Rock Around the Blocks: A SxSW preview
By Niki D’Andrea
With more than 1500 acts at this year’s SxSW music festival, it’s pretty obvious that festival-goers won’t get to see everything, even if they could make hella clones or disperse themselves into cognitive atoms. For me, SxSW is all about running around the blocks to catch such-and-such band at such-and-such place, before shuttling off through the melee to catch the next thing. And while there’s plenty of cool, undiscovered stuff to serendipitously stumble upon, I always like to make a rough guide of the shows I want to catch at SxSW. Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of the acts that will inspire me to run even faster through the streets to see their sets. My “absolutely-cannot-miss” gigs are in bold:
Thursday, March 12:
1. Van Morrison at La Zona Rosa, 7 p.m.: The legendary crooner always carries a catalogue of classics in his head (“Brown Eyed Girl,” “Gloria,” “Wild Night”), but he also honed a slew of new material on his stateside tour last year.
2. Kid Beyond at Prague, 10 p.m.: This L.A.-based DJ provides some seriously sweet grooves, turning cult classics like Portishead’s “Wandering Star” into bumping, thumping symphonies of downbeat seduction.
3. The Slits at Elysium, 11 p.m.: In addition to being the first all-female punk band (they formed in 1976), this U.K. quintet’s got some serious cred in the form of fans like Johnny Rotten and Frank Zappa. Slits member Hollie Cook is also the daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook.
4. Johnette Napolitano at 18th Floor at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1 a.m.: The former Concrete Blonde frontwoman released an amazing solo album, Scarred, last year, a record that captures some of the sultry singer’s best vocals to date. Having just seen her give a super-solid performance in Scottsdale last December, I’d feel safe in saying her performance at SxSW will be nothing short of intimate and intense, and well worth hanging out until 1 a.m.
Friday, March 13
1. Sia at The Bat Bar in Austin Convention Center, 6 p.m.: Anybody who’s been hanging out in line at Starbucks has probably heard Sia’s CD. Anybody who hasn’t heard Sia’s CD should run out and buy it right now. The singer-songwriter’s approach to storytelling and melody is impeccably catchy and mesmerizing.
2. Eleni Mandell at The Ale House, 8 p.m.: Mandell has been around for ten years now, garnering a reputation as a “musician’s musician” (read: an amazing underground, unsigned artist that the media seems to ignore). Her latest, as-yet-untitled album sees her sound head more in a jazzy direction, as opposed to the folk-pop she’s already mastered.
3. Yakuza at La Zona Rosa, 8:45 p.m.: This is death/screamo metal. With horns. Not figurative “devil horns,” but literal, wind-instrument horns. Hey, if System of a Down could make screaming vocal harmonies work, why not horns?
4. Asylum Street Spankers at Esther’s Follies, 11 p.m.: A.S.S. is from Austin, and singer Christina Marrs once commented in an interview with me that people in the band’s hometown don’t seem to pay much attention anymore. That’s probably just because they’ve seen this amazing acoustic/swing/jazz/blues/alternative band so many times already. If you’ve never seen them, then you must. The band’s been around since 1994, but only recently started using amplification in their shows.
Saturday, March 14:
1. Georgie James at SESAC Day Stage Café in the Austin Convention Center, 2 p.m.:: I’ve found the day stage shows to among the most intimate and entertaining performances at the festival. And since indie buzz phenoms Georgie James (a duo consisting of former Q and Not U frontman John Davis and honey-voiced Laura Burhenn) canceled a handful of tour dates late last year, I’m not passing up this second chance to see ‘em live.
2. X at The Bat Bar in Austin Convention Center, 10 p.m.: John Doe and Exene Cervenka reunite and bring their legendary L.A. punk band back to life for some festival gigs. If you’ve ever heard X’s 1988 double live album, Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go, then you’ve heard how tight they can be.
3. Vampire Weekend at Antone’s, 11 p.m.: I just got back from Amsterdam two days before writing this, and when I was there, I wandered into a record store and found the NYC band’s self-titled debut album on the front display. Savvy Dutch. This indie rock quartet’s been flying below the radar until recently, but with their clever pop concoctions (and a deal with XL Recordings), they’re bound to explode stateside this year.
4. Black Diamond Heavies at Fado Patio, 1 a.m.: This duo consists of Van Campbell on drums and John Wesley Myers on Fender Rhodes organ. Sounds skinny, but Myers makes the organ buzz and groan and pummel through the songs with a visceral voodoo-vibe. Fans of bands like The Black Keys and Radio Moscow will love BDH’s burly, dirty, stripped-down blues sound.
(Check the March 6 print issue of Phoenix New Times or our Web site for more detailed information about some of the bands. In the meantime, you can click on the band names for links to their Web pages.)
Sunday, March 15
1. The Breakup Society at Soho Lounge, 8:50 p.m.
2. Back Ted N-Ted at The Hideout, 9 p.m.
3. What Laura Says Thinks and Feels at Creekside EMC at the Hilton Garden Inn, 9 p.m.
4. Scary Kids Scary Kids at Habana Annex Backyard, 1 a.m.
What Laura Says Thinks and Feels