Hundreds of bands, thousands of registrants, and countless numbers of music fans poured into Austin, Tex. yesterday for the start of the music week of the annual South by Southwest Music + Media Conference.
At the Austin Convention Center, more than 10,000 music industry veterans and wannabes alike picked up their badges, and some even stuck around for meetings, speeches, mentoring sessions and panel discussions on topics like “Crowdfunding for Artists” and “The History of Music Curation.” Cheap Trick, the veteran rock band from Rockford, Ill. answered questions about its past and future plans.
By 3:00 o’clock, the downtown bar area on 6th Street was closed to traffic, the pedicabs were out in force, live music was blasting from seemingly every building, and lines were forming in front of events and parties hosted by music magazines The Fader, SPIN and Paste, or blogs like Brooklyn Vegan.
But the official showcases began in the evening, with NPR Music kicking off with the first major event at Stubb’s, featuring Spoon, Broken Bells, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the Walkmen and Visqueen. The crowd at the outdoor venue reached bursting levels for Jones, the Georgia-born singer (and “super soul sister,” as she was accurately introduced over a lengthy horn fanfare) whose next album “I Learned the Hard Way” is due April 6. Full of fire in green sequins, presumably for St. Patrick’s Day, Jones swung and mash-potatoed through songs including “100 Days, 100 Nights,” “If I Give You My Love,” and funked-up versions of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “This Land is Your Land”. As usual, her energy was a deliberate contrast to the subtly swaying, always-stellar, suit-clad Dap-Kings, Jones’ own Robert Palmer girls (who actually play their instruments, tremendously).
Jones was followed by Broken Bells, the new collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and Shins frontman James Mercer (who, according to one audience member “doesn’t sound sexy with the Shins, but sounds really sexy here”). Broken Bells’ melodic, effects-heavy show was decidedly more psychedelic than the Dap-Kings explosiveness, and was made even more trance-like by the fact that they didn’t stop between songs for applause. On songs including “Vaporize” and “The High Road,” the band floated through Brian Wilson-esque harmonies and a swirling, grey-scale light show.
After a long between-set break, Austin rockers Spoon closed out the night with one of the most long-buzzed performances of this year’s conference. A local poet read a short stream-of-consciousness verse titled “Spoon #5” before the band dove into recent single “Written In Reverse” from new album “Transference”. The set list also included “Don’t Make Me a Target” from 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” and “Don’t You Evah,” Spoon’s cover of the Natural History’s “Don’t You Ever”.
The fun was mixed with sadness, however, as news spread of the death of singer/songwriter Alex Chilton, a veteran performer whose long, varied career is representative of the artistic life championed at South by Southwest. Chilton was set to perform with his band Big Star as part of an official showcase later in the week, which may become an impromptu tribute concert instead.
Over at Billboard’s showcase, Montevideo’s No Te Va Gustar filled the chilly night air with introspective rock punctuated by a fierce ska-flavored brass section and the beat of African-rooted percussion. The ironically named (the name means “You aren’t going to like it”) leaders of the Uruguayan music scene, who are on their first U.S. tour, provoked a euphoric culture clash when the audience responded to their South American rock sound with some Tex Mex style dancing.
Also making their U.S. debut, the Caracas trio Patafunk opened Wednesday´s Billboard en Español showcase with global dance grooves and social messages that started off the night with a feel good vibe. With their psychedelic Beatlesesque sound — and haircuts — Banda de Turistas, the group barely into their twenties that recently opened for Coldplay in Buenos Aires, demonstrated the command of the stage that has made them the new keepers of the Argentine rock flame. The singer/songwriter Gustavo Galindo, an idol-to-watch on the U.S. Latin music scene, played a set of romantic ballads and electric guitar solos from his upcoming album that evoked shades of Springsteen as well as the ballad tradition of his Mexican heritage.
Earlier in the day, Drive-By Truckers rocked the IFC Crossroads House with a five-song set drawn entirely from the Souther rockers’ new album, including “This Fucking Job,” “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So” and “The Wig He Made Her Wear.”
British hard rock trio Band of Skulls stopped foot traffic on San Jacinto as its six-song set thundered out of the open windows of Latitude on Wednesday to close the British Music Embassy’s Happy Hour party. Overcoming an equipment buzz early in the set, the group ran through its U.K. singles “I Know What I Am” and “Death By Diamonds and Pearls,” along with album tracks “Bomb,” “Impossible,” “Patterns” and “Light of the Morning.” Curiously absent — “Friends,” the group’s contribution to “The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.” It wasn’t missed.