, namely Dinosaur Jr. and Folk Implosion; perhaps you’ve heard of them? As a duo, I’m not sure what to expect, but one thing’s for certain: It’s got to be good.

The Beauvilles | 03.21, 1 a.m. – Wave Rootfop
This Florida band recently self-released Whispering Sin, a driving collection of 12 driving, rocking songs sure to have you singing along. I first heard the band at SXSW ’07 at the annual Bay Area Arts and Music Organization party and loved their music—and live show—even then. This year, after immersing myself in their album for a few months, I’m really looking forward to catching them again. (

Cary Brothers | 03.19, 12 a.m. | The Parish
Last year I went to the bluhammock party with one mission: see Cary Brothers. As it turned out, he had flown out the night before. This year, catching his show is a must. Brothers rose to prominence with the song "Blue Eyes," perfectly placed in buddy Zach Braff’s writing debut, Garden State. However, the rest of his debut album, Who You Are, is even stronger than "Blue Eyes" (which, to me, still sounds a bit watered down)—with the possible exception of his cover of the Thompson Twins’ "If You Were Here." Brothers is a true singer-songwriter, and one who deserves larger success. (

Crystal Stilts | 03.19, 10 p.m. – Red 7 Patio; 03.20, 1 a.m. – Emo’s Jr.
Over the years, countless bands have emerged sounding like Joy Division (She Wants Revenge, anyone?). And over the years, most of them haven’t been worthy of the comparison. Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts garner association largely due to frontman Brad Hargett’s voice, yearning yet buried a bit in the mix. Musically, they’re stripped down and driving—yep, you got it, a lá Ian Curtis. It’s not at all bad, though, especially given Crystal Stilts’ recent 8.3 rating on uber-snobby Pitchfork. (

Cursive | 03.20, 1 a.m. – Radio Room
I’m an old-school Cursive fan. Tim Kasher and Co.’s early releases were dark, driving and sometimes depressive. And then something magical happened: Cursive added cellist Greta Cohn and released the brilliant, near perfect The Ugly Organ. The live shows were still well-received train wrecks, with Kasher unpredictable (and often drunk), but the music was so good, nobody cared. And then Cohn left the band, taking with her, it seemed, Cursive’s black heart. The band’s follow up, Happy Hollow, left something to be desired; however, with this year’s appearance at SXSW, I’m willing to forgive and forget — as long as Kasher remembers why we fell in love with him in the first place. (

Cut Off Your Hands | 03.19, 11 p.m. – Emo’s Main Room; 03.20, 10 p.m. – Aces Lounge
There’s a little bit of Futureheads in the fast-paced music of New Zealand’s Cut Off Your Hands. With yelping vocals reminiscent of the Shout Out Louds, the French Kiss Records’ act endears with a sound that is familiar yet appealing. No idea what to expect from their live show—hell, I’ve yet to hear the whole album—but I’m more than willing to give them a chance. (


sxsw_dead-confederate.jpgDead Confederate | 03.19, 10 p.m. – Spiro’s
Emerging from R.E.M.’s hometown of Athens, Ga., this indie band with the bad name has made a name for itself with its mix of rock and pop, fast and slow, stripped down and layered on. Hardy Morris’s vocals are perfectly yearning and up front; the band crafts guitar lines and beats that are all kinds of alluring. With its wall of sound, this band is at the top of my list. (

Dear and the Headlights | 03.18, 1 a.m. – Spiro’s
With two releases under their belts—debut Small Steps, Heavy Hooves and follow up Drunk Like Bible Times—Dear and the Headlights remain one of my favorite indie acts today. Ain’t nothing like Ian Metzger’s reedy, beseeching voice, and the music fits the songs perfectly. Though I maintain they’re a better band on disc than on stage, the quality of the music still makes them a great bet. (

Echo & the Bunnymen | 03.18, 12:30 a.m. – Emo’s Main Room; 03.21, 4 p.m. – SXSW Live (The Bat Bar), Austin Convention Center; 03.21, 12 a.m. – Rusty Spurs
I’ve never seen them live. I have no idea what to expect from a show 20-plus years past their prime, and if it’s anything like last year’s English Beat reunion (can anyone say fat-ass Dave Wakeling and a bunch of young, black people?), you will want to run far, far away. Still, I believe in the power of Ian McCulloch—that, and curiosity almost always gets the best of me. As long as Ocean Rain is well represented (and well delivered), it should be a good show…or at least a memorable one. (

Val Emmich | 03.19, 12:15 a.m. – Maggie Mae’s
I actually ended up seeing Val Emmich last year, in lieu of Cary Brothers at the bluhammock brunch. He’s thoroughly engaging and entertaining, more rock ‘n’ roll than your average white boy singer-songwriter. His songs are full-fledged rock outfits infused with good times, insinuating themselves into your subconcious when the music takes a back seat to the vocals. Good stuff. (

sxsw_eulogies.jpgEulogies | 03.19, 7 p.m. – The Ranch
I feel like I was late to the party on this one, but now I’ve arrived—and the gift is all mine. This Dangerbird band (home of Silversun Pickups) is everything you’d expect from the label: softly soaring indie rock and gently rockin’ melodies. Their live show hints at being a more laidback affair, the perfect chance to catch your breath while still taking in a show. (

Glasvegas | 03.18, TBA – Vice; 03.20, 11:30 p.m. – La Zona Rosa
From their humble indie-rock beginnings, this Scottish band has grown to become all the rage. The Columbia Records quartet crafts quietly soaring, backward-looking (think ’50s rock), catchy pop songs. There’s something instantly appealing about frontman James Allan’s engagingly whiny voice…that is, until there isn’t (it gets a little old as the self-titled debut wears on). Live, however, I’m expecting a wall of sound and truly engaging personalities. Join me, anyone? (

Ed Harcourt | 03.19, 11 p.m. – Elysium; 03.20, 7:30 p.m., Friends; 03.21, 5 p.m. – SXSW (The Lone Star Lounge), Austin Convention Center
I think I’ve seen Ed Harcourt every time he’s been at SXSW, and each time is a real treat. This Brit crafts richly layered singer-songwriter stuff; equally fluent on guitar and piano, Harcourt is a troubadour in the truest sense of the word. His interaction with the audience is minimal, yet you’re all too willing to climb into his world as long as he will have you. With a smooth voice and contemplative lyrics, he deserves to be in the same arena as artists such as Rupert Wainright. (

Kevin Devine & the Goddamn Band | 03.18, 11 p.m. – Radio Room Patio
Here’s another one I take every chance to see. Capitol Records Kevin Devine is one of the most fun performers you will ever have the pleasure of seeing. He blends caustic, introspective and often political lyrics with the humor of a stand-up comedian. You never know when this singer-songwriter will launch into a rap cover, yet you’re sure to be entertained. (


sxsw_longview.jpgLongview | 03.21, 11 p.m. – Cedar Street Courtyard
When these Brits came out; I had a hard time keeping them and the similarly named Longwave straight—that is, until I listened to them. Longview is the British band, indie rock-pop but otherwise unlike American quartet Longwave. Though comparisons to Snow Patrol aren’t entirely unfounded, they still put forth a unique sound. With songs both soaring and anthemic, their music’s instantly appealing yet familiar. I’ve not yet seen them live and am looking forward to doing so. (

Manchester Orchestra | 03.18, 1 a.m. – Radio Room Patio
At CMJ ’07, I made my way to Brooklyn club Southpaw to catch Kevin Devine on a singer-songwriter bill. Before him was Andy Hull, a name unfamiliar to me—until I heard him sing and recognized him instantly as the frontman for Manchester Orchestra. Their debut full-length, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, did not leave my CD rotation for an entire year; it’s that good. Driving beats and Hull’s unique, reedy voice make for an indie rock lover’s dream. With a full band backing him up, Hull can only be more commanding. (

Okkervil River | 03.20, 1 a.m. – The Parish
Austin-based Okkervil River’s latest, The Stand In, has received critical acclaim everywhere, from Entertainment Weekly to The New York Times. Frontman Will Scheff has a plaintive yet rich voice; the songs are instantly captivating, drum-along numbers. I haven’t seen the band in a good six or so years; the live show can only have improved in that time. As for the music, well, these are songs that won’t quickly leave your head—and that’s a good thing. (

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart | 03.20, 11 p.m. – Emo’s Jr.
Their fast-driving, dance-inducing, blink-and-they’re-over songs take me back to the days when ’80s New Wave gave way to ’90s indie rock. The music’s tightly woven and up front, the vocals secondary, pushed down. Though it’s not the most original thing you’ve heard, it’s not derivative, either. Expect a high-energy live show. (

Pete & the Pirates | 03.19, 1 a.m. – Wave Rooftop; 03.20, 7:45 p.m. – Cedar Street Courtyard
What is it about British bands and their definitive sound? All the way from Reading in the U.K. is this quintet of chaps who recall post-punk bands such as the Buzzcocks. The music’s driving and straightforward, lyrics delivered a lá Adam and the Ants—in other words, there’s a definite mid-’80s vibe going on—leading me to picture the energetic intensity of a Futureheads show. (

Ra Ra Riot | 03.21, 1 a.m. – The Parish
Thanks to some early blog love, this New York band has really blown up, and with good reason: their music’s a nice blend of sounds, instantly engaging. Debut The Rhumb Line, released on both Barsuk and V2, has garnered praise on both sides of the Big Pond, and led to tours with such notables as Death Cab for Cutie and the Cold War Kids. It’s simple and not all that challenging, but also comfortable as an old friend. (

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir | 03.21, 8:30 p.m. – Smokin’ Music
How is it that I have gone all this time without seeing Chicago’s Scotlard Yard Gospel Choir? It’s high time I remedied that. Their high-octane, uplifting songs inspire foot-tapping; the music seems like something that would unite an audience. They call themselves a chamber-y, folky pop band—an apt description if you really must put a label on it. (

sxsw_seabird.jpgSeabird | 03.18, 1 a.m. – Wave
Seabird were supposed to play Cicero’s last fall but, due to illness, were forced to cancel. I’ve harbored a bit of a grudge ever sense; I was really looking forward to seeing them. Looks like SXSW is going to be my chance. Their EMI debut Til We See the Shore is one of my favorite releases of 2008, the perfect blend of yearning singer-songwriter and indie rock band. The Cincinnati-based EMI trio write stark, inviting tunes; fronted by the classic-sounding vocals of Aaron Morgan, Seabird is definitely one to watch. (

The Subjects | 03.21, 9 p.m. – Submerged
I’ve caught this NYC quartet at Cicero’s a couple of times over the past six months and, well, color me impressed. They’re from Brooklyn, they’re talented, and they’re super nice. (I realize the last point isn’t required for being a good band; however, it certainly does help.) On stage, you can tell the guys are having a good time—and that enthusiasm extends to the audience. Mellow becomes poppy so seamlessly, the energy is palpable. (

Via Audio | 03.19, 1 a.m. – Habana Calle 6 Patio
Inviting male-female vocals blend softly over pointed, memorable guitar lines, lending this NYC/Brooklyn band an air of individuality; when the voices merge, the effect is only heightened. Probably not the best 1 a.m. band (I still maintain those bands need to be loud and fast, to keep us awake after a long day on our feet), but one that will tap its audience. ( | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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