Billboard.com Senior Editor Barry A. Jeckell reports in from the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, taking in sets from the Black Keys, the D4, the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Playe
Austin, Texas' annual South By Southwest (SXSW) is a music and media conference offering industry-related panels and presentations, as well as more than 900 acts performing in more than 50 venues over the course of four days (March 12-16). Billboard.com senior editor Barry A. Jeckell is in the state's capitol for the event, and will file a daily diary detailing the sites and sounds. For more information on SXSW, visit its official Web site.
"You can't do it all" has become a popular refrain among SXSW attendees. Faced with myriad choices and logistically improbable scheduling, the best-laid plans often went by the wayside in favor of simply hearing more music.
Yesterday (March 14) kicked off with a knockout performance by two-man Akron, Ohio-based Black Keys, who were the first to hit the stage during a Spin magazine sponsored party at dusty outdoor BBQ pit Stubbs. Creating a surprising amount of sound from its guitar/drums setup, the blues duo of guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney drew an enthusiastic response, and welcomed guest saxophonist Ralph Carney, who added an avant garde texture to a few songs in the middle of an edgy and exciting set.
The ticket heated up with the D4, which turned out a refreshingly solid set. With guitarist Dion claiming the group "traveled 20,000 miles to play here," the band's Iggy Pop-soaked/inspired punk kept the ever-growing audience satisfied as it awaited sets by Sahara Hotnights and Hot Hot Heat.
Out at 6th St's Maggie Mae's, the Neptunes' Pharrell hosted an Adidas-sponsored gathering that featured sets by Wakefield, Gob, and Spymob for folks happily soaking in the Austin. Not far away, Dressy Bessy's power pop was the draw at the Copper Tank Brewing Company, which also hosted solid sets by Viva and singer/songwriter Joseph Plunkett.
While Eminem is the city's best-known son as of late, the Detroit music community proved it had much more to offer with a showcase at the Whiskey on the western end of the music district. Rock/rap act Trip found an enthusiastic crowd, as did rock outfit Shipwreck Union and the Deadstring Brothers. Although the show, which also featured sets by Gold Cash Gold, PBM, and Patrick Thomas, competed with parties sponsored by big name entities, it still managed to pack in a crowd eager to hear what Detroit has to offer.
One of the most talked about performances of SXSW will undoubtedly be the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players who opened a nighttime bill at the sprawling La Zona Rosa compound. Patriarch Jason Trachtenburg played keyboards and offered comic lyrical descriptions of vintage holidays as his young daughter Rachel played drums and wife Tina flipped slides on a screen, confusing, delighting, and possibly disturbing an enormous audience awaiting an acoustic performance by Grandaddy and a headlining set by the Datsuns.
The Stills proved to be a hot ticket draw at an unadvertised show at a temporary venue above the Pecan Street Ale House restaurant in downtown Austin. The group's late-1980s modern rock style sat well with the audience, as much enamored with the band's performance as it was with Liz Phair's appearance in its midst.
Cat Power was an early evening crowd pleaser back at Stubbs, performing opposite locally popular act Deathray Davies at Buffalo Billiards on 6th St., and Mark Geary, who played in one of the festival's more bizarre venues, the 18th floor lounge in the Crowne Plaza hotel. In all, the most popular show in Austin last night was a show that was pure Texas. Few could argue that Willie Nelson's midnight set at the Austin Music Hall, preceded by enigmatic favorite Lucinda Williams, could better epitomize the renegade approach to music that helped this city earn its musical reputation.
Me First & the Gimme Gimmes lined up hopefuls around the block outside of Emos, while back at Buffalo Billiards the French Kicks anchored the night with a headlining performance worthy of raves. The band's inspired, post-punk influenced performance was sealed by encore of the Ronettes classic "Be My Baby."
All bets are off as the last full day of SXSW dawns. Adrenaline and sheer will are the only thing keeping many on their feet as considerations of flights out of this hotbed of music serve as a painful reminder that it will all soon be come to an end.