Everyone's experience at SXSW is a unique one, a snowflake of musical pastiche that assures its own specific flavor palette based upon one's selections from the avalanche of music available in downtown Austin. After kicking off part one the music portion of the annual festival with The Strokes, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and many (many, many) others, we rode steady momentum of awesome that came our way in the remaining two days with a marathon of shows that included The Kills, Kanye West, TV On The Radio, The Mars Volta and a barrage of others.
Before a reunited Death From Above 1979 provided the police-fighting, barricade-smashing alternative to Kanye's festival-closing all-star event at the Power Plant on Saturday, we hit the ground running with the goal of seeing absolutely every name that struck our fancy – an impossible feat, but one we accomplished to the greatest extent of human capability. The biggest dilemma for many of the days' events was a matter of which sacrifice to make, what band to skip in order to catch the other, and where eating/resting/showering could possibly fit into the mix.
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 on Friday, which set the duo of Alison Mosshart (also of the Dead Weather) and Jamie Hince on an odd footing as they debuted new tracks from their just-leaked Blood Pressures album. The show was nevertheless impressive, Mosshart delivering a more directly real experience than her prowling-tigress persona with the Dead Weather.
TV On The Radio
After the Kills, TV On The Radio obliterated the Stubb's stage with a pulverizing buoyancy after a two year hiatus, debuting material from their imminent Nine Types Of Light album. 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 as well, but the chemistry was strong and the material a powerhouse.
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.
Fitz & The Tantrums
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. 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.
Fitz & The Tantrums
With a repertoire fortified with the elements that built Motown’s greatest hits work, a live show that lifts their recorded material to delicious heights of retro-soul and a rapidly-increasing awareness level in the music world, there’s nothing but greatness in store for Fitz & The Tantrums.
The Silent Comedy
The Axis of Audio showcase at the Rumbler Lounge (aka Peckerheads) on 6th ave. was a blazing success, with a capacity crowd witness to a barrage of greatness spanning from Third Man Records act The Greenhornes, P.O.S. & Astronautalis, Le Butcherettes, The Silent Comedy, A Place To Bury Strangers, The Gay Blades and several others.
P.O.S. & Astronautalis
The Saturday event was a soaring victory for yours truly, who along with five other music sites (including my own, Antiquiet) pulled together one of the day's most heavily-discussed and hotly anticipated bills. Read more about the show here. And here. And here.
The Gay Blades
The Mars Volta guitarist/songwriter Omar Rodriguez-Lopez 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 Rodriguez-Lopez, all of which have been or are currently members of The Mars Volta.
The Volta’s lead singer completed a full reunion of the group, and the band played 4 new songs. "This goes out to the fucking parents out there who allow their kids to follow their balls," Cedric explained, before the band tore into a new song that sounded considerably more aggressive than the majority of their previous album, Octahedron. Watch below:
For many, the main event of SXSW took place outside the city, at the Power Plant. Kanye West descended on Austin to run through the vast majority of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, 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.
Kanye West (duh)
Simultaneously, a near-riot was incited at the Death From Above 1979 reunion show 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 to do so. Moments later, police on horseback were fully engaged with the musicgoers, who were reportedly throwing punches. Head to NME for details and video of the incident.
SXSW 2011 has reinvigorated not only my faith in the incredible versatility of the festival itself, but of Austin's unique character appeal. The city is a perfect example of local commerce supporting a thriving local culture, an deserves every bit of revenue the annual festival – along with Austin City Limits and others – brings in.
See you next year!