There’s so much going on at sxsw that it’s impossible to see even a sliver of what the week has to offer. That’s why doing a top ten performances of the week list is sort of silly. On the other hand, I saw some excellent new bands that I’d like to draw a little extra attention to. For this list, I focused on bands that I might not have blogged as much about before SXSW. Did I enjoy Real Estate’s and Japandroid’s sets at the conference? Yes, very much so. Was that a surprise? Not at all, and rehashing my love for those bands isn’t very helpful for you, the reader, looking to find something new for your iTunes. A few of these bands are already relatively popular, but I’ve blogged about them infrequently enough. The rest are definitely up-and-comers that are worthy of being on your radar- after 57 bands, these ten stood out. I won’t write too much about the bands, as I reviewed each of them in my previous posts. So, without furher ado, my top ten favorite performances of SXSW 2010.
10) Vivian Girls at Ms. Bea’s. This stripped-down performance showed a tenderer side of the Vivian Girls, and threw the emphasis on their pleasantly flat harmonies. It felt like a very special performance, with all of us sitting on the floor, and I enjoyed every single song.
9) Drink Up Buttercup at The Palm Door. I know that I’ve posted frequently about Drink Up Buttercup’s Beatlesesque/Waitsian operatic psych rock in the past, but it’s been awhile, and these guys have only gotten better with time. The foursome puts so much energy into their performances; it’s rare to see a band this blissfully entertaining with such smart, excellent music. Their new album, Born and Thrown On a Hook, is coming out any day now, and it’s high time to reacquaint yourself with this band.
8 ) Twin Sister at Micro-Pixel-Rites. I gave Twin Sister a mediocre review after their show at Webster Hall, but I saw a different side to them at this lovely outdoor bar-b-q/showcase. Sure, they’ve got just a little bit too much of that 80s pop-synth vibe going on, but the songs are actually quite rich and complicated, with beautiful vocals and a cool stage presence that makes a lot more sense anywhere other than the Studio. It’s only a matter of weeks before this group gets some really big attention.
7) Hunx & His Punx at Charlie’s. Gay bands in a gay bar. This entire showcase had such a good, fun, welcoming vibe to it, and Hunx & His Punx were the apotheosis of that “everyone join in so long as you’re game” ethos. Dressed up as felines (I saw photos from a subsequent show where there seemed to be a businessman theme), his backing band had the scuzzy punk thing down perfectly. Hunx was a downright charming frontman, with the X factor coming out of his ears. “You Don’t Like Rock and Roll” is a great single, but they have four or five other, equally infectious tracks at least. The woman pictured above, also in Shannon and the Clams, can really, really sing. I can’t remember which band it was, but she sang a song called something like “Being Young Is Tough” and I absolutely loved it. If anyone has an MP3 of that song they could send me…
6) Fang Island at Club Primos. Hi-fi guitar solos from a gang of recent art school grads? Yes please. Fang Island is like Ponytail crossed with Free Energy. Welcome to the lo-fi downswing. How sweet it is.
5) Turbo Fruits at Lovejoy’s. We’ve been recycling garage rock since the 60s. There’s not a whole lot of new territory to cover. So what makes it good, then? When you get just the right combination of musicians together, a good ‘ole fashioned garage band still never sounded so sweet. Turbo Fruits are just that kind of band. They’re not covering any new ground, but their songs are very memorable and they play the crap out of their live shows. As long as they’re this good, there will always be room for another Southern garage band in my heart.
4) Pill Wonder at Micro-Pixel-Rights. Pill Wonder was the only band I saw at SXSW to successfully bridge the gaps between rock, electronic, and lo-fi. I was a bit shocked at how different they sounded from all of the songs I’d heard from various Underwater Peoples samplers, but the swells in these songs are so good that you can’t stop yourself from grinning. Definitely an innovative band to watch out for and see live when they come to a town near you.
3) Mountain Man at Klub Krucial. When you first hear about Mountain Man, it sounds unbelievably gimmicky. Three women singing mostly a cappella folk, with an occasional acoustic guitar thrown in. There’s a quality to their performance that isn’t captured in that description, though, and probably can’t be captured in any description period. They’re a very special group of musicians. If you’re in any way a fan of Alela Diane, Joanna Newsom, or Spencer Krug, you should check this band out immediately. If you are not in any way a fan of those artists, you should still check this band out immediately.
2) The Morning Benders at Emo’s. The Morning Benders were certainly one of the most buzzed about bands of the week. My feeling is that it was entirely deserved. The poise, patience, and musicianship that has gone into their songwriting is worth the payoff you will receive if you invest even a little time into listening to this group. The scary thing is, I don’t think they’ve even gotten good yet.
1) Alex Bleeker & The Freaks w/ Mountain Man at Ms. Bea’s. When Alex Bleeker and the rag-tag band he assembled burst into their first song, I really felt like I was transported back to another era, where rock and roll was still young and filled with endless energy. A time before punk deconstructed the idea of guitar solos and grooving jams on sweet-sounding riffs. I’d seen Bleeker just the day before and was only mildly impressed, but this particular time, the band burst into an absolutely air born version of “Animal Tracks” that made me feel as if I’d been lifted off the ground to watch the show from mid-air. This band really sounds like The Band to me, and I think it’s been a long while since indie rock has been interested in emulating that type of music. I’m hoping that this is a harbinger of things to come; this sound could get very interesting mixed in with certain other elements of sound that are en vogue today. Or maybe that’s just the same old sound we already have. Either way, this was a damn good performance put on by Mr. Bleeker, and it’s the one that stood out most for me at SXSW.