The best South By Southwest recap you’ll read this year is Hipster Runoff’s genius satire: “…So many influencers. So many early adopters. So many buzzbands. So many buzzblogs. So many buzzhumans.”
SXSW’s defining characteristic of being ground zero for all things buzz sort of makes it a weird place for Antiquiet to be, in a sense. But we were there to do our own thing, not see Yuck or Smith Westerns or OMGWTFKA or whatever their fucking name is. Thus we present what is sure to be a unique highlight roundup, with relevant bands that will still be relevant even after being relevant goes out of fashion.
The Foo Fighters obliterated the Stubb’s stage on Tuesday night to a full house, while The Strokes drew a capacity crowd of 25,000 to Auditorium Shores on Wednesday. Police were summoned to the scene as hundreds of eager concertgoers rushed the fences, the first of several “riots” reported.
Earlier that morning in a crowded parking lot, as Aziz Ansari, The Kills and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh looked on, Jack White personally debuted Third Man Records’ Rolling Record Store, with a brief solo performance; Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away and The White Stripes’ Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground. Our camera was front and center, and you can watch both here, along with the performance by Third Man recording artist Seasick Steve that followed.
As Johnny gushed, we had the delight, honor, and complete surprise of being picked up later that afternoon by the now-legendary Foo Fighters’ White Limo, to drive around the city of Austin on the outskirts of SXSW, listening to the band’s new album Wasting Light. The ‘89 Caddy had 45,000 miles and rode like a champ, blasting the Foo jams with the windows down, watching the necks snapping as we passed music fanatics on their own adventures.
Dax Riggs upped the ante at Emo’s on Red River with a searing set of rockers, as fans of Michael Cera’s band Mister Heavenly angled forward for positioning found themselves enthralled by the Louisiana rock sensation they were waiting out.
Thursday, Janelle Monáe filled a steep vacancy at La Zona Rosa, a major SXSW venue, created after Cee-Lo Green canceled. We’ve been singing Monáe’s praises as we watch her rise into the mainstream, and we were pleasantly unsurprised to be dealt a furiously on point set, a tightly knit and passionate batch of breathless tunes radiating soul, confidence and total independence from the uninspired status quo in R&B.
After an intensely beautiful set from J. Mascis, Mini Mansions took to the stage later that night to a patiently underwhelmed crowd, unfortunately for frontman Mikey Shoes, who surely noticed a contrast after midnight as he held his bass onstage with Queens Of The Stone Age. After a powerful set by The Black Angels, the Queens illustrated another meaning of the word buzz while blasting through a bottle of Ketel One and the entirety of their self-titled debut album. The encore set was a power-play sampling of their strongest and favorite material from later releases. Check out Johnny’s full review here.
Friday’s events kicked off with a screening of the new Foo Fighters documentary Back And Forth, a phenomenally produced narrative of the birth of the Foo Fighters after the demise of Nirvana, with footage as recent as the band’s secret club show at the Roxy in Los Angeles last month.
Technical problems marred the first two songs of The Kills’ hotly anticipated performance at Stubb’s that afternoon, which set the duo of Jamie Hince and the Dead Weather’s Alison Mosshart on an odd footing, as they debuted new tracks from their just-leaked Blood Pressures album. Mosshart had a hard time concealing her frustration at the inconsistent levels coming from the house board, and at one point, Hince sacrificed a little bit of etiquette and announced (I’m paraphrasing), “This is why we don’t play these corporate sponsored gigs.” It didn’t help the fans in the front rows that the dozens of photographers in the generous photo pit showed no shame in climbing practically onto the stage for a shot of the “it” band.
The “it” band then made way for “it” DJ Skrillex, who delivered on the hype train’s promise with a short but blazing set that featured an incredible remix of Henry Rollins infamous “record player player” rant on electronic musicians, where the 23-year old Los Angelean retuned the mockery and turned it into a song with a more inspired structure than most of Rollins’ own. Hey, we love the guy, but credit where it’s due. It’s his move now.
Skrillex then made room for TV On The Radio, who, after being introduced by a couple of the Yo Gabba Gabba! monsters, proceeded to obliterate the Stubb’s stage with a pulverizing buoyancy after a two year hiatus. Bassist Gerard Smith was on downtime following his diagnoses of lung cancer (we wish him well), so drummer Jaleel Bunton stepped in on bass duties. Guest drummer Japhet Landis filled in behind the kit, and no chemistry was lost as the band debuted material from their imminent album Nine Types Of Light.
Meanwhile, Liam Finn, son of Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, played the Lustre Pearl stage in the gorgeous Waterfront District, a full band backing his passion-rock exhibition. Accenting the end of several of his tracks by attacking a drum kit set up stage right, Finn unleashed a torrent of heartsongs that were anything but subtle and soft-spoken. Eddie Vedder brought him along as an opener on his 2009 solo tour, and the raw talent the man has with an acoustic guitar, a loop pedal and a microphone is enough to tempt any aspiring musician give up the craft for good, knowing their natural talent will never reach his.
After a magnificently passionate rock set from The Dears (who we’re looking forward to digging into further), Fitz & The Tantrums closed Friday’s events with a hip-shaking dance-a-thon bursting with Motown greatness at the Dangerbird records showcase. For the unenlightened, F&TT are a six-piece 60’s soul revival band which features a keyboardist, a sax/flute player, a bassist, a drummer, and two vocalists: Noelle Scaggs, a gospel / R&B singer who has worked with Dilated Peoples (and The Black Eyed Peas, which we won’t hold against her) backs up the man known only as Fitz, who sounds like a non-cheesy Daryl Hall but looks like a soul-brother Michael Keaton. Their set was one of the absolute highlights of all of SXSW 2011 music week, reigniting the burning frustration we all felt back in January when Rachael Ray got them for her Saturday showcase before we could lock them for ours.
But partly to show up Rachael fucking Ray, and mostly just to destroy all who would oppose us, our showcase on Saturday was not only a glorious success for us personally, but one of the most well-organized and energetic events of all of SXSW, if we may say so ourselves. With over 10,000 RSVPs, Peckerhead’s was filled to capacity. The party featured fourteen truly great artists (carefully selected by five music sites over six long months) over eight hours, on two stages, with no more than a few minutes of downtime between each one, and more than a fair share of audience interaction. We’ll have a full summary of that party up separately, very soon.
Mars Volta guitarist/songwriter Omar Rodríguez-López announced in advance that his March 19th show at SXSW would feature a special guest, so it came as no great surprise when none other than Cedric Bixler-Zavala appeared onstage. After all, Omar’s group included Juan Alderete, Deantoni Parks, and Marcel Rodríguez-López, all of which have been or are currently members of The Mars Volta.
Bixler-Zavala’s appearance completed a full reunion of the group, who played 4 new songs. “This goes out to the fucking parents out there who allow their kids to follow their balls,” he explained, before the band tore into a new song that sounded considerably more aggressive than the majority of their previous album, Octahedron. Watch it here.
For many, the main event of SXSW wasn’t even officially a part of SXSW, at an amazing abandoned power plant outside a few miles out from the downtown area. It was there that Kanye West ran through the vast majority of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album Saturday night just after midnight, with appearances from most of the record’s guest stars: Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, John Legend, Mos Def, Bon Iver and more. The performance was the perfect cap on a weeklong festival marathon. Head to Rap Radar for some incredible pics from the show.
Simultaneously, the Death From Above 1979 reunion turned into a riot as fans who were unable to gain access to the packed venue to see the band’s first performance in over 5 years broke through a fence barricade. Moments later, police on horseback were fully engaged with the musicgoers, who were reportedly throwing punches. Head to the ever-predatory NME for details and video of the incident.
All in all, SXSW laid shame to CMJ and traditional festivals alike, with a massive block party spirit in a unique city where Starbucks and McDonald’ses are surprisingly scarce next to countless independent establishments and truly local forces. Every hour of every day brought dozens of choices for badge holders and freeloaders alike. The beauty of it is that there’s no singular organizer; As easily as we put together our own show, countless other sites and promoters were able to craft their own corners of the massive event, completely free of outside influence. As easy as you can make fun of the relevant VIP authentic buzz wristband-centric shitshow aspect, you can find bands and promoters in it for the right reasons, and experience music purely, up close and personal, with one or two once-in-a-lifetime experiences every day if you just get out there and follow your nose.
Come back later today for our coverage of the Axis Of Audio showcase.