SXSW Day IV: The Last Chance Saloon.
Published March 23, 2009
Saturday is the last full day of SXSW and on busy streets like Red River you begin to pass the walking wounded. For four days straight people have done too much of everything except sleep, and they’re on their last legs. It’s the end of a marathon and you have to admire the bands who have played every day of the festival.
To get a reminder of what else Austin has to offer I stopped by The Broken Spoke, a classic joint where people have been line dancing and eating chicken fried steaks—two things you don’t find in Manhattan—since 1964. It’s a world away from clubs like Mohawk’s and Emo’s, and drinking beer next to photos of Hank Williams and Bob Wills is a reminder of Austin’s impressive musical range. Even in a barbecue joint like Artz, that has nothing to do with SXSW, you can be in the middle of country style pork ribs and discover excellent folk musicians, like Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, playing.Back at the festival I stopped at Mohawk’s to see a Angel Deradoorian, a frequent collaborator of perennial Brooklyn favorites Dirty Projectors. Tonight she played a solo set-just her and an electric guitar. Though her project Deradoorian is more electronic and instrumental, here she gave a disarming performance of spare songs where her smoky voice was the star, going from quiet to forceful and back again. She sounded emotionally bruised but assertive, in the tradition of Cat Power.
In the twilight of the festival, it was nice to see a band whose energy level was undiminished. Efterklang, a big boisterous group from Copenhagen, was irrepressible. A six-piece band of youngish Danes, other performers kept coming on and off the stage and it was hard to keep track of what was what. They played sweeping Nordic rock, in the vein of Sigur Ros. But they incorporated eclectic instrumentation—a fiddle, tambourines—and folk harmonies to make a warm sound. The lead singer played the drums and couldn’t thank the audience enough for coming. Judging from the response, the pleasure was ours. At SXSW expectations can be dangerous. You hear a critic recommends a band, or somebody’s kid brother likes a band-you even forget where you heard it, but you feel you have to see a certain concert. Then you find yourself watching a howler and wondering why on earth you believed the hype. One band that lived up to the anticipation was Wintersleep, a brooding power rock outfit from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The five-piece band played long songs that slowly built on power guitar sequences. At times they captured the crescendos and intensity of Mogwai, but with more rousing melodies. They’re about to tour Europe to support their third album, Welcome to the Night Sky. Wintersleep have set out on a promising path, and we’ll be there when they play New York.