SXSW Day II: Beat the Heat

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Published March 20, 2009

At SXSW, there are too many good bands in too many places, and the sooner you come to terms with this the better. That doesn’t mean you have to be patient. If an Olympic boxing match can be decided in four rounds then you can deduce an opinion about a band in a song or two.

If it’s hard for the audience, imagine the pressure on the bands, who have a limited window to make an impression, and there’s no shortage of eagerness here, but there might be a shortage of attention span. Sometimes you navigate through lines, wait for sound check, fight the crowd, only to learn that your discovery is not what you expected. The audience cuts its losses and move on. It stings.

Then you come across a band you know nothing about that’s incredible and all is right with the world. That moment came for me in the small club Mohawk where I found myself engrossed by We Are Powers. The Brooklyn/Chicago trio describes their music as “Ghost-Punk,” and this heavily beat driven music, with wailing female vocals, reached a visceral pitch. When the set was over and the lights came on the audience was shocked with relief, as if coming down from a ferocious high.

For a touch of novelty—how many girl bands in blue wigs do you know?—I went to see The She Creatures, from Bristol, UK. Their first single ‘She Creatures Invade’ is surprisingly self-referential for a band without a record deal, and makes suggestive allusions to taking over the world. Wearing glittering silver outfits and armed with stun guns, The She Creatures played suitably energetic power pop. A concept band in the intergalactic tradition, they are advised to be careful whenever they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

Little Boots from Blackpool, UK, is an electronic trio that has had significant success in its native England. Their irrepressible techno pop is highly polished, very appealing, and specific to European bands who are unafraid of techno decadence.

On Day 2, I needed relief from the heat with some cool old hands. The Handsome Family, a trio from New Mexico, delivered gently misanthropic alt-country with smart banjo accompaniment at the outdoor stage at SXSSANJOSE. Their set drew heavily from forthcoming album Honey Moon, featuring songs that managed to be mournful and satisfying at the same time.

The Continental Club is a classic club on South Congress, across the river from most of the festivities. This was the venue for BeauSoleil, a New Orleans outfit, specializing in what lead singer and fiddle player Michael Doucet characterized as “Genuine Cajun breakdown music.” With backing that included an accordion and a standup bass, BeauSoleil roused the older crowd with upbeat self-described ‘swamp music.’ Without the urgency of needing to be discovered—the band members are well north of 40—it was a comforting set performed by pros who appreciate pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Here in Austin when there’s such an appetite for discovery, it’s nice to spend time with a band that has arrived.

For David Coggins’ SXSW Day 1 diary, read on.