SXSW Shorts: Charli XCX, Shoes, Nik Bartsch, White Lung and K-Pop's f(x)

So many bands. So little time. Billboard is roaming Austin this week, checking out as many acts at SXSW as possible -- and each day we'll highlight a selection of our favorites. On Wednesday we caught Charli XCX, The Sights, a pair of Lung acts (White Lung, Wet Lungs), along with rare visits by Zurich-based pianist Nik Bartsch and veteran power-pop combo Shoes.

Jump to Reviews: ScHoolboy Q / Nik Bartsch / The Sights / White Lung / f(x)

(Meanwhile, we've teamed up with MusicMetric to give readers a real-time view of which SXSW artists people are talking about on Twitter. Check out the list here.)

SXSW 2013: Photo Highlights From Austin


Charli XCX @ Hype Hotel
As she bounced across the Hype Hotel stage, UK musician Charli XCX's outfit -- plaid skirt, midriff-barring top, Shaq-sized platform shoes -- suggested a made-to-order pop star, perhaps a one-woman Spice Girls sequel. But the singer seems more intent on Madonna: she writes her own songs (and those for others, including Icona Pop's hit "I Love It") and blends irresistible pop hooks with genre dabbling, in her case floor-flattening dubstep bass. Singles such as "Nuclear Seasons" are explosive enough on record, but her afternoon set nearly required a bomb shelter. Not that Charli XCX is planning to stay underground for long. (David Greenwald / Twitter, Tumblr)

Shoes @ Molotov
For their return after almost two decades, these formerly fresh-faced Illinois boys had a grizzled preppy look more like substitute teachers instead of rockers. But make no mistake, the ringing guitars and sweet harmonies were still there, making them perhaps the best early Fabs cult tribute band next to Big Star. Mixing in their 70's and 80's material with their new "Ignition" record, they split the vocals between the three frontmen effortlessly with every bridge inevitable but perfectly placed, all solos keep to bare essentials and every song title obvious. Their avoidance of post-modern hipster BS was very refreshing indeed -- think of it as pure pop for nostalgic Boomers. (Jason Gross / Twitter)

IamSu! @ Pandora
IamSu! is known for his magic touch behind the boards. The Richmond rapper recently penned, produced and was featured on LoveRance's Billboard hit, "Up!," until mis-credited and replaced with 50 Cent. No hard feelings though, as IAmSu! has been steadily working on solo material and now venturing to SXSW to show off his own rhymes. He took the Pandora stage Wednesday, before a audience of minuscule audience. But as soon as IamSu!'s DJ begun to spin his signature hyphy soundscapes, heavy with drum bass claps, more people came closer. The rapper, along with his hype man, performed an 8-song set, with a majority being plucked from his latest mixtape, "$Uzy 6 $Peed." While at first shyly pacing back and forth, IAmSu! quickly warmed up to the stage and even showed off his "Gas Pedal" dance craze, surely winning new fans. (Erika Ramirez / Twitter)

f(x) @ K-Pop Night Out
On March 13, f(x) -- the first K-pop group to attend SXSW -- hit the stage around 1:30 a.m. at the "K-POP NIGHT OUT at SXSW" showcase following all-rock Korean band lineup of The Geeks, Guckkasten, No Brain, Yi Seung Yol, Jung Chang Shik and Galaxy Express. Excited K-pop fans and die-hards lined up hours before the show to catch a glimpse of their favorite Korean act and the 550-capacity venue quickly filled up. "We heard we were the first K-pop group to come to here," said member Amber to the screaming crowd. "We promise to come back." Then f(x) performed their hit songs, including "Nu Abo," "Pinocchio (Danger)," "Hot Summer" and "Electric Shock." The quintet successfully closed out the first K-pop showcase at SXSW -- leaving everyone thirsty for more. (Jessica Oak / Twitter)

White Lung @ Consequence of Sound
What was a nearly empty room at the Parish at 1:28 p.m. became a throbbing scrum by 1:31, as Canadian punk quartet White Lung dove into their relentless performance -- coincidentally (or not?) at almost the same moment that white smoke was rising from the Vatican to announce the new pope. Fronted by mesmerizing wailer Mish Way, the three women and one man powered through an over-too-quickly set of great two-minute monsters from their two albums, including 2012's excellent Sorry. (Evie Nagy / Twitter)

Wet Lungs @ House of Vans (Mohawk)
Gabe Serbian is the ultra-talented drummer for long-time San Diego noise band The Locust, drawing normally chill punk dudes to shriek "oh my god it's Gabe!" and rush the stage during the soundcheck for his new Austin-based project Wet Lungs. The brutal trio crashed through 15 minutes and almost that many songs, fresh off last week's release of their new self-titled EP on local Twistworthy Records, which has almost sold out its first run. (EN)

Nik Bartsch @ St. David's Bethell Hall
Zurich-based pianist Nik Bartsch rarely crosses the Atlantic Ocean let alone leave northern Europe despite the fan base he has developed with his band Ronin and their four albums on Universal's jazz and classical imprint ECM Records. A time crunch -- the delightful set from Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital ran long -- limited Bartsch and Sha, a bass clarinetist, to two pieces performed over nearly 45 minutes. Both were prime examples of his "ritual groove music" concept with the opening number striking up the funk early and the second using funk to resolve a pensive tune. Bartsch's music emphasizes mood and repetition over virtuosity, his songs taking the listener on cinematic journeys. Opening number contrasted a ship leaving a harbor at dusk with a cityscape at rush hour; his 24-minute second piece segued from the meditative to the eerie, concluding with a rhythmic intensity where Sha was responsible for percussion on his woodwind and Bartsch drew a pizzicato bass sound out of the piano's lower keys. Here's to bringing the full band next year. (Phil Gallo / Twitter)

ScHoolboy Q @ Fader Fort
There's no denying that Top Dawg Entertainment is a force. All of the label's rappers -- Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Kendrick Lamar -- have a massive following of their own, let alone as a crew, which is why when ScHoolboy Q brought out Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock for his 30-minute set, fans competed and overpowered the speakers within the Fader Fort tent. Although Lamar is Top Dawg's top dog, all the guys share the stage as brothers, never stealing the spotlight from the headliner. Q kept the audience in the palm of his hands with a mix of sarcasm, charisma and of course hits like "Hands on the Wheel." (ER)

The Sights @ the Holy Mountain
The Sights gained fame during 2012 as Tenacious D's hand-picked opening act in North America and abroad. But anyone expecting something funny when the soul-rock troupe took the stage for Wednesday's Motown Lowdown day party at the Holy Mountain was sadly mistaken. The seven-piece Sights delivered a serious blend of R&B and garage-style rock sensibilities during its eight-song set, fueled by charging material such as "How Do You Sleep?," "Mercy," "Sorry" and "Left Over Right." During "Guilty," meanwhile, the Sights paid homage to their hometown, with leader Eddie Baranek playing the guitar riff from the Temptations' "My Girl" and the whole group slipping into Aretha Franklin's "Respect" before returning to the band's own song. – Gary Graff (Twitter)